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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Seeks to Upgrade CSCE's Role in Europe

Russian diplomats took their seats for a marathon two months of negotiations at the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Monday, hoping to transform radically one of the world's more obscure and toothless organizations.

By the time the 53-nation conference holds its summit meeting this December, with President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton in attendance, the Russia team hopes -- against hope -- to have created a new framework for security in post-Cold War Europe that ultimately would eclipse NATO.

Less ambitious, but no less vital to Moscow's interests, is the Russian aim at last to gain official recognition for its de facto role as peacekeeper in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

At the meeting in Budapest, the Russian delegation will be pressing for its proposal to establish a 10-member executive council inside the amorphous CSCE structure, along the lines of the UN Security Council, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Under the Russian proposal, the conference would enjoy power of veto over actions by other European security bodies such as NATO, thus giving Russia the power to clip NATO's wings that it had unsuccessfully sought through the Partnership for Peace program.

Few, however, believe the Russian delegation has any hope of success in retooling the CSCE -- formed in 1975 to set the rules of engagement for a bipolar world -- to become Europe's primary post-Cold War security organization.

"It would be very surprising if the majority of member states would wish Russia to have special influence in their affairs," said Andrew Duncan of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

"Our proposals have been received rather coolly so far," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sergei Ryabkov. "The other countries accuse us of pursuing our own selfish interests."

Those other countries include all of Moscow's former East European satellites as well former Soviet republics, none of which like the muscular nationalist rhetoric that has been coming out of Moscow lately.

But in the important sphere of peacekeeping, Russia may make some headway in Budapest by getting official sanction for its troops in the near abroad -- approval that it has been seeking for the past two years.

Yeltsin made Russian intentions clear in his speech to the UN General Assembly in September, when he outlined what amounted to a Russian Monroe doctrine, calling the former Soviet republics a "sphere of special interest."

"Russia has a great need to legitimize its actions, going back to the Soviet period" said Roland Danreuther, CIS expert at the IISS. "It is looking for a way to have an international body define peacekeeping in Russia's near abroad as being in the interests of the international community."

There are now 2,500 Russian troops in the rebellious Georgian province of Abkhazia and a smaller number in South Ossetia. In both cases, Georgia asked for the Russian intervention, although ample evidence suggests that the Russian military had supported the initial rebellions.

There are more than 20,000 Russian troops in Tajikistan, protecting the country against attacks by insurgents from Afghanistan. And in Moldova, Russia maintains the 14th Army, headed by the popular General Alexander Lebed.

"Russia already has a de facto sphere of influence," said Duncan. "No one else is particularly eager to send in troops to Russia's southern flanks.

All of these military involvements have strategic imperatives that justify Russian involvement, but they also reveal a sea-change in Moscow's policy on the so-called "near abroad."

"The leadership has set its sights on a show of restoring Russia's influence over the former republics," said Dmitry Trenin, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Europe.

According to Trenin, Russia's foreign policy has progressed from a strong internationalist stance to a far more nationalist posture.