The Foreign Policy Mechanism

Russia Table of Contents

In the Soviet system, the predominant foreign policy actor was the general secretary of the CPSU, who also was the preeminent figure in the party's Politburo (the highest executive body of the government). By virtue of this position, the general secretary also was the country's recognized foreign representative. Other Politburo members with major foreign policy responsibility were the ministers of foreign affairs and defense (always members of the Politburo), the chairman of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti--KGB; see Glossary), and the chief of the CPSU's International Department. The minister of foreign economic relations had foreign policy responsibility in commercial relations, and other members of the Council of Ministers provided input when their specific areas involved foreign affairs.

In 1988 constitutional revisions gave the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union's national parliament, new powers to oversee foreign policy and some input in policy formulation. The centralization of foreign policy decision making in the Politburo, together with the long tenure of its members, contributed to the Soviet Union's ability to plan and guide foreign policy over long periods with a constancy lacking in pluralistic political systems.

When a large part of the Soviet Union's foreign policy functions devolved to Russia in 1992, the Soviet pattern of centralizing foreign policy continued. The Russian constitution of 1993 gives the executive branch the chief role in making foreign policy, with the legislative branch occupying a distinctly subsidiary role. In the years since 1993, President Yeltsin has formed various organizations in the executive branch to assist him in formulating foreign policy. The mechanism of policy making has remained unwieldy, however, and the increasingly nationalistic parliament has used every power it commands to influence policy making.

The President

Under the provisions of the 1993 constitution, the president exercises leadership in forming foreign policy, represents Russia in international relations, conducts talks and signs international treaties, forms and heads the Security Council, approves military doctrine, delivers annual messages to the parliament on foreign policy, appoints and recalls diplomatic representatives (after consultation with committees or commissions of the parliament), and accepts credentials and letters of recall from foreign diplomats.

Between 1992 and 1996, there were indications that Yeltsin made important foreign policy decisions with little or no consultation with other officials of his administration or with the legislative branch. In that period, the size of the presidential apparatus steadily increased until it reportedly numbered several thousand staffers, including a Security Council staff of hundreds (see The Executive Branch, ch. 7). At the end of 1993, Yeltsin appointed a national security adviser who established his own staff, and during 1995 the Presidential Security Service, under the direction of Aleksandr Korzhakov, apparently also assumed some responsibility for foreign policy analysis. According to some observers, the vast size of the presidential apparatus exacerbated the confused and unwieldy formulation and implementation of foreign policy. In the early 1990s, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came directly under presidential control, which further enhanced presidential power.

The Security Council

The function of the Russian Security Council is somewhat similar to that of the Defense Council that Nikita S. Khrushchev (in office 1953-64) created. Khrushchev's successor, Leonid I. Brezhnev (in office 1964-82), had retained the Defense Council as a consultative body on foreign policy and defense security, and this role was codified in the 1977 Soviet constitution. Gorbachev replaced the Defense Council in 1990, first by the Presidential Council and then by the Security Council.

After its statutory establishment in mid-1992, the Russian Security Council became part of Yeltsin's presidential apparatus. To distinguish his Security Council from earlier councils, Yeltsin presented the new body as an open organization that would obey the constitution and other laws and would work closely with executive and legislative bodies. He said the new council was based partly on that of the United States National Security Council. By statute, the Security Council is a consultative rather than decision-making body. It has the authority to prepare decisions for the president on military policy, protection of civil rights, internal and external security, and foreign policy issues, and it has the power to conduct basic research, long-range planning, and coordination of other executive-branch efforts in the foreign policy realm.

The Security Council's founding statute stipulates that voting members include the president, the vice president, the prime minister, the first deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, and the secretary of the council. It also includes nonvoting members from the Government (Russia's cabinet), including the ministers or chiefs of defense, internal affairs, foreign affairs, security, foreign intelligence, justice, and others. Other officials and foreign policy experts, including the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, also are invited to participate in council sessions. By statute the Security Council is to meet at least once a month. The 1993 constitution makes formation of the council the prerogative of the president, who is to be its chairman. In February 1994, Yeltsin reapportioned the membership of the council, giving additional influence to defense, internal affairs, justice, civil defense, security, foreign intelligence, and foreign affairs bureaucracies. Another adjustment in mid-1994 included the heads of both chambers of the new Federal Assembly and the head of the Federal Border Service. In 1995 Yeltsin added the minister of atomic energy to the council. After the election of a heavily antireformist parliament in December 1995, Yeltsin announced that the speakers of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly would be excluded from membership in the Security Council.

Some Russian commentators complained that the methods of the Security Council under its first secretary, Yuriy Skokov, were authoritarian, secretive, and antireformist. In early 1993, a major rift occurred between the Security Council and Yeltsin. Skokov led the council in opposing Yeltsin's attempt to declare a so-called special rule for the executive branch as a means of circumventing an executive-legislative deadlock and forcing legislative elections. After Yeltsin won this power struggle against the parliament, he felt strong enough to replace Skokov as secretary of the council. He named Oleg Lobov as secretary in September 1993, and Lobov served until Aleksandr Lebed' replaced him in June 1996.

The Security Council reportedly has played an important role in several vital foreign policy decisions. In September 1992, after an outcry from the Security Council over possible concessions to Japan on the issue of possession of the Kuril Islands, Yeltsin canceled a planned visit to Japan (see Japan, this ch.). In 1993 the Security Council's Interdepartmental Foreign Policy Commission (IFPC) reworked Foreign Minister Kozyrev's foreign policy concept to make it more conservative. The IFPC also appeared to be influential in Russian troop withdrawal policy in the Baltic states, which concluded in mid-1994. The Security Council's agenda also reportedly included deliberations on United States-Russian relations, nuclear arms reduction, ethnic relations within Russia, crime fighting, and relations with the former Soviet republics. On many issues, however, the council apparently failed to conciliate opposing positions of the ministries of defense and foreign affairs, and the council's overall influence appeared to wane after Skokov's dismissal. In December 1994, the council rubber-stamped Yeltsin's decision to send Russian security forces into Chechnya, and it invariably approved his policies there during 1995 and early 1996. Major questions remained about the quality of debate in the council because military and police authorities may not have furnished Yeltsin with complete information on operations in Chechnya during this period. The council likely had become moribund as a consultative body before Lebed' attempted to revitalize its role in 1996.

The Security Council contains various subdepartments and committees. Most significant to foreign policy formation is the IFPC, which was created in December 1992. The IFPC analyzes and forecasts information on foreign policy for the president. Creation of the IFPC coincided with increased opposition to Kozyrev's conduct of foreign policy and to Yeltsin's pro-Western policies. In 1993 the IFPC attempted to block Kozyrev's pro-Western foreign policies and urged a more "imperial" foreign policy toward the near abroad. After 1993, however, the IFPC appeared more amenable to the foreign ministry's policies.

The Parliament

During the first two years of Russia's independence, the Russian parliament's foreign policy powers were a matter of contention with the executive branch. This discord was part of a broader legislative-executive branch standoff that culminated in Yeltsin's forced takeover of the legislative building--the so-called White House--in early October 1993 and his rule by decree until December. In 1992-93 the parliament still derived its power from the 1978 constitution of the Russian Republic and numerous amendments to that document. Its foreign policy prerogatives included the right to ratify or abrogate international treaties, to confirm or recall diplomats serving abroad, to approve or reject the deployment of armed forces to areas of conflict abroad, and to approve the general direction of foreign policy.

In this period, the parliament increasingly attempted to widen its foreign policy prerogatives in opposition to official policies. These efforts included attempts to influence Russia's votes in the UN Security Council on economic and military sanctions against the former Yugoslavia, an open letter decrying Yeltsin's planned September 1992 visit to Japan, a July 1993 resolution declaring the Crimean city of Sevastopol' a Russian port although it is located in Ukrainian territory, and denunciation of United States aerial bombing of Iraq in 1993. Kozyrev tried to work with the International Affairs Committee of the Supreme Soviet and its successor, the State Duma, on several of those issues, but legislative criticism became increasingly strident in the period before Yeltsin forcibly dissolved the parliament in September 1993.

The 1993 constitution substantially reduced the parliament's foreign policy powers. The State Duma retained broad responsibility for adopting laws on foreign policy, but the constitution stipulated no specific foreign policy duties for the legislative branch. The constitution gave the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, the responsibility for deciding on the use of troops abroad and reviewing State Duma ratification and denunciation of international treaties and Duma decisions on war and peace. In January 1994, the newly elected parliament established committees dealing with foreign policy issues, including a Committee on Geopolitics with a member of hard-liner Vladimir Zhirinovskiy's Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia as chairman. Vladimir Lukin returned from his post as ambassador to the United States to head the Duma's International Affairs Committee, which worked in 1994 with Kozyrev and Yeltsin to forge a more conservative consensus on foreign policy issues.

After remaining relatively quiescent on foreign policy matters in 1994, the parliament stepped up its criticism of Government policy in 1995. Four State Duma committees investigated Ministry of Foreign Affairs policies toward the near abroad, Asia, and the West, timing their queries to enhance electoral prospects for anti-Yeltsin deputies in the December legislative elections. In September 1995, the State Duma called for Russia to unilaterally lift UN-approved economic sanctions against Serbia; then it demanded that Yeltsin condemn NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets and convened a special session to debate Russian policy toward the former Yugoslavia. In that session, ultranationalist and communist deputies called for Kozyrev's resignation and for a wholesale redirection of foreign policy.

After the legislative elections of 1995, more deputies called for the parliament to take a more active role in foreign policy oversight. The reformist Yabloko coalition managed to gain the chairmanship of the International Affairs Committee in the State Duma, somewhat mitigating the anti-Government and anti-Western tone of legislative proceedings. However, many of the State Duma's nonbinding resolutions complicated foreign policy by arousing protests from foreign governments. In March 1996, the State Duma passed nonbinding resolutions abrogating the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which brought condemnation from most CIS member states as a threat to their sovereignty and independence. In 1996 the Duma also passed a resolution calling for elimination of international economic sanctions against Libya.

The Government (Cabinet)

According to the 1993 constitution, the chairman of the Government, the prime minister, defines basic policy guidelines, and the Government enacts the nation's foreign policy according to those guidelines. After referendum approval of the 1993 constitution, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, whom Yeltsin had appointed in December 1992, began to play a more prominent role in meeting with foreign officials, particularly CIS leaders. The prime minister focused primarily on economic and governmental relations, however, and made few foreign policy pronouncements.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a central battleground of foreign policy formation from October 1990 until January 1996, when Andrey Kozyrev led it. In the two years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Kozyrev had played an important role in challenging the supremacy of Soviet foreign policy. At the end of 1991, Kozyrev's ministry formally absorbed the functions and many of the personnel of the defunct Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At that point, budgetary constraints forced the closure of three dozen former Soviet embassies and consulates and the release of more than 2,000 personnel.

After some uncertainty about the role of the ministry, Yeltsin decreed in 1992 that it should ensure a unified policy line in Russian relations with foreign states and coordinate the foreign policy activities of other government agencies. At the end of 1992, increasing criticism of policy led Yeltsin to subordinate the role of the ministry to the supervision of the IFPC.

Beginning in 1992, Kozyrev and his ministry became the targets of increasingly forceful attacks from Russia's nationalist factions, who found any hint of pro-Western policy a pretext to call for Kozyrev's ouster. On several occasions, Yeltsin also criticized his foreign minister in public. Remarkably, Kozyrev retained his position until January 1996, when Yeltsin replaced him during a wave of nationalist appointments.

In December 1992, Kozyrev delivered what came to be called his shock diplomacy speech at a meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE--see Glossary). In the speech, he outlined what he termed corrections to Russian foreign policy in a list of priorities that ultranationalists advocated. The corrections included a shift in policy away from the West and toward Asia; admonitions against NATO involvement in the Baltic states or other areas of the near abroad; a call for lifting UN economic sanctions against Serbia; and a demand that the near abroad rejoin Russia in a new federation or confederation. Western foreign ministries expressed shock, and Kozyrev retracted the speech by describing it as a rhetorical warning of what might happen if ultranationalists came to dictate Russian foreign policy. Although some Russian and Western observers said the speech was irresponsible, others saw it as an attempt to discredit ultranationalist views (and prevent the creation of the IFPC, then under consideration) by dramatizing the potential impact of extremist views.

In March 1995, Yeltsin criticized Kozyrev for his actions on several policy fronts and assumed control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the authority to appoint all deputy foreign ministers. At the same time, Yeltsin enhanced the ministry's powers by making it responsible for coordinating and controlling all governmental foreign policy actions. Perhaps to head off mounting electoral criticism of foreign policy during 1995, as well as to enhance coordination efforts, Yeltsin also established a governmental commission on foreign policy. Ostensibly, the commission was to evaluate the ministry's conduct of foreign policy and to determine policy coordination needs between the presidential apparatus and government agencies having foreign policy responsibilities. Then, after intensified NATO bombardment of Bosnian Serb military targets in September 1995, Yeltsin reiterated his dissatisfaction with the ministry and the need for personnel and policy changes.

In December 1995, Yeltsin created yet another advisory group, the Council on Foreign Policy, to present him with proposals for coordinating the foreign policy activities of various government bodies and to inform him of their activities. Members of the council were to be the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, foreign trade, and finance; the heads of the foreign intelligence, security, and border guard services; and Yeltsin's foreign policy adviser. Scheduled to meet monthly, the council had projected functions virtually indistinguishable from those of the Security Council.

In January 1996, Yeltsin announced Kozyrev's resignation, which had long been expected in view of the harsh criticism of Russian foreign policy. Western analysts explained that the powerful reactionary forces in the State Duma had been poised to name their own candidate to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so Yeltsin forestalled their move by dismissing Kozyrev and naming the more moderate Yevgeniy Primakov, an Arabist who had been KGB chief of espionage in 1991. Analysts viewed Primakov as a pragmatist with no strong views toward the West and predicted he would serve only until the winner of the upcoming presidential election replaced him. They expected Primakov to follow Yeltsin's lead in foreign policy by making no new gestures of friendship toward the West during the presidential election year. Although Primakov began his tenure by reassuring the United States that Russia would remain true to its international commitments, he also declared that Russia was and remains a great power and that his primary goal was to reintegrate the former Soviet republics, especially the Baltic states and Ukraine. These statements blunted the nationalist factions' complaints that Yeltsin was a puppet of Western interests.

The Ministry of Defense

In the Soviet era, the Ministry of Defense and its General Staff officers played a central role in the formation of national security policy because of their monopoly of defense information. After 1991 many senior officers in the armed forces continued to view military coercion as the main instrument for preventing the other side from gaining in foreign policy disputes (see Military Doctrine, ch. 9). In the early 1990s, most of the military establishment appeared to back both an assertive stance in the near abroad, where the Soviet military had exercised substantial influence through its military districts and played a role in local politics, and a less conciliatory relationship with the West. Some reformist elements of the military, mainly junior officers, rejected these views, and local military leaders sometimes seemed to act independently of their ministry in such areas of the near abroad as Moldova and Abkhazia, Georgia's breakaway autonomous republic. More often, the military leadership was united on actions having foreign policy repercussions, such as their advocacy of violating CFE Treaty limitations on military equipment deployed in the Caucasus region.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress