"New disputes could also emerge, for example, over Ukraine, where Viktor
Yushchenko, a leading candidate to succeed President Leonid Kuchma in
elections this autumn is seen as a threat because he has strong US backing"
By Stefan Wagstyl and Andrew Jack
Financial Times, London, UK, March 2, 2004
The nomination of Mikhail Fradkov as Russia's next prime minister will do
little to soften the Kremlin's increasingly assertive foreign policy,
especially in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Mr Fradkov, a long-serving diplomat whose name was put forward on Monday
by President Vladimir Putin, will bring to the post considerable experience
international relations. But he will also arrive with a history of close
ties with the security services. While his personal views are not known, he
is a member of the siloviki, the current and former members of the security
services, headed by Mr Putin, who now dominate the Kremlin.
This group has presided over increasing state control in political and
economic affairs. In foreign policy, its members have taken a tougher
approach to Russia's neighbours.
Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, insists the country has
legitimate interests to protect and is right to challenge US attempts to
increase its influence, for example in Georgia.
In a recent meeting with foreign journalists, Mr Ivanov said: "Our political
scientists are very concerned at how the US has created a circle around
Russia. We have a national strategy and interests in the former Soviet
Union. They reflect historical links that we are developing. They should not
be seen as a re-establishment of Soviet relations . . . The main interest of
Russia is to create around [the country] a security zone."
Russian President Vladimir Putin kisses an icon during service in Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra in Kiev, as Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma stands behind him, January 24, 2004
(Click on image to enlarge it)
The country is also concerned about the 20m ethnic Russians living in
surrounding states and about its expanding economic interests, notably
investments by energy companies such as Gazprom, the gas monopoly, and
UES, the electricity giant.
However, the US and the EU are worried about Russia's motives. The European
Commission last month accused Russia of "assertive" behaviour towards
neighbours. A senior American official told the FT there were parallels
between developments in domestic policy and increasing assertiveness towards
former Soviet neighbours.
The arguments date back to the 1990s, when a crisis-torn Russia was forced
to accept the collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastward expansion of
Nato and the European Union. In the past year, led by an effective president
and fuelled by economic recovery, the Kremlin has raised flags on several
It began with a dispute last year with Brussels over access to the
Kaliningrad exclave, which will be surrounded by EU territory when Poland
and Lithuania join the union in May. This was followed by a border row with
Ukraine in the Sea of Azov; arguments with Washington over the triumph in
Georgia of Mikheil Saakashvili, the new US-oriented president; and a clumsy
one-sided Russian effort to end the long-standing division of the troubled
state of Moldova.
These disputes have been compounded by Russian attempts to influence the
deployment of Nato forces in the Baltic states, all ex-Soviet republics.
Russia last month threatened to pull out of the Conventional Forces in
Europe treaty, a key east-west accord.
The Kremlin has also raised last-minute objections to the EU's eastward
expansion, complaining of threats to Russia's economic interests. Brussels
wants to extend to its 10 new members the existing partnership and
co-operation agreement (PCA) covering EU-Russia relations. Moscow has
demanded the accord be renegotiated.
Finally, Moscow has demonstrated the political value of its domination of
regional energy supplies by briefly cutting off the main gas pipe to the
west which crosses Belarus. The move was aimed at putting pressure on Minsk
in a payment dispute, but it caused a political storm in Poland.
Some of these rows will be settled but others will rumble on. New disputes
could also emerge, for example, over Ukraine, where Viktor Yushchenko, a
leading candidate to succeed President Leonid Kuchma in elections this
autumn is seen as a threat because he has strong US backing.
Mr Putin will almost certainly try to prevent these rows affecting global
relations with the US and leading European states. He knows the west
dominates the international community to which he wants to belong. He also
appreciates the US-led anti-terrorism war which serves Moscow's interests by
targetting terrorist threats on Russia's southern borders. However, the
siloviki and others who want to play tough have plenty of scope. Mr
Fradkov's appointment, which is due to be confirmed later this week by the
Duma, is unlikely to stop them.
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