What Are Russian Foreign Policy Objectives?

Testimony Testimony before the House Committee on International Relations
Summary
In making assessments of Russia's behavior in the world, it is critical that we recognize that Russia is not a totalitarian state ruled by a Communist Party with a single, clearly articulated foreign policy. That state disappeared in 1991. Rather, Russia is a democratizing state, and Russia's foreign policy, in turn, is a product of domestic politics in a pluralistic system.
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What are Russian foreign policy objectives? It depends who you ask. In making assessments of Russia's behavior in the world, it is absolutely critical that we recognize that Russia today is not a totalitarian state ruled by a Communist Party with a single and clearly articulated foreign policy of expanding world socialism and destroying world capitalism and democracy. That state disappeared in 1991. Rather, Russia is a democratizing state - a weakly institutionalized democracy with several deficiencies - but a democratizing state nonetheless. Russia's foreign policy, in turn, is a product of domestic politics in a pluralistic system.

In democracies, "states" do not have foreign policy objectives. Rather, individual political leaders, parties, and interest groups have foreign policy objectives. Under certain conditions, these various forces come together to support a united purpose in foreign affairs. At other times, these disparate groups can have conflicting views about foreign policy objectives. Likewise, they can even support the same foreign policy objective for different reasons.

Russia, today, is no different. Although Russian leaders share in supporting a few common, general foreign policy objectives, they disagree on many others. They also disagree on the means that should be deployed to achieve the same foreign policy objective. The foreign policy that eventually results is a product of debate, political struggle, electoral politics, and lobbying by key interest groups. Because Russia is undergoing revolutionary change internally, the foreign policy that results form Russian domestic politics can change quickly.

In my brief remarks today, I would like to cover six topics. First, I will outline the small set of foreign policy issues around which a consensus has emerged in Russia. Second, I will briefly describe the major schools of thought in Russia about foreign policy. Third, I will give a brief historical overview of the evolution of Russian foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, demonstrating how the fates and fortunes of different political groups in Russia have, in turn, impacted on changes in Russian foreign policy. Fourth, I will then turn to Kosovo and show how these different schools of thought understand Russia's role in the conflict. Fifth, I will outline briefly how Russia's upcoming parliamentary election (Scheduled for December 1999) and presidential election (scheduled for June 2000) could change Russian foreign policy. Sixth, I will end by discussing the implications of this discussion of Russian foreign policy objectives for U.S.-Russian relations.

I. Russian Foreign Policy Objectives Recognized by All Major Political Actors in Russia

Every major political leader and party in Russia today recognizes that Russia is a country in rapid decline as an economy, a coherent state and an international player. Since 1991, the Russian economy has contracted faster and longer than any previous major power's in modern history. With economic decline has come state weakness. The Russian government struggles to provide the most elementary of public goods, such as a single currency, a common market, security, welfare and education. This
domestic feebleness has played havoc with Russia's international clout, turning the once-proud actor into a mere observer with mostly symbolic roles to perform. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's campaign against Yugoslavia brought Russia's international impotence into painfully sharp focus.

All political leaders and groups in Russia agree, therefore, that Russia's first foreign policy objective must be to reverse Russia's internal decline. Russia cannot be a major international actor with a shrinking economy that today is roughly the size of Denmark. Russia cannot be a serious player on the international stage if it cannot control its own borders. No major political force in Russia disagrees with these objectives. How Russia should achieve economic growth and preserve internal unity, however, remain contested issues.

In addition to reviving the economy and avoiding further disintegration of the federation, almost all of Russia's major political actors agree that Russia must pursue economic, political, and military cooperation within the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia's foreign policy elite remains committed to establishing a Russian sphere of influence within the region. Again, they disagree about the means for achieving this objective. But no major political actor opposes greater cooperation within the Commonwealth as a Russian foreign policy goal.

A final foreign policy objective recognized by most leaders and parties in Russia is the maintenance of Russia's nuclear superpower status. Russia's nuclear weapons stockpile is the one power attribute that still accords Russia special status in the international system.

This set of objectives shape Russian foreign policy behavior and influence Russian foreign policy responses to other international issues in general and predictable ways. For instance, because of Russia's internal economic problems, Russia has supported tacitly the control of the international oil supply recently, which has raised oil prices, increased hard currency revenues for Russian oil companies and the Russian government, and indirectly propelled a small boom in the Russian stock market. Because of Russia's problems with its own separatist republics including first and foremost, Chechnya, Russia does not support independence for Kosovo or a peace settlement that might create momentum for independence in the future. Because of Russia's desire to maintain the Commonwealth of Independence States as its sphere of influence, Russia does not support the deployment of American troops in Azerbaijan and fears further NATO expansion towards its borders. On these kinds of issues, Russians are united in defining their foreign policy objectives.

Beyond this rather short list of consensus issues, however, Russians remain divided over many important foreign policy questions. Rather than discuss every foreign policy issue in detail, I want to next outline the basic approaches to foreign policy from four distinct political groups in Russia today.


II. The Different Schools of Thought about Russian Foreign Policy Objectives within Russia


Pro-Western Idealists

After seventy years of Soviet communist rule, Russia only became an independent state again in December 1991. Innate structural forces did not cause the Soviet Union to collapse and compel Russian to emerge as an independent state. Rather, Russian democrats - in alliance with democratic forces in the Baltics, the Caucuses, and Ukraine - dissolved the Soviet Union. In their struggle against the Soviet empire, the command economy, and the totalitarian political system, Russian democrats adopted an ideology of opposition inspired principally by the West. Ideas about democracy, the market, self-determination, and integration with the Western capitalist system eventually crystallized during the peak of polarized confrontation in 1990-91 as concepts most clearly antithetical to the Soviet ancien regime. Consequently, when Boris Yeltsin assumed control of the newly independent Russian state in December 1991, he and his government were guided by this set of liberal ideas, ideas that included in foreign policy matters a distinctly pro-Western and peaceful foreign policy. Initially, these ideas had everything to do with the domestic revolutionary struggle against Soviet communism and virtually nothing to do with Russian national interests abroad or interests of economic groups, civic organizations, or the electorate at home. In other words, these groups had a normative commitment to Western values and Western integration, and were not driven solely by self-interest.

Advocates of this approach to Russian foreign policy (and political and economic reform internally) have always constituted a minority within Russia. In the early part of the decade, Democratic Russia represented this view. Until his dismissal as foreign minister in January 1996, Andrei Kozyrev represented this view regarding Russian foreign policy and performed his functions as foreign minister accordingly so. Today, some, though not all, members of the political groups, "Right Cause" headed by Anatoly Chubais, Yegor Gaidar, Boris Nemtsov, and Boris Fyodorov; Yabloko headed by Grigory Yavlinsky; and Our Home Is Russia headed by Viktor Chernomyrdin, might still be identified with this normative commitment to reintegrating Russia with the West.

The most important advocate of this idealist, pro-Western approach to Russian foreign policy, however, has been Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin's identification with liberal ideas and pro-Western foreign policies evolved because of his revolutionary struggle against the Soviet Union and the Communist Party. Because Western capitalist democracies were prosperous and opposed communism, Yeltsin and Russia's democratic movement looked to Western countries as allies in their common struggle against the Soviet system. Besides democracy and capitalism, there were no other attractive models or ideologies in the international system with which Russian revolutionaries could identify.

That Yeltsin should be associated with these ideals, however, is somewhat an accident of history. Unlike Walesa in Poland or Havel in the Czech Republic, Yeltsin was not a dissident in the Soviet Union, but a Communist Party apparatchik. Yeltsin teamed up with Russia's democrats in the late 1980s because they shared the same enemy -Soviet communism. Had Gorbachev not removed him from the Soviet Communist Party's leadership, he is unlikely to have become such a proponent of capitalism, democracy, and integration with the West. Had Yeltsin rose to power buoyed by a different ideology or backed by a different set of allies, Russian foreign policy might have adopted a more anti-Western bent much earlier.

This brief history of Yeltsin's political career and his beliefs is important for our discussion for two reasons. First, it underscores how lucky the West was that Yeltsin and his allies like Foreign Minister Kozyrev defined Russian foreign policy objectives in the early part of the decade. Had neo-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky won the presidential election in 1991, Russian foreign policy in the 1980s would have been much more anti-Western. Likewise, had Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov won the Russian presidential election in 1996, Russian foreign policy today also would be much more anti-Western than it is today.

Second, because Yeltsin was not a pro-Western dissident within the Soviet system during his formative years, his commitment to Western ideals and values is not as deep as other anti-communist leaders in the region. Consequently, Yeltsin has wavered over time, especially when under the pressures of electoral politics.

Yeltsin also is not a healthy man. With increasing frequency, he allows himself to make off-the-cuff remarks that contradict his own foreign policy objectives. Sometimes, these comments even contradict statements that he made only a day earlier.

Pro-Western Pragmatists

Eventually, this normative impetus for pursuing liberal, integrationist foreign policies faded as Russian expectations concerning Western assistance were not and could not be met, while euphoria for the markets, democracy, and the Western way ended. Even by the end Russia's first year of independence, foreign policy appeared to be drifting back to more anti-Western patterns of the Soviet period. Support for maintaining a pro-Western orientation in foreign policy was reinvigorated, however, when emergent economic interest groups with tangible interests in cooperative relations with Western countries, began to assert their influence in foreign policy matters. Groups with economic interests-Gazprom, oil companies, mineral exporters, and the bankers-began to replace individuals and groups with political ideas as the main societal forces influencing foreign policy outcomes.

Russian exporters desire access to Western markets, importers need Western goods, while Russian bankers seek partnerships with Western capital. Russian capitalists have used their influence over the Russian state to insure that the terms of trade remain favorable to local actors and that Russians, rather than foreigners, obtain the most lucrative Russian properties during privatization. These kinds of activities, however, should not be interpreted as ideologically motivated or normatively anti-Western, but rather a reflection of the foreign policy interests of Russia's capitalist class.

More perversely, Russia's new economic oligarchies also want Western financial institutions to remain engaged in Russia's economic reform process so that they do not have to pay for it alone. A billion dollars in transfers from the International Monetary Fund is a billion dollars that Gazprom does not have to pay in taxes. A multi-million dollar World Bank investment in restructuring the Russian coal industry also represents costs avoided by domestic capitalists. Even the smaller investments in institutional reforms provided by such international actors as the Agency for International Development or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development represent projects that benefit local capitalists paid for by foreign governments.

The Russian business lobby has a rather limited scope of foreign policy interests. Above all else, they seek to maintain access to Western capital and markets. When security issues such as opposition to NATO expansion threaten these access interests, the coalition of liberals within the Russian government and their allies in Russia's economic society cooperated to sustain engagement. Regarding other foreign policy issues that are not seen to have a direct relationship to these economic interests, this same coalition either has neglected the problem altogether or allowed other foreign policy entrepreneurs to assume center-stage. For instance, Russian oil companies and bankers have demonstrated little interest in arms control issues, allowing other interest groups to dominate debate on issues like START II or CFE negotiations. Similarly, this engagement coalition has ceded arms trade promotion to the Ministry of Atomic Energy and individual enterprises of the military-industrial complex. When Western diplomats have attempted to link these peripheral issues with engagement, such as in the case of Russian sales of nuclear reactor materials to Iran or in the case of START II ratification, their strategy has failed.

Business people such as bankers, oil exporters, and CEOs at technology companies do not constitute the only group with tangible interests in a pro-Western Russian foreign policy. Many governors of Russian oblasts (such a Titov in Samara or Prusak in Novgorod) and presidents of Russian republics (such as Shaimiev in Tatarstan ) see relations with Western companies, banks, and governments as the best way to jumpstart economic growth in their regions. Regional leaders have pushed for investment-friendly legislation such as Product Sharing Agreements. Through their control of the upper house of parliament, the Federal Council, regional leaders have become an increasingly important political force that has acted as a pragmatic check on more passionate anti-Western initiatives of their counterparts in the State Duma, the lower house of a parliament.

Although a less powerful political group than regional governors, hundreds of Russian non-governmental organizations -- including church groups, trade unions, student associations, and women's organizations -- have cooperative relationships with their Western counterparts and therefore also have a stake in good relations with the West.

Finally, opinion polls show that the majority of Russian citizens still see good relations with the West as an important objective of Russia foreign policy. This pro-Western orientation, however, has waned over the years. After the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, over seventy percent of Russians polled in early April 1999 have a negative view of the United States, while only fourteen percent still held a positive view.


Anti-Western Pragmatists

Like the second group, a third group that influences foreign policy debates in Russia today also attempts to define Russian foreign policy objectives in terms of interests rather than ideas, norms, or missions. However, this group does not think that Russia stands to gain from a pro-Western foreign policy or Western integration more generally. Rather than seeing Western-Russian cooperation as a "win-win" proposition, this group perceives international politics as a zero-sum game. If the West (and the United States in particular) is gaining, it means that Russia is losing. As self-acclaimed realists and balance-of-power strategists, this group sees the weakening of the United States and its NATO allies as the principal foreign policy objective of Russian diplomacy. These foreign policy thinkers want to transform the unipolar international system dominated by the United States into a multipolar system in which Russia would be one of many poles. Russian must pursue three strategies simultaneously to achieve this goal - become internally stronger both in economic and military terms, weaken the Western alliance by fomenting divisions, and balancing Western power by forming anti-Western alliances with countries such as China, Iran, Iraq, and India. Though less threatening to the West, this group also sees strengthening military ties among Commonwealth states as a way to weaken American hegemony.

At the same time, this group is also acutely aware of Russia's current weakness on the international stage. They understand that Russia has few levers of power to threaten or undermine American hegemony. In the short-term, they also recognize that Russia needs Western financial assistance to avoid further economic decline. Consequently, for pragmatic reasons, the understand the necessity of cooperation with the West in the short-run even if their long-term objective still remains the weakening of the United States and its allies.

This view of world politics is most prevalent among Russia's foreign policy elite. The chief proponent of this perspective is prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. Moderate members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation also adhere to these foreign policy goals as do some important nationalist organizations such as Spiritual Heritage. Directors of military enterprises, Ministry of Defense officials, and the Russian intelligence communities also understand foreign policy through this lens.

At times, Moscow mayor Yurii Luzhkov and his new party, Fatherland, issue statements on foreign policy that sound similar to this perspective. Krasnoyarsk governor, General Aleksandr Lebed, also and often sounds like an anti-Western pragmatist and sometimes even echoes themes articulated by anti-Western ideologues. Yet neither of these potential presidential candidates has developed a comprehensive foreign policy agenda, in part because neither candidate has been involved with foreign policy issues.


Anti-Western Ideologues

A fourth perspective on Russian foreign policy is passionately anti-Western. This group also sees international relations as primarily a balance-of-power battle between Russia and the West. In contrast to the anti-Western pragmatists, however, this group believes that material interests should not be the only motivation in foreign policy. In addition, ethnic, civilizational, and reputational concerns should be part of the equation.
For some in this camp, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russia must defend the Slavic nations of the world from NATO aggression as well as Islamic fundamentalism. China also features prominently as a civilizational threat to Russia for many foreign policy thinkers in this school.

For more openly fascist groups such as the Russian National Union, Russian foreign policy must be openly anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and anti-Islamic. From their perspective, Coca-Cola and MTV are just as much threats to Russian national security as is NATO. Radical groups on the left such as Viktor Anpilov's Working Russia hold the same view of the world, only their messianic mission is still world communism, not Pan-Slavism.

Even for more mainstream groups such as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, passionate foreign policy aims can eclipse Russian material interests. For instance, Russia has a security and economic interest in ratifying the START II and moving on to START III because Russia simply cannot afford to maintain START II levels of nuclear warheads. Yet, Communist leaders in the Duma have blocked ratification because they perceive START II ratification as fulfillment of an American foreign policy objective.

As just mentioned, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia is the most well-known political group in Russia that espouses this approach to Russian foreign policy. Radical groups like RNU and Working Russia also belong in this group, as do many members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Although these Russian leaders often get the most attention in the West for their radical pronouncements, they are also the smallest and weakest lobby when it comes to the actual conduct of Russian foreign policy.


III. The Evolution of Russian Foreign Policy: From Pro-Western Romanticism to Anti-Western Pragmatism

Over the last decade, the ebb and flow of the political fortunes of the four groups just described above has influenced the definition of Russian foreign policy objectives and the conduct for Russian foreign policy. In the euphoric days soon after the collapse of Soviet communism, pro-Western idealists dominated the definition of foreign policy objectives and the conduct of Russian foreign policy. Under the leadership of Andrei Kozyrev, Russian diplomacy aimed first and foremost to promote Russian integration into the West as well as secure Western assistance for the internal transformation of Russia's economy and polity. To achieve these objectives, Russia foreign policymakers were prepared to accommodate Western interests on a whole range of issues.

The sway of liberal idealists over Russian foreign policy suffered their first setback after the 1993 parliamentary elections when Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia captured almost a quarter of the vote. In the next parliamentary election in 1995, pro-Western political forces suffered an even greater defeat when the Communist Party of the Russian Federation emerged victorious replacing the LDPR as Russia's main opposition party. In response to this electoral outcome, Yeltsin fired Kozyrev and replaced him at the Foreign Ministry with Yevgeny Primakov, a candidate that the Communist Party applauded.

Primakov's appointment as foreign minister, however, did not signal a radical change in Russian foreign policy. Though Primakov himself was (and still is) a anti-Western pragmatist, he did not dominate the definition of Russian foreign policy objectives during his first years in office. Rather, Russia's financial groups played a key role in Russian foreign policy especially after Yeltsin's reelection victory in 1996. Russia's westward foreign policy orientation faced a major challenge during this period in the form of NATO expansion. No political actor of importance in Russia today, including even unabashed, pro-Western liberals, has supported NATO expansion. Yet, despite the black-and-white nature of this foreign policy issue within Russia, Russian liberals and economic interest groups that benefit from Western integration did not allow NATO expansion to derail Russian relations with the West.

The coalition of political leaders and economic interest groups in favor of Western integration suffered a real setback after the August 1998 financial crash. As a result of this economic crisis, Russia's financial oligarchs lost their influence within the Russian government, Yeltsin became a much weaker president, Primakov became prime minister, and Primakov's loyal aide, Igor Ivanov, became foreign minister. With this new configuration of power internally, Primakov has had the opportunity to play a much more influential role in Russian foreign policy.

While the anti-Western pragmatists have assumed a dominant position in the conduct of Russian foreign policy since the August 1998 financial collapse, they do not have a monopoly on foreign policy. Pro-Western idealists have been severely weakened, but still are not extinct. Through their special relationship with Yeltsin, liberals such as Anatoly Chubais continue to have a marginal role in foreign policy matters as do the liberal-dominated media in Russia. On the other side of the spectrum, anti-Western ideologues have more prominence in Russia today than they did just three years ago, but these political groups are still not central players in foreign policy. The coalition of pro-Western pragmatists, however, still does compete for influence over Russian foreign policy even if they no longer dominate the process. On different issues, different coalitions emerge to define the policy. Debates and foreign policy changes in response to the Kosovo conflict offer a vivid example of how competition between different interest groups influence Russian foreign policy.

IV. Russia and Kosovo

Like no other international crisis of the last decade, NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia has threatened to isolate Russia from the West. Siding with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and thwarting liberal reforms at home do not serve the long-term interests of Russia as a world power or Russians as a people. In the passion of the moment, however, Russian leaders have been tempted to take drastic measures to assist Serbia. Had they done so (or if they do so in the future), they would have precipitated a passionate anti-Russian response in the West. To date, however, these worst case scenarios have not unfolded. Although anti-American sentiment in Russia has skyrocketed in Russia and may remain widespread for some time to come, Russian foreign policy in response to Kosovo gradually have gravitated towards Western interests. This evolution is a direct consequence of the Russian domestic politics and the rise of fall of different foreign policy groups over the last six weeks.

The initial response to the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia was passionately negative. Yeltsin, Primakov, and even some foreign policy experts from liberal parties like Yabloko adopted the rhetoric of anti-Western ideologues to record their outrage against NATO aggression. Conveniently forgetting the Soviet invasions of Hungary, in 1956, and of Czechoslovakia, in 1968, Foreign Minister Ivanov has called the NATO bombing the worst aggression in Europe since World War II. No one in Russia is prepared to disagree publicly with him. Nationalists and Communists long have rallied to the anti-American battle cry. Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov has compared "NATO ideology" to "Hitlerism," while several members of his party are calling for a military response. In the heat of the moment, Lebed advocated the transfer of anti-aircraft weapons to Serbia, Zhirinovsky's LDPR signed up thousands of Russian volunteers to send to assist Milosevic, and the Duma voted to form a new Slavic nation by uniting the countries of Russia, Belarus, and Yugoslavia. At anti-Western protests near the American embassy in Moscow, Zhirinovsky and his ilk were front and center.
Yeltsin even sent a Russian intelligence-gathering ship into the Adriatic Sea. Russian liberal leaders, many of whom privately detest Milosevic, nonetheless joined the anti-American chorus.

Russian public opinion was also united in its criticism of the NATO campaign. According to some polls, ninety percent of the Russian population believed that the NATO bombing campaign was a mistake, while 65 percent believed that NATO was the aggressor in the conflict. Anti-American sentiment in Russia, of course, is nothing new. What is new about this crisis, however, is both the degree of consensus and the new composition of the anti-American chorus. Traditionally, Russia's foreign policy elite rant about US hegemony while Russian grandmothers show up at anti-American demonstrations. At the beginning of the Kosovo conflict, however, it was young people throwing beer bottles at the US embassy in M

End of document

About the Russia and Eurasia Program

The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field of Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.

 

About the Democracy and Rule of Law Program

The Carnegie Democracy and Rule of Law Program rigorously examines the global state of democracy and the rule of law and international efforts to support their advance.

 
Source http://carnegieendowment.org/1999/05/01/what-are-russian-foreign-policy-objectives/157f

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