Robert O. Freedman, Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor of Political Science and president of Baltimore Hebrew University, is the author or editor of sixteen books on the Soviet Union, Russia, and the Middle East, most recently The Middle East and the Peace Process (University Press of Florida, 1998).
How much of a role does Russia have in the Middle East? While Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov struts around the region trying to restore Russian prestige to its old Soviet level, his country's very severe economic and military weaknesses undercut his ability to make it a Middle Eastern power. Worse, Russia's badly disjointed policymaking process, in which a wide range of institutions conflict over policy with each other and the foreign ministry, hamper his efforts and render unclear Russia's goals in the region.
To understand Russia's current position, as well as to see the purpose of its policies, requires an analysis of the interplay of the forces making Russian foreign policy, the impact of the country's military and economic weakness, and then a look at policies toward key states—Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Israel.
FOREIGN POLICY DIVISIONS
Russian policy toward the Middle East is often disjointed and has little in the way of military or economic strength to support it. The organizations that actually carry out foreign policy are badly divided and often conflict with one another. As a Moscow business-oriented periodical suggests, Russian observers are quick to note that their foreign policy apparatus is badly divided:
It is impossible to pursue an integrated foreign and foreign economic policy today (in part) because Russia's political and economic elite, including its ruling elite, not only is not consolidated, but has split into competing, hostile factions, groups and groupings that are openly battling each other. It would be simply foolish for our foreign partners not to take advantage of this circumstance at any talks with Moscow.1
Three factions dominate the debate. (1) Atlanticists place primary emphasis on good ties with the United States and want Russia to be part of Western civilization. On the key issue of Russian policy toward the "Near Abroad" (the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union), Atlanticists advocate normal diplomatic relations between sovereign states, reject the idea of Russia seeking to impose its will, and are generally favorably disposed towards Israel. In the area of economics, they advocate rapid reform and privatization. (2) Eurasianists, in the middle of the Russian political spectrum, advocate a foreign policy that equally emphasizes Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. They forward an assertive policy vis-à-vis the Near Abroad, whereby Russia is clearly the dominant outside power. They advocate economic reform and privatization but at a slower pace than the Atlanticists. (3) An odd combination of ultra-nationalists and unrepentant Communists advances an outspokenly anti-American (and anti-Israel) foreign policy. They seek the reestablishment of Russian hegemony in the Near Abroad and call for Russia to be a strong, centralized state.
Institutionally, the main actors making Russian policy toward the Middle East divide into several sectors: the executive branch, other governmental branches, and non-governmental organizations.
Executive branch. In theory at least, Yeltsin and his staff have the last word in foreign policy, but he has been both ill and preoccupied with domestic politics. Consequently, a battle royal has taken place among groups and institutions seeking to influence foreign policy.
As for Primakov, he inherited a Foreign Ministry in January 1996 that was particularly ineffectual at leading and coordinating foreign policy due to youth and lack of experience in the higher echelons of the Soviet bureaucracy of his predecessor, Andrei Kozyrev (who served as foreign minister in 1992-95) and to Kozyrev's facing a host of rival governmental and non-governmental organizations. As a result, what should have been the most important of institutions in the making of foreign policy had become just one of many contenders.
Reformers such as Boris Nemtzov and Anatoly Chubais retain very important positions and make up an influential group in foreign policymaking. Nemtzov is currently primus inter pares among the three deputy prime ministers and sits in for the prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko, when the later leaves Moscow. Chubais heads Unified Energy Systems, a very important energy conglomerate. The reformers' foreign policy successes include watering down the union between Russia and Belarus and encouraging a 1997 Russian-Ukrainian agreement to divide the Black Sea fleet. Indeed, a new era of Russian domestic policy may have begun with Kiriyenko's appointment to replace Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister at the end of April 1998, in which reformers hold the key positions. As energy minister, Kiriyenko publicly stated that he is not opposed to a pipeline that goes from Azerbaijan through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the Mediterranean2 which many hawks in the Russian government opposed because it would increase the economic strength and political independence of Azerbaijan and Georgia. Kiriyenko similarly appears to favor good ties with Israel as well as Turkey.
The Defense Ministry has played an important role in the making of some policies (such as those toward conflicts in Tajikistan and between Armenia and Azerbaijan) and had an impact on others. The defense and foreign ministers publicly disagreed over Iran in December 1996, for example, when Defense Minister Igor Rodionov warned that Iran could be a military threat to Russia even as Foreign Minister Primakov was visiting Iran to bolster Russian-Iranian relations.3 The rapid turnover of defense ministers over the last three years (Pavel Grachev, Rodionov, Igor Sergeev) has weakened the influence of the Defense Ministry but it may again be a factor in the future.
Rosvooruzheniye, the arms sales agency headed by Yevgeny Ananyev, appears willing to sell arms to any state to make a profit, heedless of the political consequences. For example, the proposed sale of the SAM-300 missile system to Cyprus could conceivably precipitate a war between Russia and Turkey. While Primakov seems to support Rosvooruzheniye, others within the Russian establishment do not; the newly-appointed head of Russia's security council, Andrei Kokoshin, argues that "One of the main principles of the export of weapons should be the interest of our national security, our defense security, rather than commercial interests."4
The Ministry of Atomic Energy, headed by Yevgeny Adamov, pushes for the sale of Russian nuclear reactors. Its efforts vis-à-vis Iran and India have provoked a major clash with the United States. The ministry has aggressively pushed the sale of Russian nuclear reactors throughout the world, even, as in the case of Iran, going beyond the apparent instructions of Yeltsin by trying to sell a gas centrifuge system capable of producing nuclear weapons-grade material.
Other governmental branches. The Duma (or Russian parliament) has served as the most important sounding board for the elite to oppose Yeltsin's foreign policy. Despite the Duma's relatively limited powers in the foreign policy arena, Yeltsin must keep its wishes in mind because it reflects an important segment of Russian opinion. This was particularly the case in Kozyrev's time as foreign minister. In the period 1992-96, the Duma became more nationalistic and less willing to cooperate with the United States; Yeltsin responded by taking an increasingly hard-line in foreign policy, especially toward the Near Abroad and the Middle East. Indeed, Yeltsin responded to the hard-liners' victory in the Duma elections of December 1995 by appointing Yevgeny Primakov as foreign minister in January 1996. Primakov—one of the few cabinet ministers to be retained in the new Kiriyenko government—may be seen as Yeltsin's ambassador to the Duma.
Regions and autonomous republics of Russia, such as Astrakhan and Tatarstan, are becoming increasingly important in the formulation of foreign policy; and the election of Alexander Lebed, former head of the National Security Council whom Yeltsin fired in October 1996, as governor of Krasnoyarsk in May 1998, seems likely further to enhance their influence. Yeltsin's appointment of reformer Viktor Khristyenko as deputy prime minister in charge of relations with the regions and autonomous republics of Russia suggests his acknowledgment of this fact.
Non-governmental organizations. The oil and gas corporations (Lukoil, Gasprom, and Transneft) are among the most influential of the foreign policymaking groupings, having successfully stood up to the foreign ministry on a number of issues, including the development of the oil resources of the Azeri section of the Caspian Sea. These organizations were closely linked to former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin (who was in office 1992-98), and apparently have quickly established close ties with Kiriyenko in recent months. Indeed during the Duma debates over Kiriyenko's candidacy, Lukoil's president Vagit Alekperov publicly praised him;5 and Kiriyenko, in his first major speech to the Duma as prime minister, stated that he opposed the breaking up of Gasprom and pledged that he would help those Russian oil companies hurt by the recent declines in the price of oil.6
Banking and media magnates who move in and out of government positions constitute another important group. Boris Berezovsky, the former deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council (1996-97) who helped negotiate an end to the war in Chechnya, may be the most important of these. Vladimir Potanin, a deputy prime minister in 1996-97, allied with Berezovsky in the effort to help re-elect Yeltsin in 1996, then broke with Berezovsky and now actively competes with him. Despite their competition, the magnates have a similar outlook—"make money, not war"—and generally support a moderate foreign policy emphasizing economic gain over geopolitical advantage, an outlook Kiriyenko, as Chernomyrdin before him, also holds.
Even more problematic than these divisions is the Russian government's having to act from a very weak base. If foreign policy ultimately rests on two major instruments—military force and economic power—Moscow faces serious problems. Primakov's peripatetic travels cannot hide the fact that Russia has few resources to back his diplomatic activities.
Other than an extensive array of nuclear weapons (that are of little utility in post-cold war crises), Russia has very little these days in the way of military capability. The Russian army's disastrous performance in Chechnya exposed just how weak the armed forces have become. There are many cases of soldiers and sailors not being paid for months; graft and corruption are endemic. Air force pilots spend very few hours training in the air and much military equipment has sharply deteriorated. The rapid turnover of defense ministers compounds these problems. It may take years before the Russian military acquires a genuine conventional war-fighting capability.
The economy is even more problematic. While the government claims to have reduced inflation to 11 percent in 1997, this may have been achieved by its own failure to pay wages and pensions on time. Similarly, although the government says the gross domestic product stabilized in 1997, after five years of decline, Moscow's need that year for International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans and even a bridging loan from the financier George Soros demonstrates just how precarious the state of the Russian economy remains. Russia has yet to create a climate to attract substantial foreign investment because of fuzzy tax laws, differences between the federal and provincial governments on taxation and regulation, local "partners" (some of whom are mafia) who don't respect partnership agreements, and many other problems. The Asian economic crisis also struck a major blow. All three of Russia's main exports have suffered in the past year. Some of Russia's arms clients in Asia have had to defer their purchases due to their economic crisis. The sharp drop in oil prices (from $18.50 per barrel to $13 in less than a year) has played havoc with Russian economic planning. And the price of gold—Russia's "export of last resort"—has also dropped precipitously (from $344 per ounce to $296 in the same time period).
Russian leaders are quite aware of their economic constraints and acknowledge these publicly. The newspaper Izvestia commented on Moscow's inability to get the newly independent states of the Caucasus and Central Asia to follow its lead on Caspian Sea oil policy:
Pressure can be used effectively only by those who have strength, economic, political and military strength. And, what is far more important, intellectual strength. Judging from the fact that the leaders of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia are more and more persistently bypassing Russia as they pave the way to the West for their countries and their resources, our country doesn't have that combination of strength. Trying to exert pressure without having strength makes one look ridiculous. An individual can afford to do this. But a state, never.7
Yeltsin noted in a May 1998 interview that "Today's global centers of attraction stand because of their economic rather than military might." He argued that Russia had not inherited a solid economic foundation from the Soviet Union, and that "redressing this abnormality is both a domestic and foreign political task."8
The contradictions and problems facing Russian foreign policymakers become clear when one looks at Russian policy toward four Middle East states: Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Israel.
Russian policy toward Iraq started to shift away from strong support of the U.S. position in January 1993 when Yeltsin, under fire from nationalists and communists in the Duma, dropped his backing for the embargo on Iraq in favor of criticizing renewed U.S. bombing of that country. By 1994, the Russian government began to call for the lifting of sanctions, echoing the Duma's several votes, though Yeltsin was unwilling in fact to breach them unilaterally for fear of severely damaging relations with the United States. Even before Primakov took office, Iraq's deputy prime minister Tariq ‘Aziz had begun to visit Moscow. In 1994 Kozyrev tried (without success) to defuse a major crisis precipitated by Saddam Husayn, much as Primakov would try to do in 1997 and 1998.9
Since 1996, with Primakov as foreign minister, Yeltsin has three major interests in developing Russia's relationship with Iraq. First, he uses assertive diplomacy to demonstrate to the world and to a hostile Duma that Russia remained an important factor in the world, both willing and able to oppose the United States. Andrei Piontkowski of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow summed up this outlook during the Iraqi crisis of November 1997: "For 30 years we were a superpower equal to the United States. Now the political elite is in a difficult period, feeling diminished, and compensates at least by standing up to the U.S. on minor issues."10 Second, Yeltsin's Russia seeks repayment for the estimated $7 billion dollars owed it by the Iraqi government—something that will not happen until the lifting of sanctions on Iraq.
Third, Russian manufacturers and oil and gas companies seek contracts in Iraq, even though they cannot actually do anything until sanctions are lifted. Saddam Husayn cleverly dangles major contracts before influential Russian companies to spur the Russians to make greater efforts to lift the sanctions. Interestingly, the deals he offers, such as one to Lukoil to develop the West Kurna oil field, keeping 75 percent of the profits and paying no Iraqi taxes,11 bring to mind Iraqi oil concessions when the country was a colony of Britain. This sweetheart deal has not surprisingly made Lukoil a major actor in the Iraqi lobby that operates in Moscow, pushing hard for the lifting of sanctions. Even before sanctions are lifted, under the U.N.-approved oil-for-food agreement, Russia has become a major purchaser of Iraqi oil, committing to the purchase of 36.7 million barrels in 1997.12
These interests explain Primakov's behavior in the Iraqi crises of both October-November 1997 and January-February 1998. With dramatic flair, following the expulsion of U.S. weapons inspectors from Iraq, Primakov called Secretary of State Madeleine Albright back from a visit to India and met with her and other members of the U.N. Security Council at two in the morning in Geneva, November 20, 1997. With French help, he put together an agreement whereby the American weapons inspectors would be let back into Iraq in return for a vague promise about the lifting of sanctions. Yeltsin and Primakov then basked in international acclaim. An important daily noted with pride that the denouement, though perhaps temporary, "demonstrated the ability that Russia still has in world affairs, even in its current very weakened state."13
When Moscow's efforts proved short-lived (in January 1998, Saddam began backtracking on the agreement he reached with Primakov) and the United States and Britain massed military forces in the Persian Gulf, Primakov again scurried to solve the crisis. This time the Russian diplomatic effort was far more disjointed. The foreign ministry claimed it had reached an agreement on inspections with Baghdad, only to have Baghdad immediately repudiate that agreement. To make matters worse, Yeltsin, perhaps to regain the initiative, threatened "world war" if the U.S. bombed Iraq and pledged that Russian "would not allow" such an attack.14 He also asserted that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan would go to Iraq—before Annan had agreed to do so.
Moscow did not have its "world war" bluff called and the Security Council decision did permit Iraq to sell more oil. But all the Russian diplomatic activity achieved little in terms of getting sanctions lifted. Worse, if Saddam Husayn backtracks on his agreement with Annan and if subsequent Russian diplomatic efforts cannot prevent an American
attack on Iraq, Primakov's limited diplomatic achievements may pale into insignificance.
Russian-Iranian relations began their rapid development in the later Gorbachev years. After supporting first Iran and then Iraq in their war, Gorbachev had by July 1987 clearly tilted toward Iran. The relationship was solidified in June 1989 when ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani visited Moscow and signed a number of major agreements, including one on military cooperation that permitted Iran to purchase highly sophisticated military aircraft from Moscow, including MIG-29s and SU-24s. This Soviet equipment was much needed at a time when the Iranian air force had been badly eroded by the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war, and by the refusal of the U.S. government to supply spare parts, let alone new planes to replace losses to the aircraft it had sold the shah's regime.
The 1990-91 Kuwait war increased Iran's military dependence on Moscow. It not only turned the United States, Iran's primary enemy, into the leading military power in the Persian Gulf, but also pushed Saudi Arabia, Iran's most important Islamic challenger, to acquire massive amounts of U.S. weaponry. In response, the pragmatic Rafsanjani was careful not to alienate Moscow. He ensured that Iran kept a relatively low profile in Azerbaijan and Central Asia, and that it promoted cultural and economic ties rather than Islamic ones.15 The Russian leadership appreciated Iran's restraint in the Caucasus and Central Asia, which encouraged Moscow to continue supplying Iran with modern weaponry—including submarines—and to disregard strong protests coming from the United States.
Russian-Iranian relations continued to develop rapidly during the Kozyrev era, when Russia went beyond selling arms to sell nuclear reactors. Even so, economic gain was but one of Russia's many interests in Iran. Yeltsin used close relations with Tehran (as with Baghdad) to demonstrate his independence of the United States to nationalists in the Duma. Here, too, oil and natural gas development are a third major Russian interest. Despite U.S. objections, Gasprom, along with the French oil company Total and the Malaysian company Petronas, signed a major agreement with Iran in 1997 to develop the South Pars gas field.
A greatly weakened Russia has also found Iran a useful ally in a host of political hot spots. In Chechnya, despite the use by the Chechen rebels of Islamic themes in their conflict with Russia, Iran kept a very low profile. In Tajikistan, Iran helped Russia achieve a political settlement, albeit a shaky one. In Afghanistan, Russia and Iran stood together against Taliban efforts to seize control over the country. They work together in relation to Azerbaijan, which neither Iran (with a sizable Azeri population) nor Russia wishes to see emerge as a significant power. In particular, the two states have worked to limit the development of Caspian Sea-area hydrocarbons by Azerbaijan, Kazakstan and Turkmenistan. In addition, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expands eastward and Turkish influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia increases, many Russian nationalists see close Russian-Iranian relations as a counterbalance.
Primakov has sought further to deepen relations with Iran but has also had to cope with increasing frictions in the relationship, starting with the defense ministry's fears of Iran as a possible military threat to Russia, given Russia's military weakness and its limited control over the North Caucasus. Second, Iran's own economic problems mean that it lacks the hard currency to pay for the weapons and industrial equipment it wants to import from Russia. Predictions of billions of dollars in Russian-Iranian trade have proven wrong: it dropped to $400 million in 1997 (less than Russia's trade with Israel).
Russian supplies of missile technology to Iran cause increasing conflict with the United States (and Israel). This issue has become a serious irritant in Russian-American relations, with particularly sharp criticism of Moscow coming from the U.S. Congress. Russia's public announcement that it was expelling an Iranian diplomat in late 1997 for trying to smuggle missile technology16 and its January 1998 promise to stop selling dual use equipment to Tehran have not solved this problem.
Finally, Iran has in the past two years increasingly pushed itself forward as the export route for Central Asian oil and natural gas, thereby coming into direct conflict with
the Russian hard-liners who seek to control the oil and gas exports of Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Iran has sought to defuse this problem by organizing tripartite projects with Russia and the Central Asian states and cooperating with Moscow on the question of sovereign rights in the Caspian Sea, but the availability of an alternate Iranian export route remains a major problem for Moscow. If a rapprochement between Iran and the United States takes place, ending U.S. efforts to prevent foreign investments in Iran's oil and natural gas business, this would create more problems for Moscow because the least expensive and most secure route to Caspian Sea oil and natural gas is through Iran, as it is for Turkmeni natural gas.
More than Iraq or Iran, Turkey and Israel pose a foreign policymaking problem. In the former two, most key Russian actors agree with each other, making Kozyrev's and Primakov's stewardship relatively easy. But in the latter two, sharp disagreements hamper efforts to establish a coherent policy.
With Turkey, Russia has many reasons to pursue good relations. It is Russia's main trading partner in the Middle East, with bilateral trade amounting to $10-12 billion a year (two-thirds of Russia's trade with Germany). Turkish construction companies are active throughout Russia, even acquiring the contract for the repair of the Duma's building (the "White House"), damaged by the fighting in October 1993. Indicative of this close relationship, Turkish merchants donated $5 million to Yeltsin's re-election campaign in 1996.17 A large flow of Russian tourists visit Turkey, especially Istanbul and Antalya. "Suitcase" businessmen also move back and forth, with the Laleli district of Istanbul their primary destination for buying goods to take back home.
Turkey purchases military equipment from Russia, including helicopters embargoed by some NATO countries (including, until recently, the United States) because of concern that they would be used in Turkey's ongoing conflict with its Kurdish minority. It also buys large amounts of natural gas from Russia, giving Gasprom real incentive to promote Russian-Turkish relations. Gasprom chief, Rem Vakhirev, announced in November 1997 that his company would build a natural gas pipeline under the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey and would increase the supply of gas to Turkey from 3 billion cubic meters per year in the year 2000 to 16 billion cubic meters per year in the year 2010, thus providing Turkey with about half of its expected natural gas needs.18 Chernomyrdin, then prime minister, visited Turkey in mid-December 1997 to finalize the pipeline deal and signed other agreements, one of which promised that the two countries would abstain from actions likely to harm the economic interests of the other or threaten its territorial integrity.19 If fully applied, that would mean Russian non-interference in the construction of a possible Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey pipeline; rumors hold that Turkey would hire Russian companies to help build the pipeline.
There are also serious problems. Turkey competes for influence with Russia in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It hopes to build a network of pipelines that will take Azeri oil through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan (on the Mediterranean), thereby completely avoiding Russian territory and influence; the Russians want the oil to end up at their port of Novorossisk. Concerned about the ecological dangers of supertankers going through the Bosporus and Dardanelles, Turkey has limited such traffic, thereby leading Russia to threaten to build an alternate pipeline route from the Black Sea through Bulgaria and Turkey's enemy, Greece. Russia complains that the Turks actively aided the Chechen rebellion, threatening Moscow's control of the entire North Caucasus.
The Russian arms sales organization, Rosvooruzheniye, agreed to sell a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system, the SAM-300-PMU-1, to the Greek Cypriot government on the divided island of Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots claim the missiles will only defend their section of the island against the Turks occupying the northern section, but the missiles' 150 kilometer range reaches far beyond the island and into southern Turkey, where they could seriously complicate Turkish air maneuverability. The Turkish government appears to take the threat of these missiles very seriously. It is inspecting, on various pretexts, ships going through the Bosporus and Dardanelles and has flatly warned that it will not allow the missiles to be deployed. At the end of January 1998, Primakov stated that Russia intends to honor the missile deal in the absence of an agreement on the demilitarization of Cyprus20—something to which Turks are very unlikely to agree. If the missile deal does go through and the Turks make good on their threats to destroy the missiles, they possibly would kill a number of Russian technicians in the process. This may well lead to a showdown in the Russian foreign policy establishment with those favoring improved economic ties with Turkey clashing with those, such as Primakov, who seek the geopolitical advantages of an alignment with Greece.
These many conflicting interests go far to explain why Russia's policy toward Turkey has not been coherent, and why it appears to have become even less coherent since Primakov took power. In January 1997, the arms firm Rosvooruzheniye sold helicopters to Turkey which used them to suppress the Kurdish rebellion even as the foreign ministry allowed Kurdish nationalists to hold formal conferences in Moscow. Looking at recent Russian-Turkish relations suggests that Russia's right hand doesn't know, or doesn't care, what its left hand is doing.
The relationship with Israel also reflects a conflict between Russians with economic interests versus the hard-liners and geo-politicians. In this case, the latter came to the fore only when Primakov, an advocate of close relations with the Arabs, became foreign minister.
Russia has a number of interests in Israel. Their growing trade crossed the $500 million mark in 1995, making Israel its second trade partner in the Middle East. A close relationship with Israel enables Russia to play (or appear to play) a leading role in the Arab-Israeli peace process, enabling Yeltsin to demonstrate to his critics that Russia remains a factor in world politics. The more than 800,000 Russian-speaking Jews now resident in Israel make that country the largest Russian-speaking diaspora outside the former Soviet Union, which has led to very significant ties in the areas of cultural exchange and tourism. Also, the fact that many of the workers in Israel's aircraft industry had experience in the Soviet military-industrial complex makes the Russian military-industrial complex increasingly interested in co-producing military aircraft with Israel.
Kozyrev's tenure saw relatively few disputes with Israel, though Israel did express displeasure at Russian arms sales to Iran. Moscow adopted a very even-handed approach when disputes between Israel and Arabs took place, as in Lebanon. It strongly supported the Oslo I and Oslo II accords as well as the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. When Primakov took over, the Foreign Ministry adopted a far more critical tone. As the Israeli-Palestinian peace process floundered, Primakov thrust Russia forward as a mediator—both to gain world recognition for Russia's increased diplomatic role and to reduce Arab dependence on the United States. The result was a chilling of Russian-Israeli political relations as Primakov severely criticized Israeli policy both toward Lebanon and toward the Palestinians. Adding to the strain, Russia has engaged in serious discussions with Syria about new arms sales.
Still, not everything soured. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a rather successful visit to Moscow in March 1997, during which Israel granted Russia a $50 million agricultural credit and held discussions about the expansion of trade, including Israel's purchase of Russian natural gas. Although Netanyahu later canceled further discussion of the natural gas deal because of the Russian supply of missile technology to Iran and because political relations deteriorated, Russian and Israeli firms still signed an agreement to co-produce an Airborne Warning Control System (AWACS) aircraft.21 The Israeli food manufacturer Tnuva even filmed a "milk in space" commercial aboard the Russian space station MIR.22
As in the case of Russia's relations with Turkey, relations with Israel may increasingly become a battleground within the foreign policy establishment. On the one side stand those interested in good economic and even military-technical relations with Israel; on the other are those seeking political advantages through a closer relationship with the Arabs. During the period that Chubais and Nemtzov were allied with such business magnates as Berezovsky, it appeared that the first group would prevail over the second. The split between the reformers and Berezovsky during the late summer of 1997, however, seems to have given Primakov more room to maneuver. Still, the outcome of the struggle over Russian foreign policymaking is still very much in doubt, particularly with the reformers again growing in influence.
Primakov has adopted two main strategies to compensate for his state's weaknesses. First, he has sought out foreign allies with similar interests, such as France, so that Russia need not act alone. In the Iranian case this strategy has met with success; in the Iraqi crisis of February 1998 it did not (the U.N. Secretary General had to intervene to save Russia from a possible diplomatic fiasco).
Second, to achieve a modicum of cohesion, he has (like Kozyrev before him) lined up as many as possible of the quasi-independent actors in favor of a particular policy. In the case of policy toward Iran and Iraq, both of them put together a coalition consisting of nationalists in the Duma, energy companies, the atomic energy ministry, the ministry of foreign economic relations and the Russian arms sales agency, Rosvooruzheniye. Consequently, policy toward Iran since 1992 has been coherent. In the case of Iraq, they both constructed a similar grouping of Duma nationalists, oil companies, Rosvooruzheniye, and the Treasury. Here too, since 1993, policy has been relatively coherent.
In contrast, policy toward Turkey and Israel has been incoherent. In the case of Turkey, the contradictions that existed during Kozyrev's era have been exacerbated under Primakov. Major Russian financial powers such as Gasprom have been directly at odds with the Foreign Ministry. Even worse, without apparent political supervision, Rosvooruzheniye has proved willing to sell arms both to the Turks and the Greek Cypriots. When it comes to Israel, the once-warm diplomatic relations of the Kozyrev era have become badly strained under Primakov, although cultural, economic and even military cooperation has increased. Still, the internal conflict has not been quite so sharp as the Turkish case: Gasprom, the financial magnates, and even some arms producers seek good ties with Israel, while the foreign ministry increasingly sides with the Arab states.
These divisions have not yet led to a serious crisis but could cause Russia problems in the future. Two circumstances are most likely. First, war between the United States and Iraq would, in all likelihood, puncture the Russian diplomatic balloon for it will have shown Primakov's efforts to have been hollow. If this happens, Moscow will be diplomatically sidelined in the Middle East (much as happened in the aftermath of the Kuwait war of 1991). Second, a direct military confrontation between Turkey and Russia might occur, which could shake Russia to its core, unless the bifurcated policy toward Turkey ends.
However much Primakov may strut about the world stage, Russian diplomacy will be little more than a phenomenon of movement without substance until Yeltsin better controls the disparate elements in the Russian foreign policymaking establishment and Russia rebuilds its economic and military strength.
1 Kommersant, Aug. 23, 1995, in Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press (hereafter CDSP), vol. 47, no. 34 (1995): 25.
2 Cited in Gligori@aol.æcom (an on-line service specializing in Caucasian and Central Asian affairs), Mar. 18, 1998.
3 Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Dec. 26, 1996, in CDSP, vol. 48, no. 52 (1997): 6.
4 The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 11, 1998.
5 Financial Times, Mar. 26, 1998.
6 The Washington Post, Apr. 25, 1998.
7 Izvestia, Feb. 14, 1998, in CDSP, vol. 50, no. 7 (1998): 17.
8 Rossiskaya Gazetza, May 13, 1998, in "Johnson's
Russia List," #2177, May 14, 1998, p. 5, at David Johnson@Erols.com.
9 Robert O. Freedman, "Russian Policy toward the Middle East under Yeltsin," The Middle East and the Peace Process, ed. Robert O. Freedman (Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 1998), pp. 387-388.
10 The Washington Post, Nov. 13, 1997.
11 Kommersant, Mar. 26, 1997, in CDSP, vol. 49, no. 12 (1997): 19.
12 The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26, 1995.
13 Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Nov. 28, 1997, in CDSP, vol. 49, no. 48 (1997): 11.
14 The Washington Post, Feb. 6, 1998.
15 This was also due to the weakened state of Islam after more than seventy years of Soviet rule; the leaders of the Muslim successor states were all secular Muslims and the chances for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution were very low. Some skeptics argue, however, that Iranian hard-liners are waiting for Islam to mature in these countries before trying to stimulate Islamic revolutions.
16 The New York Times, Nov. 18, 1997, and Kommersant, Jan. 27, 1998, in CDSP, vol. 50, no. 4 (1998): 22.
17 Interviews by the author in Istanbul, Ankara, and Antalya, Turkey, June 14-28, 1996; and The Turkish Times, June 23, 1996.
18 Itar-Tass, Nov. 3, 1997, cited in Gligori@aol.com, Nov. 12, 1997.
19 Moscow News, Dec. 25, 1997-Jan. 8, 1998, p. 61.
20 Financial Times, Jan. 28, 1998.
21 Izvestia, June 20, 1997, in CDSP, vol. 49, no. 25 (1997): 28.
22 The Washington Post, Aug. 21, 1997.
Related Topics: Russia/Soviet Union | Robert O. Freedman | September 1998 MEQ
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