ON Nov. 19, Eduard A. Shevardnadze was reappointed as "Minister
of External Relations of the USSR." Two days later, Russian
President Boris N. Yeltsin was greeted in Germany by Chancellor
Helmut Kohl with the full protocol honors accorded to the head of a
On Nov. 27, American government officials announced that the
United States would extend full diplomatic recognition to the
Ukraine after its Dec. 1 referendum on independence. But two days
later, George Bush indicated that he still hoped to maintain a
close partnership with the Soviet central government of Mikhail S.
Gorbachev in Moscow. What's wrong with this picture?
Mr. Yeltsin, as his central role in the Chechen-Ingush secession
crisis indicates, already wields more-effective power inside the
former Soviet Union than Mr. Gorbachev. The impending international
recognition of the Ukraine almost certainly dooms any hope of
keeping a union together over the long term. As Yeltsin's
predominance grows, he is unlikely to relinquish the conduct of the
former Soviet Union's external relations to Gorbachev and Mr.
Shevardnadze indefinitely. If the external world treats Yeltsin
like the head of a sovereign state, he will soon start acting that
way in the international arena.
One of the first places this may occur is in the United Nations
Security Council. The Soviet Union's influence in the UN derives
not from its rapidly vanishing international power, but from its
formal position as one of five permanent Security Council members,
with power to veto substantive UN activity.
In September, former Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin
suggested that every Soviet republic could be admitted to the UN
General Assembly, but that a single representative of a "Union of
Sovereign States" should continue to exercise the USSR's permanent
Security Council veto. Yet Article 4 of the UN Charter states that
UN membership is accorded only to "states."
Before long, some important international issue will arrive on
the Security Council agenda. Perhaps it will be the creation of an
unprecedented UN peacekeeping operation inside a still-legally
sovereign Yugoslavia - a sensitive subject for a still-legally
sovereign USSR that may be going down a similar road.
Perhaps an ambitious despot in a region of less-than-vital
interest to the West will launch a cross-border invasion, to test
whether Operation Desert Storm was really about new world order or
oil. Or perhaps the Ukraine, which was granted a "Potemkin UN seat"
in order to get Stalin to sign on, will actually begin to exercise
its membership by seeking UN mediation in its disputes with either
the Russian or Soviet central governments.
Gorbachev and Yeltsin may be in complete agreement on all these
issues about how to instruct Yulii Vorontsov, the permanent
representative of the USSR to the UN. But maybe not.
What if Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, a young rising
star, publicly challenges Shevardnadze over "the Soviet position"
in the Security Council? And what if Yeltsin, irresistibly tempted
by the opportunity to gain a formal voice in the affairs of the
world, sends his own UN ambassador to New York, claiming that Mr. …