Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Foreign Policy among ‘Least Reformed’ Aspects of Russian Life, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 30 – Despite the enormous changes in the world since 1991, Moscow’s foreign policy has remained to this day “one of the least reformed and changed” spheres of Russian life, a reflection of continuity in the mindsets and often personalities of those who make it and an increasing threat to the country’s future, according to a Russian commentator.
In an article in today’s “Novaya politika,” Maksim Artemyev says that despite the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, no one in the Russian capital has yet offered a carefully developed program for “the complete integration of Russia” into the new system of international relations (novopol.ru/text82951.html).
Russian commentators, he continues, have not been shy in their repeated suggestions that “the West as a whole and the US in particular are conducting themselves as if the conflict between the two camps is continuing.” But, Artemyev points out, they have not seen fit to subject themselves to an equally “critical analysis.”
Every country needs a foreign policy which advances not only its place in the world but also its domestic situation, the Moscow analyst says. Russia’s domestic changes in economics and politics over the last two decades could have been much greater and more productive if there had been equal shifts in its foreign policy.
A major reason that Russian foreign policy has not evolved as it should, Artemyev suggests, is that “in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there are still many people of the Soviet mold and habits with a corresponding mentality. [And] even young cadres coming to replace them are being inculcated to a large extent with the old views.”
Russia’s “expert community also represents an extremely contradictory picture,” he continues. “Among the genuine professionals are not a few opportunists or people who remain mired in their views as if nothing has changed.” And thus it is not surprising that “over the last decade” there have been problems, if not outright failures.
Artemyev then offers a tour de horizon to make his point. With regard to the CIS countries, he writes, Russia has had more problems than with anyone else, a reflection of the fact that “Moscow has not formulated a contemporary order of the day.” All its “integration projects” have failed, with the CIS already long ago “converted into a meaningless fiction.”
“Our neighbors,” he continued, “have shown in interest in cooperating with Russia only when they have unilateral benefits.” That explains why there have been problems with the Tariff Union among other efforts, something that will not be changed, Artemyev insists, unless there is “a conceptual breakthrough.”
If Moscow hopes to attract Ukraine to this grouping, he continues, “we must offer something more weighty and attractive than the WTO.” And Russian analysts need to start paying attention to the problems of Russian-led institutions and not spend their time “criticizing the European Union and pointing attention to the problems of the Lisbon process.”
Without such an “honest” consideration of the real state of play, Moscow will not be able to offer to Ukraine, Moldova or “even Belarus integration projects on the post-Soviet space that will be more interesting that integration in Europe.” And the same thing holds with regard to the efforts of some of these countries to join NATO.
“Russian can denounce this bloc for as long as it wants,” Artemyev says, “but this criticism will not seriously interest anyone beyond [Russia’s] borders,” where “striving for integration into NATO is stronger than the desire to enter into a military-political union with Russia.”
Moscow can hold this tendency back for awhile – “at times by military force, as in the case with Georgia; but it cannot continue to do so forever.” And with regard to Georgia, Artemyev points out, “the MFA up to now has not offered clear and precise criteria and also a wise policy in relation to the so-called ‘unrecognized’ states.”
As a result of that failure, Russia has made itself into a laughingstock, able to get Nauru and Nicaragua to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia but “not being in a position to convince our supposed ‘ally’ Belarus” to do the same. Unfortunately, Artemyev continues, the situation elsewhere is no better.
Russia does not have a considered policy toward Europe, and playing on the energy factor alone is “impossible,” at least in the short term. And the latest accord with Washington on nuclear arms, “an undoubted success,” is vitiated to a large extent because there are so many “unresolved questions” in Russian-American relations.
Moscow’s “hurriedly developed” proposals on Iran and its efforts to “play the Hamas card” in the Middle East also reflect these conceptual failures, he writes. And looking further afield, the Russian foreign policy establishment has not thought through how to use the G-20 or to work on questions like climate change.
More is needed than simply “improving and modernizing the work of the Foreign Ministry,” Artemyev says, although that is an important place to start. In addition, there must be far more frequent consultations between officials and the expert community so that policy choices are clearly and fully discussed.
Despite all his criticism of the current situation, Artemyev ends on a hopeful note. He suggests that in Moscow today “there is an understanding of this problem, and the modernization of the foreign policy sphere is already not something far away.” But his article makes clear just how enormous a task any modernizer in this area will have.

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