Russian Foreign Policy: Continuity in Change
he imminent return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency of the Russian Federation in 2012 raises many questions about the future of Russian foreign and security policy as well as U.S. —Russia relations. To what extent will Putin seek to continue and implement the goals of current President Dmitri Medvedev’s modernization program? Will Putin reform the political system in the direction of decentralization of power and pluralism? Will the ‘‘reset’’ in U.S. —Russia relations endure? Even with these issues up in the air, the return of Putin as president will not significantly alter the course of Moscow’s foreign policy. Some argue that Putin never relinquished authority over foreign policy in the first place, and that may well be true. But even if it is, there are deeper structural reasons involving debates among Russian elites about foreign policy and Russia’s place in the world that are more important in explaining why Putin’s return will not usher in a significant policy shift.
Liberals, Balancers, and Nationalists
The debating parameters over Russia’s national identity and its core foreign policy goals are rooted in five elements of Russian history.1 First, an enduring belief exists that Russia is a great power and must be treated as such. Second, that international politics is essentially a Darwinian or Hobbesian competition in which ‘‘realist’’ and ‘‘neo-realist’’ state-centric power politics is the dominant paradigm. Third, that Russia from Peter the Great 300 years ago to Putin and Andrew C. Kuchins is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Igor A. Zevelev is the Director of the Moscow Office of The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the respective institutions. Copyright # 2012 Center for Strategic and International Studies The Washington Quarterly • 35:1 pp. 147Á161 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2012.642787 THE WASHINGTON QUARTERLY WINTER 2012 147
Andrew C. Kuchins and Igor A. Zevelev
Medvedev today continually faces challenges to ‘‘catch up’’ to the economic, technological, and military achievements of its rivals. Fourth, that strategies concerning how to catch up are based in, and continue to define, contested aspects of Russian national identity that link domestic economic and political order with foreign policy priorities and orientation. And fifth, that the central debate today and for at least 200 years revolves around the extent to which Western liberalism is an appropriate model for Russia, and subsequently how closely Moscow should ally with the West, or certain partners in it, to achieve its goals. An analysis of the foreign policy views and programs of various political parties, groups, leading think tanks, and prominent experts leads utin’s return as to three major perspectives concerning main global president will not trends and how Russian foreign policy should be formed. Pro-Western liberals advocate major significantly alter reform of Russia’s political system, using Western the course of market democracies as a model, and close ties with Moscow’s foreign Europe and the United States. Great power balancers promote a more multi-vectored Russian policy. foreign policy that is not so closely tied to Russia’s domestic economic and political development. Nationalists tend to ascribe a special mission for Russia in international relations that calls for more integration, if not domination, of its neighbors who were formally part of the Soviet Union. The findings are summarized in Table 1. These three groups are more or less ideal types. Some schools of thought might include features of other perspectives, and some subgroups within different schools of thought...