In the course of two appearances yesterday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has unveiled an appreciable hardening of Russia’s tone toward CIS countries and a corresponding disposition to obstruct those countries’ relations with the West. Speaking to both Moscow foreign affairs students and a selected group of journalists, Ivanov defended the following theses:
–The planned pipelines for the export of Turkmen gas and Azerbaijani oil directly to international markets are “detrimental to Russia” and, consequently, “unacceptable to us.” The projects amount to “playing anti-Russian cards in the Caspian.”
–The presence of Russian military bases in Georgia “corresponds to the interests of Georgia.” The minister was referring to the four base complexes of the Russian army and airforce in Georgia, not to the “peacekeeping” troops in the Abkhaz theater, which have a separate status and which Ivanov discussed separately. Ivanov’s definition of Georgian interests directly contradicts Georgia’s own definition and recalls the Soviet government’s habit of substituting its voice for those of its former republics, which are now independent countries.
–The GUUAM (Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova) grouping must not acquire a “political-military character. That would impinge on Russia’s interests.” Coincidentally, on the same day in Moscow, Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi defended the right of GUUAM countries to associate in a group and, specifically, to promote the transport of Caspian oil and gas directly to these countries. Lucinschi pointed out that GUUAM is no less legitimate than, for example, the Shanghai-Five grouping being promoted by Russia in Asia (see the Monitor, August 26). Ivanov’s–and the Russian military’s–objections to GUUAM are being shared these days in Tehran. A recent broadcast of the Iranian government radio, Voice of the Islamic Republic, cited Iranian intelligence officials as expressing concern over GUUAM countries’ support for the transit of Caspian oil and gas to international markets and for internationalizing the peacekeeping operations in the South Caucasus. The Iranian officials, furthermore, are worried about GUUAM’s deleterious effect on the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Iran’s concerns converge with Moscow’s and help explain the Russian-Iranian alignment in the South Caucasus-Caspian region.
Significantly, Ivanov made his comments on the eve of his official visit to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, his first tour of the South Caucasus countries as foreign minister of Russia. Although no major decisions are expected from that visit, Ivanov’s prologue suggests that Moscow finds it useful at this stage to adopt a harsh tone toward CIS countries–as it does toward the West.
Even more significant is the context in which Ivanov cast Russia’s policy in the CIS. He correlated that policy to President Boris Yeltsin’s statement last week about “fighting the Westerners.” According to Ivanov, “the president’s statement means that Russia rejects a unipolar world order and insists on a multipolar one because, in a multipolar world, Greater Russia must and will act as one of the centers of gravity.” These remarks help explain the operational meaning that Moscow attaches to its seemingly obscure concepts of “unipolarity” and “multipolarity.” The former implies a world without spheres of influence. The latter implies a world in which Moscow would once again become the center of gravity in a sphere of Russian influence–one that would more or less coincide with the former Soviet Union (Itar-Tass, September 1; Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, August 19-26 and August 27-September 2).
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