Many saw it as a revelation or a signal of a defining and welcome policy shift towards the West. But in reality, this is quite an overstatement.Contrary to widespread perceptions, the Kremlin took a defensive rather than an offensive foreign policy position during Vladimir Putin’s second presidential term. From the colour revolutions to the 2008 Georgia war, it was under constant pressure from Washington. With the “reset” in US foreign policy under Barack Obama, the pressure is now off, and Moscow can return to “business as usual” and should turn its attention to modernisation.
The global crisis has diminished the hubris of energy boom years and has awakened the leadership to the harsh reality that Russia is losing ground in the global pecking order by falling behind in terms of its industrial, technological and scientific capabilities. All the proceeds from Gazprom’s sales notwithstanding, Russia is sorely lacking what it takes to be a major global economic and political force in the 21st century. The Kremlin has been forced to come to terms with the fact that relative energy abundance and nuclear arsenals are not enough and that it needs Western investment and strong business partnerships with the West to modernise.
Once this fact was accepted, it became clear that instead of anti-West rhetoric, Russia needed to attract external resources for modernisation.
This transformation is now official. Well done. The next step is to attract the resources. It is not hard to see that they are mostly found in the countries making up the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development — that is, North America, Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore. Although BRIC, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Eurasian Economic Community are important alliances, it is clear that these groups won’t be able to produce the same investments and business partnerships for Russia as the more established global financial and technology centers.
The European Union, of course, is at the top of the list because of its members’ advanced economies, technological proficiency and physical proximity to Russia. Russia’s links with Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and several other countries are so close that it is possible to talk of an emerging pan-European economic community. Above all, Washington holds the key to critical technology transfers that Moscow covets. Japan should also be roped in to help develop Siberia and the Far East.
Although the Foreign Ministry document looks authentic, it has a few glaring gaps — for example, Britain and Poland were left out for some reason. We may be dealing with an incomplete draft, but the few rough edges can be easily ironed out later. A more important problem is that the down-to-earth tenor of the paper is not rooted in a grand strategy and avoids the intersection between foreign and domestic policies.
Most importantly, it appears that both the Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin understand that the kind of economic integration that Russia seeks is only possible when the relationship between Russia and the West is fully and securely demilitarised. Normalisation in relations has largely been achieved with Western Europeans, an improvement in Russian-Polish relations is hopefully in the pipeline, while the Baltic States continue to be outliers.
Resetting the US-Russian relations is fine, but it’s time to move beyond arms control to strategic cooperation, from joint efforts to stem proliferation of nuclear weapons to joint missile defense projects.
Closer home, making sure that the outside world views Russia as a democratic state with a social market economy and an independent foreign policy will require a lot of heavy lifting, not simply window dressing. Modernisation, couched in strictly economic and technological terms, is too narrow to succeed. Democracy will surely take many years — if not decades — to mature and develop in Russia, but strengthening the country’s political and economic institutions should be the leadership’s immediate priority. In the end, this factor will be crucial for leading nations to accept Russia as a viable and dependable partner.
President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov deserve praise for making an important step forward. The next steps should include the completion of accession to the World Trade Organization, turning the EU-Russian “partnership for modernisation” into the centerpiece of EU-Russian relations, consolidating and expanding partnership with the US and turning Japan into a “Germany in the East".
At the same time, focusing on the developed world should not come at the expense of Russia’s important relations with China, India and Brazil or with Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Isn’t this what all other aspiring countries are doing? Russia, welcome to the club.Dmitry Trenin is director of the Carnegie Moscow Center
The article was first published in The Moscow Times
All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.