Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 64

The essence of Russia’s new, “Putin-era” foreign policy is apparently contained in the draft Foreign Policy Concept paper approved by the Russian Security Council on March 24. Unfortunately, few details have been released on the substance of the new document. In institutional terms, Russian sources have quoted Putin and other officials as saying that the Foreign Ministry will be given authority over the coordination of foreign affairs. One Russian daily suggested that this seeming self-obvious proposition was made explicit to ensure that the Russian Defense Ministry does not operate independently in the foreign policy sphere, as it appeared to do last year with regard to Russian policy toward Yugoslavia and the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Sources were not clear, however, over how the Foreign Ministry will interact with the Russian Security Council. Since Putin’s elevation to the acting president post earlier this year and his naming of Sergei Ivanov–a close ally–to the post of Security Council secretary, it has sometimes appeared that the council is taking the lead in Russian foreign policymaking.

The Foreign Ministry was reportedly explicitly named as the coordinator of Russian foreign policy for another reason. Among the ideas which apparently get greater emphasis in the new foreign policy concept is the need for Russia to more energetically promote its economic interests abroad. But the concept indicates that in this effort Russian diplomats, rather than trade representatives, will be given the key coordinating role.

More broadly, the new concept paper is said to contain significant “adjustments” in Russian foreign policy which embody President-elect Vladimir Putin’s intention to pursue more “realistic” and “pragmatic” policies abroad. In remarks made on March 28, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov emphasized the “realism” in the new document, and said that “foreign political priorities are now more closely linked to long-term tasks of domestic building and better conform with the genuine capabilities and resources of the country (Russian agencies, March 24; Reuters, Kommersant daily, March 25; Itar-Tass, March 27-28).

Ivanov did not make clear what that means specifically, but the first part of his statement at least represents one area of formal continuity with past Russian foreign policy approaches: namely, that Moscow will use diplomacy to promote the country’s domestic economic development. Given Russia’s need for foreign investment and access to international lending institutions, that suggests, as many observers have noted, a new emphasis by Moscow on cooperative relations with the West. If that is a positive development, a more worrying element in the draft foreign policy concept is a new emphasis on increasing Russian influence in the other former Soviet states. Aggressiveness in the “near abroad,” combined with ongoing military operations by Russian troops in Chechnya, could yet complicate Moscow’s hopes of more cooperative and profitable relations with the West.