Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 223

The seeming determination of the Russian political elite to recreate a climate of Cold War-style confrontation with the West has continued apace this week. On November 30, in the midst of mounting tensions between Russia and both Europe and the United States over Moscow’s bloody crackdown in Chechnya, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov accused Western governments of implicitly condoning a policy of “genocide” against ethnic minorities in the independence-seeking Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Ivanov also warned that Moscow would “resolutely resist” alleged attempts by the West to force Russia out of the Caucasus and Caspian Sea regions. His bellicose remarks followed talks in Moscow with Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou.

Ivanov’s accusations relative to the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo were clearly an attempt to shift international attention away from the thousands of Chechen refugees and general humanitarian disaster that Russian military operations are creating in the North Caucasus. Ivanov charged that more than two hundred thousand Serbs and other minorities have been driven from Kosovo since the NATO-led peacekeeping mission began operating there. He intimated that Western leaders were crying crocodile tears over the situation in Chechnya while ignoring that a “flagrant genocide is being carried out toward ethnic minorities in Kosovo.” According to Ivanov, “neither Washington, nor Berlin, nor London has voiced any condemnation of terrorist outrages” in Kosovo. “Such appeasement of Albanian separatists,” he said, “is fraught with dire consequences for the Balkans.”

Ivanov also said that Moscow intends in the near future to call a session of the UN Security Council to discuss Kosovo–and presumably to focus attention on what Moscow considers to have been the failure of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission there. Although Russian charges of this sort are nothing new, the timing and wording of this one suggests that it may also be in large part an effort to counter growing international criticism of Russia’s war in the Caucasus. Moscow has been fighting tooth-and-nail in recent weeks to squelch demands that Chechnya be included on the Security Council’s discussion agenda. There were even reports–denied but undoubtedly an embarrassment to Moscow–that Russian diplomats had tried to bargain for U.S. support on this issue in return for an easing of Russia’s position vis-a-vis Security Council policy toward Iraq.

In a reference to the Baku-Ceyhan oil and gas agreements signed at the recent OSCE summit in Istanbul (see the Monitor, November 29)–as well as to friendly relations in general between the West and former Soviet states along Russia’s southern border–Ivanov also charged on November 30 that the West was trying to extinguish Russian influence in the Caucasus and Caspian Sea regions. “An evident battle for spheres of influence is under way” in these regions, he said, in which “individual states located thousands of kilometers from these strategically important regions have declared them to be zones of vital interest.” He warned that Moscow would resist these alleged Western efforts “to supplant Russia and other states, particularly Iran, in these regions.” Ivanov also linked Western reactions to the war in Chechnya as part of this “attempt to limit Russia’s capabilities in the Caucasus” (Russian agencies, November 30; Reuters, December 1).

Ivanov’s remarks echoed comments made by hardline Russian military leaders in recent weeks, and most notably those of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on November 12. Addressing a meeting of the top military leadership, Sergeev accused the West of working to weaken Russian influence in “strategically important regions of the globe” and, especially, to drive Russia from the Caspian region, the Caucasus and Central Asia. His charge that the West is trying to limit Moscow’s global influence was lifted straight from the country’s new draft military doctrine (see the Monitor, November 17). That document outlines a wide array of alleged threats to Russia’s security, and in that regard appears to mark a step back toward an earlier era of East-West confrontation.

Ivanov’s November 30 remarks appear also to embody the in-your-face type of bellicosity toward the West which Russia’s political class has decided is likely to pay dividends in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. It is a world view which sees Russia surrounded by enemies while being harried and threatened in particular by the plots and machinations allegedly hatched by its former Western “partners.” One version of this burgeoning anti-Western paranoia, which sees Russia’s problems as the result of a vast Western conspiracy, was captured in all its intricacy in a commentary published this week by Nezavisimaya gazeta. It portrayed an elaborate international plot aimed at discrediting Russia over Chechnya. The plot was said to have been masterminded by a host of Western governments, and to have been abetted both by the IMF–whose general director said that future loans might be linked to the Chechen war– and to a nefarious scheme allegedly carried out by the OSCE to stir up the Chechen rebels behind Moscow’s back (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 30).