Russia in 2003 and Its Foreign Policy Survey
Excerpts from the Report by the Foundation for Prospective Studies and Initiatives
Russia’s international position at the start of 2003 is stable and generally favorable for accomplishing the immediate tasks of national revival in the social, economic, political, and psychological spheres.
Presently, there are no direct external threats to national security in the traditional understanding. Russia is not entangled in any interstate war-threatening conflicts; it maintains correct and friendly relations with all countries, and enjoys the unique opportunity to promote its interests through active political means.
The traditional indirect threats to security also appear to be insignificant. The geopolitical scene is free of forces that might intentionally seek ways to weaken Russia. Some forces or states may try and use this country’s domestic problems – like the depopulation of the Far-Eastern regions, corruption, and the susceptibility of certain regions to separatism – for their own purposes, but the crises that could arise out of such attempts are only hypothetical and unlikely to materialize in the short term.
The risk of destabilization persists in some countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that have specific or inefficient political regimes, while the possibility of conflicts between some of the former Soviet republics cannot be entirely ruled out. Since almost any crisis in the CIS may inflict damage on Russia’s interests, its involvement in the resolution of any critical situations is most certain. For this reason, Russia may expect the international community to better understand its actions than was previously the case.
The years 2001 and 2002 heralded the existence of new threats, together with a decrease in the more traditional ones, as international terrorism moved into the forefront. On the one hand, Russia’s unhesitating support of antiterrorist efforts meets the nation’s vital interests, while on the other hand, it furnishes Russia with an important foreign policy resource.
Chechnya has turned into a stronghold of international terrorists on Russia’s territory, while the dangerous merger of Chechen separatism with international terrorism has brought about a situation where the zone of terrorist activity could potentially strangle the entire country. This is no small challenge which Russia must now confront.
In late 2002 and early 2003, however, the Chechen situation acquired a new political tinge. The international community seems more inclined now to view the Chechen conflict not as some “Russian phenomenon,” but rather in the general context of fighting against international terrorism. The disturbing impact of the Chechen factor on Russia’s foreign policy is decreasing, which was manifest in the Russian-U.S. relations and in the documents which Russia and the European Union signed during the November 2002 summit.
This positive trend will prevail only if Russia makes serious progress in ensuring the rule of law and human rights in Chechnya, as well as solving the problems of a humanitarian nature. In the absence of these attempts, Chechen developments may again receive an unfavorable political taint. This could materialize if the Russian government discards its orientation to a political settlement and persists in its staunch refusals to maintain contacts with Aslan Maskhadov; in terms of his status and line of conduct, Maskhadov is generally perceived worldwide as a parallel to Yasser Arafat. The search for an acceptable political approach for settling the Chechen issue was knocked off track by the brutal hostage crisis in Moscow in October, 2002. Nevertheless, the government should resume its political efforts, especially in view of the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
There has been a change in international attitudes toward Russia, as the overstated expectations, humiliating benevolence or pure malice have given way to more objective and balanced outlooks. A renewed atmosphere of cautious optimism, as well as the readiness to interpret international controversies in Russia’s favor, is prevailing now over the habitual apprehensions.
The above stated facts prove that Russia’s international position is stabilizing, and much of this shift in attitudes is attributable to the Russian leadership that has accepted a strategy of integration into the democratic family of nations. It made practical proof of its choice right after the events of September 11th, when it unequivocally sided with the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition. That decision ushered in a new phase of Russian foreign policy.
This revamped foreign policy has earned Russia international credibility and has made up for Russia’s chivalrous attitudes toward particularly questionable regimes, like North Korea. Other activities which may clash with Russia’s pro-democratic drive are its relapses of ultimatum-making, inappropriate rhetoric, as well as confrontational or anti-American stances in official commentaries on world affairs. These moves cannot but cause concern as they by no means resemble accidental deviations from the desired course of action, but rather expose the moods of a certain part of society and the political elite. They indicate that Russia is not completely ready to pursue a new foreign policy.
The fact calls for both political evaluation and practical steps.
One may occasionally get an impression that the discrepancies between Russia’s foreign and domestic policies are getting wider. It appears that the authorities could draw these discrepancies to a minimum – a goal that seems quite achievable given President Putin’s impressive public support, as well as the majority seats that the pro-presidential forces enjoy in both houses of parliament. Nevertheless, the absence of real initiatives in this area brings up three knotty problems.
First, the use of old propagandistic stereotypes and clichÎs blurs public understanding and popularity of the new foreign policy.
Second, the reverse impact of the domestic policy may trigger relapses of old foreign policymaking or cause grave political setbacks.
Third, the currently advocated methods for national development attract individuals to the presidential camp who are not necessarily inclined to support President Putin’s foreign policy initiatives.
To sum up the situation, neither the new foreign policy developed by the Putin administration, nor the resultant stability of Russia’s international position can be deemed irreversible at this moment. Therefore, the main political objective for 2003, as well as the next four to five years, is to make these encouraging tendencies stable and self-perpetuating. This task is all the more relevant in light of the forthcoming elections and concomitant populist campaigning.
International terrorism is a grave challenge to global civilization, and fighting against it requires energetic action, including the use of force. But one must not forget that the temptation for forceful solutions is fraught with two dangers.
In this context it is necessary to develop a conceptual basis concerning international terrorism, which would consider criteria for identifying terrorists and their accomplices, techniques to avert their activities, and bonuses for those who voluntarily abandon their terrorist activities.
Russia has accumulated rich experience in fighting against terrorism over the past eight years, and that experience is both reassuring, and at the same time, disappointing. Russia’s high international status, its extensive historical legacy and mental character of a leading nation, and the expertise it has gained while dealing with terror places the nation in a prominent position in the international antiterrorist campaign. This line of conduct requires big spending, however, and it is important that the antiterrorist agenda not contravene President Putin’s thesis of an “economical” foreign policy, which he put forward when he took office.
Management Of International Relations
The changes on the world’s political map over the past ten years are tantamount to a tectonic shift that was not accompanied, however, by a reform of international relations management. The system remains costly, vulnerable to criticism, and moderately efficient in routine issues, while sluggish in critical situations. Paradoxically, international ties have been reviving since the end of the Cold War, irrespective of whether or not the system helped the process or opposed it. The new development is a growing regulatory role of regional associations, like the EU or the ASEAN, informal groups like the G8, or simply top-level informal meetings in the “no-ties” format. The process has coincided with the decreasing role of the UN.
The UN still remains the key institution of that system, but it increasingly reminds one of a split parliament with limited powers. A situation where no particular party has a majority, a parliament where the chances for effective – not just politically correct – decision-making are rare, and the chances that those decisions will be implemented are nonexistent. The UN’s major problem is the absence of real levers by which to influence international relations, or the absence of the will to exert influence.
The second problem lies in the inefficiency of multilateral regimes of arms control. The fact that any pledges taken under nonproliferation documents are purely voluntary, the transparency of real actions is insignificant, and the use of sanctions is often problematic immediately puts a brake on the attempts to make that segment of international life stable and predictable.
A number of international structures, including NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), are evidently going through a crisis of self-identification. The OSCE seems to have exhausted its historic mission at the previous stage of European history, yet it can still perform some regulatory functions better than other international institutions. The OSCE operations cover a large number of old countries and some of the new independent states. It engages in designing legal norms, forming the institutions of civic society, ensuring human rights and monitoring their observance in the countries that have chosen a democratic path of development. Nor has the OSCE exhausted its potential of preventive diplomacy, settlement of conflicts and post-conflict rehabilitation.
Formal logic, together with the remnants of Soviet ideas about NATO, makes many Russians feel psychologically apprehensive about NATO’s expansion, which, however, does not infringe on Russia’s interests in reality. The alliance has expanded in close proximity to Russia’s state borders and has exhausted its potentiality for further expansion. But it is more important that Russia’s current strategy regards NATO as a partner, not as a foe, and the two sides have enough potential for partnership. Nevertheless, there is every evidence that talk about allied relationship between Russia and NATO would be premature, and discussions of this country’s possible accession to NATO are highly speculative at the moment.
The prospects for Russia-NATO cooperation really exist, although analysts find the low-profile issues dominating the agenda of Russia-NATO Council meetings disappointing. Both sides should obviously seek to replace the topics like rescue operations by a discussion of long-term guidelines involving those questions concerning air defense systems, weapons production, compatibility of control, communications and intelligence systems, etc.
Russia could benefit from such a development by acquiring certain levers of influence over NATO’s current policies and their evolution, the direction of which has remained unclear. NATO may eventually evolve into a largely political organization with policing functions in Europe, or a global structure with operations targeted at fighting international terrorism. Alternatively, it could come up with a whole new set of other uses for its military capabilities. Whatever the situation, NATO will most likely be playing a less definite, secondary role than the one it is playing now.
On the whole, the system of international relations management has displayed a tendency toward a drift of functions from the formally global institutions to the less official organizations operating on a regional level and focusing on specific tasks. The process displays three main features:
The latter situation is disturbing enough and requires pre-emptive actions. Calls for keeping the old system of international relations management intact will unlikely be of much assistance, as the transformation process has already begun. Becoming isolated from the process would also be unreasonable, since we must become involved and place it on the desirable track. Activity in this sense may have the following guidelines.
New Agenda For Russia-u.s. Relations
Russian foreign policy made significant progress in 2002 in its relations with the U.S., a line of international activity which is traditionally believed to be a decisive one. This country managed to lay the foundation for a markedly new relationship with the U.S. and to save maximum effort and resources while doing so. This new relationship is based on a shared motivation, as opposed to searching for an instantaneous solution of those bilateral problems which have piled up for decades. The common motives of both nations push the old problems to the background, or transform the factors for confrontation into factors for cooperation.
Russia and the U.S. have empirically reached an understanding that international terrorism as a non-systemic form of violence poses deadly threats for civilization, and this realization was a natural premise for pooling efforts to neutralize terrorists and for forming a coalition. There are no insurmountable barriers between Russia and the U.S. today for forming a coalition aimed at a future victory over international terrorism. It may also predetermine the progress of relations between them.
For Russia, the interest in that coalition is much bigger than for the U.S., and the reason is not because Russia is weaker. The format of an antiterrorist coalition provides this country with the opportunity for speeding up its integration into the community of democratic and highly developed nations. Russia can now proceed with this ambition as a great power. Any alternative road toward that goal would be much longer and would require extra effort and, possibly, humiliation. After all, it is not clear if Russia would be able to follow an alternative path to the end. For the U.S., a coalition with Moscow means getting a reliable partner that has common borders with unstable countries. It is not a matter of vital interest, however, as the U.S. will remain the only superpower and leader in terms of economic and military might in the foreseeable future. It will remain in this position regardless of its partnerships with Russia, even though other centers of world power may emerge.
All of this means that Russia stands to benefit from maximum use of its opportunities for cooperation with the U.S. During recent strategic talks with the U.S., President Putin managed to avoid bargaining with the Americans on those issues which are most vulnerable for his country. On the psychological plane, the recognition of Russia’s status as a genuine market economy played an important role. The Kremlin also scored a tactical achievement as Washington toned down its criticism of the operation in Chechnya.
At the same time, Russia has failed to drop its traditional agenda in its relations with the U.S. The bickering with Washington, albeit of a more moderate tone, continued to occur almost on all the items on this agenda. The government did not use the favorable environment for a breakthrough with new initiatives. It appears, though, that progress is possible without agreeing with Washington on absolutely everything – one simply has to drop its stance of excessive obstructionism.
Formulating a new agenda for Russia-U.S. relations is a priority for Russia’s foreign policy in 2003. From the viewpoint of strategic prospects, it is a vital task and it can be accomplished in several ways.
Finally, it is essential that Russia not juxtapose the progress of its ties with the U.S. and its relations with Europe, even though some illusionary or real motives may prompt such juxtaposition. The strategic goal is to maintain a balance between the U.S. and European lines of foreign policy now and to avoid a highly inopportune preference of either partner.
Guidelines For European Foreign Policy
Russia’s relations with European countries developed at a fair pace in 2002, but were less dynamic than the relations with the U.S. The progress which Russia made in its relationship with Europe was the result of Russia’s preference to associate itself with other democratic countries. Also, Russia gave up its previous assertion that NATO’s eastward enlargement was an absolute menace, and instead established a partnership with the alliance. In these areas, President Putin demonstrated highly efficient diplomatic skills in maintaining traditional economic and cultural ties with the Europeans. On the other hand, the thrust of Russo-American ties was greater, while its problems in relations with Europe were more pronounced. Very often, these misunderstandings arose from differences of mentality, contradictory visions of the world and stereotypes of behavior rather than from any real controversy of interests.
Russia’s guidelines for European foreign policy have a larger pragmatic element now. Moscow’s rapprochement with Europe follows two directions – a strengthening of its partnership with the European Union and stepping up of bilateral relations with EU members. Last year’s experience demonstrated that Russia was able to find effective counterbalancing mechanisms at the bilateral level if problems developed in its relations with the EU.
Russia-EU relations are dominated by economic concerns, although the sides have a big potential in the field of security as well. The latter conclusion is supported by geographical proximity of Russia and the European Union, and the fact that hotbeds of real or hypothetical tensions in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia are much closer to them than to the U.S. Russia and the EU both have a large Moslem population, and compared with the U.S. the two sides are much more vulnerable to the radical Islamic factor. They also have a broader experience in dealing with it.
The stepping up of Russia-EU contacts in the field of security fits well with the interests of Russia, given its status of a large Eurasian power, the uncertain future prospects of NATO, and the U.S. propensity for unilateral actions. For Russia, this kind of partnership implies general political benefits, greater potential to manage crises and conflicts, and the realistic opportunity to advance its competitive technologies to the segments of the European markets that have remained closed for Russian products, military airlift technologies, for example.
Rapprochement with Europe is significant for Russia’s own self-identification, and for removing the lingering feelings of inferiority and the phantom pains of a collapsed superpower.
Russia’s relationship with the EU concerning practical issues was tainted in 2002 by the problem of the Kaliningrad enclave. Moscow failed to attain the solutions it was seeking at the November summit meeting in Brussels, but the EU acknowledged the problem and partially withdrew from its rigorous stance which allowed no exceptions to the Schengen visa convention. The precedent had equal import for Russia, the countries of Central/Eastern Europe and the Baltic states considering accession to the EU. The issue of traveling to Kaliningrad via Lithuania now comes down to technical arrangements, and it would stand to reason that this issue will lose its political coloring in 2003. The enclave has far more serious problems pertaining to its social and economic stability. These issues are of a purely domestic variety, but Russia may nevertheless find workable solutions to them through its cooperation with the EU.
Despite the advancement of relations between Russia and the EU, there remain some areas of mutual discontent. Russia does not match the clear political correctness, bureaucratic pedantry, contentedness and overall liberalism of European life. It is also important to recall that Russia’s process of natural integration into Europe ceased abruptly in 1917 and did not resume until slightly over a decade ago. This process occasionally retreats due to acute problems which are often triggered by emotions, as opposed to real objective circumstances.
Russia must seek ways to level out its relationship with Europe, but this will require a certain political and psychological modification. It will not be painful, as Russia does not have threats to its security from Europe.
Challenges Of Year 2003
For quite obvious reasons, Russia will be unable to stay away from the aggravating problems pertaining to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. It cannot ignore them: its international status, incipient antiterrorist cooperation with the U.S., as well as its intensive ties with all three of these countries mean that it presently has a share of responsibility for the scenarios involving them. The general context of these problems demands that Russian foreign policymakers properly assess and ensure their country’s interests.
The problems surrounding Iran have certain similarities with the problems of Iraq, but its inherent logic is unique in many ways. Both countries launched programs for developing missile weaponry in the early 1980s. Both give financial support to, or have partial control over, certain terrorist groups; both Iran and Iraq exercise repressive policies within their nations, are merciless toward their enemies and bitterly hostile toward the U.S.
This is where the similarities between the two countries end, however. The Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein came into being through a coup d’Îtat at the government level, while Iran toppled its monarchy in a popular revolution, although under Islamic slogans, more than two decades ago. Over this period of time, the Iraqi regime has degraded irreparably, while Iran has seen a small symptomatic evolution. It proves that the current form of Iranian statehood has much more viability than the Saddam regime and is more open for change, however minimal by Western standards. In short, cooperation with Iran is possible, while the Iraqi regime has long lost its ability for improvement. Nor is there any special reason to punish Teheran at this time.
Inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have not found any traces of nuclear weapons or the necessary elements for their production in Iran. Nevertheless, the country has a nuclear industry and one cannot rule out a situation where it may develop nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future. Presently, Iran is definitely eligible for protection under the principle of “presumption of innocence” as far as the question of weapons of mass destruction is concerned.
Any support of terrorist organizations makes generous indulgences out of the question, yet it would be very difficult to argue that Iran does not support terrorism more than other countries do, for example Saudi Arabia.
The Iranian regime may bear potential threats to peace, stability and civilization in general if the messianic message of its religious leadership overpowers the sense of reason. The signs that such a scenario may actually evolve have been blurred in recent years, although they have not vanished altogether. Today, it seems that the most important task is to guide Iran away from the temptations of radical Islam, rather than to push it into the arms of Islamic extremism.
Moscow may have to confront two problems due to its relationship with Teheran in 2003. The first is to set proper priorities for its cooperation with Iran in nuclear power engineering, something that the U.S. is very much opposed to. Presently, however, the continuation of this cooperation seems reasonable. In the first place, it is legitimate and profitable venture for Russia, and can serve as an effective example for opposing U.S. pressure – if one does not see a problem building up prestige in such a manner. Of more important concern, Russian-Iranian cooperation in nuclear power engineering may prove efficacious in making Iran understand that the international community has vested trust in that country and is prepared to negotiate disputable issues. It does not treat Iran as a second Iraq. This position must be voiced now, in 2003, since it would be totally inadmissible that the Iranian leadership get the impression that their country will be the next phase after Iraq in some major military campaign.
The occasionally blatant U.S. desire to “punish” Teheran after any campaign in Iraq (which may be the source of Russia’s second problem concerning its relations with Iran) may never actually materialize, and the American plans will remain a harmless piece of paperwork. This will more likely be the case if Russia and the U.S. can come to agreeable terms on the Iranian nuclear projects. But Russia must act very cautiously and reasonably if the “punishment of Iran” gets on the international agenda. A confrontation with the U.S. would not be worthwhile, which does not mean Russia must support the U.S. position on Iran, though. In that situation, the coordination of efforts with the U.S. allies – above all, Britain, France and Germany – will be of paramount importance.
The international community’s treatment of North Korea has never been free of misgivings about the size of its defense preparations. And there are ample grounds to believe that in 2003 these suspicions will grow. There are three reasons for it.
All countries concerned, including Russia, stepped up efforts to verify the veracity of the North Korean statement concerning the possession of nuclear missiles immediately following Pyongyang’s admission. High-ranking Russian officials believe that the country does not have the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons.
When North Korea froze its nuclear program in 1994 it was already standing on the threshold of creating a prototype of a “nuclear fuse,” which means it had the necessary technologies, components and fissionable materials. If one admits that no work has been done since then, today North Korea must stand essentially where it was in 1994 – that is, it does not have nuclear weapons yet. However, it is quite probable that work on nuclear weapons did continue after 1994, although not on a large scale. This means that North Korea may now possess a few warheads ready for full-scale testing but not for combat employment. The situation is troublesome, but has not reached a critical stage at this time.
The problem, however, lies deeper than North Korea’s possible possession of nuclear weapons. What really matters is the readiness of the North Korean leadership to use these weapons for blackmailing the partners in the 1994 framework agreement and other parties concerned, including Russia. The game Pyongyang is playing undermines the limited trust in North Korea that appeared in recent years due to the personal efforts of the Russian government and President Putin. Russian officials have said many a time after 2000 that North Korea is strictly observing international agreements and is a reliable partner at negotiations. In these circumstances, the side effect of North Korea’s revelations about its nuclear plans only serves to discredit Russia.
The situation compels the international community to adopt a trust-but-be-watchful stance and demand that North Korea open up all the existing nuclear facilities for international inspections, and furnish experts with convincing proof that it has fully stopped developing nuclear weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction. A refusal to comply with those demands must entail stringent international sanctions.
Russia’s task is to make use of its strengthened ties with Pyongyang, and to convince its leadership that the tactics of military proliferation and blackmail should be dropped. Efforts along these lines will definitely observe the letter and spirit of the new Russian-North Korean treaty. For Moscow, it is both a matter of safeguarding national interests, and a point of honor.
It is also clear that Russia will only be left with the choice to accept international sanctions against the North Korean regime if Pyongyang turns down its mediating efforts.
The Foundation based this report on the forecast and research done by the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The foreign policy section of the report, the excerpts from which are published herein, has been prepared by Vladimir Baranovsky (head of project), Vladimir Dvorkin, Irina Zvyagelskaya, Irina Kobrinskaya, Georgy Kunadze (compiler), Vassily Krivokhizha, Vassily Mikheyev, Ivan Safranchuk, and Yuri Fyodorov.
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