Results of Medvedev, prospects for Putin
Dmitry Medvedev will serve as Russian President till May, 7, but now his mentor and possible successor Vladimir Putin is attracting all the attention. As presidential candidate he speaks about foreign policy which formally is Medvedev’s reserve. Some experts argue that Russia’s foreign affairs stance has already become more firm and assertive which usually is seen as Putin’s and not Medvedev’s approach. So it’s probably a good time to summarize the results of the current president’s foreign policy.
To be precise one should say that policy which has been conducted between 2008 and 2012 was not only the president’s, but that of the tandem. With one single exemption of the UN Libyan vote in March last year, when decision to abstain was taken personally by Dmitry Medvedev, the rest was coordinated. So Putin never withdrew from this agenda, although he very rarely intervened publicly.
What will shape Medvedev’s legacy? The reset with the US which culminated in the ratification of a new Start treaty and Russian accession to the WTO? The idea of a new security architecture for Europe, which as started, but hasn’t been finalised? A shift towards Asia which at last has become a real priority for Russian diplomacy; and first visit of a Russian President to the Kuril Islands? Or the complicated relationship with neighbours Ukraine and Belarus over gas and trade? But paradoxically, the main event of Medvedev’s presidency was the five day war with Georgia, which erupted during his first 100 days and became a tough test for the new head of state. His behaviour surprised many observers who expected him to get confused, and those who thought a liberally minded president would not be able to order the use of force against another country.
Medvedev’s period after Georgian war was a time for stabilization which was needed after the growing turbulence in Russian foreign affairs. His label of being pro-Western was not exactly correct. His politeness and smiling demonstrated another style, much more constructive, than Putin’s, and sometimes more inclined to compromise. This manner corresponded to the relative calming between late 2008 and early 2011. As for substance, it didn’t differ much from Putin’s time. Today’s world atmosphere is getting tenser, so Putin’s comeback is well timed.
There is no reason to expect major changes in Russian foreign policy, although it is worth considering how tired Putin has become of his Western colleagues – something he does not conceal. His special point is the US; he is extremely angry based on experience from his first presidency.
Putin has shown greater interest in Europe than Medvedev. Europe’s strategic marginalization with the shift of global politics to the Pacific will not be reversed, but under Putin the Kremlin will increasingly regard this as an opportunity – the weaker the European Union, the greater the opportunities for breakthroughs with individual states. Under Medvedev, ties with Europe have practically lost all substance, despite the outward goodwill and civility.
Three motivations will underlie Putin’s foreign policy. One is the need to ensure domestic economic development, which is impossible without foreign partners and investors and increasing penetration of neighboring markets. The other is a reluctance to assume excessive commitments (including integration into various international bodies) because complete unpredictability is likely to require freedom of action and maximal flexibility of reactions. The third is necessity to be cautious and minimize risks in a turbulent environment.
The integration-minded Putin of the first half of the 2000s will not return – there is virtually nothing to integrate into in the disintegrating world order. Nor will we see the Putin of his second term, who was angered by the West’s insensibility and tried to prove that its reluctance to treat Russia as an equal partner was a fatal mistake. It is no longer necessary to prove anything to anyone – everyone has other things on their minds. In 2012 and beyond, Putin is likely to opt for general restraint, accompanied by bold action to exploit opportunities that open up as a result of the erosion of the world’s current institutions.
Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor–in–Chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine (since 2002). Member of the Valdai Discussion Club.
The article was originally published on rt.com