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Russia’s foreign policy in the next five years: goals, incentives, benchmarks

Внешняя политика России в ближайшие пять лет: цели, стимулы, ориентиры

In 2014, when the Ukrainian crisis erupted, Russia had ceased to play by the rules prevailing in the system of international relations after the cold war, and openly challenged American hegemony. This step is actually completed twenty-five years of the cooperation of the great powers was the beginning of an era of active competition between them. For two years Moscow demonstratively adheres to this approach. The conflict with the West is getting serious, and international policy of Russia is built around a confrontation with the United States and estrangement in the relations with the countries of the European Union. Almost simultaneously in Russia because of the collapse of the economic model based on exports of oil, broke out a severe crisis. Western sanctions imposed in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, and a sharp drop in oil prices, the crisis only exacerbated. In this difficult situation, Russia will exist the coming years, and how she will cope with it, will determine not only her future, but will have a significant impact on the entire system of international relations.

The main priorities of Russian foreign policy

At this point Russia has to withstand the pressure from the United States and its allies. Simultaneously, Russia is trying to reduce political isolation, to adapt the economy to the sanctions and low oil prices, confront the West in the information space. Since February 2014, the Kremlin de facto is in “war mode”, and President Vladimir Putin — as a military leader. While the Kremlin manages to stay in these positions.

The Kremlin claims that will follow this course continue, that is not going to go back and put up with the West through concessions and promises to “fix”. As stated by the Minister of foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, with the policy of appeasement of the West to the detriment of national interests of Russia is done. Moreover, in the fall of 2015 Russia has again challenged the world order based on US hegemony, starting a military operation in Syria. Moscow has broken the monopoly of Washington on the use of force in the international arena and effectively returned to the region, who left in the last years of the Soviet Union.

The main foreign policy priorities of Russia, and proves its actions in Ukraine and Syria, is blocking further NATO expansion in Eastern Europe and the confirmation of its great power status outside the former Soviet Union. Moscow’s strategy is to create such conditions that its former partners and now rivals, and especially the United States, were forced to recognize Russia’s interests in the security sphere (as seen by the Kremlin, not in Washington, and she herself — as a great power to be reckoned with on the world stage.

These priorities are guided by Moscow in the negotiations with the West on Ukraine and Syria, on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. With the help of an agreement “Minsk-II”, signed in February 2015, Moscow hopes to create insurmountable obstacles for Ukraine’s accession to NATO and to introduce in the political system of the Pro-Russian element. As a result of a future peaceful settlement in Syria, Russia expects the United States will stop looking down on her that she will regain the role of one of the main external forces in the region and keep Syria as its geopolitical and military Outpost.

Russia’s willingness to cooperate with the Europeans on the situation in Ukraine and its proposal to create a coalition against the self-proclaimed “Islamic state” in Syria related to the fact that Moscow wants to seek the abolition or gradual weakening of the sanctions and recovery, at least on some level, of economic relations with Western Europe. Russia hopes that the business community of European countries — especially Germany, France and Italy — will force their governments to lift the sanctions regime. Moscow with lively interest the current developments in the European Union, hoping that the increased national interest in the politics of the EU will open new opportunities to improve relations with European States individually.

Because of the gap with the West increased the importance of communication with other partners. One of the main objectives here is to improve the productivity of relations with China, a growing world power with the world’s largest economy, which has not joined anti-Russian sanctions. However, the Sino-Russian friendship has its limitations. China does not want to spoil business relations with the United States, and Russia is trying not to become dependent on economically stronger partner; in addition, the interests and strategy of the two countries do not always coincide. Thus, the main priorities in this direction is the strengthening of ties with China and maintaining friendly nature of bilateral relations, but not the establishment of the Alliance with Beijing.

Instead of the “Big eight” (now “seven”), from which Russia was excluded, it is included in the “Big twenty” and BRICS, and the system of the summits Russia — EU, and the Council Russia — NATO it can replace the Shanghai cooperation organization (SCO). Thus, Moscow can say, settling in the non-Western world. Its main partners are Brazil, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Iran, Cuba, Pakistan and South Africa. However, it will take some time before Russia will be able to feel comfortable in this new international environment.

Moscow claims that one of its priorities is the development of economic integration in Eurasia. In fact, the economic crisis affecting the entire Eurasian region, especially Russia itself, but also its political confrontation with the West has pushed the Eurasian economic Union (EEU) in the sphere of foreign policy interests of Moscow in the background, and this situation is likely to continue until 2020. However, maintaining close bilateral relations with partners such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, will be important for Russia.

After listing the objectives, posed in front of the Kremlin, it is also necessary to mention the goals that he does not put before him and does not even consider. So, Moscow does not intend to conquer the Baltic States or to establish a Pro-Russian enclaves, to aggravate the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria to “flood” the EU waves of refugees and to overthrow the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as is not going to capture Ukraine.

Main groups of influence

All the main issues of foreign policy, defence and security solutions still takes it personally Putin. He has been President since 2000 (with a break for 2008-2012 — when Putin was Prime Minister) and is one of the most experienced political leaders in the world. Putin has absolute power, which is based on unprecedented and constant popularity among ordinary Russians. Foreign policy aimed at Russia’s return to great power status, is one of the major reasons for this popularity. Countering the West’s assertive policy of Russia only serves to strengthen it.

Putin is working with a group of senior assistants — assistants, not colleagues or partners — make up the security Council of the Russian Federation (SBRF). Competence SBRF broader than national security in its usual Western sense. The Council can tackle almost any issue of national importance, including the economy, Finance, demography and even culture. Foreign policy decisions Putin makes on the basis of information, which mainly receives from the security services.

Security professionals play an important role in reflection, the development and implementation of foreign policy decisions Putin. From the point of view of this group, international relations is a continuous struggle of a few powerful Nations for hegemony and influence. Hostility to the United States is deep and sincere. The main spokesman for this group — SBRF Secretary Nikolai Patrushev bluntly calls the United States the main enemy of Russia. And the Ministry of foreign Affairs under the leadership Lavrov prefers harsh methods of implementation of the decisions of the Kremlin.

In situations of confrontation with the United States has significantly increased the influence of those who are engaged in defense — the elite of the armed forces and representatives of military industry. The use of real power is once again becoming a tool of Russian foreign policy as the former Soviet Union and beyond. Moreover, the military industry, which supports large-scale program of modernization of the armed forces, called the engine of new industrialization of Russia. According to polls “Levada-center”, after Putin, the Russians trust the most, defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. But Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the defense industry, is a rare example of a politician with obvious presidential ambitions in the “bureaucratic” government of the country.

The circles that are related to security, defense, and industry best high approval ratings of the initiative foreign policy of the Kremlin and the armed forces. In addition, virtually the entire political elite, from the Federation Council and the Duma parties to governors, mayors and state media — United on the question of patriotism. Strong unequivocal support of Putin’s policies by the people and the elite is contrasted with an equally unequivocal rejection of this policy of small liberal groups and individuals have in today’s Russia the opportunity to speak, but with little effect.

The Russian business community virtually does not Express his opinion on political issues, but is concerned about the negative economic consequences of confrontation with the United States and a cooling of relations with the EU. The business community advocate for the restoration of normal trade relations between Russia and the developed countries are understandably unhappy with Western sanctions and Russian counter-sanctions and certainly do not want a further deterioration in Moscow’s relations with the United States and EU member States. However, the top — oligarchic — layer of this community is too dependent on the Kremlin and not ready to make proposals for the change of course; the state Corporation followed throughout the government; and many owners of small and medium enterprises are configured Patriotic and support Putin.

The main ideological orientations

In 2016 Putin has formulated a national idea of Russia: patriotism. In the Kremlin’s understanding of patriotism is concerned primarily with the state as the main value, which is the nation. And attitude is the main criterion for evaluating the figures of the past and present, and ordinary citizens. The Russian government considered the center of the “Russian world”, the outgoing spiritual and historical roots in Byzantium and Orthodox Christianity. In “Russian world” also includes Ukraine (minus its Greek Catholic Western regions), Belarus, Moldova, and the Russian Diaspora in other countries of the world. The main pillar of this world — the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin sees his tenure as President of the mission sent to him by God.

Thus, Russia has moved away from the “European choice”, which Putin announced at the beginning of zero — in fact, the country has followed this course since the fall of the Communist regime in 1991. This Russia’s pivot to its own cultural and historical heritage with a focus on the age of Empire and is often associated with the concept of Eurasianism. Of course, the cultural influence of Europe is saved, but Europe is not modern, and classic. Views of the Kremlin in the EU can be compared with the perception of Europe by Emperor Alexander III and his grandfather Nicholas I in the XIX century: Russia is in Europe, but it is not true. Today the Russian Federation sees itself as a country that occupies a unique position in Northern Eurasia — is equally remote from Asia, North America, the Middle East and Europe.

Russian leaders call themselves conservatives, but in fact remain pragmatic. They are ready to do business with anyone, not paying attention to the ideological views to which deep down are treated with cynicism. But what they do not accept it — so this is revolution in any form. According to the Kremlin, support of United States and European Union democracy and human rights as a foreign policy tool more effective in dealing with authoritarian regimes than in subsequent construction on the ruins of their democratic system of governance.

The Kremlin uses some of the liberals in the departments in charge of economic policy, that it meets the views of Putin, preferring the market to total state control over the economy. In addition, after the events in Crimea and Ukraine, Putin became the idol of the nationalists, keeps them in check on behalf of the Kremlin, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his liberal democratic party of Russia. The Communist party is completely “tamed” in the Duma, and its founder, Vladimir Lenin was considered a traitor. All of these groups tend to support the foreign policy of the Kremlin.

The main geopolitical issues and incentives

The main thing that worries Russia and defines its policy today, the advent of low energy prices and other commodity products. The sharp drop in oil prices significantly devalued the geopolitical importance of Russia in the eyes of its main partners in Europe and Asia. The idea of Russia as an energy superpower, popular in the mid-noughties, finally gone. Objectively, the situation is pushing the Kremlin to diversify the economy. But for the successful diversification of the country needs to adopt a completely different economic-political model, to create a business-friendly atmosphere to support entrepreneurship and engage in technical innovation.

This turn will end the dominance of the current ruling — and increasingly rich elite, and therefore can not be supported by them. Thus, Russia was again at a crossroads. In the next five years she will have to choose one of three options: to reform the economy and to dismantle the existing economic-political system; to conduct a comprehensive economic mobilization under the auspices of the state; to maintain the current system with the prospect of her lingering decline, and eventually, perhaps, social upheaval.

In the short or medium term, Russia will likely have to deal with Islamic radicalism on its southern borders. The middle East creates instability, already spreading to other regions of the Islamic world, including Central Asia and the Caucasus. In the post-Soviet States in the region, managed to survive the first twenty-five years of independence, there are specific signs of the onset of changes that accompanied the time in the beginning of the “Arab spring”. In Afghanistan the “Islamic state” has established a foothold in order to expand its influence all over the country and beyond. Perhaps, Russia, in 2015, entered the war in Syria, and will have to fight on a much more intimate territories, and home to confront ISIS provoked the threats of extremism and terrorism.

In the long term, one of the main problems of Russia is the demographic situation. The rate of decline of the population decreased, and the annexation of Crimea has increased the number of inhabitants of Russia at 2 million and today it is 146 million. But the country is intensifying a labor shortage, a strategically important regions like the Far East remain sparsely populated, and the integration of immigrants from Central Asia — not an easy task.

The economy as a limiter and the engine of Russian foreign policy in key regions of the world

In the geopolitical arena Putin used to claim more than is allowed by the economic weight of Russia. Sometimes this pattern of behavior brings strikingly successful results, but cannot be considered to be working. In the medium term it will cease to operate if no reforms will be conducted to liberate the still powerful growth potential and development of Russia, or will not be undertaken the mobilization of the national economy that will have short term positive effect, but ultimately will result for the country economic and political disaster.

To carry out reforms in a confrontation with the United States would be extremely difficult, and the degree of conflict in the next five years is unlikely to be significantly reduced. Even if by 2020 the EU sanctions will be formally abolished, the political risks for European investors will remain high, which will continue to hinder the development of economic relations. Cooperation with Japan, promising in the light of its searches insurance from strengthening the position of China will be limited because of the negative attitude of the United States. Moscow will have to look for ways to circumvent the sanctions regime unbeknownst to the Washington.

While the political factors that impede economic relations with the West, Russia needs to more actively seek opportunities in other regions. It will not be easy: the Russian export to non-Western countries mainly consists of goods, the price of which has fallen sharply and is unlikely to increase significantly in the foreseeable future. It is unclear whether Russia and China by 2020 to bring our economic relations to a new level. However, if Russia will be able to expand sales of their goods in the markets of China, India, Iran, Southeast Asia and the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, she will be able to partially compensate for the reduction in trade with the West and to diversify its economic ties.

What to expect from Moscow, Washington and its European allies?

In the next five years, Russia’s relations with the US and Europe will be competitive and intense. Moscow, if not provoke, will not invade a NATO, but from time to time incidents that may occur on the new line of confrontation — from the Arctic and the Baltic to the Black sea, and perhaps elsewhere. Russia will continue to try to compensate for their weaker position. Methods of compensation can be very different from an increasing reliance on nuclear deterrence policy to work on a favorable balance of forces in the field, quick decisions and bold actions, including force, to confuse the situation and “hybrid” transactions. And because the stakes for Russia in this renewed confrontation are higher than for Western countries, she would be willing to take more risk and incur more damage than her opponents.

These conditions are crucial measures to prevent the escalation of the conflict between Russia and the West. The main thing here is to prevent incidents involving military aircraft and ships, through measures to build confidence; control of normal work communication channels, including between the military; the existence of intermediaries, trusted by both sides and is able to conduct confidential and constructive dialogue on contentious issues and common problems, for example in the sphere of strategic stability.

In a General atmosphere of confrontation and cooperation between Russia and Western countries will be carried out at best in the form of transactions in those areas where overlap or intersect national interests. Here Moscow will not shy away from partnerships with the West and willing to work together with Washington and its allies. However, the Russian side will cooperate, only if satisfied that America treats her like an equal and takes into account its interests. Actually, this is the ultimate goal of the foreign policy of the Kremlin.

To achieve this goal, Russia will have to seek from the West respect Russia’s “security space” through the exclusion of the possibility of NATO membership of Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine or any other Republic of the former USSR and through providing these countries with neutral status towards Russia and NATO; cooperation in solving international crises under the auspices of the UN Security Council, where Russia has veto power; the restoration of normal economic relations between Russia and the West in the conflict settlement in the Donbass on the basis of an agreement “Minsk-II” and search for the formula for the recognition of Crimea as part of Russia in accordance with the will of its inhabitants.

From the point of view of the Kremlin, the issues on which Moscow and the West no fundamental differences, Russia needs to fully cooperate with Washington. Where fundamental differences exist, they should withdraw the brackets, so they won’t block the dialogue, if it is possible — as happened with the subject of the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the attempted “reset” of Russian-American relations, taken in 2009. On all issues between the two poles, you should look for a compromise.

With regard to issues of world order, Russia does not offer his alternatives to the established order or the Grand plans for its reform. Moscow is not against the world order as such, but against the American domination over him. Thus, her claims are not so much substantial, how much of a procedural nature. The Russian side wants to have a permanent place “in the Presidium”, the factual or legal right of veto in the UN Security Council. It aims to be among those who makes the rules and not passively accept what has developed international community, led by the USA. It is no coincidence that Russia has always considered the UN security Council a more reasonable model than the Council NATO — Russia, where it is opposed by 28 allied countries associated with the bloc solidarity.

However, after 2014, when there was a break with the West, few people in Russia expects the United States and Europe will meet Moscow. Every year the confrontation and alienation are deeper — and the Russian side is increasingly skeptical of the very possibility of creating fair world order. According to her, the old device come systems on a regional scale: the TRANS-Pacific partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), which complement traditional alliances of the United States, the Chinese initiative of “One belt, one road” and so on. Sanctions imposed by the West, destroyed the concept of “indivisible peace” in which were invested after the end of the cold war. And Moscow began to pay more attention to regional and subregional entities: the BRICS, the SCO, the EEU, organization of collective security Treaty and other structures. From global organizations useful still considered the UN Security Council and “Big twenty”.

Whatever it was, whether Russia to achieve its foreign policy objectives and to what extent, depends primarily on the success or failure of the restart of the economy. And in the next five years we will have the answer to this question.

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