Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 1

In a December 25 speech that reflected anything but peace on earth and good will toward men, Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov accused the U.S. of trying to dominate the world and characterized the NATO alliance as a potential source of direct military danger to Russia. Rodionov also suggested that Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Japan, and China were attempting to increase their defense capabilities, and said that all of these countries hope to expand their influence on the territory of the former Soviet Union.

The seeming inappropriateness of Rodionov’s Cold War style remarks left even many Russian journalists bewildered. Although his sharp criticism of the U.S. and NATO was consistent with the official line long taken by the Kremlin, Rodionov’s voicing of an expanded list of potential enemies in Asia made little sense. Two of those countries –China and Iran — have concluded military cooperation agreements with Russia, and Moscow is a major arms supplier to each. In addition, improved bilateral relations with Beijing and Tehran have been implicitly presented by the Kremlin as a part of its broader response to NATO enlargement. Rodionov’s remarks, moreover, followed on the heels of a high profile and productive visit by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov to Iran, and came on the eve of a long anticipated visit to Russia by China’s prime minister. They were also uttered despite improving relations with Japan–which have led to the scheduling of a series of high-level meetings between military leaders from the two countries–and despite rising Russian arms deliveries to Turkey. (AP, December 25; Nezavisimaya gazeta, Kommersant-daily, December 26; Izvestiya, December 27)

Rodionov’s remarks left other Kremlin officials scrambling to mend fences. On December 26 a Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the retired general’s characterization of China as a potential enemy was merely "hypothetical," and that Moscow would proceed to build a strategic partnership with Beijing. A day later Russian presidential spokesman Serge Yastrzhembsky dismissed Rodionov’s remarks as personal opinions inconsistent with Russia’s strengthened ties to several of the countries in question. He also reminded journalists that the Defense Minister is not empowered to articulate official Russian foreign policy positions. Despite such admonitions, Rodionov appeared to reaffirm his views in comments made on December 28. (Interfax, December 26-27; Itar-Tass, December 28)

Rodionov’s remarks appear to have been fashioned in part to prod the leaders of CIS countries into increased defense cooperation with Russia under the aegis of CIS collective security. But the threat — voiced repeatedly by some in Russia — to construct a CIS defense alliance as a counter to an expanded NATO remains an empty one. This point was underlined succinctly yet again by Uzbek president Islam Karimov during a press conference in Tashkent on December 26. (Interfax, December 26) Thus, while he appears not to have advanced at all the Kremlin’s goal of winning increased CIS military integration, Rodionov probably has complicated the tasks of Russia’s Foreign Ministry in its dealings with several key allies. Rodionov has also contributed anew both to the impression that his own political instincts are suspect and to the sense in foreign capitals that Russia’s political and military elites are unable to speak in one voice on a number of key security issues.

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