1997

The New Russian Foreign Policy.

The foreign policy of Russia is going through a period of great uncertainties. What was new several years ago has become a set of stereotypes and dogmas, for example, the end of history, the new world order, the death of collectivism, swift transition of Russia to market economy, transition from Realpolitik to new thinking.

The 20th century was the age of extremes. It was the most brutal time for mankind. Great hopes appeared but few of them were realized. When we look at Russia today, we see that its social fabric of life is weakened to the point when one wonders whether russians will survive as a nation. The possibility of Russia's disintegration has not disappeared yet, a cause for anxiety for rulers in the Kremlin.

With this background in mind the near future of Russia and its foreign policy may be assessed only vaguely.

After spending many hours with russian leading politicians, diplomats, shadow ministers I came to the conclusion that Russia will survive as a regional and world power only in case if apart from stabilisation of its internal situation its political elite will develop without delay a new foreign policy for Russia.

Time marches on these days so quickly that it is dangerous merely to indulge in philosophical observations. It is time for action.

I shall not analyze the present foreign policy of Russia and the work done by its five foreign ministers after 1985. Three of them are my friends. Only one of them, Mr. Bessmertnykh, was a professional diplomat. However, the present foreign minister, Mr. Primakov, put forward a set of fresh ideas, especially on the Middle East and Asia, which may have a positive impact on the international stability and defend the national interests of Russia.

I shall try to outline main foundations of the new foreign policy for Russia, based on the internal vision of my country's destiny, on a view from Russia, which differs from most prescriptions made by outsiders.

The effectiveness of this new policy will first of all depend on domestic factors: further development of political democracy, multi-party system, growth of civil society, restoration of the depleted economy, incorporation into our life of the best features of western democracies and of the russian and soviet experience.

There are three immediate tasks: to defend vigorously the security interests of Russia; to promote economic and political integration within the borders of CIS; and to foster comprehensive cooperation with both western and eastern regional and world powers. 

In order to implement these tasks it is essential to save as much influence as possible from the soviet times and to create alliances which will redress the current lop-sided distribution of international balances and give Russia reliable strategic partners.

At present there are only two elements which sustain the status of Russia as a world power: nuclear armaments and its membership in the Security Council of the United Nations. National interests of the country have not yet been clearly formulated and until recently in Moscow there was no coherent vision of a new place for Russia in the world.

On the basis of the experience of the last few years the national interests of Russia may be summarised as follows:

to preserve independence and the integrity of Russia;
to stabilize domestic social, economic and political environment, decriminalization and debureaucratization of the society;
to create favourable conditions and a legal base for balanced market reforms;
to fortify the spiritual potential of russian and other peoples inhabiting the country;
to strengthen the Commonwealth of Independent States on the basis of collective security;
to defend by all political and economic means the interests of russian population outside Russia;
to develop relations with the USA, European Union and NATO on the basis of mutual respect and security for all;
to elevate relations with China, which are of strategic importance;
to prepare ground for a political and economic alliance between Russia, China, Vietnam and both Koreas with Japan as a potential economic partner;
to restore Russia's interests in the Balkans and active support for slav peoples;
to create a spiritual Byzantine union of Orthodox countries: Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, Makedonia, Serbia and Cyprus;
to activate efforts to develop russian relations with the world of Islam;
to create a solid basis for close political and economic cooperation with Israel;
to restore the strategic partnership with Cuba and develop cooperation with other Latin America countries;
to unequivocally support the United Nations and its Charter, the classical principles of international law: respect for national sovereignty, peaceful resolution of international conflicts, respect for international agreements, human rights and the rights of the people.

These are the basic cornerstones of the russian foreign policy in the near future. Some of them are already implemented after a period of dormant and irresponsible foreign policy of the last few years. I shall comment on some of them:

a) The most acute problem still undermining stability of Russia is Chechnia. This conflict in its essence is a struggle for the integrity of the Federation but the government until now neither has achieved a quick military victory nor solved this conflict by political means. One of the reasons for this is a stubborn fight of separatists for independence of Chechnia which is in the centre of important oil fields and transportation systems in the South of Russia. Russia cannot afford to lose this region which then will inevitably fall under the influence of Turkey.

b) An important strategic problem facing Russia is the expansion of NATO to the East. NATO is a closed military alliance which in the past confronted the Soviet Union and nowadays is on the road to create new divisions in Europe. This development brings about a completely new geopolitical situation on the continent and on the global scale. 

After repeated invasions to slav lands from the West in the Middle Ages, Napoleon's bid for Moscow in 1812, Crimea war in 1853 and the two horrible world wars in the 20th century, which also came to Russia from the West, it is impossible to convince the russian public opinion that a "peaceful military block" on its borders does not undermine Russia's security. Security cannot be based on "intentions" of the other side. It is based on the balance of power and collective security. The collective security achieved in Helsinki is dead. For Russia this is an ominous sign. 

The ratchet-wheel of NATO's expansion is moving ahead. This policy is papered over by abstract declarations of all-european security, the shift from NATO concept of the military block, spearheaded at its enemies, to peace-keeping functions. But what is the real undercurrent?

Let's hear the view, written in June 1996 by a patriarch of American diplomacy Henry Kissinger: "... Russia is pursuing an increasingly assertive foreign policy, which already opposes American notions of world order in many parts of the world", "... it is precisely the external actions of Russia that present the greatest challenge to international stability", "Russia's [idealism] prompted adventurist domination". His conclusion is simple: "NATO expansion requires a decision, not a study; its absence will tempt an even further thrust to expand Russia's strategic frontiers."

Permit me to put aside any explanations why such argumentation is not serious. I would say only one thing. Such line if thinking will have only one result - the West will lose Russia as once happened with China.

c) Russia faces a historical task of creating new alliances to the South and the East of its borders. Firstly, of special importance to Moscow is its relations with the world of Islam, the Arab world. Afghanistan and Chechnia, the disintegration of the Soviet Union created a vacuum of power in Central Asia, worsened relations between Russia and muslim nations. New peace accords with Islam nations must alter this situation for the best. Secondly, with prospects of NATO next to its borders, Russia will be forced into a strategic alliance with China and other countries to the South and East. Besides NATO factor, Russia is a Euroasian country and it is natural for Moscow to revive some of its Eastern identity and to make a half turn to the East.

d) Of special importance to Russia is and always will be the Balkans. The nations of Orthodox faith, Byzantine and slav origin will react against a trend of alliances that are guided by other political forces and confessions. The fate of Yugoslavia and ethnic strife and military conflict in Bosnia are the case when one people, the serbs, were divided and put against one another through the use of political and confessional means. 

e) The threat of deepening divisions exists in Russia and CIS. The effective remedy against this danger is resurrection of strong Federation or Confederation, that will be based on democratic, multiparty and mixed economy pillars. This process has already started and in several years a new Union will appear instead of CIS. The inexorable drive of the economy will again unite artificially divided lands together. It will bring stability and prosperity to Russia and other states who will choose unity instead of separation.

A general observation on the near future of the new Russian foreign policy:

There is a trend in Russia towards the foreign policy that will not be manipulated by other powers. There are no clear-cut rules on how to arrange the security of Russia. However, there are certain lessons from the past which may give russian policy-makers some insight into the problem. National sentiments in Russia will grow. It will continue its way to democracy and economic revival. Within the CIS the integration tendencies will speed up. On the international arena Russia will act without ideological restraints, it will become more geopolitical minded and assertive. Russia will not become an adversary of Europe or America but it will explore any opportunity to strengthen its relations with China, other regional powers in the East and look for friends all over the Earth.