The ISCIP Analyst
Behind the Breaking News
Send us a note to subscribe to Perspective.
Who is Making Foreign Policy?
Undermined politically and with its powers diffused, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Andrei Kozyrev has been eclipsed by the former KGB First Directorate of Yevgeniy Primakov.
President Boris Yel'tsin, who built his power base on the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the military, and the secret services in late 1991, is almost completely at the mercy of them today. While he limited the former KGB's potential to act against him personally by dividing it into separate organizations, he enhanced their power as independent institutions by dismissing his democratic allies' demands that they be purged and reformed, and by providing them with material means to sustain themselves free of institutional checks and balances.
Even before the Soviet collapse, Kozyrev warned about the events now unfolding.(1) In July 1992, he argued that the country could not build democracy at home while using force in the "near abroad" or against ethnic separatist enclaves within the Russian Federation.
The Security Council became the leading vehicle by which national-communists, the military-industrial complex, the fuel and energy complex, the bureaucracy, the armed forces, and the secret services would use Yel'tsin to protect their own interests while they marginalized reformers. The president expressed little interest in security policy, and delegated authority in this area to others, particularly the "power ministries" of Defense, Internal Affairs, and the organs of the former KGB.(4)
Meanwhile, the authority of the Foreign Ministry declined. After ousting State Secretary Gennadiy Burbulis and Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar in late 1992, Yel'tsin signed a decree to form an "Interdepartmental Foreign Policy Commission" within the Security Council to coordinate foreign policy decisionmaking over Kozyrev's head, naming revanchist council secretary Yuri Skokov as chairman.(5) It was in this context that Kozyrev gave his imperialistic, anti-Western Stockholm speech that so shocked the world. Though he quickly assured his audience that his words constituted only a warning, he soon adopted the imperialistic mantle for himself.
A year later, in anticipation of the new constitution that vastly expanded presidential powers, the Security Council grew in size and influence.
Strengths of SVR vs. Foreign Ministry
Part of the old power structure
The intelligence service's quick acceptance of Primakov as an "outsider" is due not only to his own professionalism and political affinities, but because he was not as much of an outsider as his image suggested.
Noted for his expertise in Arab and Islamic affairs as a journalist and "academician," Primakov worked covertly for the KGB as early as 1957 under the cryptonym "Maxim."(6) He has long identified himself with radical elements in the Middle East and southwestern Asia that are a favorite of today's Russian imperialists. His personal relationship and powers of persuasion with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein date to the late 1960s, when, during the Soviet-sponsored terrorist campaign against Turkey, he secured Baghdad's support for the Marxist-Leninist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).(7)
As a corespondent for Pravda during the Brezhnev regime's "Zionism is racism" campaign, Primakov wrote unstintingly in support of Palestinian terrorist groups during their most atrocious campaigns against Israeli civilians. He penned the communist party's most authoritative ideological justification for the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, and later made uncompromising endorsements of the military occupation.(8) He disdained the Iran-Iraq war because it "divert[ed] the forces of Iraq and Iran from the struggle against [US] imperialism."(9) In the early Gorbachev period he urged that the Palestine Liberation Organization remain hostile to the West as part of its "anti-imperialist nature."(10) Primakov's prescriptions for cooperating with the West against international terrorism fell short of supporting sanctions against Soviet client-states like Libya; instead he supported the continued supply of weapons to the Qadaffi regime without conditions.(11) In 1990 and early 1991, Primakov led the Soviet initiative to prevent the US-led Desert Shield/Desert Storm coalition from driving the Iraqi military out of Kuwait.(12)
Inside the opening Soviet political structures, Primakov defended the institutional interests of the KGB. As chairman of one of the two chambers of the USSR Supreme Soviet, he fought democrats allied with Andrei Sakharov who demanded a parliamentary committee with strict oversight of the state security organs. Co-opting the reformers' rhetoric, Primakov announced the creation of such a committee, but revealed that it would be packed with representatives of the military, military-industrial complex, and KGB. He refused to answer deputies' questions, and used parliamentary maneuvers to silence debate.(13) Primakov has shown no sign of repentance.
SVR answers directly to Yel'tsin.
The 1993 constitution leaves the Federation Council with no effective oversight authority of the SVR. Nor is there political pressure to impose checks and balances on the agency; to the contrary, revelation of the Aldrich Ames espionage case of successful penetration of the CIA has heightened the SVR's domestic credibility and prestige across the Russian political spectrum.(15)
SVR's economic role aids revanchist military and industrial sectors,
and nomenklatura capitalists
Russian foreign policy has become more responsive to the military-industrial complex (VPK) and the fuel and energy complex (TEK). Much of the VPK's interest lies in the old Soviet arms markets of the Middle East, an area where Primakov is one of Russia's leading undisputed and best-connected experts. Though some Russian firms have broken into Western markets, one observer noted, "In circles close to the Russian VPK, there began to be a stronger conviction that 'an old friend is better than two new ones,' and that this might be the proper time to return to trade with the traditional partners, which in this region are Syria and Iraq."(17)
In addition to modernizing its own infrastructure with Western corporate partners and government aid and credits, the TEK is intensely interested in cutting into the territory of Western oil companies, particularly British and American, that have built independent relationships with Azerbaijan and Central Asian republics where Moscow is trying to reimpose its own presence. The Russian-backed ouster of pro-Western Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey and his replacement with former Azerbaijan SSR KGB chief Geidar Aliev in 1993 was a covert operation that attempted not only to reimpose political hegemony, but also to re-insert the TEK into Azerbaijan's rich petroleum deposits. The pro-Turkish Elchibey government, which resisted joining the CIS, had concluded lucrative deals with British Petroleum and American firms to develop oil fields off the Caspian coast, freezing Russia out of the picture. As soon as Aliev was installed, Azerbaijan joined the CIS, reneged on its oil deals and renegotiated them, pointedly inviting Russia's Lukoil state firm as a new joint partner with the Turkish, British, Norwegian, and American concerns. The 30-year, $34 billion deal was signed in September 1994. Even though Lukoil had a 10 percent interest, the Russian Foreign Ministry objected to the agreement, citing ecological concerns. Soon, however, the ministry took a nationalist line, challenging the contract because "the Caspian Sea and its resources are the object of joint use of all coastal states," implying that Azerbaijan's coastal resources are partly owned by Moscow.(18)
SVR controls billions of party dollars illegally banked offshore.
Even the most conservative sum would have been enough to finance reforms without dependency on the West. The Ponomarev Commission sought the money to support a social safety net to alleviate financial dislocations during the transition from totalitarianism. The planned humanitarian effort would have had distinct political advantages as well, by allowing Yel'tsin and his then-reformist government to push through radical changes while meeting the people's basic needs--and undermining the communist, nationalist, and imperialist opposition that has thrived because of mass economic hardship and anxiety about the future.
Primakov repeatedly refused to cooperate with the parliamentary investigation. Commission members felt they knew where much of the money was, but they lacked the specific account numbers that were in the possession of the Ministry of Finance and elsewhere in the bureaucracy, and had insufficient resources to launch a full investigation. The state Procuracy appealed to Yel'tsin for funds, and the commission appealed to the Supreme Soviet, while recommending to Yel'tsin that he instruct the SVR to cooperate fully.(21)
Yel'tsin asked foreign countries to help Russia recover the money and treasure, hiring the American firm Kroll and Associates to follow the paper trail, but he failed to instruct Primakov to cooperate. The SVR chief also is reported to have rebuffed "numerous requests" from the Russian Procurator General with this excuse: "We have no right to expose our agents' network."(22)
Effectively blocking the probe, Primakov then successfully pressured Supreme Soviet Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov to terminate the Ponomarev Commission.(23) The money never has been recovered.
SVR leadership in tune with Chechnya-like operations.
Primakov and the Near Abroad
The SVR chief also upstaged Yel'tsin, who was to travel to the United States within days for a summit with President Bill Clinton and to address the United Nations. The timing was reminiscent of when the presidential Security Council called for Kozyrev's removal while Yel'tsin was at the G-7 summit.
Primakov's speech was particularly significant because the FSK, not SVR, retains primary responsibility for intelligence gathering and operations in CIS countries. (The SVR is responsible for the three Baltic States, and has mutual foreign intelligence cooperation agreements with 9 of the other 11 CIS states, with only Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan not having signed as of October 1994.)(26) Thus the head of the intelligence service who is not a part of the government was making a government policy statement about a function out of his jurisdiction from a forum that was not his, to a primarily foreign audience--a very unusual circumstance.
Primakov argued strongly in favor of "centripetal forces" to integrate the members of the CIS as an economic, technological, security, and military federation under central Russian domination. Administration would be from Moscow and not CIS headquarters in Mensk.(27)
In strong terms, he stated that continued independence of CIS members would result in retarded economic development, increased nationalism and Islamic extremism, stronger antidemocratic trends, more widespread human rights violations, more volatile destabilization, more refugees, greater military spending, and an overall "threat to the world community's security."(28)
Far from repudiating Primakov, Yel'tsin reiterated the themes in his United Nations address, repeatedly referring to "the former Union's space" as if he were speaking of a geopolitical resurrection of the USSR.(29)
The SVR is part of the Russian control structure. Unhindered by checks and balances, free of reformers sympathetic to liberalism or the West and practically unchanged from when it was a component of the KGB, it enjoys acceptance among the power ministries that dominate Moscow's decisionmaking today. Whereas the Foreign Ministry plays only a minuscule role on matters of foreign trade, the SVR provides vital economic support for the main revanchist constituencies of the military-industrial complex, and the energy and fuel complex. It appears now that the Foreign Ministry's purpose is merely to carry out policies set from above, and provide the revanchists with a friendly face to the West.
Copyright ISCIP 1995