Weekly column by Konstantin von Eggert
Ever since his inauguration on May 7, President Vladimir Putin has been engaged in frenzied activities designed to convince the world that he is in full control of Russian politics, economics and foreign policy.
Konstantin von Eggert
He has been especially active on the latter front. “The diplomacy of symbols and signals,” as one European diplomat called it, is to show the world where the Kremlin’s priorities lie.
Putin snubbed U.S. President Barack Obama by declining to attend the G8 summit in the U.S., even though Obama had moved the meeting to Camp David so that Putin did not have to go anywhere near Chicago, the original venue for both the NATO and G8 summits.
On Tuesday, Putin held a pompous summit of the Organization of Collective Security Treaty, Russia’s long-standing and so far completely futile effort to cobble together its own “NATO” from a batch of post-Soviet authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes.
Putin also announced that his first foreign trip will be to Minsk, where EU sanctions have isolated the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, Europe’s last dictator and Russia’s official ally.
At the same time Putin reaffirmed his support for NATO’s transit facility in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk on the Volga, which will assist the international forces in Afghanistan. Finally, in a move bound to please foreign investors, he signed a presidential decree ordering privatization of major non-energy sector state enterprises by 2016.
The Russian president was demonstrating his priorities. They, as opposed to the global flag-waving of his previous two terms in 2000-2008, will be focused on Russia’s immediate neighbourhood. Moreover, the Eurasian Union, which he first mentioned in a 2011 op-ed for Izvestia, will be central to the Russian president’s efforts to forge his legacy as a gatherer of what there was to be gathered after the collapse of the USSR.
It does not mean that Putin wants to recreate the Soviet Union as such. It means that he sees Russia’s integration with Kazakhstan, Belarus and possibly Kyrgyzstan as a viable alternative to building closer ties with the EU (of which Putin is inherently suspicious) or becoming China’s junior partner.
Putin expects the alliance with the two authoritarian regimes led by Lukashenko and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to give him a stronger hand to play against the Europeans and show Beijing that Russia is not alone and cannot be pushed around in Asia.
In short, this is what Putin himself termed an “independent foreign policy” in his now famous (or infamous, depending on one’s views) speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007.
This is clearly a political project based on the idea of “development without democracy” favored so much by the Chinese and much admired in Moscow, but now so evidently under strain, as struggles inside Beijing’s ruling circle show the limits of this approach.
Nonetheless, the Kremlin believes it is the best way to realize the Putin regime’s main goal: perpetuating itself in power.
The difference now, compared with Putin’s previous presidential tenures, is that although Putin may never admit it in public, the system he created is under serious strain.
Ongoing protests in Moscow have revealed a legitimacy crisis that doesn’t seem to be going away. And although Russia’s macroeconomic data is sound and currency reserves stand at half a trillion dollars, promises of massive social programs, salary hikes for state workers and significant increases in the defense budget have made the Kremlin much more cautious in its foreign policy attitude.
Unless the West tries to squeeze Russia out of what it considers its “sphere of privileged interests,” as former president Medvedev once put it, Moscow is prepared not to do anything to rattle the West. The deal is simple – “Leave us alone and we’ll try not to create problems for you.”
Distant and detached: that is supposed to be the essence of Putin’s foreign policy. Western leaders may well accept the deal, just as they did - more or less - with Brezhnev in 1970s.
But as the history of 1970s and 1980s shows, this is a precarious arrangement. Events in Russia itself and around it may well upset this balance with unpredictable consequences.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
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- lm??????????????????????23:08, 16/05/2012Are their anymore people out their who blogs here have read the weekly coloum by Konstanin Von Eggert?
If you have done so then you would know what i am getting at but don"t worry he would not see his own words.
- lmCorrections23:09, 16/05/2012Don't
- free_mind50(no title)02:25, 17/05/2012Does this author not see the constant threat to the existence of the Russian Federation, there is no crises the the Chinese government and there is no strain on the workings in the kremlin. The only thing there is is warfare, psychological warfare. Had it not been for its nuclear defense, the west would have carved up Russia just like they did with the soviet union, which was done by reawakening old history of the ethnic peoples of the soviet union and blasting them with psyops information of their glorious past and what not nonsense.
- arsanlupinI respectfully disagree18:36, 19/05/2012Konstanin Von Eggert's own introduction says "What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner."
While many might disagree with him, many others do agree with him. He is far from alone in disagreeing with Putin on many matters – the street demonstrations by Russian citizens against what they perceived as a massive election fraud should make that plain to any but the most paranoid conspiracy theorists. Of all my friends who are Russian citizens, not one would admit to have voted for Putin, and that includes Russians both inside Russia and outside. It includes both people from both the big cities and the small cities. Face it: Putin made a lot of his countrymen angry with him and his United Russia party.
After all the last war Russia fought was with all of Western Europe and North America as their allies - remember? Never was a shot fired in anger between the former Soviet Union or any of its constituent republics and NATO or any of its members. The “anti-soviet” propaganda disappeared from The West a generation ago, along with its target. (There might still be some remnants in former soviet republics and Warsaw Pact members, but Russia has no one to blame for their animosity but themselves. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap!”) No one in Europe or North America want a disintegrating Russia; they want a Russia that will be a partner. NATO and the European Union are trying to put past differences with the Soviet Union and its successors behind them, and try to learn how to work WITH Russia. The lessons are hard, and they sometimes falter or stumble. But they are still trying … Also, there is little or no offensive arms buildups happening in Europe or North America; maintaining current troop and stock levels in the middle of a deep recession is enough of a challenge for them.
China and Russia however have fought several border skirmishes, with several thousand dead between them. There’s certainly a lot more troops staring each other down on the Sino-Russian border than there is in all of European Russia’s borders. The Russian Far East has a lot of resources and few people; China has exactly the opposite. China’s military buildup and modernization is moving at a pace which Russia can only dream of maintaining. The planet’s largest standing army is quickly becoming better trained and equipped than ever before. In some ways they’ll soon surpass Russia’s military capability, and the buildup shows no sign of slowing down. The PLAGF alone has over 35 divisions and 75 independent brigades of ground forces with over 10,000 main battle tanks. Do they need all that to defend from the United States or India or Viet Nam or Japan or even Russia? No. Do they need all that to retake Taiwan? Certainly not! But to take and hold the Russian Far East … ?
Concerning foreign policy in general, Mr. Von Eggert seems to agree with most of you: Putin’s “distant and detached” foreign policy is a risky idea fraught with unpredictable consequences. Russia SHOULD have more assertive foreign relations with the rest of the world – but “assertive” doesn’t have to mean “hostile”.
And no – EVEN Russia knows that The West had nothing to do with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The USSR has no one to blame for that than themselves.
- PlutardsFresh Start for Putin00:56, 21/05/2012The new generation of Russians has a "good policy" to dream about a Russia without precedents