The Russian authorities are seeking a major détente with the West. A draft of a revised foreign policy doctrine was leaked and extracts published by Russky Newsweek in Moscow this month. The document was prepared by the foreign ministry and envisages closer political cooperation with the US and the West in exchange for much needed Western capital and technologies to kick-start Russian modernization in all fields, including defense. The document was prepared by the foreign ministry in February and provisionally approved by President, Dmitry Medvedev. Diplomats told Newsweek that since February the draft has been in the hands of the government, where Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has his own personal foreign office run by Yuriy Ushakov, the former ambassador to Washington (EDM, May 19).
Medvedev is essentially a figurehead president and Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, who supervised the writing of the draft, is equally not a particularly influential figure in Moscow. Ushakov, in turn, is not liked in the foreign ministry. The leak of the draft to Russky Newsweek is the apparent result of Moscow’s inter-departmental rivalry and intrigue. However, it is increasingly clear that a revolutionary change in Russian foreign policy is indeed occurring and the entire leadership, including Putin, is behind the move.
This week, in Washington, during a briefing in the Russian embassy Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov (in charge of defense and defense industry), told Russian reporters that cooperation with the US is improving (Interfax, May 18). Ivanov is close to Putin, in 2007 he was considered a frontrunner to become president before Putin chose Medvedev to be promoted as his official successor. It is known in Moscow that Medvedev and Ivanov do not particularly like each other. Ivanov’s reportedly glowing endorsement of further US-Russian cooperation is a clear sign this is a Putin-approved policy shift.
In Washington, Ivanov met with US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State, William Burns, and National Security Advisor, James Jones. Officially, Ivanov’s visit was primarily to promote space cooperation with NASA, but he told reporters that much more was discussed, including Iran, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) cooperation, WTO membership and encouraging US investment and technology transfers. Ivanov was upbeat on further cooperation in all fields and announced that Moscow has offered to work with the US on the joint production of the An-124 Ruslan heavy military transport aircraft. Today An-124’s made in Russia and Ukraine in the 1980’s and 1990’s are chartered by the Pentagon and other NATO militaries to carry heavy and bulky cargos to Afghanistan. With the Russian defense industry in deep crisis, Russia and Ukraine have lost the capability to produce new Ruslans and until now all attempts to restart production in Russia or jointly with Ukraine have failed, despite Putin declaring it a national priority. Ivanov announced a joint venture with the US air industry that could share know how and make modernized An-124 planes for the Russian military, the Pentagon and for commercial cargo airlines. According to Ivanov, “the Pentagon is looking into the matter.” Ivanov announced: “We must travel a long way, but I sincerely hope if true business interests unite us, security problems will be seen in a totally different light” (Interfax, May 18; Kommersant, May 19).
In another sign of growing friendship, Russia’s UN Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, supported a draft UN Security Council resolution proposing new sanctions against Iran despite the last ditch attempt by Tehran to deter the vote by signing an agreement brokered by Turkey and Brazil to send some enriched uranium abroad in return for fuel rods for a medical research reactor (Kommersant, May 20). The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who adamantly opposes new sanctions, is reported to have telephoned Putin to ask for help (RIA Novosti, May 20). The UN draft calls for an embargo on the sale of offensive heavy weapons to Iran such as tanks or fighter jets. The draft apparently avoids restricting the sale of antiaircraft missiles like the S-300 Russia has promised Iran, but withheld until now. Russia is a major arms supplier to Iran and any restrictions would be unpopular in Moscow’s powerful arms trading community. If Putin rebuffs Erdogan and allows new sanctions to pass in the UN, this would be seen in Moscow as a major concession that Washington would be expected to match.
The Russian military, supported by Putin and Medvedev, is ready and eager to buy Western weapons and to create joint ventures to co-produce on Russian soil. Russia is transforming from a global to a regional power with dominating limited regional interests. Moscow wants to dominate the post-Soviet space and use in time of need a sophisticated and disciplined military force that could project power primarily using high quality and better equipped units. Israel and France are important military-technical partners in this transformation, with Italy, Germany and now the US invited to join.
Putin, and Medvedev, seem to be genuinely interested in finding an enduring understanding with the West and settling outstanding differences on the solid basis of carving up Eurasia into clear zones of dominance and a written code of conduct (a proposed revised European security code). The resolution of the long-standing territorial dispute with Norway, the sincere Russian effort to upgrade its relations with Poland and put past differences to rest –all happening last month– are good examples of Moscow’s new strategic thinking. Russia is extending an open hand to the West, offering each side the opportunity to pursue their interests without hindrance in its sphere of interest. A number of major Western nations like France, Germany, Italy and maybe the US are seen in Moscow as sending signals they are tacitly ready to accept Russia’s special regional role.
The security situation in Kyrgyzstan seems to be deteriorating with rebels threatening a civil war that may undermine the Moscow-backed provisional government (Interfax, May 19). In the worst case scenario, Russia may see itself obliged to intervene as an armed peacekeeper. The Western reaction to this, or any other possible future Russian involvement in the post-Soviet space, may determine the success or failure of the new détente and the outcome of Iranian-connected diplomatic maneuvers.