President Dmitry Medvedev has made a number of foreign policy
statements since taking office. His speech at the St. Petersburg
International Economic Forum has drawn the most attention, although
it was lacking something new in content. But his June 5 speech in
Berlin was remarkable, especially in the context of the rejection a
week later of the Treaty of Lisbon, a document that represented a
watered-down version of the failed European Constitution.
The theme of his Berlin speech was continuity — a word popular
in Russia now. But here, it was used in a broader sense than simply
continuing the course set by Vladimir Putin when he was president.
Continuity here refers to the whole period of Russia’s re-emergence
as a major player in the global arena. Medvedev’s speechwriters
tried to refute the widely held view that the country’s foreign
policy has been a zigzag of different courses that were adopted
over the past 20 years. What follows logically from Medvedev’s
remarks is that Moscow’s foreign policy had been more or less
constant but that circumstances abroad had been changing during
The idea of a «Euro-Atlantic space from Vancouver to
Vladivostok» resonated strongly. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
also called for a radical reconfiguration of the global system
without existing political blocs. The idea of creating a European
system of security is rooted in the perestroika period, although it
resurfaced again in the 1990s. And the idea of an all-European
summit as a means for creating a fundamentally new agenda has been
put forward more than once.
What is different about the return to that idea now? Conditions
in Europe have changed. When Gorbachev spoke of «new political
thinking,» world leaders perceived it in different ways, although
few took it very seriously. While world leaders and analysts might
have admired the unorthodox and progressive Soviet leader, many
suspected ulterior motives on his part. Others were struck by
Prudent realists ended up carrying the day. The Soviet Union
collapsed, and the winners in the ideological confrontation began
to measure the size of their new geopolitical prize. European
politics moved in what the winners considered a natural direction
— the expansion of Western institutions rather than the creation
of something new and universal.
During the next stage, Russia’s international influence
dramatically decreased for objective reasons. Although Russian
diplomats had accomplished a great deal and held many good ideas in
the 1990s, the balance of power in the world did not allow for
Then, under Putin’s presidency, Russia changed its course. The
hopes and expectations that observers pinned on his first term
gradually gave way to disappointment and annoyance with Moscow by
the end of his second. Nonetheless, Russia’s foreign policy
potential grew significantly, and this was one of Putin’s most
The European outlook has also changed over the last two decades.
The euphoria that marked the unification of the Old World —
beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and culminating
in the accession of the former Eastern bloc countries into the
European Union and NATO early in this century — started to fade
midway through the current decade. It became clear that world
events were developing differently than had been expected when the
Soviet Union disintegrated, at which point some optimistic
political scientists and analysts declared the «end of
The international system has come to a state of imbalance, and
the pillar of Western politics — trans-Atlantic unity — is now in
question. With the disappearance of the Soviet Union as a common
threat, it became clear that the countries on either side of the
Atlantic held divergent views. Although Europe and the United
States share basic values, their understanding of how to apply
those values are becoming noticeably different. Most important, the
United States and the EU have almost no common political goals.
Washington’s predilection for using force to resolve global
problems has created serious tensions with its European partners.
Most of those countries have lost the desire for large-scale
geopolitical power plays. If they still have ambition, it is
focused closer to home.
There are several main factors that are creating a strong sense
of uncertainty in global affairs: Asia’s rapid economic growth, the
political awakening of the Third World, the revival of national and
religious consciousness in various parts of the planet and the
instability in financial, food and energy markets. In this light,
it is an oversimplification to interpret Medvedev’s decision to
make his first visit abroad to Kazakhstan and China — instead of
Europe — as a rebuff to the West. More likely, it illustrates his
recognition of global changes and the fundamentally new role that
China plays in today’s world.
The situation in the EU is also changing. The failure to ratify
the Treaty of Lisbon essentially means that the hope for creating a
federalized Europe — that is, the creation of a supranational
political identity — has suffered a serious blow. Although this
might create certain tactical problems in Moscow’s relations with
the EU, it could prove strategically advantageous for Russia. The
return to European integration as an interstate union that does not
encroach upon the sovereignty of member states leaves open the
possibility of a new political configuration in Europe’s future.
And it could include Russia — not as a member of the EU, but as a
full-fledged participant in some type of European framework.
Changing global conditions create new opportunities for the
concepts that Medvedev expressed in Berlin. The global situation is
dictated by rigid rules, and it increasingly narrows the range of
opportunities open to Europe and Russia. The United States’
influence is decreasing, and it still seems unlikely that former
dogmas — especially those inherited from the Cold War — will be
revived. But what before seemed to be pointless dreams might soon
turn out to be vital necessity.
Remembering all of the disappointments and failures that we
experienced in international relations over the past several years,
we should treat Medvedev’s romantic ideal of a «Euro-Atlantic space
from Vancouver to Vladivostok» as a serious new model for the new
era in global affairs.