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Los Angeles Times Interview : Andrei Kozyrev

For Russia's Former Foreign Minister, the Spirit of Reform Is Still Alive

March 10, 1996|Carol J. Williams | Carol J. Williams is Moscow bureau chief for The Times

MOSCOW — His voice, always soft, is reduced to a whisper by yet another tragedy in what has been a devastating year. But only hours after learning his country home had burned down, former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev exhibits little sign of distraction. He momentarily laments the loss of photographs, paintings and mementos commemorating the milestones of his 44 years; then, with signature self-control, he waves off further discussion of the suspected arson to tackle the hardly more comforting subject of where Russia is heading.

One might expect this career diplomat to be angry--or at least disappointed. In a year filled with accusations of political failings and marred by divorce, Kozyrev's fall from the Kremlin hierarchy culminated in the most humiliating of President Boris N. Yeltsin's recent rash of unceremonious sackings. But Kozyrev is not a man who gets angry. In fact, his attitude toward Yeltsin is stunningly loyal, the rational acceptance of injustice befitting a martyr. Unemotionally, he lays out a sober vision of the near future and an unshakably confident explanation of the recent, rocky past.

More than any other figure in Yeltsin's ever-revolving entourage, Kozyrev personified the less menacing Kremlin that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It was this association with democratic reform policies, as well as his grace and popularity in the West, that branded Kozyrev as too dovish once the political hawks resumed circling the Kremlin.

Kozyrev saw the ax swinging before it came down and hit him, so he had snagged a seat in the Duma during the December parliamentary elections. That also secured him a podium for the coming political free-for-all, as Russian voters prepare for the all-important June presidential election.

Kozyrev's ministerial limousine has been replaced by an old black Volga. His new office in the Duma is a cubbyhole compared with the sprawling domain of his successor, Yevgeny M. Primakov, atop the gothic Stalinist tower along Moscow's Garden Ring. But trappings of power appear to mean little to this man who represented the face of a revolutionizing Russia to the West for more than five years.

From his mobile office--the Volga, a black briefcase and a cellular phone--Kozyrev intends to keep the reform fires burning through what promises to be, at best, a shaky second presidential term for Yeltsin or a destructive drive by the reinvigorated Communist Party to turn back the clock.

Stepping out of the Volga for 90 minutes but bringing the briefcase and phone with him, Kozyrev visited the The Times Moscow bureau to talk about his new role as self-appointed ambassador for the rescue of Russia.


Question: In Budapest in 1992, you gave a forbidding portrayal of what the consequences would be for the rest of the world if reforms were to fail in Russia. Do you feel they are failing?

Answer: Yes. There is concern, a feeling of great concern and nervousness because of the current struggle to influence public opinion in Russia ahead of the elections. I think there could be considerable damage if there continues this trend toward stagnating or even reversing the foreign policies I was advocating.

Q: How would this damage manifest itself? What would be the indications that reforms are being disrupted significantly?

A: The damage will be mostly in lost opportunity--lost profit, in business terms. This would be very regretful because the country is in difficult shape. The living standards are low--so instead of moving quickly through the transitional period, there could be further postponement of improvement, or even reversal.

Q: What should America's policy be toward Russia now? Does Washington send the right signals to encourage reform?

A: What they are doing right now is more or less reasonable. The question arises: What to do next? If the Communists come to power in the next elections, then I would be very watchful of their performance. What to my mind is crucial now is that the United States administration and other Western governments concentrate on specific projects and investments. Even under Communists, there still would be hope for investment, for joint ventures, for regional engagements, for training programs and technical assistance. All this should be on a pragmatic basis--as it would be the best way to speed up the failure of the reform backlash. So I would very much urge that no one give up on Russia.

Q: Do you see the Communists led by Mr. Zyuganov as a reformed force? Have they mended their ways and changed direction since the Soviet era?

A: I think there are people with agendas on both sides of the track. It is important to see which faction within the Communist Party gets the upper hand. I think it is important to remain analytical and to keep cool. Don't panic. I try to convey this message to our partners abroad. Be pragmatic--because there are still some who are for reform and a market economy.

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