Russian liberals on the ropes

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Apr 12 11:42:45 PDT 1999

Financial Times - 12 April 1999

EAST-WEST: New cold war in the making

New divide less than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall. By John Lloyd in Berlin

A conference in Berlin which brought a group of liberal Russians face-to-face with German and other western officials, politicians and analysts has shown that a wide gulf had again developed between east and west less than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The embattled Russian liberals, whose pro-western attitudes have increasingly pushed them on to the margin of politics in the last year, appear to be the largest losers in the country's political class from the intervention by Nato in Kosovo.

Speaking at the conference, organised by the East-West Institute, at the same time as President Boris Yeltsin warned of Russian military involvement if the conflict widened, Russian participants grimly registered shock that the post-communist world into which they had been wooed had turned out to be so dismissive of them.

Vladimir Averchev of the liberal Yabloko party and a leading member of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, said: "We were told that when we joined the world institutions we were joining a world of rules. Now we see that the rules are what the Americans want to make of them. The post-cold war world of the past decade has ended. The UN Security Council is finished."

Professor Yevgenny Yasin, former economy minister, said: "Liberals now face a terrible defeat in the Duma elections later this year. The west has done something we thought impossible; it has united the country, in hostility to it." Yevgenny Kozhokin, director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, said the humanitarian reasons given for intervention were hypocrisy.

"The US president is weak and needed to prove himself. In his weakness, he is a tool of the military-industrial complex."

Their mood was little improved by an unyielding speech from Wolfgang Ischinger, state secretary of the German foreign ministry. Stressing the Kosovo bombing had been taken for reasons of conscience, "our consciences as Europeans, as Germans, could not allow us to tolerate genocide", Mr Ischinger angrily rejected Russian claims European Nato members were doing US bidding. "Don't tell us that the Europeans are acting as we are because we can't stand up to the Americans. It is a cheap shot and it is wrong."

He said Russia must acknowledge its part in allowing Kosovo to damage the UN Security Council's authority. "When vital western interests, when common interests were at stake last summer and autumn in trying to come to terms with the situation in Kosovo, Russia gave us the cold shoulder. One could call that Russian unilateralism."

Mr Ischinger, with others, said Russia must be part of the "exit strategy" from Kosovo, but this met a stony silence from the Russians.

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