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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kozyrev Gets Belligerent Just in Time for Vote

A candidate in the Murmansk constituency for the new parliament to be elected next month has been firing broadsides at the former Soviet republics on Russia's borders.

"Nonsensical" and an "insult" was his verdict on Armenia's response to the recent incident on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, in which Armenian soldiers shot at guards for a Russian envoy.

"How can we trust our Ukrainian partners after this? " the candidate asked rhetorically on Saturday, referring to Kiev's decision to add tough conditions to its ratification of the START I nuclear disarmament treaty.

That may not sound unusual for an election campaign, but the series of hot-blooded statements come from Russia's hitherto liberal foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev.

Two liberal Russian newspapers on Tuesday homed in on Kozyrev's tough talk. The main headline in Segodnya read "Moscow shows its muscles to the near abroad", referring to the phrase coined by the Foreign Ministry to refer to the former Soviet republics.

''The voice of Russian diplomacy in the political space of the former U. S. S. R. has noticeably toughened", it said.

Izvestia commented Tuesday that "relations between Moscow and Kiev have sharply deteriorated" and said that "it cannot be ruled out that Moscow will seek measures of economic pressure" to force Ukraine to change its mind on the nuclear issue.

Russia has been locked into a dispute with Ukraine over nuclear policy for two years and has expressed exasperation with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for more than five. But the tone of Kozyrev's remarks was unusually sharp.

He said for example that Ukraine's decision to keep 58 percent of its strategic missiles while ratifying the START I treaty was "an extraordinarily serious situation for the entire system of international relations, especially in Europe".

On Monday, Kozyrev said the government favored "firmly upholding the interests of the Russian-speaking population" in the neighboring republics.

The government's perceived abandonment of the rights of the 25 million Russians who live outside Russia in the former Soviet republics was frequently criticized by President Boris Yeltsin's opponents in parliament.

A Western historian said Kozyrev's latest talk is part of a nationalist trend in government policy and is being brought into focus by the elections.

"Kozyrev has started saying what the General Staff want him to say", said Dr. Martin McCauley of London University. The Russians abroad are a "natural constituency" for Yeltsin, said McCauley, while tough nationalism is seen as a vote-winning policy.

Kozyrev is running with Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Choice bloc, both on the party list and in the single-member constituency in the northern city of Murmansk.