Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Russian Movement Rejects Western Tilt Powerful Voices Are Being Raised to Strengthen Russia and Reorient Foreign Policy toward Asia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Russian Movement Rejects Western Tilt Powerful Voices Are Being Raised to Strengthen Russia and Reorient Foreign Policy toward Asia

Article excerpt

IN the year since the Soviet Union's disintegration, Russia has pursued a largely Western-oriented foreign policy, and the West has grown comfortable with its new friend.

President Boris Yeltsin has looked westward for vital economic aid and political support for his controversial reforms. He has carried on and extended the arms control policies of the previous Soviet government of Mikhail Gorbachev. Russia has backed Western policy in the Persian Gulf, Cuba, and elsewhere, shedding the ideological alliances of the Soviet communist era.

But as Russians recover from the shock of the Soviet Union's collapse, a movement is growing here, one backed even by those in power, that could make Russia a less-sure friend of the West. Russia's foreign and security policies have become rallying points in the parliament for a growing coalition of former Communists and new nationalists who deplore the pro-Western policies.

Not only extremists but also many moderates criticize policies ranging from the position on the Balkan crisis to a new nuclear disarmament pact with the United States. They complain that Russia, shorn of its great-power status, is being taken for granted.

Since last fall, President Yeltsin has shown an increasing receptivity to critics of that pro-Western policy. In an Oct. 27 speech to senior officials of the Foreign Ministry, he assailed the failure to define a foreign policy that reflects Russia's status as a great power. He chided the Foreign Ministry for its obsequious attitude toward the West.

"We are too shy in the world community," Mr. Yeltsin said. "We often take defensive positions or, on the contrary, copy others. They sometimes address Russia in an inadmissible way, even put humiliating conditions. But Russia is not a country that can be kept in the entrance hall."

These assertions were followed by a series of presidential visits to Russia's Asian neighbors, beginning with South Korea. In recent weeks the Russian government has carefully distanced itself from the US decision to use force against Iraq and to contemplate using it against Serbia. Yeltsin was pointedly defiant, for example, during a visit to India last week in refusing US demands to scrap a contract to sell rocket engines to the Indian space program. During that visit, Yeltsin went the furthest he has gone so far in defining this shift in Russian foreign policy.

"Russia is a Euro-Asian power whose territory covers an area of 17 million square kilometers, including 10 million square kilometers lying in Asia," he said at a press conference Jan. 29.

"This simple arithmetic determines that we need to maintain a balance in our foreign policy relations with the West and the East. Our emblem has a two-headed eagle, one head looking to the West and the other head looking to the East.

"We had an independent foreign policy a year ago by making an emphasis on our relations with the United States. That was because we had to provide a powerful incentive to the drive for reduction of nuclear weapons to combat fear and then to proceed along the path of balance.

"The recent series of state visits to South Korea, China, and now to India ... are indicative of the fact that we are moving away from the Western emphasis." Liberals also `Eurasians'

Yeltsin counts among his advisers some respected liberals who are also strong advocates of this "Eurasian" viewpoint, as it has been popularly labeled. These include presidential counselor and historian Sergei Stankeivich and Asian specialist Vladimir Lukin, who currently serves as ambassador to the US. As moderate nationalists, these liberal democrats assert that the pro-Western policy has failed to yield results, particularly in terms of promised Western aid.

"Yeltsin's balancing act is more pragmatic than conceptual," former Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh says. …

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