This week President Dmitry Medvedev addressed a meeting of senior Foreign Ministry officials and ambassadors summoned worldwide to unveil a revised foreign policy concept. President Vladimir Putin signed the previous concept into law in June 2000. Medvedev’s new concept is definitely more aggressive and anti-Western. It follows Putin’s foreign policy since 2004 and, as such, is a sign of political continuity. The concept stresses the main “positive tendency in the international situation–the strengthening of the Russian Federation” But there are also negative tendencies that Medvedev spelled out in his speech: The undermining of international law by the West, the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the EU, NATO expansion and the planned deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in Europe. Medvedev accused the United States of undermining European security. According to Medvedev, “Russia will adequately react to the deployment of elements of a U.S. MD in Eastern Europe” (www.kremlin.ru, June 15).
Medvedev used the Cold War term “Eastern Europe” in describing Poland and the Czech Republic. After the end of the Cold War, former Soviet satellites in Europe regained their independence and joined the EU and NATO. They explicitly describe themselves as “Central Europe” to distance themselves from their Communist past and because it is geographically more accurate. It is hard to conceive that someone in Moscow is indeed hoping to restore fully the old divide of Europe between East and West, but the desire to see a significant restoration of Russia’s Cold War greatness is obvious. This in turn is coupled with a deep dislike and distrust of the West that is seen as a partner and enemy at the same time. The text of the new concept contains other Cold War rhetoric: Disturbed by the prospect of loosing its global monopoly, the West is “attempting to ‘restrain’ Russia.” At the same time, Medvedev announced, “One of the main aims of Russian foreign policy is to develop cooperation with the EU,” and he called for a “big Europe without dividing lines.” According to Medvedev, “Russia will not be drawn into a new arms race” (www.kremlin.ru, June 15).
It was reported that during the part of the meeting that was closed to the press, Medvedev scolded Russian diplomats for being too soft in defending Russia’s national interests. Medvedev demanded that Russian ambassadors react more actively and aggressively to any criticism of Russia. Russian embassies in CIS nations had to act to block the spread of U.S. influence. Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin is sure that personnel changes in the Foreign Ministry will follow this criticism. To sweeten the pill, Medvedev promised to hike diplomats’ pay (Kommersant, June 16).
The foreign policy concept states that in accordance with the Constitution, the president is in charge of foreign policy and represents Russia as head of state. There is, however, an important addition, compared with the 2000 version: “The government accomplishes measures to realize foreign policy” (www.kremlin.ru). This may reflect the present situation in which real power is in the hands of Putin the prime minister, while Medvedev is more of a figurehead.
During the recent G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan, Medvedev apparently agreed not to block a U.S. and British-backed resolution in the UN Security Council introducing sanctions on Zimbabwe’s leaders involved in the flawed election of President Robert Mugabe; but Russia and China used their veto on the weekend in the UN. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said that the veto marked a “U-turn in the Russian position” and “raises questions about its reliability as a G8 partner.” Russian diplomats replied that Medvedev never promised to support UN sanctions and that a UN resolution condemning rigged elections was in violation of the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. It was reported that Moscow was afraid that such a resolution could “create a precedent for the legalization of ‘colored revolutions’ by the UN” (Kommersant, June 14).
The Kremlin has interpreted the pro-democracy revolutions in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004 as anti-Russian, Western-led conspiracies. These “colored revolutions” frightened Russia’s corrupt ruling bureaucracy, headed by Putin. As a result, Putin began increasingly to use Cold War rhetoric, but at the same time mixing it with demands that the West recognize Russia as an equal democratic market nation, allow Moscow a veto on any military deployment in “Eastern Europe” and recognize Russia’s dominance in the CIS.
Russian foreign policy objectives are hopelessly confused, and the new concept does not do much to straighten them out. On top of that, the Zimbabwe veto debacle in the UN seriously puts Medvedev’s political standing in doubt. Moscow does not have much real interest in supporting Mugabe but seems to have used its veto to express its annoyance with the West over Georgia/Abkhazia and missile defense systems (Interfax, July 14). But was it Putin’s or Medvedev’s annoyance? Did Medvedev agree to compromise on Zimbabwe sanctions at the G8 but was later overruled by Putin? If Medvedev is not a decision-maker but only Putin’s representative, should Western leaders ignore the Kremlin and organize summits with Putin? Without a clear-cut tsar in the Kremlin, the difficulty of dealing with Moscow is almost insurmountable.