Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 135

Russia unveiled its long-awaited Foreign Policy Concept this week, a document which is a lengthy blueprint of goals and priorities ostensibly aimed at guiding Russian policy makers. It offers, however, little significantly new and appears to raise as many questions as it answers. Signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 28, it replaces a 1993 set of similar guidelines. It is the third major foreign or security document to be approved by the Russian government in recent months, and comes on the heels of a new Concept of National Security and a new Military Doctrine.

In principle, the three documents together represent an effort by Russia’s recently elected president to reassess and clarify the manner in which Moscow will deal with the outside world. In reality, they appear to be a grab bag of ideas. They serve as much to satisfy Russia’s various political constituencies as to orient policymakers in a systematic fashion. As such, the Foreign Policy Concept suffers from its share of contradictions. Not the least of these is the tension which exists between the concept’s notions of Russia as a Great Power and its attempt to formulate Russian foreign policy in a more “pragmatic” and, seemingly, less ambitious fashion.

That the analysis and conclusions (the text is posted on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affair’s web site) are somewhat muddled is suggested by the strikingly different interpretations noted in various Russian and Western reports. This media confusion appears to have been abetted by the remarks Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made in introducing the concept to the press. He appeared to highlight what he said was a new “pragmatism” and “realism” in Russian foreign policy. A number of press reports appeared to take that statement as a starting point in their analysis of the concept.

And, indeed, the document does contain a section underscoring what it says will be the “consistency and predictability” and the “mutually advantageous pragmatism” that is to characterize Russian foreign policy in the future. In this same section the concept also points to an apparently recent acknowledgment that the Russian government’s limited financial means and the country’s more general economic weakness have compelled Moscow to retrench a bit in terms of its activities on the international stage. Thus, the concept speaks of seeking a “reasonable balance between its objectives and possibilities for attaining these objectives.” It also says that “concentration of politico-diplomatic, military, economic, financial and other means of resolving foreign political tasks must be commensurate with their real significance for Russia’s national interests.” Moscow is acknowledging constraints on its diplomatic front. Ivanov underlined this in his comments on July 10. It was featured as well in a number of reports which followed the release of the document.

But it is worth noting that these references to pragmatism and to an apparently new respect for Russia’s diplomatic limits come approximately one-third of the way through the new concept and are not extensively developed. They follow, moreover, passages in the concept which highlight a somewhat more immoderate and aggressive view of Russia’s place in the world. Namely, Moscow’s perception of itself as a “great power”–“one of the most influential centers of the modern world”–and the suggestion that it is Russia’s mission to lead the world against U.S. global domination. That is, that Russia is to play a key role in ensuring the transformation of the post-Cold War world from a “unipolar” system dominated by Washington to a “multipolar system of international relations which [more] truly reflects the diversity of the modern world.” These ideas are nothing new, of course, but their enunciation in this document–and particularly the restatement of Moscow’s highly ideologized version of the concept of “multipolarity”–seems at least somewhat inconsistent with the emphasis on “pragmatism” and the acknowledgment of Russia’s diplomatic constraints mentioned later in the concept.

Several Russian commentaries published yesterday made note of this tension. Izvestia referred to Ivanov’s talk of “pragmatism and healthy realism” in Russian foreign policy and questioned whether these qualities could easily be squared with the concept’s equally definitive reference to Moscow’s battle against unipolarity and “the dominance of the United States.” Another Russian daily suggested that a battle had raged right up to the day the Foreign Policy Concept was published: whether to include references in the document to the concept of “multipolarity” at all. Segodnya claimed that all mention of the term had been erased from an earlier draft concept, only to reappear on the eve of this week’s publication (Izvestia, Segodnya, July 11).

At least one report suggested on July 10 that the Foreign Policy Concept reflected a new Russian emphasis on improving relations with Asia (AFP, July 10). But if Ivanov gave that impression in his remarks to reporters, it appears not to have been reflected in the concept itself. The document does refer to the “steadily growing importance” which Russian foreign policymakers are attaching to relations with Asia. It also underscores the high priority which Moscow is giving–within the Asian region–to its relations with China and India (a fact which confirms the relatively lower priority Moscow is assigning ties with Japan).

But the concept does not give significantly more attention to Asia than it does to Russia’s relations with Europe or the United States. In fact, it is noteworthy for the even-handed and relatively bland manner in which it deals generally with–in this order–Europe, the United States and Asia. It speaks of the importance Russia attaches to developing friendly relations with each, but, with regard to Europe at least, fails to differentiate among Britain, Germany, Italy and France. This is somewhat surprising given the praise that the Russian president has lavished, at different times, on London and Berlin, and his very recent declarations that relations with Germany are especially important to the Kremlin.

As could have been expected, the Concept document restates Moscow’s support for the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and for the positions which Russia has taken more generally vis-a-vis the United States with regard to strategic arms control. It also reiterates Russian support for a strengthening of the role of the UN in resolving international disputes and for bringing new permanent members into the UN Security Council. But it takes issue–again no surprise–with the notion of “humanitarian intervention” articulated by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and some in the West and reasserts the primacy of national sovereignty considerations. The concept also speaks very positively of improving Russia’s relations with the NATO military alliance, but then qualifies that statement by restating the various conditions upon which Moscow says improved Russia-NATO relations depend. The concept highlights the importance of combating “international terrorism.”

As might also have been expected, the document is liberally sprinkled with references–some less than credible–to democratic values, political and economic reform, and Moscow’s respect for human rights. It states, for example, that the “uppermost priority of the foreign policy course of Russia is to protect the interests of the individual and society.” It likewise says that Russian diplomacy will strive to “create favorable external conditions for steady development of Russia, for improving its economy, enhancing the standards of living of the population, successfully carrying out democratic transformations…and observing individual rights and freedoms.” Recent developments in Russia raise legitimate questions about the Kremlin’s real commitment to democratic reforms and to individual rights. The new Foreign Policy Concept provides little reason to believe that the current Russian government is prepared to modify the country’s traditional approach to foreign policy by putting individual rights and democratic development before considerations of security and the effort to reestablish Russia as a great power.