Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 193

In an interview published yesterday by the Russian daily Nezavisimaya gazeta, a top Foreign Ministry official said that Russian diplomacy is guided by a conception of a multi-polar world, and that Moscow is in no way interested in the creation of military alliances in Asia. Grigory Karasin pointed specifically to Russia’s increasingly close relations with China to illustrate the point, claiming that "neither in Beijing nor in Moscow is anyone talking about any sort of military-political alliance."

Karasin also went out of his way to dismiss speculation that Moscow’s very active diplomacy in Asia — where partnership relations have also been established with India — reflects in any sense an effort by Russia to counter-balance NATO’s expansion in Europe. He said that Moscow sees relations with Asia and the West as equally important parts of its overall foreign policy, and argued that any imbalance in emphasis between East and West would be counterproductive for Moscow. (Russian agencies, October 15)

Karasin’s statement that Russian diplomacy in Asia should not be seen as a response to NATO enlargement contradicts assessments — real and implied — that have been voiced repeatedly by leading Russian political figures and analysts inside and outside of government. But that, in any event, seems not to have been the primary thrust of the remarks published yesterday. Instead, by specifically soft-pedaling the importance of Russia’s "strategic partnership" with China, Karasin appears to be preparing the ground for Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s November 1-2 meeting in Krasnoyarsk with Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. His remarks seemed aimed at reassuring Tokyo that Moscow does not see its friendly relations with Beijing as an obstacle to improved ties with Japan.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, any real improvement in Russia’s relations with Japan has been stymied by the inability of the two countries to resolve the Kuril Islands territorial dispute. That deadlock has impeded the flow of Japanese capital into Russia’s economically troubled Far Eastern region, and hindered Russia’s entry into the vibrant Pacific economy. But a change of diplomatic policy toward Russia, announced by Hashimoto in late July, suggested that Japan would no longer link trade and economic issues to the territorial dispute. (See Monitor, July 25, September 16) Moscow seems especially anxious to take advantage of this apparent softening in Japanese diplomacy, both to promote Japanese participation in a number of Russian Far Eastern economic projects, and, more generally, to redefine and expand Russia’s currently minor role as an Asian Pacific power.

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