Russian Foreign Policy Vertical
No. 3 2004 July/September
Konstantin Kosachev

Head of the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo). He is also the Russian President’s Special Envoy for Relations with CIS Member-States and a Member of the Editorial Board of Russia in Global Affairs.

There has been much discussion lately about possible changes in
the Russian Foreign Ministry’s structure. However, the Ministry has
successfully avoided any reform of the Russian government, which
provides for a three-level structure model for the executive
bodies. In contrast to other ministries, the diplomatic department
does not have its own federal services or agencies. And this seems
quite reasonable: the Foreign Ministry has nothing to place under
its command. All that it can do is make the consular service a
separate federal unit, but that would be more like reform for
reform’s sake.

It is clear that the unalterable functions and structure of the
Foreign Ministry are necessitated by the specifics and area of its
activity, as well as by the need to ensure consistency and
continuity of Russia’s foreign policy. However, the absence of
superficial signs of structural changes, i.e. federal services and
agencies, does not mean that the sphere of foreign policy
management will remain an ‘offshore’ zone for administrative
reform. The fact that the Ministry is not involved in the ongoing
government transformations is not an indication of it lacking the
desire to modify the foreign policy mechanism. On the contrary:
restructuring the Foreign Ministry is too vital and large-scale a
process to be simply limited to the framework of cabinet

Anxious observers have perceived the appointment of former
Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov as head of Russia’s National
Security Council as a sign of coming changes. The more
knowledgeable experts would disagree with the lingering assertions
that the former minister was sent into ‘an honorary exile;’ such
opinions were mainly based on an assessment of his predecessor’s

The fact that the former Interior Minister was replaced at the
National Security Council with the former Foreign Minister is quite
a significant event. Under Vladimir Rushailo, the Council paid more
attention to internal problems. That is why it is reasonable to
assume that with the new head this agency will concentrate more
heavily on foreign policy. But should it be assumed that the
political orientation of the National Security Council is dependent
on the personality of its head? Or does the appointment signify a
new conception of this institution’s place within the state?

If the latter assumption is correct, then there are ample
grounds to expect changes in the very mechanism of drawing up,
adopting and implementing foreign policy decisions. If so, changes
will go beyond the current government reform: the foreign policy
vertical, should it be constructed, will not be confined to the
executive agencies. There is nothing revolutionary in this concept,
since according to the Constitution the main foreign policy
guidelines are determined by the President, not the cabinet.

There have been an increasing number of weighty arguments in
favor of such a reform. The Russian Foreign Ministry is in obvious
need of a serious inventory, as well as a regulatory restructuring.
Over the last fifteen years, the different departments of the
Foreign Ministry have gotten used to the idea of conducting their
‘own’ foreign policy. In light of the fact that the Russian
Federation entities and major economic agents have their own
interests abroad, the picture becomes even more variegated. As a
result, in addition to the single foreign policy line there arises
some ‘simple average’ of sharply contrasting initiatives that exist
in parallel with – and occasionally opposite to – the main policy
vector set down by the President. The hastiness and lack of
coordination of these differing agendas prevented the development
of positive outcomes. As is known, sometimes even a trump card can
spoil the whole game if it is opened at the wrong time. Therefore,
more often than not, the Foreign Ministry serves as an interpreter
or even a ‘sweeper’ in order to smooth over the various
discrepancies and tense situations inside the foreign policy area.
The nature of the tasks that Russia is facing in the international
arena necessitates an integrated approach to their accomplishment.
Such a comprehensive approach should take into consideration all of
the possible nuances, as well as the positions of various
departments. A glaring example is Russia’s ratification of the
Kyoto Protocol, which sets strict limits on industrial discharges
of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. There are two opposing
positions on this issue. Each one taken separately could be
justified had it not considered only one side of the question.
However, the Kyoto Protocol is a problem that concerns the
relationship between Russia and Europe on the one hand, and
long-term planning for economic development, environmental policy,
and a whole range of other diplomatic, economic and tactical
aspects on the other hand. Practically any problem that Russia
encounters on the international scene – whether it be the approach
to international terrorism, the expansion of NATO and the European
Union, or Moscow’s policy on the post-Soviet space – has a great
number of such dimensions.

It is generally believed that foreign policy activity adds to
the prestige of any agency and increases its political weight and
authority. Therefore, technical difficulties and a lack of mutual
understanding between the individual agencies is a hereditary
illness of the state apparatus. However, the crux of the problems
facing Russia in the foreign policy sphere lies much deeper. It
affects both the system of charting the national foreign policy
strategy on the basis of clearly defined goals, as well as an
appropriate mechanism for implementing such a strategy, with the
roles distinctly and effectively distributed among all the

Russia’s foreign policy goals need updating, most importantly
because today there are unique opportunities for switching from a
policy of response to a policy of initiation. These opportunities
come about due to both subjective and objective factors. The former
include President Putin’s active policy, his intuition and
expediency in making important foreign policy decisions. The latter
ability embraces the absence of confrontation with the leading
world powers, while cooperating with allies against common global
threats. Furthermore, it strives for favorable economic conditions,
the West’s interest in a continuous dialog with Russia on energy
issues against the backdrop of instability in the Middle East, the
impossibility to settle many regional conflicts without Russia’s
involvement, etc. Today, Russia has real chances to conduct an
independent foreign policy that would be consistent with its
national interests, on the one hand, and understood and respected
by other countries, on the other.

Russia will be able to benefit from the currently favorable
situation only if its foreign policy ministry is well matched for
the new tasks. As is often the case, the executive is forced to
deal with questions of strategy while the head of the state, who
puts forward ideas and initiatives, lacks the time or the means to
shape them into a single political line which would be consistently
adhered to by all of the state bodies. To regress at this point
would be regrettable now that the President has undertaken
significant steps which have been agreeable both in this country
and abroad. I cannot but share the opinion of Sergei Karaganov,
Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense
Policy, who noted: “In recent years it was precisely the President
who not only conceived but also implemented several important
breakthroughs in foreign policy. But these breakthroughs were not
sustained due to the rather weak and inefficient structure of the
foreign policy ministry. People worked past exhaustion, however,
the breakthroughs remained just breakthroughs without being made
into genuine victories.”

Putin’s active diplomacy strategy actually forestalled all of
the organizational and administrative resources; now it is the most
opportune moment for pulling up these resources and putting them in
order. This does not mean, however, that that same Ministry of
Foreign Affairs should be loaded with the extra burden of
implementing the reform of Russia’s foreign policy mechanism. Quite
the contrary: the Ministry already is overloaded with functions not
characteristic of an executive body. And this is not due to some
excessive ambitions of its former or present leadership. At his
first press conference on March 17, newly appointed Minister of
Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov pointedly stressed: “Our relations
with the Russian President’s Administration and National Security
Council will be formed in accordance with the Constitution. The
country’s foreign policy is determined by the President and the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to conduct it.” The Minister
expressed hope that “the efficiency of the NSC’s activity will
increase as this is in the best interests of the nation, as well as
in the best interests of the Foreign Ministry. Moreover, this will
give it confidence in implementing foreign policy tasks.”

Putin also expressed hope that the National Security Council
will work with increased efficiency. At the same time, the
President has no plans to slow down his own international activity.
Thus, the links of the already available structure (the President
and his administration – the National Security Council – the
Foreign Ministry) should coordinate their activities without any
radical organizational and administrative changes in order to form
a single system for drawing up and implementing the country’s
foreign policy course. Strengthening the positions of the National
Security Council is a logical step but it should not be taken under
instructions. The NSC itself is called upon to demonstrate a
readiness for a new role, its ability to generate strategic
concepts concerning the country’s foreign policy and security as
well as to coordinate the activities of various governing bodies,
which, naturally, is beyond the capacity of an executive body.

A possible redistribution of roles within this system should not
result in weakening the Foreign Ministry and turning it into a
trivial executor of other people’s scenarios. The Ministry
possesses a vast amount of experience, as well as a high
analytical, organizational and informational potential.
Furthermore, it possesses truly unique personnel. These factors
prevent the Foreign Ministry from becoming simply a subordinate
component of a three-link scheme, which, strictly speaking, cannot
be considered a power vertical. Yet, the Foreign Ministry badly
needs a new relationship with the government. The significance of
Russia’s tasks in the international arena, together with the
perception of itself as a re-nascent great power, make it
impermissible for it to adopt a simplistic approach to the
functions of the Ministry, which should be directly responsible for
implementing the nation’s strategic goals from a global

Unfortunately, the reality is such that the diplomatic service
encounters a multitude of problems, mostly of an economic nature.
However enthusiastic Russian diplomats may be about their jobs, it
is difficult to expect major accomplishments from this group when
they must constantly think about how to provide for their families.
The decreasing prestige of the diplomat’s profession (due in large
part to low salaries) is fraught with the most serious consequences
for Russia. No single nation can afford to feel indifferent to who
(and how) represents it on the international scene.

In the meantime, the situation in this respect is depressing.
Experienced employees are leaving the Ministry for careers in
business, the staff is getting older, while its replenishment with
fresh promising candidates is complicated by the lack of
opportunities for material well-being. The Moscow State Institute
of Foreign Relations is mostly engaged in training specialists for
foreign commercial, political and informational organizations in
Russia and abroad. The share of graduates from this institute among
the Ministry’s employees has been decreasing with every passing
year and became particularly low in 2003. This situation cannot but
worry the people who are concerned about foreign policy and who
sympathize with the miserable state of Russia’s most important
ministry. One of the solutions may be that under new legislation on
state civil service the diplomatic service is given the status of
being a fourth state service.

There is much discussion about the need to improve Russia’s
image abroad. To counter anti-Russian campaigns in the foreign mass
media (which are often well planned and timed to political actions
and initiatives by international organizations such as PACE, OSCE,
etc.), Russia must prepare similarly effective actions.

It is no less important to explain Russia’s foreign policy
within the domestic sphere of information dissemination. Many key
international initiatives of Russia’s leadership are not properly
covered by the domestic mass media or, even worse, are presented in
a distorted way – often as failures and the “surrender of all
frontiers.” Such coverage often plays into the hands of political
speculators, or becomes an instrument of image-making campaigns by
some politicians.

Paradoxically, while the West has been increasingly displaying
due appreciation of Moscow’s growing authority, not to mention its
consistent and well-balanced foreign policy, unbiased attitudes and
even gratitude are oftentimes drowned out in the hysterics aroused
by the national mass media concerning Russia’s alleged failures in
the international arena. Anti-Russian informational attacks abroad
are immediately echoed here. Unfortunately, these attacks are not
countered by methodical work to explain the state’s foreign policy,
thereby creating a positive image amongst the citizens. Due to
speculative and slanted opinions dominating the national mass
media, important initiatives often fail to get the necessary
support and understanding of society. This affects the country’s
leadership, of course, which encounters additional difficulties in
developing and implementing a foreign policy course.

Russia’s interests in the international arena can be promoted by
our compatriots, ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking diasporas
abroad. Many states actively use their diasporas as an important
factor of influence to transfer information and foster cultural and
economic ties. With millions of Russian ethnics living abroad,
Russia simply cannot afford to miss such an opportunity. There is
also a humanitarian aspect to this problem: today many Russian
ethnic minorities in some countries of the former Soviet Union are
having their rights infringed upon.

Ideological differences with Russian emigrants and their
descendants are already a thing of the past; the rapprochement
between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church
Outside Russia is well underway; more frequently, former Russian
citizens take business, private and tourist trips back to Russia.
Therefore, the idea of common roots can significantly contribute to
creating a fertile ground for uniting people.

Transnational business is undoubtedly a powerful factor in
increasing a country’s influence abroad. Politicians, diplomats and
the mass media of the world’s leading countries are not shy when
lobbying the interests of their companies abroad. In Russia
however, this sphere of activity is surrounded with an aura of
mystery as if it were something shameful and blameworthy. This
perception is based on the widespread opinion – and often
well-grounded – that there is a conflict of interests between
business and government, and that lobbying of private companies by
some bureaucrats is unlawful. Presently, however, when the
government seeks to involve industrial and banking companies in
accomplishing national tasks, foreign policy may become a most
attractive domain for the business community. Civilized interaction
between business circles and the authorities in international
matters not only brings mutual benefits, it often becomes the only
instrument of influence, and even pressure, in certain situations
where diplomatic or other political means are exhausted or cannot
be used.

In the meantime, there are no practicable concepts concerning
the effective use of ethnic Russians living abroad, nor the use of
transnational business in the interests of Russia’s foreign policy.
The development of a single integrated approach in this sphere
requires interdepartmental efforts and, accordingly, the
coordination of these efforts from the top. This means that while
restructuring the Foreign Ministry it would be expedient to include
into a single concept of foreign policy its cooperation with
Russian-speaking diasporas abroad and the Russian business
community as independent directions, while assigning the
coordinating functions to the appropriate power structures.

No less important for increasing the efficiency of foreign
policy is the revival and extensive use of the huge analytical
potential of Russia’s scientific and political elites. At present,
joint activities involving the representatives of the power
structures, scientists, political analysts and experts in
international affairs are of a non-systemic, spontaneous nature;
such activities are mostly confined to personal contacts. It is
crucial to establish the government’s effective interaction with
the scientific community; reinforce the Russian school of political
science; set up powerful non-governmental think tanks that would
provide an impartial expert analysis of important decisions and
prepare independent proposals. In this respect it would be useful
to study the practices of Western countries (particularly that of
the United States), which have a diversified system of independent
expertise and consultations. Nor should we ignore the valuable
domestic experience of the Soviet era.

The new functions of the National Security Council may include
coordination in this area as well. But, in my opinion, it is the
parliament that could effectively promote the interaction of
experts, analysts and power structures because this state structure
embraces all political forces and maintains fruitful relations with
different public institutions. The legislative maintains effective
ties with the major state foreign policy structures – the
President’s Administration, the National Security Council and the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This means that the parliament is able
to guarantee the registration and implementation of valuable ideas
and proposals made by the expert community on specific lines of the
country’s foreign policy. In recent years, the global community,
particularly Europe, has seen a significant increase in the role of
parliamentary diplomacy. Sometimes when the official negotiating
process lost its bearings, lawmakers effectively used their
channels to pave the way for decisions that turned out beneficial
to their countries. Owing to its political weight within the
country and extensive international activity, the parliament has
become a center for integrating the initiatives of domestic
political science, expert groups and public institutions.

In reorganizing the country’s foreign policy mechanism it is
essential that the transformation be consonant not only with the
aim to raise the efficiency of the existing structures, but also
with the general new trends in international politics, i.e. the
radical global changes that have occurred in the post-WWII

Today, Russia has various options as regards its participation
in shaping the global picture. Because of the general disagreement
with the basic principles of building the new world order, it may,
for example, stay aloof from this process or attempt to slow down
the changes initiated by leading countries of the West. Should
Russia opt to follow such a course, it will run the risk of
eventually seeing a new international system built without it and,
most likely, against it. This is hardly a reasonable alternative
for Russia, especially now that it has real opportunities for
playing an active role in drawing up a new global policy.

Indeed, the recent disputes and confrontations between Russia,
the U.S. and the EU, concerning their interests in regional,
economic, military and political spheres, are, in fact, nothing but
proof of Russia’s growing activity in international politics, which
naturally causes tension. But many of the emerging problems are
largely the result of past mistakes. A typical example is the
admission of new NATO members. Russia should have sought legal
restraints against NATO expansion to the East, i.e. including new
members from among the former Soviet republics. The claim could be
successfully forwarded in the 1990s, but now the field for
political maneuvering has dramatically narrowed. Nevertheless, the
period of retreating on Russian foreign policy is over and it is
time to ‘pick up the rocks’ on the international field.

Today, Russia’s task is not simply to timely detect the main
trends in international politics, but also to influence them at the
initial stage and prevent any processes that would be detrimental
to Russia. This fundamental task cannot be accomplished if Russia
adopts isolationism. There is no other option for Russia but to
establish large-scale cooperation with the principal international
structures and countries that are shaping the picture of the future
world. It should be specially noted that in order to influence this
process and gain one’s own ends, Russia must prove its stability in
the changing world and be able to protect its interests in the face
of globalization.

The world around us is changing so rapidly that it is impossible
just to react to what is happening; it is necessary to forestall
events. Furthermore, it is critical that every serious move in
foreign policy be in line with a consistent strategy, which cannot
be put into practice without perfectly functioning foreign policy
structures. The country’s ambitious tasks in domestic policy should
be enhanced by no less important strategic goals in the
international arena. This is the only way to secure well-being and
security for the citizens of Russia.