President Vladimir Putin’s pro-Western foreign policy has been a source of much speculation, and even wonderment, among both Russian analysts and Russia-watchers in the West. According to one school of the thought, Putin has proven almost visionary in rejecting the reflexive anti-Americanism of his country’s political class and steering foreign policy unequivocally westward–a shift best illustrated by his strong support for the antiterrorist campaign launched by the United States in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. For some of the adherents of this view, Putin’s move in this direction has been heroic, given that it has powerful opponents throughout Russia’s foreign policy, military and security establishments, not to mention its parliament.
The other, more cynical view of Putin’s foreign policy shift was perhaps articulated best by Pavel Felgenhauer, the independent Russian defense analyst. Putin’s westward turn in foreign policy, he wrote last month in the Moscow Times, was aimed at winning the West’s acquiescence to the suppression of press freedom, vote-rigging and human rights violations domestically. Felgenhauer even suggested that Kremlin propagandists were deliberately fanning nationalistic opposition to Putin’s foreign policy in order to convince the West that he is surrounded by “nationalistic and anti-Western wolves” and thus deserves increased support.
Putin, meanwhile, addressed the issue himself this week during a wide-ranging interview he gave to German and Russian journalists prior to leaving for talks in the German city of Weimar with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Unlike during the Soviet period, “Russia is cooperating with the West not because it wants to be liked or receive something return for its position,” Putin told the journalists. “We are not standing with a held-out hand and not asking anybody for anything in return. I am carrying out this policy only because I believe it completely corresponds to Russia’s national interests.” Putin added he was certain an “overwhelming majority” of Russians supported his foreign policy line and that he always considered the views of “Russian diplomats, Russian politicians and Russian military men” before taking any major steps.