On February 25, 2004, Dmitri Trenin, Senior Associate and Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, addressed the new tendencies in Russia’s foreign policy under President Putin, including the future of U.S.-Russia relations. Rose Gottemoeller, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment moderated the session.

Trenin opened his presentation addressing Vladimir Putin’s dismissal of the Russian government on February 24th, calling it “the end of the beginning of Putin’s “reign.” The President’s move was an act of self-liberation from Yeltsin’s legacy and an attempt to re-energize his presidential campaign in the run-up to elections on March 14th. After the elections, the commanding heights will remain with siloviki, the essential members of Putin’s regime. The role of economic reformers will be confined to managing the economy. The dismissal of the government has the purpose to demonstrate that “the President is now in full power,” Trenin noted.

President Putin has set three key foreign policy goals: economic modernization, achieving global competitiveness, and reconstitution of Russia as a modern great power. Not only Russia’s domestic pattern of development, but also its foreign policy crystallized in 2003. Russia wants to rebuild itself as a great power on a regional scale (i.e. CIS wide) based on a sound economy and backed by a credible military might. Putin does not seek control over Russia’s neighbors, but he wants the leaders of the former Soviet states to take Russia’s interests into account, as Georgia’s new president has recently done.

Trenin highlighted an important new mood in Putin’s foreign policy, under which “Russia does not want to belong, it wants to be.” If Gorbachev and Yeltsin’s foreign policies were primarily aimed at inclusion and integration into the West, Putin’s is focused on independence from the West and interaction with it. At the same time, Putin’s approach is not a policy of isolationism, rather it is a policy of neo-realism.

Putin’s pragmatic foreign affairs strategy is based on the goals of his domestic agenda: doubling the gross domestic product, poverty reduction, and military modernization. Therefore, the success of Russia’s foreign policy will depend on the country’s economic performance. For sustained growth to become a reality, Russia needs to carry out a massive debureaucratization of the economy and public life. Among the dangers that Russia may be facing, the most serious is combination of a severe economic crisis and a sudden rise in ethnic tensions.

Russia’s attitude to the U.S. remains ambivalent. It is a major external source for modernization, and Putin will continue to eschew any confrontation with the U.S. At the same time, the U.S. is increasingly seen as a rival in the former Soviet states. For the Russian military, the U.S. remains the main potential adversary. To face up the problem of deterring the U.S. from a position of weakness, Russia has opted for strengthening its nuclear arsenal, also with a view of overcoming any conceivable missile defenses, and abandoning elements of arms control in favor of more freedom in force development and deployment.

Putin also wants Russia’s relations with non-Western nations to be independent of its relations with the U.S. Russia particularly focuses on China, Japan, India, and the Muslim world.

Trenin suggested that in order to keep the relationship on an even keel, Russia and the U.S. should increase cooperation where their interests meet, for example, on the war against terrorism, through more intelligence sharing. At the same time, Moscow and Washington should work out a viable formula for collaboration where the interests are parallel but not identical, for example, on weapons of mass destruction, in particular with regard to Iran. Finally, Trenin stressed that Russia and the U.S. should learn to manage their conflicting interests, as they appear to have done recently with regard to Georgia.

In conclusion, Trenin noted that the U.S. needs to realize that Russia is no longer in the transition, it “has arrived,” and “is here to stay.” It is a largely authoritarian state with a state directed, although largely private economy and a still weak civil society. Russia’s immediate agenda is modernization. For the time being, liberal economic policies can be pursued by an enlightened authoritarian regime based on a traditional bureaucracy. In the medium and certainly long-term future, liberalism and bureaucracy will probably clash. But that is likely to happen when Putin is no longer president.

Summary prepared by Kate Vlachtchenko, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian program at the Carnegie Endowment.