Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 222

The extent to which Russia’s economic woes have hamstrung efforts to fulfill at least some of the country’s key diplomatic goals was evident yesterday in a message sent by the Kremlin to U.S. President Bill Clinton and other participants at an international donor conference for the Palestinians. In the message, Russian President Boris Yeltsin praised efforts by the international community to promote peace in the Middle East. He also reminded the recipients that Moscow remains a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, saying that Russia would “continue to contribute effectively to ensuring progress” in the peace effort, “including promotion of the socioeconomic uplifting of the Palestinian territories.”

Russia intends to “continue rendering assistance in training Palestinian national personnel, [as well as in] developing Russian-Palestinian trade and economic cooperation” under an agreement signed during an October visit to Moscow by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Yeltsin said. The message was read out to the donors forum, which convened in Washington, by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Sredin (Itar-Tass, December 1).

Yeltsin’s remarks and Sredin’s presence notwithstanding, yesterday’s events in Washington demonstrated the extent to which Russia’s impoverished government has been marginalized of late in the revived Middle East peace negotiations. While the United States was raising its pledge of aid to the Palestinians to some US$900 million, and a host other countries were bringing the total aid commitment to more than US$3 billion, Russia–long a political supporter of the Palestinians–was not to be found among the donor countries (New York Times, December 1).

This does not mean that Russia will cease to be a player in the Middle East peace process. The Palestinians will undoubtedly continue to turn to Moscow for support when it makes sense politically. There are some indications, moreover, that Moscow may be on the verge of signing a series of lucrative arms deals with Syria, which would raise Russia’s profile in the region (Itar-Tass, November 19; Rossiiskaya gazeta, November 19). But yesterday’s events demonstrated anew both that Russia lacks the economic wherewithal to play the role of superpower in a number of important contexts, and that its influence in the Middle East and elsewhere will likely continue to be constrained by that fact.