What is missing is a master plan, a strategic map of relations with Russia supported by an efficient coordination mechanism that will energize both the public and private sector; our activities are scattered, lacking coordination and clearly spelled out strategic goals. Canada does not know as a country what we want from the Russians, how to make it happen, and what would be a measure of our success or failure.
Those who watch Russia closely (as we do in the Valdai Club) can see that it is slowly but very substantially changing. Evolution of the political mood and behavior is obvious as people become increasingly engaged in political debates and actions. The growing middle class and the politically active part of society sense a lack of dynamism in Russia’s political system and would like to see this changed. As of May 2012 Russia has – for the next six years – V. Putin as its President and current President D. Medvedev as its Prime Minister.
So, what is Canada to do?
First and foremost Canada needs a new model of cooperation with Russia. And we need to move from current, quite dynamic but ineffective politicized engagement to a results-based engagement. We are not short of areas in which we are already cooperating with Russia. We are active in the Arctic with consistent high-level consultations, we do business in agriculture, mining, and industrial machinery, some Canadian companies (for instance Kinross Gold and Magna) are well-respected at the regional and federal levels in Russia and financially very successful, the Canadian-led Global Partnership Program helped to dismantle biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, each year Universities are accepting more exchange Russian students. The list goes on. In short: we have good relations in many areas. What is missing is a master plan, a strategic map of relations with Russia supported by an efficient coordination mechanism that will energize both the public and private sector ; our activities are scattered, lacking coordination and clearly spelled out strategic goals. Canada – simply – does not know as a country what we want from the Russians, how to make it happen, and what would be a measure of our success or failure. Thus we need clearer benchmarks for our cooperation. It is not enough to repeatedly say that we have “great opportunities” in our relations without knowing what we want to achieve and how Canadians will benefit. Consider that in 2010, Canada–Russia trade was worth about 2.5 billion dollars (1.3 exports and 1.2 imports). That is half our trade with Brazil, and barely three times larger than with Costa Rica. Is that what we can expect from trade between the tenth and eleventh largest economies in the world? Similarly, last year Canadian investment in Russia (focused mostly in mining) was just above 1.8 billion dollars (five times smaller than our investment in the Netherlands, four times smaller than in Hungary, and thirty two times smaller than in Britain). Russia is - potentially - a great opportunity and we need to realistically assess what we can achieve there.
Among politicians, business, and experts, we need to discuss where and how we can lobby the Russian government to adjust its current practices and regulations to make our investment more secure and effective.
To construct a new model, Canada should look at best practices of foreign relations that are working well and emulate and adjust them for Russia rather than inventing new, unproven mechanisms . Two models to emulate would be Canadian–Chinese and Norwegian–Russian relations. The first, despite obvious political differences, are booming with the active help of PM Harper’s government. Despite what the government says are “substantial disagreements” with China, we have, as DFAIT’s Minister Bird announced, “entered a new area” in Canadian-Chinese relations in 2011. We disagree but vigorously support cooperation in areas that we see as vital for our interests; why not implement the same ideas in Canadian–Russian relations?
We are repeating over and over that the Arctic is one of our political, economic, and social priorities, and our goal is to demonstrate there a “responsible stewardship and to build a region that is responsive to Canadian interests and values”. Yet we are far from a full-scale diplomatic engagement of another big Arctic nation. We can look at Norway and learn. After almost 40 years of bitter disputes, Norway and Russia signed a comprehensive treaty in 2010 ending territorial disagreements and opening new economic opportunities in the region. We can learn a lot from Norwegians on how to structure our conversation with Russians in order to settle our differences.
Bilateral relations are never a one-way street, so what we can expect from Russia? First of all, predictability, territorial unity, higher standards of governance, reason, and the ability to introduce real change without chaos. No doubt, Russian president will bring gradual changes to the currently defunct political system. Empowerment of local authorities, elections of the governors, establishment of a “super-cop” body to fight corruption at all levels, and improvement of courts will most likely be the next obvious steps. Those might be followed by making the media less state-dependent. In economic terms, re-industrialization, the reduction of the state’s direct participation in the economy to 30-35 percent (including reduction of the excessive interference of the government in the economy), making ownership better-protected by effective courts, and overall legitimization of private business are all real possibilities.
Canadian (and any foreign) business in Russia will highly appreciate clarification of gaps and overlaps in the Russian regulatory system (for instance in mining conflicts between Subsoil Law and Licensing Regulations); a more open and transparent tender process (for instance making tender and auction commissions have less discretionary powers of disqualifying applicants); stricter punishments for corporate raiding and the creation of an Ombudsman with meaningful regulatory capacity for protection of business.
Finally, we should be guided by some simple advice in relations with Russia: it is for the Russian people to decide how to shape their home . Civil society is waking up but does not expect and does not appreciate that someone from outside will bring democracy in. As F. Lukyanov, Editor of Russia in Global Affairs, recently observed, “A new generation has emerged, which desires to have a choice, but is proud and nationalistic enough to want to achieve this by its own hands”. In this context, what Russia needs is not another “democracy promoter,” but a critical yet supportive partner.