Internal politics was big factor in Russia's rejecting Korea sanctions

June 17, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Russia's refusal yesterday to support an American plan to phase in sanctions against North Korea has as much to do with local politics as it does with the actual question of nuclear proliferation.

Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev angrily accused the United States of breaking an agreement to consult with Russia before making any such proposals -- but it was clear that the government was more concerned with its own image at home than with the substance of the plan.

Moscow has no desire to see its former North Korean ally produce nuclear weapons, but it is also being increasingly careful not to appear to be following Washington's lead on important foreign policy issues.

In this way the Russian approach to Korea is starting to look like its approach to Bosnia -- its ultimate goals are not so different from theWest's, but for local consumption it is refusing to be a team player.

Mr. Kozyrev on Tuesday warned against U.S. pressure to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia.

Yesterday, he lashed out at the proposal to impose sanctions on North Korea, which the United States had circulated in the United Nations Wednesday.

"I think putting the draft on the table unilaterally will seriously complicate for Russia consideration of the document," he said. "In any case, we will not support a set of sanctions worked out without our cooperation."

TTC Earlier statements had suggested a willingness to work with the United States to resolve the Korean crisis, but Mr. Kozyrev may have felt the need to fasten onto a point of disagreement yesterday to give himself some room to maneuver.

Vladimir Lukin, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Duma, or lower house of parliament, said yesterday that hiscommittee expected to hear a report from Mr. Kozyrev today on the situation in Korea.

And in Bonn, Germany, the speaker of the Duma, Ivan Rybkin, said he supported Mr. Kozyrev's call for an international conference on Korea and could only support sanctions after other approaches had failed.

The Duma, dominated by Communists and nationalists, is a hotbed of hostility toward following Washington's lead on anything.

Mr. Lukin and Mr. Rybkin were, in their own ways, letting Mr. Kozyrev know that they were keeping an eye on the Korean issue.

In the Soviet era, Moscow was North Korea's patron and closest ally, but more recently Russia's relations with both Koreas have become much more complicated. Russia sees great possibilities South Korea as a trading partner -- yet it has also permitted North Korea to retain logging camps in Siberia, which are staffed by prisoners.

Russia has made it very clear that it expects North Korea to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet at the same time there were unconfirmed reports here last night that Russia has told the South Koreans it will go along with sanctions only if Seoul agrees to buy jets and other military equipment from Moscow.

And, as if to soften the attack on Washington a little, Sergei Stepashin, head of counterintelligence, said in Vladivostok that five North Korean diplomats had been expelled for trying to obtain nuclear secrets, the Interfax agency reported yesterday.

Russian television also accused the North Koreans last night of sponsoring a major drug smuggling operation on Russian territory -- a report that could help prepare the way for some stern measures on the nuclear issue.

In Bosnia, Russia's go-it-alone policy had some initial successes -- such as the cease-fire in Sarajevo -- that led to little in the way of a long-term solution to the war. In Korea, where its influence is probably less than in the former Yugoslavia, the ultimate risk -- nuclear war -- is considerably greater.

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