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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

Q: Did President Yeltsin properly evaluate your role in developing Russia's foreign policy, or do you feel you were made a scapegoat for problems Russia had and still has--particularly in the Balkans?

A: I'm sure that this history will be seen in a much more objective way with the passing of time. Probably very soon people will begin to assess my work much better and see the significance. Later, there will be this realization from the state, an awareness that this was not an artificial or idealistic policy but the only policy which was both most suitable for reform, in political terms, as well as pragmatic.

Q: Is there a danger the Communists will pursue a more Eastern focus, the myth that by looking more committed to traditional allies that a superpower image can be recreated?

A: Yes, the Communists have pursued this trend. You can sense it. But Russia will soon learn, with or without them, that this is a self-defeating strategy, because it does not lead to any benefit for Asia or CIS states [Commonwealth of Independent States]. It leads only to a loss of status, a loss of opportunity. The policy of engagement with the West kind of compensates for the weakness of the economy and the difficulties of this transitional period in Russia. But entertaining the idea of a cold relationship, not to speak of confrontation with the West, this only multiplies the weakness. This is the policy of surrender rather than a policy of overcoming difficulty.

Q: Do you fear reform has taken on a negative connotation among many Russians, and this is why the Communists are threatening to regain power--because people are disenchanted with the process?

A: People know at the back of their minds, and will soon clearly understand, that the source of their dissatisfaction is not a so-called pro-Western policy or reform policy, but mismanagement of those policies, the hesitation on those policies, stagnation of the process. If the Communists come to power, the stagnation trend could continue. Then people will soon learn there is no alternative to real reform in foreign and domestic policy. I am not a fortune teller, but take my word for it. In no more than two years, there will be a new wave in Russian public opinion and at the next parliamentary elections there will be gains by reformists.

Q: Do you think that Yeltsin's performance as president now suggests he is still committed to reforms, or are you concerned by recent changes and personnel decisions?

A: I wouldn't put too much emphasis on personnel decisions. But I have to admit there is considerable concern in Russia about the attempts to win back public opinion. Yet I wouldn't rush into pessimistic conclusions. I believe the government still has time and the resources to actively defend and promote the reform cause. Only this can bring him victory in the elections. Any further yielding to the pressures from hard-liners will cost him reelection. Because I don't believe that people voted for Communists or communism when they voted for Zyuganov's party in the elections. They voted against the mishandling of reforms and against the difficult economic situation.

Q: Were you sacrificed by Yeltsin, did he remove you to pacify anti-reform forces?

A: No. I would not put it that way. Of course, there has been some backtracking. Let's face it, there is stagnation. In foreign policy, I suffered defeat in a few particular fields. But I wouldn't say that I was necessarily a scapegoat. I think it was real divergence of opinion. It was a genuine political conflict. I lost. I was overruled. I believe that my time will come again, that my policies will be brought back, sooner or later. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.

Q: How do you see your policy being brought back? Do you see yourself as a minister in a future government or perhaps as a presidential candidate?

A: I wouldn't rule out anything if it was important to the country. I wouldn't be a diplomat if I were to say a flat no. Never say yes and never say no. For the foreseeable future, I am well-harbored. I have my constituency--the people of Murmansk--and my seat in parliament. I want to enjoy this and do what I can for my constituency. Sometimes, it is better not to be a minister in the government.

Q: How do you assess your successor as foreign minister. Is Primakov more cautious in his policies toward the West?

A: I wouldn't want to pass personal judgments at the moment. I think I've said enough about trends in politics to be clear, but I don't want to engage in any personal comments.

Q: You've touched on your concerns in the event the Communists win the presidential election. What is at stake for the United States and other Western countries?

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