Russia Reasserts World
Power Ambitions Despite
Current Crisis
Global Intelligence Update
STRATFOR Systems, Inc. <>
In a meeting on September 30 with his Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared Russia's intention to resume a global role as it emerges from its current economic crisis. In a clear stab a the United States, Yeltsin said, "Everyone must understand that, in the modern world, global problems can not be resolved unilaterally." Additionally, Yeltsin stressed the need for Russia to play a more active role in the Group of Eight, which links Russia with the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations.
Yeltsin's message was already familiar to Ivanov who, following meetings with G7 leaders in New York on September 26, told the press that Russia remains "a great power" in spite of its economic difficulties. Ivanov said that, during these meetings, he had emphasized the importance of Russian participation in managing international problems.
The first step in Russia's return as a world power involves getting its own house in order. Of immediate concern for Moscow is the refusal of a number of regions to pay their taxes or even to allow the export of foodstuffs. As Russia sank into economic and political collapse, the region's governors were forced to take a greater role in maintaining local stability. Now that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is finalizing his cabinet and preparing to take on the task of pulling Russia out of its cumulative crisis, the regional governors are unwilling to resume payments. The governors have argued that the central government does not pay its subsidies to the regions, nor can it impose local order, and therefore they, who must deal directly with striking workers and breadlines, can not afford to contribute to the federal government.
At a meeting with regional governors on September 29, Primakov threatened that "those who set up individual fiefdoms in the Russian regions" will be brought to justice. Primakov then announced his intention to draft a new law that would allow the federal government to fire elected regional officials who violate the Russian constitution. Said Primakov, "There should be no scope for some Russian regions in effect to agree not to transfer money to the federal budget and not to allow food and other goods to be taken out of their territory at this difficult time for the country... We must put an end to this fiefdom thinking. Otherwise we will lose Russia as a unified state."
With regional governors on notice, Primakov turned his attention to the next layer of a renewed and Russia, the former Soviet republics. On September 30, Prime Minister Primakov visited Moscow's closest ally Belarus. Belarus' hard-line President Aleksander Lukashenko is a strong supporter of Primakov and a critic of the previous, Western-oriented Russian government. Lukashenko favor's a centrally regulated economy, and a joint union budget has already been drafted. Wednesday's meeting focused on the signing of the Belarusian-Russian "union treaty". The union treaty was first proposed in 1996 and was designed to guarantee freedom of movement, trade, and supranational institutions between Belarus and Russia. It also serves as the core of a rebuilt Russian empire.
After his meeting with Primakov, Lukashenko said that the "Ukraine and other Soviet republics are bound to join the Belarus-Russia union sooner or later." Ukraine has thus far been able to hold off on Russian and Belarusian calls to rejoin the union, but economic and political realities make resistance essentially futile. On the same day that Primakov was meeting with Lukashenko, Belarus' Prime Minister Syarhey Linh met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Kiev. The meeting focused on the current bilateral relations between the countries and the prospect of creating a similar mechanism for economic cooperation as Belarus shares with Russia.
Primakov is taking a dramatically different approach to governing Russia than did his reformist predecessors. Faced with economic collapse, he is not turning toward the West, who he in fact blames for the crisis, but is instead trying to play on Russia's strengths, with an aggressive foreign policy and a return to strong central government. While breaking up the empire and bowing to Western political wishes got Russia no-where, Primakov is instead attempting to rebuild the empire and reassert Russian international influence, at least on a regional level. Where a piecemeal attempt at privatizing the economy and following the prescriptions of Harvard economists led to Russia's economic collapse, Primakov is handing the economy back to Gosplan, with plans to re-nationalize key industries and print more rubles. Belarus is already an eager partner in this plan, and Ukraine is being inexorably drawn in as well.
Russian geopolitical ambition the healthiest part of the Russian system, a matter of clear concern to the West. However, an important opportunity appeared for NATO and the West in Central Europe last week. In September 25-26 parliamentary elections in Slovakia, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's nationalist, populist party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), won only 27 percent of the vote. Although this was the highest result for an individual party, HZDS still effectively lost the elections to a coalition of four opposition parties, called the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK).
Meciar's party will not be able to create a majority government, as its only possible coalition partner, the Slovak National Party, gained just 9.07 percent of the vote. Together, the two parties hold only 57 seats in the new 150 seat Parliament. The opposition SDK announced they are ready to form a coalition government as soon as possible after the new Parliament convenes, and no later than October 29.
The Slovak ballot has effectively ended the "Meciar era", during which Slovakia was excluded from the first group of post- communist Central European countries to join the European Union and NATO. Western Europe has leapt at the opportunity that Meciar's defeat presented. EU spokeswoman Lousewies Van der Laan said on September 30 that the European Commission would issue a new report on Slovakia in November, discussing the country's membership chances. Some European Parliament members called for the EP to move Slovakia into the first group of candidates.
What remains to be addressed is the question of Slovakia's membership in NATO. Slovakia was excluded from the first round of NATO expansion on the grounds of the poor democratic record of Prime Minister Meciar. While satisfying political sensibilities, Slovakia's exclusion from NATO was militarily insane, as it effectively rendered new members Hungary and Poland indefensible. NATO now has the opportunity to remedy this error. Excuses are gone. It's time to see if NATO has a clear strategy, or if it has become a political toy.
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