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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kozyrev's Rise and Fall

The career of the first foreign minister of the post-Soviet period, Andrei Kozyrev, was full of paradoxes. Although rumors about the possibility of his dismissal circulated almost as soon he entered the cabinet on Smolenskaya Ploshchad, he set the record for longevity in the government. He left his post at the very point at which many of the important tasks before the foreign ministry were being solved. Russia will play a significant role in the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, making future cooperation between Moscow and NATO more likely. Under pressure from the Russian government, NATO has said it would not hasten the expansion of the bloc. Finally, it seems paradoxical that Andrei Kozyrev was replaced by Yevgeny Primakov, who has never called for a change in foreign policy.

Foreign policy was the field on which politicians exercized their opposition to the government. But in no way was foreign policy the only object of this fight. It is not by accident that foreign policy themes were hardly raised during the election campaign.

Kozyrev's tenure shows that he suited the leading political elite for a long time. For he has a quality which is seldom found in Russian politicians: He knew how to explain to the West the logic of the country's policies in terms it understands. Kozyrev left when he was no longer convenient to the elite and ceased to be a reliable means of dealing with Russia's leading foreign partners.

In order to understand this, we must first analyze, however superficially, the foreign policy of Russia from 1991. Moscow at that time did not have the necessary political and economic strength to carry out an effective foreign policy.

Now that the threat of global confrontation is in the past, it is economics and not ideology -- regardless of whether it is communist or anti-communist ideology -- that becomes one of the main factors in forming foreign policy goals. The Foreign Ministry has been blamed for not being able to form policies based on such vital economic interests. But some critics of the ministry forget that these interests are not all that obvious given the chaotic economic development of the country. Moreover, Russian society has not reached any agreement on what kind of government it wants to build.

Naturally, these factors contributed to the inconsistency of Russia's foreign policy. But even in such difficult conditions, its diplomacy had more than a few successes. The main one lies in the fact that Russia became the legal successor to the Soviet Union. Despite the obvious weakness of the country, and under all the difficulties of developing a partnership with the United States, China and Europe, it has retained its position as a great power in leading international organizations. With all the abrupt upheavals in the country's recent history -- both in October 1993 and November 1994 when the war in Chechnya began -- the Foreign Ministry secured, if not approval, then at least understanding on the part of Russia's main partners.

At the same time, Kozyrev's approach to foreign policy was misguided. His involvement in the internal political struggles was partly responsible for this. As a result, the Foreign Ministry was not able to coordinate the country's foreign policies effectively. Nor did it even try to put forward a general conception of what those policies should be. Today, a special council set up by the president will attempt to carry out these functions.

The extraordinary degree to which Kozyrev was motivated by ideological considerations is shown by his naive belief that as soon as the Soviet Union broke with its past, the country would automatically receive aid from the civilized governments of the West. Kozyrev believed for too long -- or he said he believed -- that as soon as Russia began to "behave itself," its Western partners would give it a place in the international market. But help from the West turned out to be imaginary. The world the country entered, although far more sensible than during the Cold War period, is a tough one.

Thus, having done away with the stereotype of "nyet" diplomacy of the Soviet period, it became clear that it was time to reverse the overly conciliatory diplomacy that replaced it. To do so, Kozyrev began using the very language he had parodied during his famous speech in Stockholm in December 1992. Recently, the Foreign Ministry has been carrying out two policies. One policy is for the domestic audience, such as when Kozyrev speaks about the "necessity of defending the Russian-speaking population through military means" and the need for a Russian military presence in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The other policy occurs when Moscow representatives reassure Western partners in private conversations -- their contents become almost immediately known in international diplomatic circles -- that they should not worry about such announcements, explaining the difficulties of the internal political situation and the need to play up to the nationalist feelings of the country's citizens.

As a result, no one knows what constitutes the real foreign policy and what is political demagoguery. Western partners simply did not believe at first in the seriousness of Boris Yeltsin's call for an end to the bombing of the Bosnian Serbs or warnings about the dangers of NATO expansion. It is risky when a country such as Russia is forced to bring matters to almost a crisis level to show that it is serious.

The post of foreign minister requires not a revolutionary but someone who is capable of expressing the positions of the Kremlin in a straightforward way, distancing himself from domestic political infighting and demonstrating firm resolve. There is much evidence that the new foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov, former head of Russia's foreign intelligence service, who was able to stay clear of the political settling of accounts, is more capable than any of his colleagues of meeting these needs.

Alexander Golz is a correspondent for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.