Russian Foreign Policy: More Change to Come?

– Fyodor Lukyanov of Russia in Global Affairs visits EUSP –

Soojeong Shin, Gevorg Avetikyan Fyodor Lukyanov,

EUSP website

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 International Discussion Club, visited European University at Saint Petersburg on April 5th. The seminar focused on Russian Foreign Policy with a question mark: “More change to come?” The topics that received attention included protectionism, western foreign policy, and myths about ‘Russian methods’ in foreign policy. Mr. Lukyanov began speaking on myths of Russian policy being anti-Western. Russia has been perceived in at least two ways. One description of Russia is that of a spontaneous, unpredictable, and independent player where decisions are made by one person. These characteristics led the West to understand Russia as a non-peaceful and undemocratic actor. Another way of depicting Russia is saying that it is driven only by its national interests. But unlike the US notion of national interest, in Russia the term has never been really defined. It still seems to adhere to a behavior mostly resembling reaction to impulses rather than a strategy. “I don’t want to say it is bad or stupid, though”, – says Lukyanov. The main point that Mr. Lukyanov has made was that being non-Western (or managing internal affairs in own way) is not isolationist or anti-Western. The argument also can be found through his articles such as ‘Putin wants peaceful coexistence with the west’, ‘The What-Not-To-Do-List’, and ‘The BRICS may be non-Western but they are not anti-Western’ from Global Affairs. In an attempt to sketch the general evolution of Russia’s FP and relations with US/Europe throughout the past several years, Lukyanov said that whether a joke or not, there is an existing opinion that even Russia’s integration with NATO was on the agenda years ago. The same goes with integration with Europe (but not EU membership). He then offered to compare two speeches Putin delivered in Berlin (2001) and Munich (2007). “Putin said the same things but with different tones”. If the first speech was a constructive demonstration of challenges to overcome, the second speech spoke of these very same challenges as the reason for mutual incomprehension. Russia and BRICS: new reality in international institutions? In these articles, Mr. Lukyanov mentions that Russia as a part of BRICS. While no members of BRICS are seriously defying the West, it does not want to produce an impression that they are against the West as they have obviously very close tie, but rather the existence of the group indicates that the West is losing its monopoly in the world. BRICS is developing and increasing their financial influence and presence, but it does not mean to replace current institutions like the World Bank or IMF, but rather to create an alternative as well as additional opportunities. Will lifting the sanctions bring Russia back to cooperation with the West? Lukyanov also backs his argument quoting President Vladimir Putin. Putin agreed that sanctions worsened relations with the West, but it indicates that Russia must look for new opportunities and use the current circumstances to its advantage. Putin’s cease on usual accusations and recriminations against the United States reveals that it is no need of convincing the United States. The failed deal is not a problem for Russia, but the serious problem is when a country like the U.S. is trying to impose its own model on practically to the entire world. This will fail sooner or later, like what the Soviet Union imposed to Eastern Europe in the past. The Crimean decision is irreversible from the Kremlin side, Lukyanov argues. Another important issue is that the former relations with the West do not seem restorable regardless of whether sanctions are lifted or not. The partnership is no longer significantly important, in the way it was seen from the cooperation in the 1990s. Mr. Lukyanov presents in the Golden Hall at EUSPb ENERPO Newsletter Volume 2 Issue 11 22nd of April 2016 6 What Russia is looking for is not pressure or defiance to the West but peaceful coexistence, which does not mean of a rapprochement, but recognition of the fact that none of the players holds the upper hand. It requires cooperation to the extent possible, with minimized risks – even if risk minimization leads to limited interaction in some areas. The presentation was followed by Q&A session . Velko Vujacic: What would be your comments on Russia’s withdrawal from Syria? Fyodor Lukyanov: I was pleased with the news about Russia’s withdrawal from Syria. Russia’s point in Syria was: the only vehicle of solution is a state that functions, whether democratic or not. The West’s approach was more about destroying the existing without building a new/alternative state. Basically, the operation was done brilliantly. But it was also a message to Assad, which was getting very euphoric and unready for negotiations. Ivan Kurilla: Sounds like Ukraine, Georgia are mere objects and not subjects/actors. Do you think Russia looks at Central Asian, South Caucasus and other former Soviet states as independent actors or are they only perceived as objects of great power games? Fyodor: It’s no secret that Russia does not view Ukraine, Georgia as independent states. Partly because they don’t view themselves as such. When the whole discussion is “who will take us” it does not contribute to changing this attitude. So far Russia has been pretty skillful in applying hard power. We do not need allies maybe, but we should probably try not to alienate as fast and as many countries as we do now at least for the sake of trading with them since we need it. Russia = anti-Western? In the end of the seminar, throughout answering numerous questions, Lukyanov emphasized again that Russia is not necessary anti-Western, but understand that the best model for one country does not work for all countries. Russia is a part of BRICS, and continues making a number of economic and political agreements with other nations such as with Japan and China. When conflict occurs, it does not mean that two sides want to end relations, but rather they want to work within a manageable framework. It is regarded more important especially today due to increasing incidents involving military participations and sanctions.