Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 170

Recently named Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov used an address to his former colleagues yesterday to emphasize that Russia’s diplomats must continue to defend the country’s interests in the international arena. Primakov, who served as foreign minister for nearly three years, said that the primary goal of Russian diplomacy–particularly now during the country’s economic and political crisis–must be to create favorable external conditions for Russia’s domestic development.

Primakov listed three priorities for Russian foreign policy today: a maximum effort to aid the country in solving its domestic problems, a consistent defense of national interests without sliding into confrontation and the presentation abroad of a positive image of the new Russian government’s reform efforts. Primakov’s remarks to the gathering of top Russian diplomats came after he presented Igor Ivanov to them as Russia’s new foreign minister (Russian agencies, Xinhua, September 16). Russian reports have said that Primakov pushed for the appointment of Ivanov–a long-time first deputy foreign minister–to the top diplomatic post.

Russian leaders have said that the recent change in governments will not result in a change in the country’s foreign policy, an assertion that appears to have been reflected in yesterday’s proceedings. Primakov’s remarks suggest that the Russian Foreign Ministry will continue to try to balance two not entirely harmonious goals: on the one hand, to maintain generally friendly and cooperative relations with the West while, on the other, to pursue what Primakov perceives to be Russia’s interests in other parts of the globe. The first goal is aimed at winning Russia the benefits–both in economic and political terms–of sustained cooperation with the West. The second is aimed at maintaining friendly relations with a number of non-Western countries–India and China first but a host of others as well, including Iran, Iraq and Yugoslavia.

The trick for Moscow is in not allowing its foreign policy goals in these last areas to disrupt Russia’s relations with the West too seriously. The likely result is that Russia will continue to try to maintain Western friendship on the basis of Moscow’s proclaimed adherence to economic and political reforms and the benefits that Russian cooperation could bring in dealing with some of the world’s trouble spots. At the same time, Russia can be expected to pursue its interests in other parts of the globe–sometimes spurring or exacerbating the very conflicts that make Russian cooperation desirable for the West. Moscow can also be counted on to pursue its interests in ways that sometimes exploit growing post-Cold War differences between and among the Western allies.