Russian foreign policy: challenges for Moscow
In 2011, Russia continued its multi-vector foreign policy, continuing the reset with the United States, and emphasizing improved ties with Europe and with China. The greatest challenge for Moscow, as for many other countries, was how to respond to the tumult in the Arab world. Another challenge was dealing with the Eurozone’s economic woes, since Europe is such an important economic partner for Russia.
2011 did not see any major changes in Russian foreign policy. Rather it saw consolidation of previous policies and renewed focus on the economic aspects of foreign policy both toward the far and near abroad.
Vladimir Putin has announced that the foreign policy priority for his next term as President will be to create a Eurasian Economic Union, building on the structures of the current Customs Union. The institutional structures of this proposed Union have yet to be clarified, so it is premature to assess how feasible this enterprise is. Currently, Russia’s relations with the CIS exhibit variable geometry, ranging from close ties with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia to more complex relations with the other Central Asian and South Caucasus states and with Ukraine. It is unclear how most CIS states will respond to the offer of closer economic integration with Russia. Ukraine is the key state. Without Ukraine, the Eurasian Economic Union would be incomplete.
Russia, like the rest of the world, was caught off guard by the Arab Spring and responded with caution and skepticism to the ousting of Mubarak and Qadaffi. It has become increasingly concerned about the stability of the region and about the replacement of the Mubarak and Qadaffi regimes by Islamist governments. Russia’s economic and political interests in the region—like those of other countries—have come under greater scrutiny by the successor groups.
The international community largely welcomed Russia’s abstention on U.N. Resolution 1973 authorizing a no-fly zone on Libya, but Russia has been very critical about the way in which Qadaffi met his end. Russia, as Mr. Lavrov emphasized, has drawn a red line on intervention in Syria, refusing to support tougher U.N. sanctions. This will no doubt continue to be a source of disagreement between Russia and its Western partners and with key Arab countries, as will the issue of further sanctions on Iran.
The US-Russian reset advanced successfully in 2011. New START went into effect, new agreements with Russia over transportation to Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network were signed, and Russia was admitted into the WTO in December. As relations with Pakistan continue to deteriorate, Russia’s importance to the United States as a transit facilitator for troops and supplies continues to grow.
However, attempts to translate into concrete outcomes the missile defense agreements that President Medvedev and NATO discussed at the 2010 Lisbon summit have not borne fruit. Moscow and Washington have reached an impasse on missile defense cooperation and it is unclear how this impasse can be overcome. Jackson-Vanik remains on the books meaning that, if it is not rescinded, once the Duma ratifies the WTO agreement, the United States will be in violation of WTO rules.
The outlook for further movement on US-Russian relations in 2012 is uncertain. Presidential elections in both countries will make progress difficult. Republican candidates in the United States have criticized the Obama administration for naiveté in the reset and some Russian officials have implied that America is responsible for unrest in the Arab world and within Russia. The agreement on easing the bilateral visa regime has not yet been implemented, so the prospects for a visa-free regime seem far-off at this time. US-Russian relations will probably only resume their momentum after both countries have elected new presidents.
Angela Stent is Professor of Government and Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, member of the Valdai Discussion Club.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.