Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 135

Russia’s new foreign policy concept, signed by President Vladimir Putin on June 28, made public on a government website on July 7 and officially presented by Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov on July 10, seems half-way clear on just one point regarding the CIS. It commits Moscow to seeking “guarantees of the rights of Russian compatriots” in CIS member countries.

The document’s Russian original uses the term “rossiiskie,” meaning Russians in a legal sense and denoting citizens of the Russian Federation. That category, however, forms only a small proportion of the Russian populations in CIS countries. Moscow will undoubtedly continue trying to cast itself as “guarantor of the rights” of far broader population groups. Those it variously dubs as “russkie,” denoting ethnic Russians; or as “Russian-speaking populations,” potentially encompassing almost any groups, regardless of ethnicity and legal status; or as “ethnic minorities” when Moscow puts its best legal foot forward in international organizations. Russian officials use all those terms interchangeably. So does the new foreign policy concept in addressing the Baltics, referring of the “rights of the Russian-speaking population” (see the Monitor, February 11, 16; Fortnight in Review, February 18). President Vladimir Putin very recently added his own innovation by offering to guarantee “the rights of Moldova’s peoples,” meaning all nonindigenous ethnic groups. This is very nearly a recipe for Russian-arbitrated ethnic tensions” (see the Monitor, June 20; Fortnight in Review, June 23). Interchangeable use of these terms provides an unstable basis for policy and reflects political opportunism, conceptual confusion and ultimately a low level of legal culture on the part of policymakers.

Under this document, conflict-settlement and conflict-prevention “along the perimeter of Russia’s borders… and in areas adjacent to the Russian Federation” remains a top priority of Moscow’s CIS policy. In practice, however, Russian troops tasked for those roles are mostly deployed in CIS countries distant from Russia. Of those countries, only Georgia fits this document’s geographic criteria. Armenia, Moldova and Tajikistan do not. Nonetheless, Moscow is in the process of reinforcing the troops in Armenia, has just secured long-term basing rights for Russia’s troops in Tajikistan, and seeks both a “peacekeeping” mandate for the Russian troops in Moldova and rationales for keeping troops in Georgia. In all the four areas, Russian troops have themselves been involved in the local conflicts, and Russian diplomacy now wants to freeze them unresolved, contrary to the conflict-settlement and conflict-prevention goals stated in the foreign policy concept. The document describes those goals as a matter of “common efforts” by Russia and the CIS country involved in each case. No mention is made of international participation.

The “struggle against international terrorism and extremism” rates only a passing mention as regards the CIS. But it is even more surprising that the document should state that Moscow “pays serious attention to establishing a CIS Free Trade Zone” (FTZ). That goal has eluded the CIS since 1994 and was consigned to the back burner at the two summits which Putin has chaired as president of Russia. Even the loyalist countries criticize Moscow for stonewalling the FTZ (see the Monitor, January 28, May 25; Fortnight in Review, February 4). This plank in the foreign policy concept apparently nods to those countries. The document goes on to single out Belarus: “A priority task is to strengthen the Belarus-Russia Union as the highest form of integration of two sovereign states at this stage.” The qualification suggests that Moscow envisages the unification as a gradual and continuous process.

The concept reflects the ongoing shift of emphasis from multilateralism to bilateralism in Moscow’s CIS policy–a change introduced by Putin immediately upon his ascent to the presidency (see the Monitor, January 6, 26, 28, June 22-23; Fortnight in Review, February 4, June 23). This document lays down that Russia will develop both multilateral and bilateral relations with CIS countries, but will determine the nature and level of relations with each member country depending on its responsiveness to “Russia’s interests.”

In his official presentation of the concept, Igor Ivanov was at pains to deny that former KGB officers currently play a dominant role in the formulation of Russia’s CIS policy. Putin himself, the Security Council’s Secretary Sergei Ivanov–who has practically taken over CIS Executive Secretary Yuri Yarov’s role–and the newly appointed Federal Minister for CIS affairs Vyacheslav Trubnikov, as well as the newly created interdepartmental “peacekeeping” commission’s chairman Yevgeny Primakov, illustrate a KGB-ization of the ranks of CIS policymakers in Moscow. They are, moreover, recruiting other ex-KGB officers for staff positions (see the Monitor, May 26, June 20, 23, July 3; Fortnight in Review, June 23, July 7). An obviously uncomfortable Igor Ivanov had to admit during his briefing that the newly appointed deputy foreign affairs minister in charge of Caspian oil and gas issues, Viktor Kalyuzhny, is also a former “KGB specialist.” “They are not the first appointments of such major specialists, nor are they likely to be the last,” Ivanov concluded (Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, July 7; Itar-Tass, RIA, July 10-11).