Stephen Grummon is a scholar-in-residence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on leave from the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. The opinions expressed here are solely his own.
INTRODUCTION BY STEPHEN GRUMMON
What should Russia's relations be with the Middle East? Ideas emanating from this debate are varied, and include the extremist arguments of Vladimir Zhirinovsky.1 The following two articles by Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Posuvalyuk, which appeared in Arabic in the London-based daily al-Hayat, focus on Russian policy toward the Persian Gulf. They probably represent the best public articulation to date of official Russian thinking on this subject.
Posuvalyuk is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan diplomat who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in career in recent years. He was appointed as the then-Soviet Union's first ambassador to Oman in 1988 and moved on to Baghdad as ambassador in 1990, assuming a low profile during the Kuwait war. Following the war, he returned to Moscow to become the head of the Middle East bureau of the Russian Foreign Ministry (the equivalent of an assistant secretary in the State Department). In November 1994, he was elevated to deputy foreign minister. His views are not those of a voice crying in the wilderness; on the contrary, his articles should be treated as important statements by a highly qualified, perceptive, and senior Russian official.
Posuvalyuk's first article serves as a retrospective and prospective analysis. Retrospectively, he explains the Russian response to Saddam Husayn's troop mobilization along the Kuwaiti border in October 1994. Prospectively, he provides a statement of purpose for Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's late-November 1994 visit to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. The second article, published after that visit, summarizes Posuvalyuk's perception of the accomplishments of Chernomyrdin's visit and reiterates key themes of the first essay.
The two articles have, however, a broader importance than to explain the transitory events of late 1994. They are part of a process of sketching out Russia's new, post-coalition policy in the Persian Gulf. How best can the country's interests be buttressed and protected? In effect, the articles are op-ed pieces, not finished policy papers with refined policy positions and operational detail. Moreover, Posuvalyuk does not address important aspects of Russia's Gulf strategy, such as policy toward Iran.
The articles contain five themes of particular importance:
* Russia is a great power with great power interests in this vital region. It is developing political, economic, and strategic policies for the Gulf.
* Moscow wants to be a guarantor of a future Persian Gulf security system, which would include Iraq (and therefore, given his staying power, Saddam Husayn).
* Russia is uniquely placed to provide valuable political and diplomatic services to stabilize the region and defuse tensions. Indeed, this is how Posuvalyuk interprets the Kremlin's diplomacy to help prevent Iraqi aggression against Kuwait in October and its role in getting Saddam to recognize Kuwait formally.
* Moscow is building for the future, fully achieving great power status in all respects.
* Russian diplomacy in the Gulf should be seen as serious.
Two factors account for a more assertive Russian policy in the Persian Gulf. One has to do with the reestablishment of Russia as a great power. The other involves a sense that the "near abroad" (republics of the former Soviet Union other than Russia) directly affects Russian stability and security; the Middle East, in other words, can affect the Caucasus and Central Asia, and through them Russia itself.
Is Moscow going to challenge the predominant U.S. security position in the Gulf? That is unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future. But the Russians are less willing to accept the post-Gulf War policy framework for the region developed and sustained by the United States, which seeks to isolate and contain Iraq and Iran and promote close U.S. bilateral security and commercial ties with the other Gulf states. Increasingly, that approach is seen by Moscow as serving only U.S. interests.
Americans can expect a much more independent and determined Russian policy in the Gulf in the period ahead. Indeed, this is already occurring, for example on policy toward sanctions on Iraq and toward the Russian-Iranian military relationship. That Moscow has better relations than Washington with the two powers of the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Iran, could be a source of future worries. Finally, in terms of the way the United States organizes itself bureaucratically to deal with Russia and its southern neighbors, Russian policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia, in the Gulf, and, more broadly, in the west Indian Ocean basin will need to be viewed as a single unit of analysis. That is to say, Russian policy in the Gulf is not strictly a Middle Eastern policy issue, and Russian policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia is not strictly an extension of European security issues.
The first article was published in al-Hayat on November 13, 1994, and the second in the same paper on December 13, 1994. We rely on an original translation by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service for the first, and Mideast Mirror (December 13, 1994) for the second, both published here with permission.
TEXT OF NOVEMBER 13, 1994
I think that Iraq's recent step in recognizing Kuwait and its sovereignty over its territory sums up the purpose of this article, which I have written to explain the initiative we undertook during the recent Gulf crisis.
The move to recognize, however, remains part of a wider process, as I understand it. I think that the emotional storm raised around the Gulf crisis, caused by Iraq's maneuvers in the south near the Kuwaiti borders, has now calmed down. Therefore, a possibility and need arises for a calm discussion on what has happened and what could have happened, and on the drama that went on behind the new scene, a drama that has not ended yet and that began with Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in August 1990.
Russia's actions, particularly the visits paid to Iraq by First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, have caused many sharp reactions. There were contradictory reactions, including many positive ones. There were also hasty and even nervous comments and occasional criticisms. I also heard voices asking: How could Russia present its own initiative? I am confident that these transient shadows and scenes have generally become something of the past, and instead of misunderstanding, efforts have again been made for interaction and cooperation. I should note that during his tour, the Russian foreign minister was in constant touch with his American counterpart and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, China, and other large countries.
Let me begin with Iraq's maneuvers. Russia condemned them and clearly said in a statement it issued that "the language of ultimatums addressed to Kuwait and other states is rejected."
I will now move on to the motives of Moscow's political course in those days. These motives were sometimes misinterpreted in a way that distorted the truth and was inappropriate in essence. The most common misinterpretation was one that claimed that Moscow's only concern was to get back from Baghdad debts estimated at a few billion [no currency specified] as soon as possible. These billions were being cited in one article after another and constituted the main theme of commentaries and commentators. They said that Kozyrev went to Baghdad motivated by a desire to obtain all these billions as soon as possible.
I think, this was a superficial assumption regarding the motives that prompted the Russian leadership and the minister himself to undertake this extremely complex tour. The matter was much more delicate and sensitive. Russia is a big power that shoulders a responsibility for security in this volatile and geographically close area. It is not a remote area that makes it possible for us to disregard the political games that take place in it. It is an area close to our southern borders. The effects of what happens there are clearly felt in our political life, including our domestic life. Therefore, our primary task was to safeguard security by shifting the efforts to the political sphere. I will go further and say that during our long talks in Baghdad, we did not discuss the debts issue, because more burning issues that demanded an immediate solution were on the agenda.
Naturally, Iraq's debt to Russia is a matter of national interest. We are not disregarding it. We will try to ensure the necessary conditions to guarantee that Russia is paid back. However, this is not our primary motive right now. The main motive is to ensure security and stability. The existence of a permanent smoldering or burning fire near our borders is damaging to us.
The superficiality in reading our motives appears also in the light of the establishment and development of relations between Russia and the Gulf states as a counterbalance to the development of relations with Iraq and the repayment of the debts at some stage after the sanctions. I note here that these relations are producing tangible material results now. I would like to note in particular that Moscow is currently making comprehensive and detailed preparations for the tour Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will make to the Gulf soon. In other words, we have something on this axis that we are proud of and do not want to lose. Still, I do not want one axis to conflict with the other. If we talk about the future, Russia is a vast country, and hence its interest in maintaining an open-door policy toward the promising and rich Gulf area. . . .
A question is often asked, as an innuendo to Russia: Do you trust Iraq when you carry out your policy, and what are your justifications? I think the way the question is worded is not sound. Confidence in politics is something that has a utopian sense, unless it is backed by practical measures like those laid down and implemented in Europe within the framework of the Conference on Security and Cooperation.
Following the known events, the U.N. Security Council's resolutions have placed Iraq under extremely severe restriction, in which it is still confined. The Security Council has forced Iraq to consistently implement the series of resolutions, including those pertaining to the liquidation of military programs, the weapons of mass destruction, missiles, and so forth. In this sense, I think that long-term monitoring is an effective and reliable means of supervision, particularly as it would take place against the background of extensive work conducted in the past years by highly qualified U.N. experts, using the most modern technology. In addition to monitoring, pressure must be exerted on Baghdad (and Russia was among the first to exert such pressure) to recognize Kuwait's independence and international borders.
In all this, Russia has not talked about an immediate elimination of the sanctions. There has been an unintentional mistake or a distortion of concepts in this regard. Russia has noted the need to begin implementing a monitoring system. (I emphasize here that this system is not a gift to Iraq, but a harsh restrictive measure and one of the methods to carefully monitor all the provisions of the U.N. Security Council resolutions). In other words, we are not proposing to end the sanctions, but to begin a test period. When this period ends and after Rolf Ekeus' U.N. commission determines that Baghdad has fully and honestly implemented the terms of resolutions, the U.N. Security Council can then start discussing the question of ending the oil embargo - not all the sanctions. In other words, the distance is still not small.
I would like to note that Kozyrev and his first deputy held extensive talks regarding the missing Kuwaiti citizens. I participated in talks held in Moscow with a Kuwaiti delegation that included persons searching for their relatives. A member of the delegation had lost two of his brothers. I thought then that had I, God forbid, lost two brothers, I would leave everything and try to find them.
On our part, we are showing extreme interest in this area on all levels, including security and defense. Relations on the security level are not shaped all at once. This field is very sensitive. In its capacity as the closest neighbor, a big maritime state, and a permanent U.N. Security Council member, Russia is increasingly interested in becoming one of the guarantors of security and stability in the Gulf area. Incidentally, I will say that looking to the future, Iraq will be one of the most important components of this system. . . .
Generally, I would like to say frankly that there are people who are trying to exploit the wave of events around Iraq to instill doubt in the Gulf states about Moscow's policy. I do not think that they have succeeded. Kozyrev's tour of the three Gulf states and his talks with their leaders convinced me that mutual confidence and good relations between Russian and the Gulf states are continuously growing. As they say, the caravan is moving on.
TEXT OF DECEMBER 13, 1994
There have been varying interpretations of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin's tour of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman. This was true even before the tour started.
The most ardent of the interpreters were those who tried to sell the assumption that the Russian official's aim was to ask for money and sell weapons. Those who considered themselves more composed said the tour was purely economic in nature. All those assumptions, which attribute the tour to purely pragmatic motives, have behind them a desire to belittle the political aspect of the visit.
It is no coincidence that the foreign media gave the visit, in my view, less importance than it deserves. As a general rule, every Russian move that has a sober political aspect and constitutes a qualitative move forward is ignored by the media, which, after some time, return to their old tune about Russia being weak in the Middle East. I personally have grown accustomed to this and am no longer surprised by it, especially since it does not detract from the importance of Chernomyrdin's visit, as evidenced, among many other things, by intense interest shown by the foreign ambassadors in the four countries I visited as a member of the delegation accompanying Chernomyrdin and by the many questions they posed.
The fact is the tour was very important.
Let us start with the fact that it was the first visit by a Russian prime minister to an Arab state.
The second point is that the Russian delegation was broadly representative. Its political wing included the speakers of the two houses of parliament, the presidents of the republics of Bashkiria and Kabardina-Balkaria, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davidoff, two ministers, and military officers.
The visit was political before anything else, and this became clear from the talks with the Saudi monarch, the emir of Kuwait, the sultan of Oman, and the leaders of the UAE.
The basis of the political dialogue was Moscow's appreciation of the importance of the Gulf community and a recognition on the part of our Gulf partners of Russia's special importance to them.
I will not repeat what I wrote in al-Hayat before [on November 13, 1994] about the importance of Russia and its location. I will only say that I came out of the talks with a new, clear feeling that the Gulf Arabs have begun to shake off the preconceived ideas that they tried to impose on them, the gist of which is that Russia has lost its weight and status and it is no longer useful to deal with it. The Arabs have begun to realize that this propaganda (I find no other name for it) is not aimed against Russia so much as against the interests of the Arabs themselves.
Let us start with politics. There was a great hullabaloo about a drop in Russia's standing. But it was Moscow that convinced Iraq to take a decision that I believe was historic regarding the recognition of Kuwait. One can only imagine the adulation and tributes that would have been dished out by the media had this been done by another party. There was also a big uproar about the collapse of the Russian defense industry, but international experts soon bore witness that the Russian planes and tanks were no worse than others, and some of them were better. In civilian industries, Russian science has come up with inventions that are being adopted--indeed there are attempts to steal them by many parties.
In our negotiations in the Gulf, we heard a tone that differed completely from the above said claims, and we felt there was an awareness that Russia has begun to climb out of its economic nadir and is showing signs of stability emerging with some difficulty.
I would note that the agenda of the political dialogue between Russia and the Gulf states is becoming broader and deeper on the level of confidence and trust. Obviously, there are several issues on which there is no identity of views, like the situation in Bosnia, although I would not give our differences a dramatic touch even on this point. The negotiations suggested that each party was trying to understand the other's logic and motives.
And it would be naïve to believe there is a total identity of views between Russia and the Gulf states on the Iraqi issue. I would point out that no identity of views exists between the Gulf states themselves, and the shadows of those differences were visible in the negotiations. But the important point is that Moscow's policy on Iraq has found credibility in the Gulf, along with recognition of the importance of the progress achieved and a desire to see Russian effort continue.
In this regard, the Russian side announced clearly that we are against aggression and violence, that we fully support Kuwait's sovereignty, and that we are prepared to be one of the guarantors of its security. Those pledged found genuine acceptance, and there was a clear interest in continuing contacts with Russia on this matter. The Russian foreign ministry is ready for this.
As the official in charge of the region's file, I hear more than my Russian diplomat colleagues questions and doubts about the strength of our positions in the Gulf. The Gulf tour convinced me that a fundamental point can be added to the objective fact that we started establishing relations with the states of the region only a few years ago; that we started from zero and that there were flaws and blunders (no one is perfect). The fundamental point is that someone is placing obstacles in Russia's way in the Gulf, claiming that the region is already congested and the competition there is stiff. This may be true, and some may have to pack up and make room for others--not only because Russia sincerely wants to strengthen its position in and relations with the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council but also because those states themselves are showing increasing interest in Russia.
I referred above to Russian military technology. I would add that there is dual use to every Military technology, meaning that it has a civilian aspect reflecting the highest scientific achievements. Among the civilian issues is the problem of water, which could become a source of concern or even conflict in the Middle and Near East. Russia has unique technological inventions in water desalination that have futuristic horizons into the 21st century. We felt there was great interest in this subject during the visit.
I want to make it clear that the Russian prime minister asked nothing from anyone. His visit had long-term goals. It was an invitation to long-term cooperation and to positions more appreciative of the Russian market and its export capabilities.
Naturally, the question of guarantees that would insure [the] safety [of capital] was raised. In this regard, the signing of contracts designed to instill more courage and confidence in Gulf capital took on a great deal of importance. By this I mean building a legal foundation on which to build our relations. I may concede that we are late in this, but as the Russian proverb says, "Better get there late than never." This was a vital task, as Gulf businessmen and financiers asserted in their meetings with Chernomyrdin.
I felt somewhat bitter because of the way some of those businessmen made light of the scope of cooperation with Russia. One can, of course, explain the meagerness of the commercial exchange with the situation in Russia (and I agree with them that there are many objective reasons). But one certain fact is that hundreds of international companies have begun working in Russia and are entrenching themselves in its vast market. These are far-sighted companies that know there will be an economic battle for Russia someday and are preparing for it as of now. Chernomyrdin said [to the Gulf businessmen]: "It would be better for you not to delay."2
Another important aspect of our relations: We don't know much about each other, and our knowledge is sometimes superficial or even negative. This is especially true if we take into account the nature of the articles being published in some media. The press is now turning the spotlight on the Russian Mafia, organized crime, smuggling, and other social ailments that do in fact exist in Russia. But few bother to write that despite all the difficulties, there is in Russia a people considered one of the most talented in the world; and the most patient and benevolent. It seems to me that Chernomyrdin was able to convey this to the leaders of the Gulf states.
There is in Russia a people considered one of the most talented in the world; and the most patient and benevolent. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin was able to convey this to the leaders of the Gulf states.
Here and there, in the press and press conferences, references have been made suggesting that there is something anti-Western in Russia's advent to the Gulf region, or even a spirit of hostility to America. This is a false impression. For seventy years, the USSR mobilized all its capabilities, which were not few, in a muscle-flexing competition with the West. Our people paid a high price for this. In other words, we have encountered that lesson and absorbed it in depth. This was one of the battlefields of the cold war, and we do not want to return to it or to the logic of confrontation.
We do, however, hope for a new political logic on our partners' part, and for a position that respects Russia's interests and needs.
1 See the excerpts from Zhirinovsky's Final Surge South, and Paul Quinn-Judge's introduction to them, in Middle East Quarterly, June 1994, pp. 87-91.
2 For an elaboration of Russian and Arab differences on investing in Russia, see the article by Mark N. Katz in this issue.