Russia’s determined efforts to reestablish itself as an influential player on the world stage appeared to bear some fruit yesterday, as Moscow played host to visits by both the recently elected prime minister of Israeli, Ehud Barak, and by the pro-Western president of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic. The visits come as a beleaguered and impoverished Russia tries to carve out a new niche for itself in two regions–the Middle East and the Balkans–which were once heavily influenced by Soviet power. With the Middle East, Moscow is now trying to parlay its recently improved relations with several former Soviet client states into a more influential role for Moscow in the Middle East peace process. Conversely, in the Balkans, the Russian government appears to be pursuing the delicate task of distancing itself from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic–long the darling of Russia’s political elite–without abandoning its backing for Yugoslavia’s Serb majority. The degree to which the Kremlin is able to pull this off will likely be a factor in determining the influence which Russia wields in Yugoslavia in the months and years to come.
In any event, neither visit yesterday produced any major breakthroughs or significant agreements. They may nevertheless prove to be of some significance. Reports from Israel have suggested that Barak may be pondering some unexpected approaches in his effort to restart the long stalled Middle East peace process. One of those could involve an enhanced role for Russia. With regard to Yugoslavia, meanwhile, some Russian media are interpreting Djukanovic’s visit as an indicator that the Kremlin is indeed changing direction in the Balkans. The same view apparently exists in Belgrade. The opposition Democratic Party yesterday reportedly hailed Djukanovic’s visit as a sign that Moscow intends to sever its close ties with the current Serbian and Yugoslav authorities and to forge direct links instead with democratic forces in the country (Reuters, August 2).
Yesterday’s meetings, moreover, came as Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov referred to recent agreements between Russia and both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as evidence that Moscow and the West have put the strains of the Kosovo conflict behind them. Russian President Boris Yeltsin–who several days earlier had defined improved relations with the West as Moscow’s “strategic, global task–must have agreed. Following consultations with the Russian minister in the Kremlin, Yeltsin bestowed upon Ivanov the Order of Services to the Fatherland, second grade. The award, given to Ivanov for his conduct of Russian foreign policy vis-a-vis the Yugoslav crisis, is a major one and was announced earlier. At least one Russian newspaper suggested last week that the award indicated Ivanov had become part of the president’s trusted circle of advisers. It also reported that the Russian foreign minister had–and continues to be–considered by the Kremlin as a possible candidate for prime minister (Segodnya, July 28).
ISRAEL SEEKING TO ENGAGE RUSSIA IN MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS?