Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 16

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters on January 22 that Russia had managed during, the course of last year, to boost its influence in world affairs. “Not only has Russia retained its status as a key player in the international scene over the past year,” Ivanov said, “it has objectively strengthened it.” Ivanov also described Russian foreign policy as “dynamic and well-balanced,” and said it served as a “stabilizing factor in international affairs.” He said that most nations now “recognize that the solution of crucial problems today is inconceivable without Russia’s direct involvement, and its interests being considered” (Itar-Tass, January 22).

Ivanov’s remarks, which he gave during a review of Russian foreign policy in 1998, reflect the government’s earlier decision to maintain an assertive stance abroad despite the country’s growing domestic woes. Although Ivanov was careful to give President Boris Yeltsin credit for remaining fully involved in foreign policy decisions despite his recent ailments, the driving force behind Russia’s continuing assertiveness on the international stage has undoubtedly been Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. The Russian premier served as foreign minister prior to his appointment as head of the government last August and was the architect of a more aggressive foreign policy. Since Primakov became prime minister, Ivanov and other Russian officials have done their best to emphasize that Moscow’s efforts to secure Western financial assistance would not undermine the country’s independent foreign policy course.

Russian diplomatic assertiveness has been most obvious in Moscow’s approach to the Kosovo and Iraqi crises and–vis-a-vis the United States at least–in Russia’s continued cooperation with Iran. Moscow’s prickliness regarding Kosovo and Baghdad was apparently on display once again on January 22 during a UN Security Council debate, which was to have been devoted to protecting civilians from the consequences of civil wars. Russian UN Ambassador Sergei Lavrov, however, used the debate to criticize the United States and Britain for their recent air attacks on Iraq, and NATO for its threats to strike at Yugoslavia. Lavrov reemphasized once again Moscow’s demand that such actions be subject to the Security Council’s approval (Reuters, Itar-Tass, January 22).