Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 42

Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday appointed Ivan Rybkin to the post of deputy prime minister responsible for CIS affairs. Rybkin replaces Valery Serov, whom Yeltsin had released last week "in connection with his transfer to other work," as yet unspecified. (See Monitor, March 2) Serov had since 1995 served successively as minister for CIS cooperation and deputy prime minister. The timing of his release defies logical explanation and reflects the improvised nature of decisionmaking in Yeltsin’s Kremlin. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and other Russian officials implied that Serov was held responsible for the setbacks of Russia’s policies in the CIS, as dramatized by the Chisinau summit. This fails to explain why Yeltsin waited more than four months since that summit before dismissing Serov. Moreover, the Foreign Ministry under Yevgeny Primakov and his first deputy Boris Pastukhov — who coordinates policy toward CIS countries — has clearly caused more friction with most CIS (and Baltic) countries than Serov ever has.

During his tenure, Serov favored some forms of Russian subsidization of trade with CIS countries — for example, offering those countries tied loans to purchase Russian goods. He teamed with Primakov to promote Yeltsin’s policy of close political and economic relations with Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, against the advice of other members of the Russian government.

Rybkin’s experience and background hardly qualify him to deal with CIS affairs. Born in Voronezh oblast in 1946, Rybkin is a trained agronomist who — in a typical Soviet career pattern — was selected for study at the CPSU Academy and later at the Diplomatic Academy, though he never held a diplomatic post. A Russian Federation Communist party Central Committee official and Supreme Soviet — later Duma — deputy, Rybkin joined the Agrarian party and turned into a Yeltsin loyalist, first as chairman of the Duma, then as leader of an abortive "left-of-center" bloc devised by the Kremlin’s electoral strategists. In October 1996, Rybkin was appointed secretary of the Security Council, with primary responsibility for the Chechen problem, on which he continued Aleksandr Lebed’s relatively conciliatory policy.

Rybkin’s inaugural statement yesterday on the CIS seemed to combine wishful thinking ("talking less about difficulties and focusing more on integration"), Marxian determinism ("economic relations will form that foundation from which political relations grow"), and Soviet rhetoric ("the decades we spent together [as Soviet republics] made us friends and brothers.")

Rybkin also indicated yesterday that he would continue for the time being to handle Chechen affairs concurrently with his CIS tasks. Duma nationalists promptly worried that this would imply upgrading the Chechen republic’s status to that of a sovereign CIS country. Those countries might in turn see the concurrence — should it persist — as implicitly amalgamating them with a Russian Federation subject.

The Duma’s red-brown Vice-Chairman Sergei Baburin, who has overall responsibility for CIS affairs in the chamber, praised the appointment of Rybkin as "the man with the necessary qualities to speed up reintegration [of the CIS.]" On a discordant note, the Duma’s First Vice-Chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov of the pro-government "Russia is Our Home" predicted "more serious disputes and conflicts within the CIS," which — he said — Rybkin will be called upon to handle using his Chechen experience. (Russian agencies, February 28 through March 2)