Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov has reportedly sent an official message to top military commanders around the country reminding them that Russia is pursuing a long-term policy of strategic partnership with China. The document, said to have been obtained by Interfax, speaks positively of multi-lateral force reductions along China’s border with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and also applauds the ongoing demarcation of the Russian-Chinese border. This demarcation, the message reportedly states, has removed a "source of constant friction and conflict" between Russian and China.
The Defense Minister’s message also reassured its recipients that improving relations with China were in no way compromising the country’s security, and noted that Russian troops in the Far East were being maintained at their current levels. Dissemination of the message, finally, was said to have been necessitated by the fact that some Russian military leaders had publicly questioned the course of the country’s policies vis-a-vis Beijing, and it warned that policy statements on this subject by military leaders had to accord with the official positions of Russia’s Foreign Ministry. (Interfax, January 14)
If actually penned by Rodionov, then the document in question would appear to be some sort of exercise in self-criticism. In statements made on the eve of a high-profile visit to Moscow by China’s Prime Minister in December, it was Rodionov himself who had listed Beijing among Russia’s potential enemies. Subsequently the Kremlin pointedly reminded Rodionov that he is not authorized to make statements bearing on foreign policy issues. (See Monitor, January 2-3)
Rodionov’s apparent recantation suggests that the Kremlin–possibly in the person of Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov — has chosen to reign him in publicly, at least on key questions of foreign policy. Rodionov’s message could also be aimed at muffling what may be some broader uneasiness in the armed forces over Russian transfers of advanced weaponry to China. Rodionov’s positive allusion to the border demarcation, in turn, may be connected with the Kremlin’s efforts to quash opposition to what some–especially in the Russian Far East–are depicting as a sell-out of the country’s national interests to Beijing. (See Monitor, January 2-3)
Prime Ministers’ Meeting Thwarts Russian Political Objectives.