Time for a New Foreign Policy Look
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
Tel.: (+7) 495 980 7353
Address: Office 112, 29 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 115184, Russia

It is difficult to recall a single year over the past
decade-and-a-half in which Russian foreign policy has generated
results as contradictory as in 2006. It’s almost as if there were
two different Russias acting on the international stage, the first
as perceived from the Russian side and the second as seen by the

The first Russia debuted in its role as chairman of the Group of
Eight, successfully conducting the July summit in St. Petersburg
and a range of other related events. Things also went smoothly
during Russia’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee
of Ministers — an organization in which Moscow has not
traditionally felt very comfortable. After a long hiatus, Russia
again turned its attention to the Middle East by asserting its
interests and opportunities in the region. Given the difficulties
of U.S. policy in the region, the Kremlin’s independent line opens
up some promising prospects. Moscow’s position has also gained
greater consideration in discussions of problems related to Iran’s
nuclear ambitions.

Russian diplomatic activity has expanded to cover a greater
range of issues and countries. Wherever there appeared to be a
political or diplomatic opening, Russia moved to squeeze its way in
to retain what it feels is its rightful place in international

Close to home, Russia maintained a consistently tough line with
its neighbors, offering one of two clear-cut alternatives for
relations: demonstrating their loyalty to Russia, with the
attendant economic perks for both sides, or a more independent
stance, bringing with it a high economic cost. While there are
drawbacks to the approach, on the whole it has been justified by
the results.

In relations with the EU, Moscow’s take is that it has
demonstrated both firmness and flexibility in dealing with what it
feels has been an inequitable approach to the relationship and
suggesting a new, mutually beneficial integration policy. The
Russian side also sees itself as having finally become somewhat of
a rival of the United States again, with Washington taking Moscow
more seriously again. On major issues ranging from its policy on
Iran to the World Trade Organization, the United States has been
seen as more willing to compromise to accommodate Russia’s

The basic reading of the current state of affairs from the
Russian side is that difficulties and friction — with the West in
particular — are the natural consequence of a stronger, more
self-assured Russia. The problems stem from the fact that Western
countries are once again afraid of Russia, and the attempts to
undercut its influence are an indication of their respect for it as
a major power.

The second Russia, as seen from the outside, is an aggressive,
self-confident and malevolent major power that is indifferent to
how it is perceived by others. Brandishing a wealth in energy
resources for which global demand continues to grow, Russia’s
behavior is viewed as an attempt to force the democratic world to
sit by while Moscow implements increasingly provocative

Western companies working in the energy sector, for example, are
coming under increasing pressure. Neighboring countries that dare
to stammer about independence, this view maintains, have their arms
twisted as Russia exploits their energy dependence. Moscow has even
tried to open rifts in the EU by making energy overtures to some
members while raising the pressure on others.

With regard to the United States, attempts to get European
countries on its side with tempting energy offers is viewed as a
Kremlin attempt to swing the EU against Washington. This comes on
top of U.S. complaints that Russia is strengthening its military
and technical ties with regimes Washington finds objectionable,
particularly in Syria, Iran and Venezuela.

This view from the outside doesn’t see Russia’s approach to
questions in the Middle East as trying to help find solutions but
as capitalizing on Washington’s difficulties to Moscow’s

Taken all together, the understanding is that President Vladimir
Putin’s approach to domestic politics, deemed lurid by many outside
observers, has finally spilled out onto the international stage,
threatening the peace and safety of the civilized world. Such a
Russia should be feared, and it might be time to make a serious
attempt at restraining it.

That two such contradictory images of Russia have emerged
demonstrates the existence of serious problems in Moscow and in
Western capitals.

The West didn’t expect Russia to restore its superpower
ambitions so quickly. The victory over communism and the Soviet
Union created a sort of euphoria in the Euro-Atlantic community.
The Western ideal of Russia was, perhaps, of a country no longer
playing a major role in world politics, too preoccupied with
solving its own problems under the benevolent supervision of the
«civilized world.»

Given its earlier weakness, Russia’s sudden transformation
caught the supervisors unawares and now they simply don’t know how
to respond. Integrating Russia into the West didn’t work out, so
the default plan came into play: Moscow is again seen as the
opponent in a zero-sum game.

What is most disturbing is that this policy does not stem as
much from a strong understanding of current realities as from an
inability to analyze conditions and choose the appropriate course.
Largely out of inertia, the West prefers to follow the path of
least resistance. There appears to have been no effort made to
understand the sensitivities and reasoning of a state that, as a
result of historic convulsions, has lost its traditional status. As
Russia tries painfully to restore that status under the new
conditions, any attempt to criticize its approach automatically

On the Russian side, in an effort to capitalize on its abundance
of oil and gas, Moscow has completely forgotten that, in today’s
world, perceptions of policy are more important than the policy

The Kremlin of 2006 resembled the «new Russians» of the early
1990s who were suddenly graced with tremendous wealth, not entirely
as a result of their own efforts. Dressed in a crimson smoking
jacket and draped with heavy gold chains, the lucky individual
feels like a king, without any need to worry about the reactions of
others. And the nouveau riche gets away with it until he runs into
someone even richer or smarter, or else manages to offend just
about everyone. At this point, it’s just easier for everyone else
to unite against the problem.

The experience of the past 15 years reveals that the most
effective way for a country to increase its influence on the world
stage does not involve loud demonstrations. Countries that bide
their time, reign in their ambitions and avoid conflicts ultimately
achieve the greatest successes. This is exactly the path that has
been followed by China and India. There is another example closer
to Russia — Kazakhstan — which has managed inconspicuously to
align itself with a number of powerful partners and then declare
itself a significant power as well.

Establishing a positive image is key to success in modern
politics. But a positive image is formed not through investing huge
sums of money in public-relations campaigns but by paying careful
attention to how a particular policy or action is going to affect
the country’s reputation. For this reason alone, Russia would be
better off jettisoning the crimson smoking jacket for more casual,
contemporary attire.

| The Moscow