Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 7

Kozyrev’s “shock diplomacy” is increasingly unpopular at home

by Paul A. Goble

Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev’s propensity to makeoutrageous and even threatening statements and then quickly retractthem has been excused by many in the West as Kozyrev’s obligatorybow to Russian opinion at home. But Kozyrev’s statements andactions in the realm of what some Russians call "shock diplomacy"are backfiring ever more often with precisely that domestic audience. Pro-Western reformists and anti-Western nationalists increasinglydistrust the Russian foreign minister, the former because theybelieve that Kozyrev has now sold out to the nationalists andthe latter because they believe he is simply a demagogue who cannotbe relied on to keep any of his various words.

Since becoming foreign minister, Kozyrev has frequently adoptedthe tactic of expressing one set of ideas in public and then,when challenged, quickly backing off. The three cases of suchbehavior most frequently cited in the Russian press are:

–Kozyrev’s December 1992 opera bouffe speech at the Stockholmministerial meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperationin Europe set the pattern. In his opening remarks, Kozyrev saidMoscow would move to retake the empire, back Serbia in Bosnia,and oppose the West on a variety of other points. A few minuteslater, Kozyrev returned to the microphone and said that his earlierremarks did not reflect Moscow’s current views but only what suchviews might be if the wrong people came to power in Russia.

–Kozyrev’s October 1994 refusal at the last moment to sign Russiaonto NATO’s Partnership for Peace program followed by protestationsthat of course he and Yeltsin wanted to but needed a better dealfrom the West to allow them to take this step.

–Kozyrev’s April 1995 suggestion that Russia had the right tointervene militarily in the former Soviet republics on behalfof ethnic Russians there was quickly followed by his explanationsthat he didn’t intend his remarks to apply to the Baltic statesand that he didn’t mean this as a threat.

In all three cases, Kozyrev’s strategy worked with foreign governments. Only four countries criticized Kozyrev’s behavior in Stockholm,not including the United States. Most NATO members rushed todeclare that they understood Kozyrev’s and Yeltsin’s politicalproblems at home with joining the Partnership for Peace. And exceptfor Germany and the Scandinavian countries, no Western governmentcriticized Kozyrev’s suggestion in April that Moscow could nowpursue a policy analogous to the one that led to war in Europein 1939.

Western diplomats and commentators in each case excused behaviorthat would have been condemned if it had been practiced by anyoneelse. Anyone who doubts that should imagine how the world mightremark if governments of Germany or Hungary suggested that theyhad the right to use military force to protect their co-ethnicswho are citizens of other countries. Or imagine how the worldwould react if Secretary of State Warren Christopher made a statementand then immediately retracted it, explaining that his words reflectednot Washington’s current policy but rather the policy of somefuture Republican administration.

Not surprisingly, Andrei Kozyrev is proud of his use of thisstrategy. In the current issue of Foreign Policy, he suggeststhat his approach has both increased Russian influence abroadand generated domestic political support for Yeltsin and himself. But such a claim, although accepted by many in the West, is almostcertainly untrue at least within Russia itself.

As the Duma prepares to debate Kozyrev’s stewardship of foreignpolicy this week, Russian commentators and politicians from acrossthe spectrum have become increasingly critical of the foreignminister. Among the most prominent and interesting comments arethe following:

–Writing in the May 31 Literaturnaya gazeta, political observerAleksandr Sabov denounced Kozyrev’s Stockholm speech as inappropriatebehavior for the representative of a great power and noted thathis current speeches now contain "in all seriousness almostthe same collection of ideas and threats" that Kozyrev saidwould be true only if the wrong people came to power in Russia. Moreover, such "shock diplomacy," Sabov argued, hasled the foreign minister into even greater difficulties: It islegally nonsensical to claim a right to use military force todefend people who are not your citizens and would as a principleof behavior lead to wars throughout the world. And Kozyrev’spropensity for suddenly shifting his positions–a tendency thatSabov suggested will only intensify as the elections approach–makesRussia an ever less reliable partner.

–In the May 21 issue of Kommersant-Daily, Georgiy Vovt and AleksandrBitov also criticized Kozyrev for his remarks on using force todefend ethnic Russians abroad but largely because they are convincedthat he did not mean it. Threats, they write, do not equal actions,and in this case perhaps such threats should because "thesituation in the ex-USSR is in general unique." And in dismissingKozyrev’s words about defending ethnic Russians abroad, Krasnayazvezda’s political observer Aleksandr Gol’ts said that "onlythe most naive" could fail to recall the Stockholm speechwhenever the Russian foreign minister says something patentlyoutrageous.

–And in a series of articles in the now defunct Nezavisimayagazeta in May, political commentator Nina Petrova said that the"vapid" and inconstant personality of Russia’s foreignminister had both revealed and exacerbated the fundamental weaknessof Russia rather than served as a defense of Russian interests. She said that Kozyrev’s remarks about defending Russians abroadwere a form of demagoguery, but an ineffective form because neitherethnic Russians living in the former Soviet republics nor Russiansliving in Russia have any confidence that Kozyrev would actuallyback such a use of force.

Given Kozyrev’s inability to generate support at home from suchremarks–the reason Western leaders most frequently cite for notcriticizing him at least in public–perhaps the West should considerthe possibility that by failing to respond quickly and clearlyto such remarks, it is the West and the remaining friends of theWest in Russia who are the big losers, particularly as Yeltsinand Kozyrev demonstrate by their actions in Chechnya, Iran andat home that they increasingly look to Russian nationalists ratherthan Russian democrats for support.

Paul Goble is the Editor-in-Chief of the Monitor andPrism.