Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 156

Russian Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin, speaking at the conclusion of a three-day official trip to Israel, intimated yesterday that Moscow should take a more balanced approach in its Middle Eastern diplomacy. Interviewed on Russian television, the Kremlin security chief said that he thought it “was a major mistake by the Soviet leadership” that Moscow “did not have a balanced approach in the Middle East, and put our money on just one side.” Kokoshin said that while Russia should continue aggressively to develop friendly ties with its traditional Arab partners in the region, it is nevertheless “difficult to overestimate” the importance of Russia’s relations with Israel. “One of the most important tasks for Russia now,” Kokoshin added, “is to give a powerful impetus to the development of science-intensive technologies in Russia.” He described that task as crucial to Russia’s national security and to regaining its position as a world power. (NTV, August 12)

While in Israel, the Russian delegation led by Kokoshin was badgered over what Israeli government officials said was continuing clandestine cooperation between Iran and Russian missile specialists. That was clearly not the direction that the Russian side wanted the talks to go. Kokoshin had indicated earlier that the Russian delegation hoped to focus the talks on boosting Israeli-Russian cooperation in the area of high technology. Kokoshin was also hoping to make some progress in involving the hundreds of thousands of former Soviet scientists who have emigrated to Israel in high-tech cooperative ventures between the two countries. (NTV, August 9)

But Moscow’s hope of a partnership in which Israel’s powerful high-technology sector might help revitalize Russia’s own collapsing industrial base has foundered on Moscow’s continued courtship of the more radical Arab states. Israel, not surprisingly, had made this sort of economic partnership with Russia–as well as a greater Russian role in the Middle Eastern peace process–contingent on a more balanced approach in Russia’s Middle Eastern diplomacy.

Kokoshin’s trip and subsequent remarks may suggest some emerging tensions between the powerful Russian Security Council chief and Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. The latter is an Arabist and former foreign intelligence chief with long ties to the Soviet Union’s traditional Middle Eastern partners. Since his assumption of the Foreign Ministry post in early 1996, Primakov has generally tried to cultivate those traditional partners. That policy has sometimes complicated Russia’s relations with Israel and the United States. Neither has it earned Moscow great gains with the moderate Arab states.