Russia's President-elect Vladimir Putin will flex his political muscles to protect his country’s vital interests. Source: AFP / East News
Whatever the opponents of Vladimir Putin
say about him, he is definitely a pragmatic and predictable leader. Unlike his
rivals who sit on the side of revolutionary romanticism, Mr Putin knew exactly
where he would lead his country in the world. “Even before the elections, he
drew the red lines in foreign policy that Russia would never cross,” says
Alexander Rahr, director of the Berthold Beitz Centre at the German Council on
“The president’s proposed foreign
for Russia in the third
millennium consists of defending our national interests, rather than pandering to the
interests of other countries,” explains Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the
Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, adopted 12
years ago during Mr Putin’s first presidential term, identified four main
national priorities. First was strengthening international security based on
the creation of a pan-European security and co-operation system. Second was
forming a new world order in which the partnership between the world’s major
powers is based exclusively on equality and mutual respect. Third, the Russian
Foreign Ministry was tasked with creating favourable conditions for Russia in terms
of international economic relations. Fourth, Russia would seek respect for human
rights at the international level. None of these items has lost any relevance
Since Mr Putin’s first inauguration, Russia has learnt to assess western
initiatives soberly and impartially – and to say “no” to those that contradict
its strategic interests. Not a trace of hope remains from Mr Putin’s first
presidential term for a joint security framework in the North
Atlantic space and faith in the effectiveness of the Russia-EU
Permanent Partnership Council has now vanished.
During his second term in 2006, addressing Russian ambassadors at a meeting at
the Foreign Ministry, Mr Putin warned his western partners: “Russia will not
participate in any holy alliances. It will not participate in an ultimatum
which would drive the situation
into a dead end and deal a blow to the authority of the UN Security Council.”
The president came out for “principles for settling regional conflicts that
must be universal and based on international law.”
In 2012, Mr Putin has not budged an inch from his previous policies. His
position has become tougher and even more aggressive, not in terms of potential
military threats to any neighbours, but in upholding the fundamental principles
of international law. He believes that western attempts to arbitrarily replace
undesirable rulers under the pretext of protecting human rights (as happened in
Libya), and to use humanitarian arguments to threaten foreign states (as is
happening now in Syria), contradict the principles of international law.
Addressing the UN Security Council in March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov described such actions as “risky recipes of geopolitical engineering”
that threaten global stability. Russia’s
confrontation with the West on these issues will remain.
Russian political scientists believe
that the future head of state will continue to demonstrate to the West that his
international policy is guided solely by the interests of an independent Russia that
intends to remain an independent player in the foreign policy field. Mr Putin
will renounce participation in any international alliances in which Russia might be
perceived as a junior partner.
Over the past decades, Russia
has outlined its range of interests and it will consistently protect them
against any foreign intervention.
Any country should understand that in wilfully invading Russia’s
geopolitical space, it will automatically find itself in conflict with Russia. What Moscow does want is to
preserve its political influence in the post-Soviet territory and it is now
making plans to form a Eurasian Union based on shared economic interests.
Continuing to develop relations with the
Asia Pacific Region remains a priority for Russia. And it is also seeking ways
to restore its position in the Arab world and Africa
that it lost in the Nineties. The situation in the world has changed and, in
the opinion of German political scientist Alexander Rahr: “Moscow has become strong enough to play its
own role in world politics.”
“The main ideas Putin has tried to get
across in his responses to international questions are ideas of the country’s
openness, its search for allies, and the rejection of Russia’s image as a bully,” says Nikolai Zlobin,
director of Russian and Asian Programmes at the Centre for Defence Information
Western media often portrays Russia
as an intransigent bogeyman allegedly defending undemocratic, dictatorial
regimes. But Mr Putin describes the West’s wish to remove the idea of state
sovereignty from the agenda and replace it with the idea of human rights as
demagoguery. Mr Putin will, therefore, continue to protect the principles and
values that allow people to determine their own future without outside
The challenges and threats that lie ahead in the coming years will force Russia to
define its circle of allies and partners more clearly. Although Moscow has renounced the concept of a potential enemy in
assessing other states, we can predict an intensified rivalry between Russia and the
West under Mr Putin. This will apply above all to its relationship with the US. Mr Putin
will never be resigned to Washington’s
attempts to use
defence to mobilise members of Nato to advance America’s strategic interests. It sees such a
unilateral approach as a threat to its security.
The dialogue between Russia and the
European Union will not be easy, either. If a united Europe continues to
fearfully build border barriers to Russian business and delay the adoption of a
visa-free regime, as well as perceive Moscow
as a Trojan horse allegedly seeking to destroy the prosperity and moral
principles of Europeans, we can forget about rapprochement.
Mr Putin agrees to the idea of a common
European home, mutatis mutandis , of course. But he does not intend to
gatecrash his way into the European Union if these initiatives are met with no
understanding by European partners. All the more so if they refuse to respect Russia’s concern over the American missile
defence systems being deployed in Europe.
For the next six years, the Russian president will develop a dialogue with China
and other Asian countries. On the one hand, such co-operation allows Russia to avoid
putting all its eggs in one basket and substantially expands its foreign policy
options. On the other hand, Russia
having an ally like Beijing forces the West to
heed what is said in Moscow.
This is a foreign policy situation which could be characterised as “Whatever China thinks, Russia speaks out about.” That is particularly true of issues connected to compliance with the principles of international law.
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