Relations With the West After Putin

Analysts question the form that Russia's foreign policy will take under the likely new president, Dmitry Medvedev. Some argue that he will merely continue the course of his predecessor. However, this can't be the answer because Putin's approach to the outside world has not been consistent throughout his presidency.

A brief look back in history will remind us of the first phase of "the Putin doctrine," which culminated in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. This period was characterized by attempts to engage the United States and Western Europe in projects that were mutually beneficial. Probably its most productive facet was Russia's cooperation with Western powers in toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The second phase developed after the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine in 2004-05. It involved Putin's unsuccessful attempt to intervene in Ukraine's domestic affairs and Moscow's subsequent assertive tone in foreign policy. This change of priorities was not a sign of inconsistency, but rather a response to the unwillingness of the EU and the U.S. to take Russia's interests into consideration. Moscow felt that its gestures of goodwill had not been reciprocated in any way; these gestures included the scrapping of military bases in Vietnam and Cuba, consenting to the U.S. stationing military bases in Central Asia and Moscow's acquiescence to the expansion of NATO and the EU into former Soviet territory. For its part, the U.S. had moved its military bases to Russia's Western doorstep, scrapped the ABM treaty and promised to install antimissile defense bases in Eastern Europe. This put Putin at odds with the Western powers.

"Under Putin, Russia became a more assertive international player," says Yuri Borko, an expert on Russia-EU relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Europe. "Putin has showed the West that Russia will not simply stand by when its interests are ignored by the international community; this has led to political and economic confrontations with Europe. However, these conflicts do not benefit any of the sides involved. Sooner or later, they will have to come to an agreement on several key issues."

Dmitry Medvedev, for his part, has signaled that he'd like to resolve these issues sooner rather than later. In a recent Moscow press conference attended by foreign journalists, Medvedev made clear his plans to continue all major energy projects with foreign participation and his desire to engage the West. However, Medvedev also made it clear that he would not tolerate foreign involvement in Russia's internal political affairs, nor would he seek the West's approval before conducting foreign policy with neighboring states. He will likely pursue both vectors of Putin's diplomacy, hopefully with an emphasis on engagement rather than confrontation.

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