(Krasnaya Zvezda, January 6. In full.)

Russian politicians continued to improvise on the formation of a multi-polar world, which has done away with the Cold War, throughout 1996. The overall picture was rather favorable with regard to Russia, which kept playing a befitting role of one of such world's main "poles". At the same time, even a simple comparison of well-known things prompts one to make a less optimistic conclusion. In other words, the overall movement is affected by a variety of factors permitting the preponderance of the worst possible global political-evolution scenario, e.g. the strengthening of the US role and its gradual transformation into brazen diktat.

I'd like to stress from the very beginning that the Americans themselves don't use the "polar" lingo widely enough. They don't tend to discourse on seemingly obvious things. The United States thinks that global influence is distributed in line with specific "weight" categories, that is in line with certain capitals, to be more precise. The new US Administration also displays this traditional and universal approach to global affairs. By naming its priorities, e.g. the strengthening of NATO, the Balkan and Mideastern settlement, US-Russian relations and America's more pronounced influence in the Asia-Pacific region, the White House Administration shows that it's determined to "balance" the appropriate "counter-weight" in each important strategic region and to upgrade the relevant leverage for defending its own interests.

In what way can the entire world counter that growing American domination? Obviously, it could opt for some sort of global solidarity making it possible to prevent the international community from sliding toward all-out obedience with respect to the global "monarch's" will. I'm not talking about alliances, pacts, memorandums or any other "organizational" counter-measures here. What I mean is genuine solidarity, which presupposes greater sensitivity toward the manifestations of Washington's rude pressure, as well as adequate reactions to such pressure.

In essence, such solidarity makes itself felt time and again. For example, even the most faithful US allies reject America's actions aimed at "subduing" Iraq (in response to the latter's combat operations in Kurdistan, that is within the framework of the sovereign Iraqi state). However, various efforts aimed at creating a common "counter-weight" to America's excessive ambitions don't seem to be something consistent so far. Specific countries act extremely prudently in each concrete situation (with due account taken of time-serving considerations and interests). Therefore the "healthy anti-Americanism" of European leaders, as well as Arab criticism of US attempts to monopolize the Mideastern settlement, and even that outstanding Chinese autonomy, etc., only serve to confirm the fact that the rest of the world opposes all-out US patronage "in principle" alone (while comprehending the danger contained in the possible creation of a unipolar "structure" in international relations).

NATO, which is seen as a Cold-War era military bloc, continues to exist because of such inertness alone. NATO's projected eastward expansion (regardless of the reasons being cited to explain the alleged usefulness of such a move), essentially challenges European security, ultimately serving to create new regional-division boundaries.

Other potential global threats, e.g. the unjustified swelling of some countries' military potentials, the slow and "creeping" proliferation of nuclear weapons and state-of-the-art military technologies, should not be overlooked either. The list of such threats also includes continued local wars and conflicts. And, finally, international peace is being challenged by terrorist organizations, which adopt more subtle blackmail and violence tactics and which even dream of mass-destruction weapons.

Russia continued to insistently search for its own place on the international scene last year. In fact, Russia had more persistently demanded an equitable and fair distribution of responsibility for the global order (in line with geopolitical considerations and historic merits) than other countries did. However, any zeal being displayed during the discussion of issues as regards the streamlining of the global redivision (and that of specific spheres of influence) is seen as something symbolic. Among other things, the world's powers are ready to recognize Russia as some kind of a "pole", "continent" or "civilization". Leading industrial powers don't refuse to completely display loyalty toward Moscow, voicing good wishes to the people of Russia. Naturally enough, they would like Russia to become a normally developing country, which could offer nothing more than substantial money-making opportunities. Still they don't need yet another powerful commercial and political competitor.

Indicatively enough, the world's leading powers keep a watchful eye on Russia's relations with its nearest neighbors and the entire intra-CIS relationship, using every chance (no matter how small) to impede the integration between the former Soviet republics, which is seen as something unprofitable by such powers. They also encourage all sorts of intra-CIS differences, taking advantage of inter-ethnic, inter-religious, territorial and other problems. As a result, we have to face additional "reefs" (instead of partner-like assistance) in Ukraine, Trans-Caucasia and elsewhere. Political insinuations are being backed up by economic expansion into those specific regions, which have always been regarded as a traditional sphere of Russian interests.

In other words, Russia will still have to carve out its own niche. This country will start deriving real practical benefits from its active involvement in global affairs only when it launches an economic recovery. The 1996 time period has not witnessed any radical shifts in this sphere. The overall picture still remains rather gloomy. Those tell-tale statistics show that Russia now produces 75 percent less goods than China does (and 66.7 percent less commodities than are manufactured by Germany). And it has fallen behind the respective Japanese and US production volumes by an impressive 87.7 percent and 91.7 percent, respectively.

What's happening to us, anyway? Where are we heading? The ordinary Russian man-in-the-street is being harassed by all those numerous comments and assessments dealing with the present-day situation. However, such comments have the following two main drawbacks. They either go into excessive detail, clarifying some fragmentary aspects and failing to grasp the gist of the situation; in other cases, our analysts make high-sounding statements alone. But the thing is that an authentic and comprehensive picture is nowhere to be seen. Consequently, one is inclined to think that the Russian political leadership has no clear-cut opinions either.

For its part, Russian society lives under the impression of big and small scandals, the "kompromat" (compromising documents) tug-of-war, personnel reshuffles and that vague federal-budget struggle, e.g. all those issues, which are being enthusiastically covered by the nation's mass-media bodies. New military conflicts, as well as major terrorist acts, are in fact, nothing but "magic wands" serving to distract the attention of our citizens from the most topical and pressing issues. We don't expect the Russian mass-media establishments to pay less attention to all these upheavals. I'm talking about a sense of proportion in this context.

A sense of proportion constitutes an invaluable asset of big-time politics and the corridors of power. We had witnessed a number of well thought-out moves on Russian diplomacy's part throughout 1996. For example, our diplomats had made such moves, while defending Russia's South-West Asian interests, while strengthening Russian-Chinese relations and while countering the expansion of NATO. The present-day management of Russia's Foreign Ministry preaches a principle, which presupposes an optimal correlation of wishful thinking and realistic opportunities. Well, such a principle seems to be rather productive, indeed. On the one hand, Russia displays a consistent striving to defend its own state interests. On the other hand, it doesn't make any abrupt and challenging motions, which might provoke confrontation with other powers. Such a rational foreign-policy line would make it possible to preserve Russia's long-term international prestige.

I don't have to explain that our future diplomatic successes will be ensured by the military factor. (The same is true of Russia's old-time diplomatic successes -- Ed.) Other countries of the world continue to respect Russia, which has evidently degraded, just because Russia still retains its nuclear-tipped ICBM's. The Russian strategic nuclear arsenal continues to guarantee its national security, making such security rather durable and protecting the Russian Armed Forces' long-term restructuring program. However, such a shield is not going to last forever. Russia is bound to become increasingly vulnerable in the wake of its nuclear arsenal's more substantial obsolescence and depreciation levels. Consequently, other countries would be tempted to implement power-politics scenarios. It would be naive to think that the high-morality factor will become more pronounced in the foreseeable future (as far as the stern practice of international relations is concerned).

Consequently, it's high time we started speaking and even shouting about that sense of proportion, which seems to fail the entire Russian political elite. The nation's politicians apparently lack that sense of proportion. The demolition of our war machine, which would eventually be regarded as an example of historic recklessness, is a case in point. The military-reform issue was being almost constantly discussed by the Russian public at large throughout 1996. However, the activity of Russia's military agencies (or lack of such activity, to be more precise) was being persistently implied. Still every educated person understands only too well that this constitutes an affair of the state and the entire society. Reforms need money; lack of any progress in this field should be attributed to inadequate appropriations, first and foremost. But the thing is that any further delays are bound to raise reform costs accordingly.

The year 1997 will become yet another difficult period, as far as Mother Russia is concerned. It will become a time of trial, as this country continues to overcome the current economic crisis and to struggle for a more befitting place in our world, which hasn't become a safer and simpler place to live in. The international community is also going to be tested throughout 1997. In what direction will the world travel during this historic period? And what global order is it going to approach over the 1997 period? It goes without saying that this will depend on purely objective conditions and subjective pre-requisites, e.g. on the will of politicians, who are responsible for mankind's destinies.