Now, The Hardliners Are Zeroing In On Yeltsin's Foreign Policy

All smiles, President Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin clinked glasses in the Kremlin on Jan. 3 to toast signing the momentous START II treaty that will sharply reduce strategic nuclear weapons. But the euphoria will probably wear off quickly. Yeltsin's opponents in the Parliament aim to see to that. They are now turning their attention to foreign policy after forcing him to replace his reformist Prime Minister, Yegor T. Gaidar, with state industrialist Viktor S. Chernomyrdin in December. The loose coalition of Communist hardliners, nationalists, and dissatisfied industrialists is pushing for the ouster of Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev. They also want Yeltsin to adopt a less pro-Western, more nationalist Russian policy.

The struggle could further weaken Yeltsin and lead to strains with the incoming Clinton Adminstration on issues ranging from Yugoslavia to Russian arms sales. The U.S. is already deeply concerned that Yeltsin has been forced to backslide on the economic-reform front. Chernomyrdin recently set off alarms after announcing that he would slap Soviet-style price controls back on milk, bread, meat, and other essentials.

U.S. TOADY? Although the hardliners are pushing for blatantly anti-American policies, including barriers on American investment and a return to cold war military policies, Yeltsin remains committed to cooperation with the U.S. But Yeltsin is also saying that Russia's foreign policy must be revamped to better advance the country's interests in the former Soviet republics, Europe, and such traditional areas of interest as Cuba, China, and Iran. Says Andrei Kortunov, a foreign policy analyst at Moscow's Institute of USA & Canada: "The new rhetoric will emphasize Russia as a great power, with national pride and national interests."

Already, speculation is rife that Yeltsin will sacrifice the pro-American Kozyrev in a deal to get the rebellious Russian Parliament to ratify the START II treaty. The opposition has long criticized Kozyrev for toadying to the U.S. on arms control, Yugoslavia, and other issues.

A leading candidate to replace Kozyrev is Vladimir Lukin, Russia's ambassador in Washington. While unlikely to reverse U.S.-Russian relations sharply, Lukin would likely push a firmer, Russia-first policy. A year ago, for example, he advocated opening up the whole question of sovereignty over the Crimea--now part of Ukraine--when Ukraine claimed control over the Black Sea fleet. He might also use economic sanctions or even the threat of force to protect the 25 million Russian residents of the Baltics and other former Soviet republics, many of whom face harassment.

SERBIAN CLASH. Tensions in the Baltics could sour U.S.-Russian relations. Plans of Russian military enterprises to step up arms sales to such countries as China, India, and Iran could also prove a major irritant.

Yeltsin may also find himself caught in a wringer over Yugoslavia between his own hardliners, who side with the rampaging Serbs, and Clinton, who wants to move aggressively to stop the carnage. "If Yeltsin supports military interference in Serbia, it will mean his departure," warns parliamentarian Sergei Baburin. U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who favors sending U.S. ground troops to intervene in the conflict, says he is "very worried" about the hardline pressure on Yeltsin.

For Yeltsin, foreign policy is becoming as tough a balancing act as trying to reform the economy. It's clear that he doesn't want to sacrifice the gains he has made in U.S.-Russian relations. But Yeltsin knows he will face further attacks at home in the coming months. That's a big reason why Yeltsin--as well as Bush--rushed to sign the arms-control treaty now.