Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Russia as Big Brother to Neighboring States the Main Aim of Moscow's Foreign Policy Is to Enforce Stability in the `near Abroad,' and It Is Looking to the West to Fully Back This `Peacekeeping' Role. but Critics Fear a Restoration of Imperial Rule

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Russia as Big Brother to Neighboring States the Main Aim of Moscow's Foreign Policy Is to Enforce Stability in the `near Abroad,' and It Is Looking to the West to Fully Back This `Peacekeeping' Role. but Critics Fear a Restoration of Imperial Rule

Article excerpt

THE sight of Serbs cheering as Russian paratroopers rolled through Bosnia recently had eerie reverberations of the past.

For Serbs, the scene was reminiscent of the Soviet Red Army rolling in to liberate Yugoslavia from Nazi occupation. But for many Bosnian Muslims, it was more akin to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Russia, however, sees itself as neither liberator nor invader. Instead, the Russian Army has taken on a new role: peacemaker.

For Moscow, peacekeeping is now the priority of its military, and enforcing order and stability among its neighbors in the "near abroad," as the former Soviet republics are called, is the main aim of Russian foreign policy. Aside from the Russian battalion of 1,200 troops participating in United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia, about 16,000 are deployed as "peacekeepers" in former Soviet republics such as Moldova, Tajikistan, and the Transcaucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan).

For more than a year, Russia has openly asked the West and the international community to recognize its role as the preeminent peacekeeper in the territory of its former empire. Russian officials argue that their troops are performing a service to the world, ensuring stability in regions torn by ethnic and civil conflict and using Russian links to its former Soviet "brothers" to mediate solutions.

But in the West and among Russia's neighbors, there are considerable fears that "peacekeeping" is merely a euphemism for a restoration of Russian imperial rule. Russian troops may bring an end to the shooting in war zones, critics say, but they may never leave.

Russia's attempts at peacemaking are now the touchstone of its future relations with the West. How this problem is dealt with will illuminate whether Russia and the West can find a path toward permanent cooperation or will be forced by their divergent interests back onto the path of rivalry and even confrontation.

The Russian government itself has set this issue as a test of its relations with the West. "Support for Russia in settling conflicts in the territory of the former USSR is a verification of the firmness of the partnership that is replacing the cold war between former enemies," Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev wrote in a major policy statement published in New Times in January. Seeking approval

The key demand from Moscow to the world is that its troops involved in conflict situations be given an international seal of approval. "Russia deserves a United Nations mandate to carry out peacekeeping operations in the former Soviet Union," Defense Minister Pavel Grachev told his French counterpart in early February.

Russian officials go so far as to request international funding for their country's military missions, perhaps by subtracting the cost from Russia's contribution to the UN budget. Col. Gen. Georgy Kondratyev, the military commander of Russian peacekeeping operations, even suggested in a recent policy article that a special force to be formed from two Army divisions would be exempt from international treaty limits on conventional forces.

Alongside such a "mandate," the Russians also are promoting what they see as their "model" for peacemaking, carried out in the Moldova and South Ossetia conflicts. In those two cases, Russia negotiated a cease-fire, enforced by Russian troops standing in between, along with monitoring patrols of the two conflicting sides. Russian officials depict their deployment in Sarajevo, on the lines between Serb and Muslim forces, as another example of this.

Moscow is now urgently trying to negotiate a similar cease-fire arrangement in the five-year war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the status of the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno Karabakh. And Russia seeks UN backing for deployment of troops to police a shaky cease-fire between Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. …

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