Changing Course in Moscow

Is Medvedev Serious About a New Vision for Russian Foreign Policy?

Courtesy Reuters

Over the past decade, Russian foreign policy has experienced a number of dramatic shifts. Following 9/11, Russia pursued a strategic partnership with the United States, pledging cooperation in Afghanistan while downplaying its long-standing opposition to NATO expansion and European missile defense. But then, during Vladimir Putin’s second presidential term, Russia took advantage of rising energy prices to push back against the United States and the West, seeking to undermine pro-Western regimes in Georgia and Ukraine, and even threatening to point nuclear missiles at European countries that hosted U.S. missile defense facilities. The resurgence of Russian power in opposition to the United States and the European Union reached its apex with the August 2008 war in Georgia.

Since the war, Russian foreign policy has begun to swing back toward cooperation with the West. The public face of this new course is Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin as president in 2008. Its fundamental premise is the belief that Russia needs better relations with the wealthy world -- especially the United States and the European Union -- in order to modernize its economy. Both the 2008 war in Georgia and the onset of the global economic crisis discredited the notion that Russia’s energy riches had decoupled its economy from the rest of the world. The war sparked a large-scale outflow of foreign capital, as international investors increasingly saw Russia as a risky and unpredictable place to keep their money. This capital flight was then greatly exacerbated by the fallout of the global financial crisis: by early 2009, the main Russian stock market index had fallen by more than 90 percent from its May 2008 peak while foreign direct investment dropped by more than 45 percent between 2008 and 2009. The global recession has been particularly savage in Russia: in 2009, Russian GDP declined by almost 8 percent, whereas U.S. GDP fell by 2.6 percent during the same period.

As the aftereffects of the war and economic crisis continued to unfold, the argument made by Putin and his advisers that Russia had overcome its

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