WASHINGTON (Aug. 29)
Newly appointed Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin, an avid golfer, probably will not be taking any swings at Israel in the near future, if for no other reason than his country is desperate to foster good relations abroad, say observers of the Soviet scene.
In the coming months, Soviet policy will be driven by a “total preoccupation” with obtaining outside aid, particularly from the West, a State Department official predicted.
“Personalities are far less important for determining Soviet policy” than they have been in recent memory, the official said.
Martin Wenick, a former State Department expert on the Soviet Union who is executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, agreed that “the Soviets are going to be consumed in the period ahead on their own internal problems and are not going to have much an attention span for international affairs.”
The appointment of Pankin, who was most recently the Soviet ambassador to Czechoslovakia, surprised the United States in that President Mikhail Gorbachev overlooked top Foreign Ministry officials for the job and went down to “an astonishing level to find this guy,” said the State Department official.
Pankin, 60, succeeds Alexander Bessmertnykh, who was dismissed for not having spoken out publicly during last week’s failed coup by Communist Party hard-liners.
Pankin was apparently the sole Soviet ambassador to criticize the coup plotters while Gorbachev was under house arrest in the Crimea.
The Washington Times reported Thursday that in 1989, while Pankin was ambassador to Sweden, he acknowledged “Soviet complicity in the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg,” the Swedish diplomat who helped hide as many as 100,000 Jews from the Nazis.
Pankin’s ascension could ease the release of KGB files that may unveil Wallenberg’s fate, the paper said.
NO CHANGE ON EMIGRATION EXPECTED
Soviet Jewry experts do not expect any change in Soviet emigration policy or in its increasingly pro-Israel stance, unless some of the republics moving toward independence adopt their own contrary foreign policies.
“If they get the key republics on agreeing that the Soviet foreign minister will continue to represent Soviet interests abroad, I don’t see a change in official policy either on the Middle East or on Soviet emigration,” the State Department official said.
The one change that may take place in the coup’s aftermath is that the Soviets could become “less engaged” in the Middle East peace conference planned for October, the official said.
But that would not particularly bother U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, the official said. Having the Soviets “basically doing nothing” is better than having various Soviet officials making contradictory statements, he said.
Baker may head back to the Middle East as early as the second week in September, to make arrangements for the conference.
Pankin, who founded the first golf course in Moscow, is not considered a professional diplomat, but more the “intellectual, journalist type,” said the State Department official. He got his first diplomatic job in 1982, when he was named ambassador to Sweden.
Pankin also does not have a reputation as a reformer. When he became ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1990, Czechoslovaks were concerned that Pankin had possible ties to the KGB, the official said.
In his prior careers, Pankin was chief editor of Komsomolskaya Pravda, the newspaper of the Communist Youth Organization. In the 1970s, he headed the Soviet Union’s copyright agency.
Pankin will apparently inherit from Bessmertnykh two deputy foreign ministers: Alexander Belonogov and Viktor Karpov, who has served as the Soviets’ chief arms control negotiator.
Belonogov coordinated Soviet reaction to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait last August. In the subsequent months, he spoke of trying to maintain Soviet interests in the region.
Belonogov drew the wrath of American Jewish groups during his stint as Soviet ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1980s, when he forcefully defended Soviet emigration restrictions.
Belonogov said Wednesday that his country’s Middle East policy will not change any time soon, the independent Soviet news agency Interfax reported. At the same time, Belonogov conceded that Soviet diplomacy had declined considerably following the coup.