Last week the Russian Newsweek magazine published a leaked Foreign Ministry document, snappily titled the “Program for Effective Utilization of Foreign Political Factors on a Systematic Basis for Purposes of Long-Term Development of the Russian Federation.” The document, prepared in February 2010 and sent to President Dmitry Medvedev for approval, is nothing less than a conceptual blueprint for a new foreign policy doctrine that seeks to improve Russia’s relations with the West, particularly with the EU and the United States, in order to secure technology transfers, attract Western investors and create favorable conditions for Russia’s technological modernization. What is the true meaning of this document?
The introduction to the document, written by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, states that the “strengthening of relations of interdependence with leading world powers on the basis of mutual penetration of economies and cultures” is in the interests of Russia. The draft proposes development of relations first and foremost with the European Union and the United States.
The reasons for the turnaround seem obvious – the resources for Russia’s modernization are in the West. As Dmitry Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Center wrote in the Moscow Times, “Russia is losing ground in the global pecking order by falling behind in terms of its industrial, technological and scientific capabilities. All the proceeds from Gazprom’s sales notwithstanding, Russia is sorely lacking what it takes to be a major global economic and political force in the 21st century. Relative energy abundance and nuclear arsenals are simply not enough. The Kremlin was forced to come to terms with the fact that Russia cannot modernize on its own and that it needs Western investment and strong business partnerships with the West.”
The European Union tops the priority list because of its members’ advanced economies, technological proficiency and physical proximity to Russia, while relations with China and the former Soviet states are deemphasized. The United States is singled out as a source of key technology transfers, despite a currently modest trade volume with Russia.
Both the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry confirmed the authenticity of the document while denying that it signals a conceptual breakthrough in Russian foreign policy. What is the true meaning of this document? Does it signal a decisive break with the confrontational policies of the past, or is merely a short-term tactical maneuver? What really prompted the shift? Will the new strategy get implemented? Will it be closely linked with similarly reformist domestic policies in Russia? Is the policy shift driven by president Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, or both? Where will Russia’s relations with the BRIC nations figure in the new doctrine?
Vlad Ivanenko, Ph.D. in economics, Ottawa (Canada):
In my opinion, the Western media misinterprets the program leaked from the Russian Foreign Ministry in certain respects. Firstly, the program does not set the objective of attracting foreign investments. Thanks to high global crude oil prices, Russia gets sufficient export revenue to pay for projects that involve the transfer of foreign expertise and that it wants to control. Secondly, access to modern technologies is not an end, as some might think, but a means by which the government intends to improve the Russians’ quality of life. This distinction is important because it sets priorities. For example, military technologies are not accorded the supreme importance they were the Soviet Union. Finally, I tend to disagree with the proposition, tabled among others by Marie Jйgo of Le Monde, that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s praise of the EU implies Russia’s Eurocentric ambitions. In reality, the program states only that the left-leaning EU governance structure has proven its worth. One could see that this assertion indicates that Russia plans to base its Eurasian integration efforts using EU experience, but this is all. The role that the program assigns to a Greater Europe in its relationship with Russia is nothing more than a pragmatic “modernization alliance.”
Lavrov makes the point that “the Western European model of economic development … has shown its stability” without specifying what model he has in mind. If he refers to the body of EU’s values broadly defined as acquis communautaire, I would recommend treating it with a grain of salt. As a distinct cultural entity, Russia has its own “acquis” (social norms) that the Kremlin is obliged to treat with respect. In this case, the European standards provide only a useful benchmark to verify the logical consistency of Russia’s emerging structures of governance.
Another point relates to an apparent disagreement between the preamble and the appendix of the document. The preamble claims that finding mutually beneficial forms of integration is the key to the success of Russian foreign policy in the former Soviet republics. On the contrary, the appendix emphasizes the exploitation of post-crisis difficulties to nurture the neighbors’ dependency on Russia. Such a one-sided approach falls under the definition of neo-colonialism. As such, it will lead to the growth of anti-Russian sentiment in the former Soviet republics.
In my opinion, the Foreign Ministry conceived this program as a strategy paper to show its field staff which priorities to pursue in their daily operations. The public resonance of this document, written apparently without consultation with other federal ministries (and possibly even without input from many departments within the Foreign Ministry), owes to its innovative and relatively consistent view of Russia’s long-term objectives.
Igor Torbakov, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Kruunuvuorenkatu, Helsinki:
To make sense of Russia’s latest foreign policy blueprint, one has to have a firmer grasp of what Russia’s foreign policy actually is. Policies in Russia are crafted by a relatively narrow group of people. The divergence of interests and perspectives within the Kremlin ruling circle feeds the foreign policy debate on more specific issues, which go beyond what appears to be a broad general consensus. At the heart of that consensus is the assertion of Russia’s status as an independent great power and recognition of the desirability of securing favorable external conditions for further growth.
The study of what analysts and commentators constantly refer to as “Russian interests” is particularly challenging given the fact that the line between what is generally understood as “national interests” and the “group interests” is completely blurred in Russia. This opacity is generated by the very character of the present-day Russian elite. The Kremlin ruling group represents a specific blend of political and economic power. But this symbiosis of administrative clout and business potential creates a situation in which the state has virtually no autonomy from the economic interests of the individuals who run it. As the major Russian business groups have long been engaged in aggressive expansion in post-Soviet Eurasia and beyond, the task of distinguishing between foreign-policy moves driven by ostensibly legitimate “vital national interests,” and those driven by the naked pursuit of profit becomes especially daunting.
Yet ultimately, the primary goal of Russian foreign policy efforts is to create conditions for preserving and perpetuating the current political and economic regime, while seeking to attain its legitimization by the international community. Specifically, this means that the Kremlin’s two-pronged objective is to secure the persistence of a system of authoritarian rule and bureaucratic capitalism; and to have this system recognized as valid in its own right – being equal, or even superior, to the Western liberal model, which, the new document gleefully notes, has been badly battered by the global crisis.
It is precisely the nature of Russia’s socio-political system that makes Moscow’s policies toward the West on the one hand and toward its neighbors within the CIS on the other quite inconsistent and contradictory. Since the specific characteristics of Russia’s present regime make integration with Western and European institutions all but impossible, the Kremlin leadership proclaims Russia’s strategic independence and desire to play the role of a separate center of power in the emerging “multipolar” world.
In practical terms this means that Moscow is eager to engage in selective cooperation with the West while seeking to retain domestic political ways which are profoundly alien to the Western norms and values. The intent to cast Russia as an independent pole also inevitably compels the Kremlin to focus on the country’s immediate strategic neighborhood within the CIS – what has famously been called the sphere of Russia’s “privileged interests” – where Russia seeks leadership, influence and closer integration.
All the above objectives were rather candidly spelled out in the Foreign Ministry’s “new” strategic document. But are these truly novel ideas, really?
Andrei Tsygankov, Adjunct Professor of International Relations, San Francisco State University, San Francisco:
Russia’s new foreign policy document can hardly be described as revolutionary. Viewing it as a sign of Russia’s pro-Western turn is not incorrect, but is insufficient. The full picture must not omit from consideration the larger international context in which Russia plans to forge new “modernizing alliances” with Europe and the United States. The new rapprochement with the West is taking place when the world is becoming decentralized and post-Western. The global economic crisis heralded a new era in which Russia can no longer think about its foreign policy priorities as predominantly Western. The post-Western world has in store not only expertise and capital from advanced countries, but new opportunities for improving Russia’s welfare and security in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. The world has changed and even President Barack Obama has recently referred to himself as the “first Pacific president” of the United States.
President Obama has presided over two important processes – improvement of relations with Russia and decline of the United States’ role as the world’s hegemon. The Kremlin pays attention to both. It continues its efforts to normalize relations with the United States after the disastrous years of Obama’s predecessor. Russia also exploits new opportunities from the “reset” by strengthening its influence in Ukraine, Central Asia and elsewhere. But Russia is equally attentive to the larger international developments in the post-Western world. The White House’s “reset” still lacks substance and may not endure, but the rise of China, Brazil and India is here to stay.
Vladimir Belaeff, President, Global Society Institute, Inc., United States:
Over the past decade a perceptional construct was developed by many Western propagandists portraying Russia as “confrontational” toward the EU and the United States. A contrast was drawn between the Russia of the 1990s (the so-called “Boris Yeltsin” years) and the Russia of the 21st century. Russia’s submission to foreign priorities in its own international policies during the 1990s was presented as a positive and constructive pattern, and any other kind of behavior declared “confrontational.”
In fact, Russia from 2000 onward has been simply more assertive of its own national interests. The submissive behavior of the 1990s was abandoned (this was inevitable) and was replaced not by a counter-offensive, but by an assertion of sovereignty. This assertiveness can be qualified as “confrontational” only if one admits that the nature of other countries’ policies toward Russia is aggressive and expansionist. If Western policies toward Russia are expansionist, then Russia’s assertion of its national interests will be by definition confrontational – to the proponents of expansion at Russia’s expense. If on the other hand the claim of peaceful and non-expansionist Western attitudes toward Russia is valid, then Russia’s simple assertion of its national interests cannot be qualified as confrontational.
The above logic is necessary to establish whether the referenced doctrine is truly a “change” by Russia from “confrontation” to collaboration with the EU and the United States.
Russia has not been “confrontational” toward the EU and the United States over the past decade; it has simply defended its national interests. Therefore, the referenced doctrine is not a “shift” away from “confrontation.” It may however be a rebuke to internal Russian proponents of a shift away from legitimate assertion of sovereignty toward confrontation – as a response to the chaos brewing in the dysfunctional global economy, in a crisis caused by severe failures of American financial governance.
Assertions that Russia is economically stagnant and in dire need of modernization which can only be delivered through Western assistance are factually incorrect and self-serving. Russia has successfully weathered a global economic storm of unprecedented magnitude and is now in recovery and growth mode, while such “model” economies like America are still struggling with high unemployment and anemic GDP indicators. It is a gross oversimplification to propose that Russia’s economic dynamics are limited to Gazprom and Rosneft. And modernization is a process which in reality began with Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika in 1986, and which so far has yielded social and political improvements that Russians had not enjoyed since before the First World War. The Russians themselves may not be aware of this, but their modernization venture has already produced outstanding improvements – and Western involvement, although conspicuous, was not really mission-critical for the achievements to-date.
Therefore, an interpretation of the referenced doctrine as a Russian plan to engage the West in order to obtain some supposed assistance in modernization seems rather far-fetched. Russia’s growing integration with the EU is a natural outcome for societies that share the same geographic space and have 1,500 years of common culture. American economic engagement in Russia is far weaker – but that is due to profound, paradigmatic flaws in the perception of the Russian-American relationship that dominate Washington, despite pretences of “perezagruzka.”
The alleged Foreign Ministry document is not a “shift away from confrontation” but a welcome re-assertion of continuity in Russian policy of constructive relations with the West, without compromise of fundamental national interests.
Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC:
Most countries pursue multiple, and often contradictory, foreign policies. Sometimes this occurs by design. Sometimes it results from a division of responsibilities between various state institutions whose personnel have differing views of the national interest. This situation is made more complex because even when people share common goals, they may disagree about the methods to achieve them. Russia is no exception.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seems to recognize that a break with the way things were done in the past is necessary. Now, perhaps the new foreign policy document is a trial balloon, to see who among the elite is ready for something new. Dmitry Trenin’s observation that Russia’s importance on the world stage is declining because it is falling behind in terms of its industrial, technological and scientific capabilities relative to other developed countries is right on point. Russia’s energy resources and nuclear capability will both decline in importance in an era of great economic change. And the current situation, where as Trenin aptly puts it “the Kremlin [has been] forced to come to terms with the fact that Russia cannot modernize on its own and that it needs Western investment and strong business partnerships with the West,” is a lot like the late 19th century.
This week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law amendments to the country’s federal law on the Legal Status of Foreign Workers in the Russian Federation. The amended law reflects a recognition that Russia needs to take steps to attract highly qualified foreign workers. Such foreign workers will enjoy lower income taxes and will benefit from a more streamlined procedure for obtaining the necessary visas and other documents to work in Russia. One wonders how highly qualified Russian workers will react to such treatment of foreigners, some of them might even decide to move abroad.
Russia has already experienced a severe brain drain of scientists, engineers and others who departed the country for better professional opportunities and/or a better quality of life. While these individuals may return in the future, many of them are watching how things develop in Russia. The country’s domestic political situation, the absence of the rule of law and protection of private property rights, and an aggressive foreign policy suggests that the desired foreign investment for the long-term development of the country will not be forthcoming without fundamental change in governmental practices. If this does not occur, their homeland will become a mere memory. They and their families will assimilate into their new surroundings.
Other than natural resources, Russia has very little to offer either to the industrial or developing world. Its goods are not competitive, its labor costs are not low, and its technology is largely not state of the art. Furthermore, to much of the foreign community, the costs of operating in Russia are high and the perceived political risks as significant. Non-Russian companies recognize that there are numerous lower cost and more stable countries in the world. Russia does not offer as attractive a market as the other so-called BRIC countries, and even if it did, why produce in Russia if it means technological transfer that could later produce a future competitor?
This does not mean that Russia’s situation is irreversible. It could be a valuable steppingstone for foreign partners to other markets elsewhere in the former Soviet space. But Russia will not be successful in this strategy if it attempts to develop trade networks in neighboring countries by turning them into satellite states. Russia needs to harness business and political relationships in such countries free of any element of coercion. Russians have a natural advantage in pursuing business opportunities in the near-abroad in this area, but this will dissipate with the passage of time.
While some investors may be tempted by the possibility of short-term profits, most will not. Furthermore, given the economic conditions in the other industrial countries the idea of moving jobs abroad is unlikely to generate much support in the world’s capitals. Russia needs to improve its infrastructure, its educational system, etc. for it to operate effectively. Given its size, the Russian political leadership must better address how it is governed effectively (and democratically). Trying to alter its image without changing the reality will not lead to the modernization of the country. The Soviet Union failed because its system ossified, it could not innovate or meet the needs of its citizens. Educated Russians understand this, but whether change will occur on a timely basis without upheaval will depend on the willingness to change the way things have been done in the past.
Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow, Washington, DC:
I’d disagree with the widespread notion that Russia’s new foreign policy doctrine (or rather proposals for changes in the current foreign policy in the document under discussion) is oriented toward the West. After reading carefully that Foreign Ministry document, I’d say that it is oriented toward West, East, South, North, and any other direction that has a potential for promoting Russia’s interests.
The prefix “pro-” in the above interpretation of the proposals is clearly out of place. In realpolitik, any “pro-” subsumes that there is a balancing “anti-” somewhere, overtly or covertly. Not in this document. If anything, it is simply pro-Russian and definitely not anti– any nation or group of nations.
The only rational interpretation of the thinking underlying this document is that Russia should strive to develop closer political, economic, social and even perhaps military ties with the Euro-Atlantic community or, to put it a bit bolder, civilization – but not at the expense of the other parts of the world.
As someone who has tirelessly promoted Russia’s integration with the West since the collapse of communism I must state the obvious: this idea has now lost much of its merit. What seemed to be absolutely logical in 1990 is no longer feasible 20 years later.
In the early 1990s Russia, then in the grip of pro-Western euphoria, was making overtures to the West, including joining NATO. These were flatly rejected by the overconfident victors of the Cold War. Some of the excuses being used – such as Russia’s lack of progress in democratic development – are highly questionable and even suspect, since NATO expansion started when Russia was run by President Boris Yeltsin, whose rule is portrayed in the West as the high point of Russia’s democratic achievements, before Vladimir Putin came along and spoiled it all.
Russia was thus rejected then for some other reasons, but we need not go into them here, as this is beside the point these days. Ironically, it looks like the Western bridegroom, who once turned down the Eastern bride, is now showing more interest in the matter.
Even such a hawk as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is now singing a different tune. Albright and a group of 12 top NATO diplomats have just come up with their ideas on how the alliance should reform itself to deal with the current security threats. According to their report NATO should “pursue a policy of engagement” with Russia by “focusing on opportunities for pragmatic collaboration,” such as missile defense, arms control, and the fight against terrorism, drugs and piracy.
At the same time the old “Cold Warriors” are not giving up and, as ever, the “Pravda on the Potomac” is at their disposal. David Kramer, former deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the George W. Bush administration, is using the Washington Post to accuse the Obama administration of betraying Russia’s neighbors, most importantly Georgia, by resubmitting to Congress the “123” nuclear cooperation agreement without reaffirming its strong objection to “Russia’s invasion of Georgia” in August 2008.
One may wonder why Kramer is not accusing the entire NATO leadership of betrayal for their willingness to resume working with Russia in the wake of the Bush administration basically freezing all Russia-NATO contacts.
In any event, as far as Russia’s foreign policy doctrine is concerned, no one disputes that the West is still the unquestionable leader in science and technological innovations that are badly needed for Russia’s economic development. However, the enormous rise of China, India, and other Asian countries as well as the looming security threats from the South require a more pragmatic foreign policy approach. The gist of this policy is simple and one might say timeless: Russia need have neither ardent friends nor bitter enemies but only its own interests to look out for – just as any self-respecting nation.
It appears that, in a drastic change from the previous U.S. administration’s policy, the Obama government has recognized that Russia has certain legitimate interests of its own and is ready for compromises. This is a good beginning, and Russia should make sure that its foreign policy helps Obama to pursue this course and does not provide his enemies with ammunition of whatever sort.
Ira Straus, U.S. Coordinator, Committee on Russia in NATO, Washington, DC:
Do I detect a tired tone, as if to say, “We’ve seen this movie before, here are the standard interpretive options…?” New or not, it’s a good movie, one filled with great hopes, though most of them suffer disappointment. It runs like this: “Russian Westernizers say they need economic Westernization, they can only get modernization by rapprochement with the West. They get only a half-rapprochement, if only because the West suspects they’re doing it solely out of the very same tactical self-advancing motives they advertise (for modernizing Russia as a great power). And they get only half modernization – usually far less than half, when it comes to the economic benefits they were advertising; and then there are the adjustment costs of reform. The modernization they do get seems in retrospect little connected to their relations with the West. Although in a deeper sense the two are inseparable; they couldn’t have had the one without the other.”
After all is said and done, it is a necessary movie, one that does some good and heads off a lot of harm. But rarely satisfies.
It’s ultimately the old paradox of late modernization: Russia needs modernization, the modern world is the West, but Russia has to modernize outside of the West, and modernizing outside of the West creates a political premium on nationalistic motives that can take Russia away from modernization. The multiple iterations of the Westernizers’ drama – half-rapprochements, half-successes, whole heartbreaks – produce an upward spiral motion; Russia becomes on the whole more modern and Western with each full-circle turn.
When Russian modernizers point to the economic necessity of rapprochement with the West, it is seemingly safe grounding for their position. It gives their goal an objective status as a national necessity that makes it harder for the Slavophils and anti-Western nationalists to attack them for sucking up to the “enemy.” In return, they pay the price that the West distrusts them. That distrust is partly based on ignorance of the Russian leaders’ domestic tactical political needs, but is not entirely groundless. If the Russian modernizers have to frame their underlying Westernizing motives in nationalist language for fear of political mutilation, the same forces that deflect them into doing this might also succeed in deflecting their follow-on policies in a non-Western or anti-Western direction. This distrust prevents the rapprochement from going all the way, and prevents economic integration from reaching anything near the level needed to bring the dramatic benefits hoped for. The nationalists counterattack: you sucked up to the West, the West for the most part ignored you, Russia didn’t get the benefits you promised, and meanwhile our enemy the West benefited. Another turn in the cycle. Yet something is gained. And far worse things are avoided.
Could better be done? Could the West be less suspicious; could it keep its suspicions to more rational proportions, and recognize that there are grounds for suspicions from Russia’s side too? Yes, it could, and to some extent has done this; at present it is less suspicious than in the Gorbachev years, although also less hopeful. Could the West deal with Russian Westernizers and Slavophiles more skillfully, recognizing that Russia is not a monolith but a complex entity containing a duality of potentialities in relation to the West (mediated by a center, following options on the in-between spectrum, that is less solid than it usually appears); offering accordingly a more substantial benefit package in connection with the Westernizering element of Russia’s duality, and maintaining a more vigorous dual-contingency policy of its own? Yes it could, and it needs to. Could Russian Westernizers be more skillful in helping their Western colleagues develop this package in a manner that would be substantial enough, and that would “work” for both sides? Yes, they could.
All this is sorely needed. But perhaps I too sound tired, jaundiced. Why aren’t I beating the drum that “we must do this”? Ok, I’ll beat the drum: we must do this; many of out vital interests depend on it. It’s really true. But I too have seen the movie before; I too have seen the same lines of argument before. In the Gorbachev and early Yeltsin years it carried high drama for everyone. It still does, as far as our vital interests go, but it’s hard to feel as dramatic about it again. At the moment I find it hard to kick myself and whip up the spirit that is needed. Perhaps a younger generation can do that.
Professor Stephen Blank, U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:
What I read stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the government had denied that this was the new policy. So the paper may have been a proposal or a first or early draft of a later document. I’m not sure that it represents a conceptual breakthrough because while the tone of Russian diplomacy has changed with Medvedev’s “smiling face,” no positions have been conceded.
On Iran, Russia still seeks so-called “smart sanctions” and exceptions for itself. Regarding the Middle East Peace Process it pushes for the United States to pressure Israel while its diplomats tell the Palestinians that the Americans are not serious.
The massive intelligence campaign organized by Putin against the West, much of which has to do with obtaining technological intelligence through classical espionage methods, continues unabated. At the same time the document also calls for stepping-up Russian investments in Baltic and CIS economies, another hallmark of the recent past, with the intention of obtaining decisive political and economic leverage over these states.
Indeed, it is a time-honored tradition of Russian and Soviet foreign policy to signal a detente based on common economic interests, the main goal of which is that Russia obtains foreign technology (which, because of its economic-political structure, it cannot optimally utilize) in return for sham or cosmetic concessions. This goes back at least as far as the period of the New Economic Policy in the 1920s, and was true in the 1970s as well.
These efforts have always represented attempts to avoid the necessity of reform by getting the West to provide for Russia what it cannot make or do on its own, so that Russia can compete more effectively with it.
So, what exactly is the Russian government offering in return for this smiling foreign policy? The doctrine, if that is what it is, clearly calls for intensifying Russia’s efforts to integrate the CIS exclusively under its purview, as the recent Ukrainian deal indicates. That deal was a betrayal of Ukrainian sovereignty and a leveraged buyout by Russia, at considerable cost to Ukraine’s freedom in defense and foreign policy, not to mention energy policy.
The Russian-inspired coup in Kyrgyzstan represents a similar example of trying to exclude foreign influence in a sensitive CIS region. The February Defense Doctrine, even though NATO enlargement is now called a danger rather than a threat, still breathes hostility to the United States and NATO.
In other words, a document does not make foreign policy even if it may be the harbinger of change. Until that change is reflected in actual policy, it is too early to believe in a genuine rapprochement with the West.
In many respects it represents an attempt by Russia to have it both ways. On the one hand it will tell the West that there are common interests and we should each invest in each other’s economies so that Russia gains greater leverage in the open Western systems and access to new technology, while on the other foreign investors in Russia, like BP and Hermitage Capital, are essentially bilked.
Furthermore, until there are signs of domestic reform, this policy will appear as another attempt to find a surrogate or alternative to reform. Undoubtedly, there will be many in the West, mainly in Europe, who will fall over themselves proclaiming the “new” Russia, and rush to make concessions to Moscow that are unwarranted.
But no concessions can lift Russia out of its doldrums without genuine domestic reform, which changes the way Russia thinks of its security relationship.