Mr Kozyrev Departs

 

President Yeltsin has swiftly acceded to Communist demands for the removal of his pro western foreign minister Mr Andrei Kozyrev but in doing so his spokesman has stressed that the country's foreign policy will not be changed in any dramatic way. In fact Mr Kozyrev's enforced resignation will have more significance on the domestic front than in the area of international relations. He had not been fully in charge of foreign policy for some time having failed to diverge from his pro western posture while Mr Yeltsin moved increasingly drifted towards an isolationist anti western stance. His removal however will allow the Communists, under Mr Gennady Zyuganov, to claim a major success at home even before the new Duma, which they dominate, holds its first meeting on January 16th.

Mr Yeltsin, should he decide to stand in June, would face his first direct test of personal popularity since his election, in the Soviet era, as president of the old Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The indications are that his chances, or those of a nominated successor, would be slim. A nightmare scenario for the west would envisage a first round vote in which communist and nationalist candidates come first and second against a fragmented list of democrats followed by a communistic nationalist run off for a presidency which holds far greater powers than in any democracy.

Russia's parlous economy is on the mend. It has vast, untapped natural resources, a highly educated population and economic reforms appear irreversible. The country has, therefore, the capacity to build itself over time into an economic, if not a military, superpower. Had men of Mr Kozyrev's views remained to the fore, the west could have looked forward to a strong and reliable eastern ally but under a president such as Mr Zyuganov, or the right wing Gen Alexander Lebed not to speak of the ultra right wing Mr Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a return to confrontation would appear inevitable.

Mr Yeltsin, if he wishes to avoid this, will need to unite the country's democratic forces which have been splintered into increasingly insignificant factions. He must take a large share of the blame himself for this fragmentation, not least by his decision to pursue a disastrous military policy in the separatist republic of Chechnya and his setting up of extra constitutional power blocs such as the Security Council, a new age Politburo, and his own kitchen cabinet which includes several shadowy and corrupt figures.

The differences between Mr Yeltsin and democrats such as Mr Grigory Yavlinsky, Mr Yegor Gaidar and others have widened to the extent that the gap may prove impossible to bridge. It has been significant, however, that Mr Kozyrev's resignation has been welcomed by Mr Vladimir Lukin, a leading light in Mr Yavlinsky's reformist grouping. If the new foreign minister comes from the ranks of the democrats it may indicate a move towards consolidation in advance of the election.