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Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev Resigns

January 5, 1996

MOSCOW (AP) _ Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, Russia’s top advocate of strong ties with the West, resigned Friday, creating new uncertainty about the future direction of the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

Kozyrev’s departure was the most significant fallout yet of the hard-line victory in Dec. 17 parliamentary elections. It also showed that President Boris Yeltsin would sacrifice his longest-serving minister to appease the new parliament.

To Communists, nationalists and other hard-liners, Kozyrev came to symbolize the entire Yeltsin government, seen as serving foreign interests and selling Russia out to the West.

Yeltsin has indicated he might seek a second term in presidential elections in June, and the resignation of Kozyrev may boost his chances.

``I’m thinking now whether to run for a second term. I’m thinking about it more and more,″ Yeltsin said during a campaign-like chat with Muskovites on the Kremlin grounds Friday.

The resignation or dismissal of Kozyrev, a favorite target for the hard-liners, has been long expected. The president has also spoken of a further Cabinet reshuffling to reflect the Communist and nationalist showing in the latest election.

By law, Kozyrev had to choose between remaining foreign minister or accepting a parliament seat he won in December.

The 44-year-old diplomat wavered for days, saying he was waiting for the final say from the president. On Friday, Yeltsin signed a decree relieving Kozyrev of his duties after talking with him on the phone, said presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev.

Kozyrev was vacationing outside of Moscow and could not be reached for comment.

Medvedev sought to downplay the change. ``Today’s decision by the president should not be seen as a threatening gesture, signifying a radical policy change,″ he said.

In Washington, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said the United States expected continuity.

``There have been no indications from the Yeltsin government that they have changed their views on domestic matters or foreign affairs matters,″ he said.

Kozyrev’s deputy, Sergei Krylov, was named acting foreign minister, but he is not expected to keep the job.

Possible candidates for the post include Kozyrev’s first deputy Igor Ivanov, career diplomat Vitaly Churkin and Dmitry Ryurikov, Yeltsin’s top foreign policy adviser.

The Communists are proposing Alexander Bessmertnykh, formerly a Soviet foreign minister. Vladimir Lukin, former ambassador to the United States, is another possibility.

Although analysts said it was too early to speak of a new isolationism in Russia, some forecast a shift toward a tougher defense of national interests.

``Russia’s foreign policy will become more independent. There will be a broader distance between Russia and the West,″ said Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy head of the USA and Canada Institute, an independent think tank in Moscow.

Hard-liners, meanwhile, celebrated their victory.

``We have long demanded that Kozyrev leave. Any foreign minister can make mistakes, but all Kozyrev’s blunders have been in favor of the West,″ said Communist Party spokesman Eduard Kovalyov.

The ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party immediately proposed its chairman, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, for the vacant post.

Russia’s foreign policy already has grown more assertive and nationalist in response to public criticism of market reforms and the demise of Russia’s superpower status.

Yeltsin said last week that Moscow needed to pay more attention to its eastern neighbors. The centerpiece of his foreign travels this year is a trip to China in March.

India and Japan remain other priorities, in addition to dealings with Iran and Iraq and the search for new markets in Asia and the Middle East.

Kozyrev tried to adapt himself to the changes, but played little role in determining foreign policy in the past several months, when Yeltsin began taking over his portfolio.

Yeltsin also entrusted Defense Minister Pavel Grachev with key negotiations on peacekeeping in Bosnia and formed a new Foreign Policy Council to answer directly to the president.

The Brussels-born Kozyrev was appointed foreign minister in 1990, when Russia was part of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet collapse a year later, he embraced the radical reformers then in power.

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