Russian Foreign Policy in the 21st Century

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The foundation of this forceful come-back of Moscow in the international arena was enormous revenues of oil and gas as a result of fast increasing world prices. Russia's background in the former Soviet Union as well as close ties with the upcoming new powers of China and India served as springboards towards regaining an influential status in the world. Simultaneously, Moscow developed an assertive policy towards the West and unwilling neighbours, culminating in an armed conflict with Georgia. Reviewing this decade of Russian international security policy, this work analyses major security documents, military reforms and policy actions towards friends and foes, to provide an assessment of the future of Moscow's security strategy.

Major security issues of Putin and Medvedev have been nuclear deterrence, the CFE Treaty, the US missile shield, energy as power tool and an alternative European security architecture. The August Georgia conflict serves as a case-study in analysing Russia's foreign security policy.

Introduction: Russian Foreign Policy in Historical Perspective

Considering Russia's security status - measured in internal and external strong and weak points, opportunities and threats in socio-economic, political and security areas - what will this mean for Moscow's external security policy in the longer run? In the coming years Russia is likely to develop into a combined failing and assertive state. Failing, because of deteriorating socio-economic and disintegrating conditions.

As with France under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, it has become a matter of principle for Russia to assert itself in international affairs wherever possible and to distinguish its own policies from those of the most powerful member of the international community--in both cases the United States. As with France, this Russian approach has psychological roots. It is a response, among other things, to wounded pride occasioned by a sudden, sharp loss of international status.

As Aron notes, Russian foreign policy could move from protest to outright opposition; but this would require a combination of developments that, from the perspective of the first six post-Soviet years, do not seem likely. Of the three arenas of post-perestroika Russian foreign policy, the third is the most important. Like most other countries most of the time, Russia's most intense relations are with the countries nearest to it. Moreover, post-Soviet Russia is weak. Like the Soviet Union, which was a one-dimensional international power, formidable in military terms only, it lacks the economic strength to pay a significant role in the world trading system.

The new Russia may one day be, as China has become, an international economic force with which the world must reckon. But it is not one now and, unlike the Soviet Union, it lacks the military power that made Andrei Gromyko's boast about the pervasive Soviet role in international affairs a plausible one. Russia has inherited the Soviet nuclear arsenal, which is, of course, a source of influence.

In other ways, however, Russia's presence is scarcely felt beyond its immediate neighborhood. In that neighborhood, however--on the territory of the former Soviet Union--Russia's influence is considerable. Russia's neighborhood, moreover, is a large one. For the purposes of assessing post-Soviet Russian foreign policy, it is useful to divide it into two parts: the west, where Russia's neighbors are Ukraine, the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and Moldova; and the south, where Russia borders on the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

For all their considerable difficulties, the newly independent states to Russia's west are stronger, more coherent, and more stable than those to its south.

The sense of political community and the capacity for effective governance are higher in Ukraine, and even more so in the Baltic countries, than in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The civil wars that erupted along the southern frontiers of the new Russia are not part of the political life of the new states to its west. In no small part for that reason, six years after the end of the Soviet Union, Russian troops were deployed throughout the south; they were not present to the west. While Russia is far stronger than any of the other former Soviet republics that are now sovereign states, its margin of economic, political, and military superiority is greater over the new countries of the south than over those to the west.

This is so for yet another reason: The newly independent states to the west feel a powerful attraction to the countries to their west, the countries of Western Europe. The southern newly independent states are not comparably attracted to their southern neighbors--Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. Russia's far west is Europe, which is one of the richest, most dynamic, and most powerful parts of the international system.

Russians' attitudes differ toward the two parts of what they call their "Near Abroad"--a term that denotes their presumption of a special relationship with the newly independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. The countries to the west, especially Ukraine, are closer to Russia in cultural terms.


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Their languages are similar. Ukraine was part of a greater Russian state for three centuries, and it is difficult for most Russians to conceive of Kiev as the capital of a foreign country. The Russian sense of loss at Ukrainian independence is palpable. By contrast, it is not at all difficult for Russians to see themselves as distinct even from the Christian although not Slavic peoples of the Caucasus--the Georgians and Armenians--let alone from the Muslims of Central Asia. No comparable sense of kinship draws Russia to the south.

Rather, beyond a determination to gain a share of the the energy resources of the Caspian basin and a concern about the ethnic Russian population in the part of Kazakhstan that shares a border with Russia, the main Russian interest in the south is to keep the disorders there from spreading northward. The southern Near Abroad evokes in most Russians not a sense of loss but a feeling of threat. Because the western Near Abroad is situated between Russia and Europe, Russia's relations with its western neighbors will go a long way to defining its relations with Europe and the United States.

This has the potential to make it, as Sherman Garnett notes in Chapter 2, contested terrain. Particularly important will be relations between Russia and Ukraine, the bridge between Russia and Europe, relations that are bound to be difficult and delicate under the best of circumstances. Russia and Ukraine are the two largest and most powerful successor states to the Soviet Union.

What is more, Ukraine was part of Russia longer than any of the others and has more ethnic Russians within its borders. For these reasons, of all the non-Russian successor states, Ukraine is the one whose independence has perhaps the least legitimacy in Russian eyes; Ukraine is therefore the likeliest object of a Russian effort to regain control of territories that were once part of the Soviet Union.

As such, it is the test case of whether Russia will remain a nation-state or seek to become again a multinational empire. Relations with Ukraine will thus do much to define not only Russia's relations with the West but Russian national identity as well. Its location between Russia and the West and the powerful, conflicting currents of politics, culture, and economics that are at play there make the western Near Abroad potentially contested terrain.

An unhappy historical analogy suggests itself here: Central Europe between the two world wars. Like the Baltic countries and Ukraine after the Cold War, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia attained independence with the collapse of multinational empires in the wake of a great European and global conflict--in their case, World War I.

The three found themselves caught between, squeezed by, and ultimately the victims of two powerful flanking neighbors: Germany and the Soviet Union. Less is at stake for the United States and Western Europe in Russian policy to the south than in Russia's policies to the west. Russian military intervention to the west would trigger a new Cold War, or worse.

This is not true of the south; and that is fortunate because to the south, as noted, Russia is already a military presence and plays a far more intrusive role than it does to the west. The Russian role to the south, as Rajan Menon observes in Chapter 3, is the product of two basic, timeless features of relations between sovereign states: proximity and asymmetry.

Empire By Other Means: Russia’s Strategy for the 21st Century

Because the two regions are close, Russia cannot ignore the Caucasus and Central Asia. Because the countries to its south are weak, Russia is almost bound to exert a degree of influence over them. This fact, however, gives rise to a wide range of possibilities. Historically, the strong have involved themselves in the affairs of the weak for a variety of reasons and have exercised the influence that their strength gives them in a number of different ways.

Russian Foreign Policy in the 21st Century & the Shadow of the Past

The full spectrum of both motives and consequences is evident in post-Soviet Russia's role in the southern Near Abroad. Russia was drawn there or in some cases remained there after the collapse of the Soviet Union partly out of an imperial reflex. But the Russian presence to its south also had the goal of staking out a share of the riches expected to flow from the exploitation of the local energy resources.

Perhaps most important, Russian was present to its south in order to keep political turbulence--initially provoked almost nowhere by Russia itself but the product in some places, in the Russian view at least, of Islamic fundamentalism--from infecting Russia proper. Once there, post-Soviet Russia sometimes has behaved in a heavy-handed manner, insisting on military bases in Georgia as the price of helping the Georgian government regain control of its territory and contributing, in Azerbaijan, to the ouster of leaders disliked by Moscow.

Russia's Foreign Security Policy in the 21st Century: Putin, Medvedev and Beyond - CRC Press Book

But Russia has also, arguably, exercised a restraining influence to its south, stopping wars that otherwise would have continued. The Russian government has, however, shown no sign of seeking to govern the countries to the south directly, as it did during the tsarist period, let alone of attempting to impose a particular kind of regime there, which was the pattern in the communist period.

Russian Foreign Policy in the Twenty-first Century and the Shadow of the Past

How then will Russia exercise its influence to the south? Historically, there is a tendency for the domestic political beliefs and institutions of the powerful to tend to shape their policies toward the weak. So Russia's relations with its southern neighbors will depend in part on what kind of country Russia itself becomes.