Speaking as a Carnegie-Tsinghua Distinguished Speaker to Chinese and international scholars, Trenin discussed Putin’s new strategy for Russia, new tides in the U.S.-Russian relationship, Russia’s partnership with China, and Putin’s dream for a Eurasian Union. The event was moderated by Carnegie-Tsinghua’s Paul Haenle. 

Russia’s Foreign Policy

Trenin categorized Russian foreign policy into three periods:

  • Integration: In the years following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian foreign policy was centered on integration with the West, Trenin explained. Boris Yeltsin attempted to reconcile past tensions with the United States and indicated to NATO that Russia would like to attain membership in the organization. When Putin came into power in 2000, he adopted a similar strategy at first. However, Trenin said, by 2003, it became clear that integration on Moscow’s terms was not going to happen.
  • Isolation: Putin then adopted a “solo voyage” strategy, deviating from the West and attempting to rebuild the Russian nation, Trenin continued. In 2008, the Russian war with Georgia brought Western attention to the area, and this period of autonomy and isolation came to an end.
  • Modernization: In 2009, Putin adopted a new approach to foreign policy that focused on economic strengthening by bringing in foreign investors, Trenin added.

Trenin described Russia’s current foreign policy as reactive rather proactive. As a result, a number of issues outside of Russia will have a significant effect on the country’s future strategy, including: 

  • Euro crisis and how this affects the U.S. and Chinese economies;
  • Oil prices;
  • Change of leadership in the United States;
  • Future of Afghanistan once NATO and U.S. forces retreat;
  • Unrest in the Middle East, especially Iran.

Recent Achievements

In early November, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a document which listed improvements and achievements that Russia’s foreign policy strategy had accomplished over the past few years. Trenin outlined some of these chief achievements:

  • Despite many obstacles, Russia is making progress towards WTO membership after eighteen years of negotiations. 
  • The “reset” with the United States seems to be on track, especially after Russia’s contribution to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan by the construction of railroads.
  • Moscow has achieved reconciliation with many of its neighbors, solving territorial disputes with Norway and engaging in rapprochement with Poland.
  • Russia has worked on its economic integration with Kazakhstan and Belarus.
  • Russia has also increased its diplomatic ties with the Asian-Pacific region, and Moscow will co-chair the East Asian summits next year with the United States.

These achievements show the progress of Putin’s foreign policy, and they are only the beginning of what Putin hopes accomplish for Russia, Trenin said. His ultimate goal is to engage Russia’s East European neighbors and establish a Eurasian Union that would integrate former Soviet states and remove existing trade barriers, Trenin added. 

Eurasian Union?

Putin may hope to unite Russia with former Soviet states Kazakhstan and Belarus, but Trenin warned that it will not be an easy task. 

  • The current Belarus leadership may undermine the expansion of the current customs union, due to the loss of economic sovereignty that economic integration entails.
  • Belarus and Kazakhstan may not be willing to accept the Russian ruble as the new currency of the economic union.
  • Putin wishes for Ukraine to join the economic integration, but politicians in Ukraine are unlikely to support the partnership.
  • Despite these obstacles, the idea of the union is appealing to many within Russia, appealing to those still nostalgic about the Soviet Union, Trenin said. Since Moscow has no chance of joining the European Union, the Eurasian Union is an attractive alternative that would give Russia a bargaining chip with the EU, he concluded. 

Sino-Russian Relations

China is Russia’s largest trading partner, and the relationship is likely to remain normal given their mutual interest in economic cooperation, Trenin asserted. There are still some tensions between the two nations, stemming from issues like China’s rapid growth. But the two nations are partners and are accustomed to cooperating on international issues, including the Six-Party Talks with North Korea, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the UN Security Council. The relationship has a solid foundation, and Trenin argued that Russia has no intention of causing harm to the partnership. However, he added that certain external factors could have unintended negative effects on this crucial partner for Russia.