Russia's Unformed Foreign Policy

Courtesy Reuters


Nothing distinguishes contemporary Russian foreign policy more than the uncertainties surrounding it. Alone among great powers, Russia faces fundamental questions of identity -- if anything, more intense today than they were ten years ago. Is Russia a country of consequence in the world, and if so, how and why? Who are the Russians, and where does the country belong -- with the West, with China, or somewhere on its own? Harsher yet, who will have it?

Russian leaders spend a fair amount of time reassuring themselves about the greatness and importance of their country. The government's official foreign policy strategy, announced June 28, 2000, refers to the Russian Federation as "a great power ... one of the most influential centers of the modern world ... [with a] responsibility for maintaining security in the world both on a global and on a regional level." Such preening is hard to imagine from, say, Berlin or Tokyo, but Moscow feels the need.

Yet Russian leaders also know that their country's share of world GDP is now down to 1.5 percent, compared with the United States' 21 percent contribution. (We know they know because the figures come from an article in the journal Mezhdunarodnaya zhizn written by the deputy director of the planning staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and published at roughly the same time as the official foreign policy doctrine.) In his first state-of-the-union address, two weeks after the doctrine's unveiling, President Vladimir Putin admitted that the Russian population has been shrinking by 750,000 a year and raised the possibility that "15 years from now there may be 22 million fewer Russians. ... If the present tendency continues there will be a threat to the survival of the nation." Russia's feebleness, as he and nearly every other Russian know well, is manifest at every turn.

This is hardly what one would expect of one of the "most influential centers of the modern world." Still, to take Russian weakness as the reality they know and the boasting as the gloss

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