Friday, October 2, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Corporate-Style Foreign Policy Self-Defeating Abroad and at Home, Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 2 – Moscow’s approach to foreign affairs is the policy of a corporation rather than a state not only in its promotion of key economic sectors but in its consistent neglect of both the broader interests of Russian society and the very possibility of cooperating rather than “swallowing up” its “competitors,” according to a Moscow commentator.
In an article published in today’s “Gazeta,” Vadim Dubnov argues that “contradictions between the interests of the powers that be and the population exist everywhere. But only in a corporative structure of the state is this contradiction not a side effect but the cornerstone of its existence” (
And because the style of the corporation, in its everyday rather than Mussolini-like meaning, views others as competitors rather than partners, he continues, other countries have less reason to try to cooperate with Moscow even on things in which they have common interests with Russia as a state.
Dubnov suggests that he reached this conclusion on the basis of the frequent observation that CIS countries do not look forward to visits by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov because he is certain to be tough and much prefer to interact with officials of the Kremlin administration like Sergey Naryshkin who is likely to be more “constructive.”
“Optimists,” the “Gazeta” writer continues, “see this as neither more nor less than a manifestation of a principled dualism” between the Russian president and the Russian prime minister. But that hypothesis, he suggests, one based on “an over-dramatization of coincidences,” is at the very least an exaggeration of the reality.
According to Dubnov, “foreign policy cannot become a serious sphere of polemics inside the duumvirate simply as a result of its particular character.” At one time, foreign policy did reflect an internal struggle between those who favored “Westernization” and those who backed “a sincere imperial restoration.”
But now that the latter has become dominant, he adds, “it is no way follows that the present foreign policy tactics originate exclusively from great-power passions.” That is obvious, he suggests, if one compares motivations between the dash to Prishtina at the end of the 1990s and the calculations involved in Russian military actions in Georgia a year ago.
Between these two events is “an essential ideological difference.” Prishtina was the response of a state, albeit one at the stage of “puberty” and on “anabolic steroids” to its sense of being injured and excluded. But Moscow’s actions in Georgia were more carefully calculated and designed to reflect not the interests of Russia but rather the needs of the powers that be.
Over the course of the last decade -- the Putin years -- Dubnov continues, “Russian foreign policy became the policy not of the state even one straightening its shoulders but the style of a corporation, here not in the Mussolini sense but rather in the way in which corporative life is understood here and now.”
And that means that Russian policy is not simply about pushing its “gas, oil, electrical energy or, in the worst case, bauxite” but rather about the absence of any “strategy of building relationships or coordinating joint actions on any real problems” – including on issues when the Russian state and its interlocutors have common interests.
Dubnov acknowledges that “sober government pragmatism” requires the defense of a country’s interests, but what Moscow is doing both “in the CIS and in the real abroad” is something very different: It is engaged in an “operating of covering [what are in fact] completely corporate interests” with the mantle of state policy.
That helps to explain why “discussions in the framework of the CIS bear such a sharp character.” In many cases, “all our former brothers are set up in approximately the same spirit,” some more, some less. And consequently “all of them speak a common language and have an absolute mutual understanding concerning the real motives” of the participants.
They understand this “corporatist” approach “as an unfinished process of fusion and swallowing up, a process that to a large extent is not friendly” at all, just as is the case in the marketplace. For example, Russia’s Gazprom and Naftogaz Ukrainy are “mirror images of one another.
There is only one difference, Dubnov continues, but it is essential: “Naftogaz is one of the parts of the government which has not become a corporate only because of the impossibility of erecting that vertical [in Ukraine, while] Gazprom is the essence of a government built on vertical lines.”
Any corporation in any country, he says, “objectively will look for chances to take over part of the power of the state, but a normal – that is one not like [Russia’s] – corporation long ago rejected romantic ideas of subordinating the [entire] state to itself.” Not only is that task not easy, but in the minds of mosst corporate leaders in most countries, it is not worthwhile.
What has happened in Russia is tragic in another sense, Dubnov goes on to say. “A state which has been converted into a corporation does not develop even its own corporative thinking” but rather remains a prisoner of the corporate “style” of its components. As a result, “its motivation has nothing in common with that which [its state] diplomacy should serve.”
Moscow’s obsession with defending only narrow corporate interests has “become the content of what most consider foreign policy,” Dubnov says, and it is now having the effect that the Russian leadership as it goes down this route is “ever more becoming the hostage of its own corporate ambitions” rather than a defender of Russia and the Russians.
And that increasingly means, Dubnov continues, that what passes for the Russian state “has to defend its proud corporate brand” by providing “fraternal help to the South Ossetian people” even if in doing so it “risks its corporate interests,” not to speak of the interests of the country in whose name it purports to speak.

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