MOSCOW -- As Russia stretches across the world map, it looks like a slimmed-down Soviet Union, stripped now of most of its possessions in the Baltics, the Caucasus and Central Asia and split away from its Slavic neighbors, Ukraine and Belarus -- yet nonetheless a colossus astride Europe and Asia.
Yet, this Russia is showing itself to be a different country with a different government, and to have a different president with a different foreign policy from that of the old Soviet Union.
"In legal terms, we are the successor to the Soviet Union -- in political terms, we are anything but that," Gennady E. Burbulis, Russia's state secretary and first deputy prime minister, said last week during a visit to Sweden. "Democratic Russia's foreign policy will be one of . . . fundamental reform and fundamental change."
Outlines of those changes are likely to emerge more clearly tomorrow, when President Boris N. Yeltsin makes his debut in world politics at the summit conference of members of the U.N. Security Council in New York. His speech there is expected to describe the new underpinnings of Russian foreign policy.
"Yeltsin clearly wants to make a splash," a senior European ambassador commented, "but it is a splash with an entirely different purpose. In the past, a Soviet president would go abroad as a result of the Kremlin's desire for global reach; Yeltsin will be traveling to get help . . .
"Where Soviet foreign policy was global in conception, whether the Kremlin was fighting the Cold War or making peace afterward, Russian foreign policy is driven by its massive domestic needs, including economic assistance, demilitarization, modernization and simply its people's hunger."
Mr. Yeltsin's critics fear, however, that this will lead to both isolationism and nationalism as Russia concentrates on its domestic problems and then consoles itself over its loss of superpower status with an assertion of the imperialist traditions of "Great Russia."
Although Mr. Yeltsin has yet to articulate full guidelines for Russian foreign policy, Moscow has abandoned the last of its superpower pretenses -- nuclear parity with the United States, the shaping of the "new world order," global peacemaking -- to refocus on domestic political and economic problems.
Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Burbulis and Andrei V. Kozyrev, the foreign minister, have stressed, moreover, that Russia's nearest neighbors, the other former Soviet republics, must and will have primacy in Moscow's foreign policy.
"Washington may be shocked, but it will find that Kiev (the Ukrainian capital) is now more important to us," said Sergei Karaganov, deputy director of the Institute of Europe, who began to plot the likely foreign policy changes even before the Soviet Union broke up.
"The changes proceed from there. East-West relations are less important than the shape of the new Commonwealth of Independent States and our 10 partners in it."
From there, the diplomatic circle widens slowly -- to Eastern Europe and the European Community in the West, to Japan and South Korea in the East -- with trade outweighing politics. The United States, as the remaining superpower and a source of economic assistance, is included in the second or third tier.