(Rossiiskaya Gazeta, January 10.)

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeni PRIMAKOV, who was appointed to this post exactly one year ago (on January 9, 1996), talks to ITAR -- TASS correspondents below.

Question: Mr. Primakov, in what way did Russia's American, European and Asian policy change throughout 1996?

Answer: All changes in our foreign policy, as well as its continuity, were linked with those particular main tasks posed before me by President Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Federation exactly a year ago (when I became Foreign Minister). The main goal of our foreign policy remains unchanged. We must create a favorable external environment for the successful implementation of Russian democratization and economic transformations.

We kept aspiring toward equitable partnership, which more adequately meets Russia's global status and our national interests, over the 1996 time period. Frankly speaking, we had a really hard time doing this. Nonetheless, our aspiration toward precisely equitable partnership and toward asserting Russia's role as one of the multi-polar world's influential centers, has produced its results. As far as global implications are concerned, Russia has obviously strengthened its positions inside the Big Eight.

We are supported by a powerful "ally", while moving to establish equitable relations with the world's leading powers. I'm talking about an objective trend toward the formation of a multi-polar world. Consequently, Russia now has an opportunity to maneuver freely and to conduct multi-vector diplomacy all the same.

The diversification of Russia's international ties is seen as the second recent priority of our foreign policy. We did our best to eliminate the excessive leaning of our country toward the West (that had been manifested in the past). Such a power as Russia, which boasts vast interests in Asia and the Middle East, can't deal with the Western world alone.

We have made the most impressive headway in our relations with China. Still one can't talk about the revival of the 1950s-vintage ideologized bilateral alliance in this context. Both Russia and China agree that the equitable and trustful partnership concept (that would be geared toward strategic interaction during the 21-st century) more adequately meets our respective interests.

We have virtually resolved the border-line issue for the first time in the history of Russian-Chinese relations. And we are going to complete the demarcation of the Russian-Chinese border throughout 1997. Russia and China have also concluded a unique agreement pertaining to military confidence-building measures. That agreement also involves Kazakhstan, Kirghizia and Tajikistan. President Jiang Zemin of China is to visit Moscow some time from now, subsequently signing an agreement dealing with military-detente measures in the vicinity of the Russian-Chinese border.

We have also scored impressive achievements, while expanding contacts with India, which is our traditional partner.

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Still the situation along some axis, the European axis, first and foremost, doesn't seem to be very favorable. In spite of our intensive work on the eve of the OSCE summit in Lisbon, in spite of rather similar positions of ussia and the European Union, we have failed to introduce the entire gamut of those specific decisions making it possible to create a sound legal foundation for the OSCE and to turn the OSCE into a central coordinator within the European security system's framework into the OSCE summit's documents.

Summing up, I want to say that I've become more convinced of the correctness of our line aimed at asserting equitable partnership with the West and the East, than had been the case twelve months ago.

Question: What can you say about the current Russian position concerning NATO's projected eastward expansion?

Answer: Our position remains unchanged. We have a negative opinion of NATO's proposed expansion (especially the possible eastward expansion of its military infrastructure). Russia has no right to veto NATO's expansion. On the other hand, no one (NATO members included) can veto Russia's right to defend its own national interests. President Boris Yeltsin, Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, myself and my colleagues, i.e. Russian diplomats working for the Foreign Ministry's central administration and embassies, had conferred with their Western partners on this subject on several hundred occasions throughout 1996, openly voicing their concerns. The main concern is as follows -- the expansion of NATO can split Europe asunder. NATO members have also voiced their readiness to prepare a document dealing with special relations between Russia and NATO. However, no official talks are being conducted on this issue today. Russia, which agrees with this NATO proposal, proceeds from the premise that NATO's readiness to heed Russian concerns in the course of negotiations aimed at adapting the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, rather than the proposed document itself, will serve as the main indicator of our partners' serious intentions. Both Russia and NATO members can agree on the most reliable, e.g. material, guarantees pertaining to mutual European security along precisely this channel.

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