19.03.2015
Points of Interest
№1 2015 January/March
Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club. Research Professor, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

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This edition is somewhat unusual as it begins a series of special issues focusing on national interests and foreign policy seen through society’ demands, needs and perceptions. This project is a result of our magazine club meetings held since the fall of 2013. Many ideas were initially voiced there. Our special thanks go to the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research for making it possible to offer the results of our informal discussions to a broader audience and for supporting our efforts with a presidential grant.

Last year’s events not just changed the international landscape for Russia, but they also sparked heated debates within society. The majority rallied around the country’s leadership and its policy, while the active minority strongly opposed it. Polarization is obvious.

The state, enterprises and people often have to pay a dear price for political gains. And it is all the more important to understand what would best serve the interests of the citizen, society and the state. In fact, national all-embracing interests would ideally be made of concrete sets of interests.

But that is an ideal. In real life, discussions continue unabated about what national interests are and how the mechanism that transforms private, corporate or group aspirations into a fair resultant should work; how to factor in as many aspirations as possible while at the same time avoiding chaotic and populist moves in foreign and security policy to accommodate new circumstances.

Yelena Chernenko studies Russia’s foreign policy doctrinal documents and makes a sad conclusion that either they fail to catch up with reality or a purely bureaucratic approach simply cannot respond to challenges in a rapidly changing world. Larissa Pautova cites the results of public opinion polls which suggest that the unity of people’s opinions on foreign policy issues tend to decline when it comes to practical issues – benefits, opportunities, and threats from geopolitical decisions.

This issue also addresses international topics that are important for Russia and its citizens. Sergei Karaganov draws attention to the relations between Russia and Europe/the West and ponders why they have reached such a critical point. He holds that the sides have been going in the opposite directions while pretending to pursue some common goal. Vladimir Lukin, a Russian veteran politician and diplomat, looks at the achievements and failures of Russia’s foreign policy in terms of securing its national interests over the past quarter of a century.

Our authors are taking a close look at the BRICS as a possible alternative for Russia to embrace. Georgy Toloraya views it as a source of a different socio-economic and political development model that can help Russia find a balance with the West. Andrei Ionin believes that the BRICS is a vast market of technologies that will allow Russia to overcome its critical dependence on the West.

Vladimir Yevtushenkov and Martin Gilman explore economic aspects of national interests. While looking at the issue from different angles, they come to the same conclusion: the Russian economy will not be able to compete in the world and develop without serious reforms.

Stanislav Pritchin shows how a web of gas pipelines brings together different interests ranging from global geopolitics to the development of remote parts of Russia. Pyotr Stegny writes about Moscow’s decision to make Turkey Russia’s principal gas transportation partner and the vast opportunities opening up before both countries. However, he warns that it will take consistent effort to consider the interests of each of them or natural contradictions may emerge. Andrei Baklanov calls on oil-producing countries to jointly devise a prudent strategy of pricing policy and its implementation mechanisms in order to avoid emotional shocks every time oil prices drop.

The development of Eurasia is yet another aspect to consider. Alexander Gabuyev focuses on the best way for Russia to defend its interests amid the growing economic disparity with China. Ivan Safranchuk takes a broader view by turning to Central Asia, which Russia continues to view as an area of its immediate interests but still fails to understand how it should work there. Alexander Vorontsov adds yet another dimension to this picture with an insight into Seoul’s vision on how to overcome its “islandness” by launching an ambitious westward project.

Ruslan Volkov and Alexander Vysotsky study foreign policy approaches and their correlation with national interests by recalling the operation in Libya in 2011, which was widely discussed both in Russia and the United States. The authors believe that Moscow’s decision against blocking military interference in that country ran counter to the interests of Russia which had failed to make a reasonable assessment of the situation. Veronika Kostenko, Pavel Kuzmichev and Eduard Ponarin focus on a different lesson drawn from the recent events in the Middle East. They share interesting data proving that the understanding of democracy in Arab societies is very different from that in the West.

While taking a look at the foreign policy of other countries, we turned to China and Germany. Igor Denisov reflects on China’s big-time politics where internal and external objectives are closely intertwined. Hans-Joachim Spanger and Stefan Meister explain how the transformation of German society and economy affect the country’s foreign policy and self-perception.

This issue is just the first step in exploring a vast and important topic. Stay with us to find more about expert opinions and views.