The next few months could see the emergence of a new and altogether less predictable Russia. Forthcoming Duma and presidential elections will see gains for nationalistic, anti-western politicians. Having abandoned Marxism, the Russian political class may now be on the verge of exchanging liberal democracy for an ancient form of Muscovite statecraft. Bruce Clark assesses the impact of the new Russia on east-west relationsby Bruce Clark / November 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
Most westerners have come to regard the Russian bear as a mangy and enfeebled creature, but its growl can still command respect, and even fear. When Boris Yeltsin recently held forth against the expansion of Nato, he plainly intended to disturb westerners-and impress his own compatriots-by sounding as blood-curdling as he possibly could. He succeeded quite well. He produced some astonishing statements: one move to bring countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech republic into the embrace of the western defence system would “cast Europe into the flames of war” and force Russia to form a new, well-armed military alliance of its own.
The implications of what Yeltsin was saying were spelled out in gory detail by Russian officials to any westerner who cared to listen. The relentless march eastwards of the Atlantic alliance would leave the Russian army no choice but to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons as far westwards as its own sphere of influence would permit-certainly in Belorussia, perhaps even in the Baltic states which Russia might just be forced to reoccupy. The nightmare of a limited nuclear exchange in Europe, which appeared to melt away during the late 1980s under the benign influence of Mikhail Gorbachev, would return to haunt the continent. Russia, in short, could still make the atmosphere very unpleasant if anyone dared to build a new security order which ignored Moscow’s interests; and could certainly embarrass western politicians who had cultivated Yeltsin and staked reputations on being able to “manage Russia.”
There was a strong element of bluff in these murky hints. Russia’s leverage over the policies of its neighbours, having risen sharply in 1992-93, has somewhat waned in recent months, making it harder for Moscow to railroad them into an anti-western military alliance. Nor could Russia itself embark on confrontation with the west without incurring heavy costs: its dependence on western goodwill and credits has eased substantially over the past three years, but it is early days in Russian recovery for the Kremlin to throw down the gauntlet.
Yet the president’s words of wrath, artfully backed up by press leaks and sinister messages from middle-ranking officials, still deserve to be taken very seriously: whatever Yeltsin and his entourage are doing, it is more than just tossing a bone to a hungry and disgruntled electorate. The first reason to watch out is that Yeltsin’s temper tantrum forms part of an increasingly tough…