Russian Foreign Policy Today: Ideology, Objectives, Tactics
About This Event

Although Russian president Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to offer President George W. Bush unqualified support in the War on Terror in the wake of the September 11 attacks, U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated badly in the past five years. With disagreements on Iran, the Middle East, the democratic Listen to Audio


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“color revolutions” in the former Soviet states, NATO expansion into the former Soviet territory, and the decline of political liberties in Russia, Washington and Moscow continue to drift apart. President Putin has declared his country an “energy superpower.” Increasingly, however, the European Union and the White House are concerned with Russia’s unabashed use of energy as a means of diplomatic pressure.

What accounts for this alarming parting of ways? What are the objectives of Russian foreign policy and how are they linked to the policies of economic and political recentralization inside the country? What can we expect in the next two years as both Russia and the United States enter critical periods of presidential transition?

On October 31, AEI will bring together a group of leading scholars and policymakers from the United States and Russia to discuss these and other questions. Speakers include Thomas Graham Jr., special assistant to the president and senior director for Russian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council; Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs; Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the committee on foreign affairs of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation; Angela Stent; professor of government and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University; and Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Agenda

9:00 a.m.
Registration and breakfast
9:30
Welcome:
Leon Aron, AEI
9:35
Panelists:
Fyodor Lukyanov, Russia in Global Affairs
Mikhail Margelov, Federation Council, Russia
Angela Stent, Georgetown University
Elizabeth Stewart, foreign policy advisor, office of Senator Gordon H. Smith
Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center
12:15 p.m.
Luncheon
1:00
Keynote Address:
Thomas Graham Jr., U.S. National Security Council (off-the-record)

2:00

Adjournment

Event Summary

October 2006

Russian Foreign Policy Today: Ideology, Objectives, Tactics

Although Russian president Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to offer President George W. Bush unqualified support in the wake of the September 11 attacks, U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated badly in the past five years. With disagreements on Iran, the Middle East, the democratic “color revolutions” in the former Soviet states, NATO expansion into the former Soviet territory, and the decline of political liberties in Russia, Washington and Moscow continue to drift apart. President Putin has declared his country an “energy superpower.” Increasingly, however, the European Union and the White House are concerned with Russia’s unabashed use of energy as a means of diplomatic pressure.

What accounts for this alarming parting of ways? What are the objectives of Russian foreign policy, and how are they linked to the policies of economic and political recentralization inside the country? What can we expect in the next two years as both Russia and the United States enter critical periods of presidential transition?

On October 31, AEI brought together a group of leading scholars and policymakers from the United States and Russia to discuss these and other questions.

Fyodor Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs

 

Ties between Russia and the European Union (EU) are based on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, signed in 1994, which will expire next year. At that time, Russia, like Poland, was believed to be on a clear path toward adopting the European model. That was an illusion, and Russia’s changing view of its place in Europe can be seen through the evolution of Russia-EU relations.

 

European integration was initially seen as Russia’s movement toward the European economic, social, legal, and political models. However, Moscow today views integration as a mutual process based on cooperation (such as the “asset swap” proposed by Gazprom). The “European choice” is no longer the best or only choice in Russian politics. Russian policymakers tend to view the EU as ineffective economically and politically. Russia is now under the spell of “Brazil/Russia/India/China magic,” orientating itself to growth leaders like India and China and finding the Asian market more attractive.

 

For the first time in years, Moscow has a feeling of full political independence. It is protective of this sovereignty. Among Russian elites, there has also been a return to the notion of Russia as a special entity that combines European and Asian elements. The “European values” rhetoric is viewed as contrary to this and as an attempt to force Russia to take actions not in its own national interest. The EU’s inconsistent criticism of democracy and human rights within Russia (relative to its dependency on Russian energy) has not helped.

 

In the upcoming treaty negotiations, the EU will attempt to discuss the values issues and establish clear-cut obligations, while Russia will avoid commitments, particularly in the area of energy. Furthermore, the EU’s recent announcement that enlargement will not continue has weakened its position; by giving up a tool of influence, it has abandoned the sphere of politics in the post-Soviet space to the United States and Russia. Thus, the new treaty will only be transitory, and the EU will have to wait until at least 2010 for a longer-term agreement.


Mikhail Margelov

Russian Federation Council

 

The problem in the Middle East today is that of European and American political legacies, which either do not work or work differently. Democracy is not the only answer to terrorism and war in the Middle East. The more that democracy is imposed, the more negative the response is. This has been demonstrated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria, and the recent victories of Hamas in Palestine.

 

The position of Russia in the Middle East is that of a “civilized mediator,” to which Russia has an historical claim. After the victory of Hamas, when the efforts of the “International Quartet” had failed, Russia met with Hamas. Although the meeting inspired much criticism, it was the general secretary of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, not the Russian officials, who authorized the meeting. There is much mutual criticism in Middle Eastern politics. Russia resents the exclusion of Russian experts and policymakers in the process, and there is much criticism of the Russian military advisor to Syria.

 

Iran’s nuclear dossier is of concern for all of us. The Russian nuclear industry, struggling to survive in the nineties and facing legal obstacles with the United States, found a different buyer in Iran. However, the technology the Iranians are using is Western. Some of it was bought legally from France and Germany, and some of it was shared with them by Pakistan. It is not surprising that Iran and North Korea want nuclear technology; this is also of concern to Moscow. These concerns were behind Moscow’s efforts to elicit Chinese support for the United Nations resolution condemning North Korea. However, neither the United States nor Russia has economic interests in North Korea. Iran is a different case. It has a special role in the Middle East. It is a self-sufficient, ambitious economic power with a strong nationalist and religious ideology. It is ideologically dominant in the region, particularly after the elimination of Saddam Hussein, who provided a balance. No one knows how to proceed, but Russia (with others, like Japan) is skeptical about sanctions. No one has yet proposed smart sanctions, which will definitely work, compared to the many examples of failed sanctions before us.

 

Angela Stent

Georgetown University

 

Relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated over the past year and are not as strong as one would hope. Two elements deserve specific attention: Russia’s role as a major energy supplier and Russia’s relationship with what can be considered the “near abroad.”

 

With regard to Russia’s role as an energy superpower, it is imperative to have a historical perspective. During the Cold War, the United States tried to affect the routes of Soviet pipelines to Europe. While it is now popular to refer to Russia as an “energy superpower” (invoking undertones of Cold War Soviet nuclear power), the Soviet Union never used energy as a weapon against Western Europe. These days, Russia has only cut energy to Belarus--a country which is, in fact, its major ally. One needs to be careful in insinuating that Russia is using energy as a weapon. It is true that Russia plays hardball in the energy sector, but this is largely because it does not see foreigners as partners. Perhaps it would be more constructive for westerners to spend time trying to better understand the power dynamics in Russia.

 

The other area which deserves particular attention is the “near abroad.” Putin believes that under former president Boris Yeltsin, the near abroad was neglected to the detriment of Russian interests in the region. Similarly, the Kremlin (as well as many Russians) doubts that the colored revolutions were truly indigenous. This creates two different narratives for U.S. and Russian officials for what is now occurring in places like Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia. The big question going forward is whether the United States, Russia, and Europe can reach consensus about that region. Russia wants to surround itself with countries that are friendly (defined as countries who are not members of an organization considered to be antagonistic to Russia), but this is a view unlikely to find much support in the halls of Brussels and Washington.

 

Elizabeth Stewart

Office of Senator Gordon H. Smith

 

There are two things to keep in mind when looking at the role that Congress plays in U.S.-Russian relations: first, Congress is restricted when conducting foreign policy, and second, changes might be underway if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives or the Senate. On the one hand, Congress believes that there are shared interests between the United States and Russia, especially in counterterrorism and nuclear proliferation. On the other hand,  does Russia share the values of the United States?

 

Thus far, Congress has voiced criticisms of Russia only on the margins--including questioning Russia’s inhibitions to religious freedoms and the future role of NGOs. On the macro level, however, Congress has run out of patience with the Bush administration’s policy of raising concerns with Russian officials only in private meetings instead of in public. Because Russia is no longer considered helpful on major issues (including Iran and North Korea), Congress might be reaching a tipping point. The Banking Committee will oppose Russian entry into the World Trade Organization, urging the administration to reconsider its Russia policy. It is hard to lend support to Russia on certain issues while ignoring problems of Russian democracy as Putin consolidates power in himself and his cronies.

 

Dmitri Trenin

Carnegie Moscow Center

 

Russia today is in a post-imperial phase of development, which means that it is one of the least ideological countries in the world. Ideas hardly matter; interests rule supreme. The motto of the Russian elites is “in capital we trust.” Military power is not appealing, while geopolitical considerations--especially as they affect economic interests--are important. Russia today is ruled by practical people, so no special relations are pursued with any state, even for allies such as Armenia or Belarus. Russia’s expansion into the Commonwealth of Independent States is based on the principle of “comparative advantage,” not the recreation of any kind of a Soviet-style entity. Private corporate interests are necessarily behind any policy decision. As the current joke goes, “What’s good for Gazprom (or Rosneft) is good for Russia.” The state itself is being informally and efficiently privatized.

 

In the view of Russian leaders, every state or entity can be a partner--from the United States to Hamas, from Baron Judd to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--or an adversary. There is nothing personal; it is only business. Of course, they recognize the benefits and shortcomings of each relationship, and ultimately, integration into the West is still the chief goal. But with all the debts to the West paid off and energy revenues pouring in, they will no longer be duped into recognizing universal values or making concessions. Russia, they reason, is no one else’s business. This fiercely practical approach is the complete opposite of ideological Soviet policies. Curiously enough, the roles are reversed: the United States, which dealt with the Soviets in a largely practical manner, now finds itself similarly constrained by ideological considerations.

 

Does this worldview indicate a new imperialism? Russia is neither pro-West or anti-West; it is willing to work with the United States and China in equal degree. This pragmatic approach has its weaknesses. In the post-9/11 era, where U.S.-Russian cooperation seemed destined to advance to a new plateau, Russia mistakenly asked the United States to stay out of the former Soviet sphere--Moscow’s area of vital interest. This approach failed to consider that the new leaders of Ukraine and Georgia are responsible only to their citizens, not to Moscow, Brussels, or Washington.

 

Therefore, U.S.-Russian relations are in decline, worse than at any point since 1991. They will continue to decline until the political elites on both sides are willing to reconsider their approaches to fundamental questions of foreign policy

 

AEI research assistant Igor Khrestin and interns Ilya Bourtman and Kara Flook prepared this summary.

View complete summary.
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AEI Participants

 

Leon
Aron
  • Leon Aron is Resident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of three books and over 300 articles and essays. Since 1999, he has written Russian Outlook, a quarterly essay on economic, political, social and cultural aspects of Russia’s post-Soviet transition, published by the Institute. He is the author of the first full-scale scholarly biography of Boris Yeltsin, Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life (St. Martin’s Press, 2000); Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006 (AEI Press, 2007); and, most recently, Roads to the Temple: Memory, Truth, Ideas and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 (Yale University Press, 2012).


    Dr. Aron earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University, has taught a graduate seminar at Georgetown University, and was awarded the Peace Fellowship at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has co-edited and contributed the opening chapter to The Emergence of Russian Foreign Policy, published by the U.S. Institute of Peace in 1994 and contributed an opening chapter to The New Russian Foreign Policy (Council on Foreign Relations, 1998).


    Dr. Aron has contributed numerous essays and articles to newspapers andmagazines, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, theWall Street Journal Foreign Policy, The NewRepublic, Weekly Standard, Commentary, New York Times Book Review, the TimesLiterary Supplement. A frequent guest of television and radio talkshows, he has commented on Russian affairs for, among others, 60 Minutes,The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose, CNN International,C-Span, and National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Talk of theNation.”


    From 1990 to 2004, he was a permanent discussant at the Voice of America’s radio and television show Gliadya iz Ameriki (“Looking from America”), which was broadcast to Russia every week.


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