Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 59

Even as Boris Yeltsin was winding up his summit talks with U.S. president Bill Clinton in Helsinki on March 21, Moscow was preparing for high profile visits this week by Indian and Chinese delegations. Simultaneously, there were also announcements that energy deals with Iran and Iraq would go forward. The timing of this flurry of diplomatic activity is not accidental. Moscow has long warned that it would seek to strengthen ties with friendly states in the south and the east — some of them in disfavor with Washington and the West — as one facet of its efforts to counter NATO’s European expansion plans, and these latest developments are clearly meant to illustrate the Kremlin’s seriousness. Moreover, in addition to balancing what the Kremlin perceives to be diplomatic reversals for Russia in Europe, various aspects of Russia’s relationships with China, India, Iran, and Iraq are seen additionally to represent direct defiance of Washington and thus an affirmation of Russia’s diplomatic independence.

In both economic and strategic terms, partnership relations with China and India constitute the pillars of Russian policy in Asia, and Moscow’s ties with each of these countries seem likely to be further strengthened in the coming months. With such goals in mind, Chinese foreign minister Qian Qichen arrived in Moscow yesterday for a four-day visit that will include talks with President Boris Yeltsin and other Russian leaders. These talks are to focus on preparations for a summit meeting next month between Yeltsin and Chinese president Jiang Zemin, at which a joint declaration and other important political and economic agreements are expected to be signed. (Itar-Tass, Xinhua, March 24)

Indian prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, accompanied by a high-level delegation, also arrived in Moscow yesterday, and was slated to meet with Yeltsin today. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky yesterday said that Moscow is reaching a "strategic level of cooperation with India," and he described Gowda’s visit as "a milestone in the history of Russian-Indian relations." Russia hopes during the talks to boost trade turnover with India; military-technical cooperation is also likely to be high on the agenda. (Itar-Tass, March 24)

Meanwhile, a Russian Atomic Energy Ministry official announced on March 21 that Moscow had received an advanced payment of $60 million from Iran, and that construction of the controversial Bushehr plant would now advance to its next stage. The project has been vehemently opposed by the U.S. (Itar-Tass, March 21) There have also been a number of statements out of Baghdad in recent days announcing a new series of oil deals between Russian and Iraqi concerns, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry declared on March 23 that it would boost efforts aimed at winning a lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq. (Xinhua, March 21; Itar-Tass, March 22; Interfax, March 24; AP, March 23)

Repression in Belarus.