Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drum Beats By Kozyrev: Disturbing

Last weekend produced a new and unfamiliar Andrei Kozyrev, as the hitherto liberal foreign minister took a tough line on relations with Armenia, Ukraine and, by implication with all former Soviet republics that are home to ethnic Russian minorities.


First, Kozyrev reacted sharply to the Ukrainian parliament's decision to attach wide-ranging conditions to its ratification of START I, making further long delays in the treaty's implementation almost inevitable. In unusually tough language, Kozyrev said this had created "an extraordinarily serious situation for the entire system of international relations, especially in Europe".


Then Kozyrev warned that Russia would take "resolute measures" against Armenia if it did not apologize promptly for an incident in which Armenian soldiers fired on a Russian envoy in Nagorno-Karabakh. Almost as an aside, Kozyrev went on to say that Russia would as a general policy "toughly uphold the interests of the Russian-speaking population and stand up for them", wherever these Russians may be, "and also for the interests of Russia".


None of these statements are of themselves worrying. Western governments too are hardly pleased by the Ukrainian ratification, which amounts to a decision to keep 58 percent of its nuclear weapons; every country claims that it will protect the interests of its citizens abroad; and every foreign ministry claims that it will act in the national interest.


But in the context of Russia's foreign policy debate, in which Kozyrev has been accused of placing the interests of the United States above those of Russia and abandoning the 25 million ethnic Russians who live in the so-called "near abroad", his drum beating has a special significance.


These statements do not mean that Russia's tanks have been told to start warming up their engines What they almost certainly do mean is that Kozyrev, who is running for election to the new parliament, feels the need "personally" - a word he used repeatedly at Monday's press conference - to be seen taking a harder foreign policy line.


Cabinet ministers also have to run for re-election in other countries - every four years for example in Britain, one of the world's oldest democracies. But Kozyrev's electioneering is worrying in the much broader sense that he, and clearly President Boris Yeltsin too, feel that to draw votes they must espouse a more aggressive foreign policy for Russia.


It would be a powerful, and worrying, irony if the very process of democracy were forcing the government to take a tougher foreign policy line by demanding that it pay attention to the wishes of an electorate still unreconciled to the loss of the former Soviet Union.