Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Will Russia Change Foreign Policy?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Will Russia Change Foreign Policy?

Article excerpt

The vice president's voice was like thin ice breaking. "We're calling an audible." A half-hour before, Air Force Two aborted two passes at the short airstrip in befogged Almaty, Kazakhstan. With not enough fuel left for a third try, the pilot had put down in nearby Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, which did not expect the American visitor until the next day.

But what of the grand state dinner planned for that night? The gutsy pilot of Air Force Two offered to refuel his aircraft and make another try for Almaty (which you remember as the Russian Alma-Ata); he said he could dimly make out the airstrip on the last try. Would Al Gore risk scores of lives, including his wife's and mine, so that the United States would save face and satisfy the diplomats?

That's when Gore called the audible (a football quarterback's term for changing plans at the last moment). Perhaps the ashen faces of the traveling press corps influenced him; maybe he could see Tipper Gore, a woman of eminent good sense, shaking her head, no way. (The Secret Service contingent, true to its tradition, was prepared to parachute in if necessary.)

"Let's flop the schedule," the vice president directed, "stay here tonight and switch everything around."

That was the voice of a leader. As a result, we watched the Russian election returns from here in Kyrgyzstan, between Russia and China; this model of a newly independent nation is headed by President Askar Akayev, a physicist and disciple of Andrei Sakharov.

Nowhere outside Russia is the first free Russian vote more important than in the "newly independent states" often ending in -stan. Here is the home of the "near abroad," ethnic Russians sent long ago to colonize the empire's conquest, whose presence guarantees a Russian interest in, and perhaps suzerainty over, the broken-away states.

Non-Russians here are pleased by the success of the Constitution and worried about the strong showing by the Communists and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's anti-reform party. Self-interest is the reason: The anti-reform opposition is more likely to see its irredentist twice a year, threatening to protect the rights of near-abroad ethnic brethren by dominating the border states. …

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