Monday, February 20, 2006

Monkeys & Tigers of Putin's Foreign Policy

What are the major characteristics of Russia's Putinist foreign policy? What is obvious is that the growth in oil incomes is parallel only to the growth in self-confidence and self-reliance in foreign affairs. Thereby, the "multivector policy" has finally got off the ground. Current Russian foreign policy strategy may, however, turn back with a vengeance on Russia. Solitude is not a succesful recipe for international affairs.

Threats to Russia
The long-term security policy threats to Russia are terrorism, militant Islamism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a stronger China, and instability due to the spread of "open society". These are serious problems that demand serious answers. Instead, Russian foreign policy is characterised by increased self-confidence and a walk it alone mentality.

Multivector policy
Since 2003, the drive for co-operation and partnership with the West has been abandoned. Current "multivector policy" avoids stable relations and partnership with other powers. Moscow exploits Western weakness - the EU crisis and US endless engagement in Iraq. Russia tries to be a "monkey on top of a hill, overlooking the tigers fighting on the plain".

The near abroad - a chain of instability
Dominance over the "near abroad" is still the overarching goal of Russian foreign policy. Moscow's increased self-confidence obscures the setbacks in Georgia and the Ukraine. The danger of current policy is that the risk for new crises and revolutions in the Russian sphere of interest is underestimated. The contradiction between personified power and weak systems in post-soviet states constitutes a latent risk of instability in Russia's backyard for the coming 10-15 years. Here, elections counterposes self-perpetuation of personified power and political legitimacy. It is the soft authoritarian hybrid regimes - as previously Ukraine and perhaps Armenia next - that are the weakest links in the chain of instability, which runs through Russia's proximity.

Central Asia - the Great Game revisited?
In Central Asia, there is danger of escalating tension between Moscow and Washington. Russia and China jointly try to act as regional stabilisers, at the same time as increased Chinese influence contributes to growing conflict potential between the two countries. Post-soviet space constitutes an unstable, volatile and fluidous region in the vicinity of the EU.

Making it alone - a recipe for disaster
As Russia is all the more turning into a unilateral and uncooperative actor, one must realise that Putinist foreign policy will face great challenges. Perceived threats to Russia are based on traditional views, which may not be entirely in tune with times. If Moscow continues to pursue the multivector policy, such threats may, however, become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To abandon cooperation with the West is tantamount to losing a potential partner in solving the problems facing Russia in post-soviet space. Moscow's support for weak regimes - undemocratic and illegitimate - will only serve to amplify instability in the "near abroad". As an effect, revolution may turn on Russia as well. Finally, Russia is treading a delicate balance-act in Central Asia, where a new "Great Game" may evolve, if not being careful. In all, Russia is applying a traditional policy on untraditional problems, which cannot possibly succeed in the long run. Therefore, it is likely that the image of monkeys and tigers will prove an act of self-deception. Instead, Russian foreign policy may prove a recipe for disaster if the monkeys were to: "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil". This is, however, the path Russia currently is heading with its multivector policy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear 'Russian' commentary (speaking from inside "fortress North America")

This may be of interest:
Afghan Instability: A Scorched Earth Geo-Political Strategy