Example of Responsible Leadership: Challenges for Russia's Foreign Policy in 2018
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia

On January 22, the Valdai Discussion Club hosted an expert discussion together with the presentation of the report, titled “Global Threats – 2018”, prepared by the Foreign Policy analytical agency.

The success of the Russian military operation in Syria and the resumption of economic growth despite Western sanctions are important indicators of the country’s changing role in the world. According to the authors of the report “Global Threats – 2018,” Russia enters this year on a wave of victories. This state of affairs requires a strong foreign policy, which corresponds to the position of Russia as a responsible and proactive global player.

As to challenges facing Russia’s foreign policy in 2018, the authors divided them into three categories: correct understanding of changes, keeping the world from war and using new opportunities for development.

Awareness of the changes must occur in the area of relations with the EU, the US and the countries of the post-Soviet space. In relations with Europe, there are two trends. First, there is a fading of the integration impulse, a rethinking of common values, attempts to find a new basis for integration. According to Mikhail Mamonov, a co-author of the report, Russia became a good scarecrow for the EU in search for a common enemy. Second, Russia became disillusioned with Europe as a key partner and the example of the future. Because of the impossibility of a “big deal” on European security it is advisable to work on the restoration of the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis, and on the other hand to propose to individual EU countries special formats for interaction with the Eurasian integration projects.

As for relations with the US, their current confrontational character points to the normalization, said Andrey Sushentsov, the report editor. “The situation was abnormal when the relations were good,” he noted, “while either side had to give up its interests.” A certain degree of confrontation in Russian-American relations will remain a constant element in the first half of the 21st century, Sushentsov said.

At the same time the authors of the report noted that the well-known path of upfront confrontation is costly and risky, and they suggest that Russia should start creating a legal lobby in Congress to influence the American political process. This would contribute to the formation of an “atmosphere of common sense” in the United States and raising awareness of the long-term consequences of particular political steps.

As for the post-Soviet space, this notion is increasingly less suitable for the totality of the former USSR countries. The immersion of neighboring states in different regional contexts requires a better understanding of their political and cultural dynamics for the effective projection of the image of New Eurasia as Russia’s key foreign policy project.

According to the report authors, the main threats to international stability in 2018 will be the situation on the Korean Peninsula, Ukraine and the Middle East. When it comes to Korea, Russia, according to Nikolai Silaev, a co-author of the report, should exert political pressure on the US in solidarity with China to prevent an attack against the DPRK.

The Ukrainian crisis is the most significant dilemma of Russian foreign policy, the authors believe. On the one hand, the situation in Ukraine has direct domestic political consequences for Russia; on the other it is the biggest obstacle to improve relations with the West. According to the authors, an active policy in the Ukrainian direction would be too resource-intensive, and the most expedient option for Russia is to wait until the nationalistic experiment in Ukraine discredits itself. It is noteworthy that we should not expect any contradictions over the Ukraine issue between the EU and the US: they appreciate the ideological agreement on this issue too much to lose it.

The two most fragile countries potentially threatening stability in the Middle East are Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the authors of the report note. In their opinion, both countries are interested in expanding cooperation with Russia, which can contribute to the achievement of their goals in the social and economic sphere, such as the transformation of the economic order in Saudi Arabia and the search for resources for economic development in Egypt. Solving these problems can prevent an Arab spring rerun.

The challenges in the sphere of development include the filling of the vacuum in Central Eurasia, the “monetization” of Russia’s military power and the struggle between technological platforms. The vacuum in Central Eurasia means insufficient development and underinvestment of the region. The synergy between the efforts of Moscow and Beijing should play a key role in its development. The authors drew attention to the fact that due to the relative economic unattractiveness of Eastern Siberia and the Far East, Russia will have to rely first and foremost on its own resources in their development.

The monetization of military force implies the ability of Russian diplomacy to find points where the military and political guarantees that Moscow can provide would connect with the readiness of investors to restore regions destroyed by the war. As the report notes, the situation in Syria will become an important marker: if Russia together with its key partners in the region can deliver a reliable settlement there and develop a reconstruction program, this may be the first step towards monetizing Russian foreign policy achievements.

The struggle between technological macro-platforms will determine the power balance of the future, the authors believe. Currently, only the United States and China offer alternatives in this field. In the inertial scenario, this competition will take place with minimal participation of Russia even with cheap energy and qualified personnel. To increase the role of Russia in this process it is necessary to speed up the preferential tax regime for R&D and innovative businesses, to radically simplify the immigration and naturalization of specialists, create technological clusters in the energy-rich regions of Siberia and the Far East. According to the authors of the report, this task is comparable in importance to the development of nuclear weapons after the World War II.