Africa Notes: Russia's Third Discovery of Africa - March 1992
March 1, 1992
As recently as seven months ago, the overall outline of future Soviet foreign policy seemed more or less clear. President Mikhail Gorbachev's planned new "Treaty of the Union" would have resulted in a more decentralized state, but there would still have been a single foreign policy, guided from Moscow by Gorbachev' s team (though under the ever-growing influence of the republics). The restructured (but still "Soviet") regime, while giving priority to development of relations with the West, would also have sought to preserve some of the USSR's superpower dignity and influence, which included sustaining relations with the Third World. But in August 1991, with the collapse of the attempted coup against Gorbachev by government hard-liners desperate to prevent the imminent signing of the treaty, everything changed.
For a few months after the coup collapse, hope still remained that a single foreign policy center could be preserved. But it soon became clear that Gorbachev' s withering government was too weak to withstand the pressure from the republics, whose leaderships wanted full power, including independent foreign policies. In December 1991 they got what they wanted and the USSR ceased to exist. Without a centralized foreign policy apparatus, the 15 ex-Soviet republics-now sovereign states-have become unpredictable strangers in the world arena, feared by some and courted by others for their own ends.
Now, foreign policy (along with financial reform and privatization) is a terra incognita for the new Russian government headed by Boris Yeltsin. Although Russian-American relations have begun to acquire some shape in the wake of Yeltsin's February visit to the United States, most questions having to do with the future relations of the former Soviet Union and the Third World remain open.