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LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW : Dmitri Ryurikov Creating a National-Security System for a New Democracy That Is Russia

September 05, 1993|Robin Wright | Robin Wright covers national-security issues for The Times and WASHINGTON

Since Russia emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union, Dmitri B. Ryurikov has been directed to convert the national-security apparatus of a totalitarian state for use by a new democracy. An unprecedented task, it includes everything from revising the mandate of the famed KGB's espionage network to redefining a former superpower's foreign policy.

It's also an unenviable assignment. Ryurikov has no blueprints or models to work from. And he couldn't begin from scratch by dumping the staff or structures of the old state. Russia's economic overhaul limits resources--and maneuverability. And, since Communist Party membership was, for 70 years, usually a requisite for the best education and government jobs, Russia has no alternative pool of experienced personnel. Indeed, even Ryurikov is a former Communist. So the soft-spoken Russian has had to craft the new from the old.

Ryurikov, easily identifiable by his red hair and mustache, was an unusual choice for an unusual job. His appointment also gives "right place, right time" new meaning. In July, 1991, he was asked to take a job that looked like it wouldn't amount to much. As assistant to Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin for national-security affairs, his position would be overshadowed by his Soviet counterparts. Russia didn't then have an independent foreign policy.

But within a month, the abortive Moscow coup marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union--and the emergence of a powerful Russia. By the time Ryurikov stepped into the job, on Aug. 26, it was one of the most important foreign-policy positions in the world. At the time, he was only 44.

A graduate of the Moscow Institute of International Relations, Ryurikov's background is in South Asia, not the United States, Europe or China--the three most important regions for Russia. But he was recommended to Yeltsin by longtime friend Vladimir P. Lukin, now Russian ambassador to Washington.

Ryurikov, Lukin and Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev make up the powerful young triad directing foreign relations. Ryurikov was Yeltsin's right-hand man at the Vancouver summit with President George Bush and at the Moscow meeting with Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He is now at the center of constructing Russia's ties with its former rival. Among those Ryurikov has consulted about national security in a democratic state are National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and CIA Director R. James Woolsey.

He spoke in Washington soon after the wedding of his daughter, Anastasia, an artist, to former Soviet dissident, Dmitri Simes. His wife, Natalia, is a film critic.


Question: How is democratic Russia building a new national-security apparatus? How much of the structures and policies is it simply taking over from the communist Soviet Union?

Answer: We did not begin from scratch. We did not have to create institutions like a Ministry of Security or Intelligence or Ministry of Foreign Affairs or a Defense Ministry. Everything was there.

There were certain structural changes. For example, the KGB--responsible both for domestic security and intelligence activities--was separated into two offices. One was the Ministry of Security and the other, the Agency for Foreign Intelligence.

But the main change that took place was not functional or structural, but political and ideological. This is, I think, the most important thing to understand--because these institutions that were in the service of global confrontation and suppression of political dissent at home, it was decided to make them quite different institutions.

It is too short a time to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach. But the people in these institutions were aware of the necessity of change, and they are (now) serving in their professional capacity under fundamentally new guidelines.

Q: Which are what?

A: Democracy, rule of law, private property, human rights. Everything is different from the society we had two years ago . . . .

Changes are fundamental. During one year and a half, you can record fundamental achievements such as, for example, turning former adversaries into partners, giving a serious boost to reduction of nuclear weapons and missile arsenals to two-thirds, fundamental agreements with the United States. There were principal changes in relations with major democratic countries. We became partners and set a goal of friendship.

Russia became a member of the democratic community of states. All this in a short period of time, and achieved largely by a foreign policy that is a policy of a different state--that is striving to become a democratic state . . . .

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