Russia's Mid-East 'mission'

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The Independent Online
SIGNS have emerged that Russia is seeking, after a long hiatus, to play the key role played by the former Soviet Union in the Middle East.

Since the fall of Communism, Russian policy has been largely to co-ordinate with the West on important issues. Now, first in Bosnia, and then in the Middle East, Russia has begun to reconsider its foreign policy priorities and to plough a more independent furrow.

Yesterday the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, arrived in Israel at the start of what was described as a 'delicate and dramatic mission', in effect a lightning shuffle between Israel and Tunis, headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. He was carrying a message from President Boris Yeltsin to the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat.

'Our aim is to see how we can save the peace process. We must retain the momentum which began in Washington,' Mr Kozyrev told reporters at Ben-Gurion airport.

The Russians have tried to exploit the diplomatic confusion following the massacre at the Hebron mosque on 25 February. A deputy foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, has been shuttling to Tunis. And Mr Yeltsin has named Viktor Posuvalyuk, head of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East department, as special envoy.

Arab commentators however are sceptical about Moscow's desire to regain its lost role and its ability to play it.