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Dec 28, 2020
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Without emotion: how the priorities of Russian foreign policy in 2020 have changed

The outgoing year turned out to be difficult and unusual in all spheres of life and human activity. Especially for Izvestia, brief results of 2020 in the field of international relations were summed up by Timofei Bordachev, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Faculty of World Economy and World Politics, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Program Director of the Valdai Club, political scientist.

Withdraw into yourself

Whether we like it or not, the special nature of 2020, caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, made it a time for Russian foreign policy to close some chapters and open others, no less interesting and promising. The perception in Russia of the usual plots, which for years aroused diplomatic concern, has noticeably changed. The reason is quite simple: forced self-isolation made it possible to significantly reduce dependence on established ideas and opinions about oneself on the part of not only opponents, but also friends.

Photo: REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov

“Constructive dialogue” with the United States, “partnership” with the European Union, the alleged “need” to maintain some kind of special relationship with Germany or the countries of the former USSR, despite their own, sometimes very provocative behavior – all this, under a calm pandemic consideration, turned out to be such nonsense that it’s even surprising why it caused so many emotions recently.

Against the background of real problems and dangers that suddenly began to threaten the lives of Russian citizens in their own cities, all the baggage, or ballast, foreign policy ties, expectations and obligations finally moved from the category of “assets” to the group of “liabilities” of Russian foreign policy.

Associated with this reassessment of values ​​is Moscow’s surprisingly calm reaction to the US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, the behavior of seemingly friendly Germany in the situation around the figure of a Russian oppositional publicist in September, new sanctions “from hell” that the US is imposing or threatening to impose against Russia. the decisiveness in the situation around Belarus surprised many and the subtlety in the resolution of the Karabakh issue, no less unexpected for the West.

: Global Look Press / Ulf Mauder

First of all, such an obvious revaluation was facilitated by the inevitable slowdown in contacts under conditions of quarantine restrictions. In foreign policy, it is impossible to open or close projects, much depends on the inertia of interaction between partners and often obeys such inertia. Therefore, when insurmountable force majeure obstacles arise for the continuation of the “constructive dialogue”, there is a unique opportunity to assess how necessary this dialogue is.

Will live

In the outgoing year, Russian foreign policy clearly outlined its priorities – the survival and development of the country as an independent power in the conditions of the hostile attitude of the West. Despite the fact that it is now customary to talk about supposedly uncertainty in international affairs, everything is clear here: the intentions of the United States and its European allies are to weaken Russia as much as possible and destroy its political regime.

For the United States, this is important in the context of its strategic confrontation with China. Strong military-political relations with Russia are a guarantee for Beijing that it will not be left alone against the entire West. It is no coincidence that in 2020, talks about the possibility of a formal military alliance between China and Russia intensified. So far, the head of the Russian state has defined such a development of events as optional. But the coordination of the military policy of the two countries is becoming more and more distinct. China and Russia never come up with foreign policy initiatives that would contradict each other’s interests. Even the community of Western countries, known for its unity, cannot boast of this.

Photo: Izvestia / Pavel Bednyakov

In 2020, the painful search for a common language with Europe finally ended. After the end of the Cold War, Europeans were able to “bite off” at the expense of Russia even more than their forces allowed. Now they are trying to digest what they have captured in the East. This also leads to internal problems – after the departure of Great Britain, Europe, organized according to German patterns, is increasingly opposed by a new EU country – Poland.

Against this background, the exhaustion of the old paradigm of relations with the EU became quite obvious, and the pandemic calm made it possible to realize and formulate this. Another rudeness on the part of the “special” partners in Berlin and Paris did not go unanswered – it is obvious that Russia’s new European policy has changed.

Trade and investment, of course, will remain, they may even increase, given the fact that the Europeans will present the increase in gas consumption as a transition to green energy. But Europe has finally lost its value in the eyes of Russia as an independent player in international politics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club via video link

Photo: Global Look Press / Kremlin Pool

Addressing the participants in the annual conference of the Valdai Club, the Russian President pointed out that in recent years the position of France and Great Britain in the world has “changed.” The participation of both states in the highest organ of the international community – the UN Security Council – is already only a tribute to tradition, the legacy of victory in World War II and, quite a bit, to their nuclear arsenals.

New friends, eternal interests

Russia in 2020 became flexible in choosing partners – it began to focus not on traditional ties or institutions, but on solving specific problems. Turkey is the most striking example of such a partnership, and President Erdogan, of course, is the opening of the year for Russian foreign policy. Hardly any of the world leaders who are not connected with Russia, like China, with truly friendly relations, did as much for its interests as the ambitious Turkish president. This is facilitated by objective factors… The “red line” in relations with Ankara was passed in the fall of 2015, when the Turks shot down a Russian military plane in Syria.

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Photo: REUTERS / Press Service of the President of Russia

Since then, Moscow itself has used force several times in circumstances that are likely to have been accompanied by Turkish casualties. It was in February in the Syrian Idlib, it may happen again. However, it was thanks to Turkey’s foreign policy activity that Russia was able to occupy new positions in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan would hardly have achieved military success if Ankara had not provided it with serious support. But the result of these successes for Russia is a military presence in the region, where we have not been for almost 30 years.

This does not mean that Turkey became a friend of Russia under Erdogan. Ankara pursues its national interests in an extremely complex and hostile external environment. After 50 years of waiting to be admitted to the EU, Turkey was literally “thrown out of the waiting room” in order to please the French whims of the moment. Relations with the United States also do not allow talking about the country’s full participation in the Western security community. However, Russia also pursues only its own interests, and one should hardly be surprised at the selfish behavior of its Turkish partners. Everyone is now for himself.

Familiar places

Moreover, Russia’s many years of attempts to build a security community in the space of the former USSR also faced an obstacle in the form of selfish and short-sighted behavior of its neighbors. The superpowers generally cannot have permanent allies, for this they are too powerful militarily. The countries of the post-Soviet space are already old enough and must themselves be able to determine their own destiny. As one colleague from Armenia noted in October 2020, referring to the policy of his own country: “We must constantly prove that Russia needs it.”

The example of Azerbaijan shows that when Russian interests are taken into account, it turns out very well. In other cases, Russia will only watch closely to ensure that the behavior of its neighbors does not conflict with its security interests. Here, in principle, it is enough for them to learn a simple axiom – the involvement of Western countries in the affairs of the Russian periphery can only have a destabilizing effect. This was evident in August, when Moscow clearly outlined its position on the fate of Belarus and prevented the escalation of the internal crisis.

Photo: REUTERS / Aziz Karimov

If President Lukashenko had shared the fate of Yanukovych, the situation could become truly threatening to European and global security, since the most important Russian interests would be under threat. Everything else is extremely flexible and allows a wide variety of combinations of partnerships. The fate of Eurasian integration is becoming uncertain. Apparently, instead of the ambitious goal of creating a common security space by economic methods, the EAEU will now be content with facilitating cross-border trade and integrating markets where Russia really needs it.

Asian flywheel

In 2020, the policy of “turning Russia to the East” has clearly slowed down. First of all, because its original meaning has been exhausted – attracting investment to the Russian Far East and its integration into regional economic ties. Those industries that can already produce products for Asian markets – for example, agriculture, have already established large-scale production. Our friends in Japan or Korea will not invest in everything else – they have no need to create competitors for their own industrial production.

Photo: RIA Novosti / Vladimir Astapkovich.

Another problem is the still peaceful nature of international politics in Asia. This does not create opportunities for Russia to play the most important and most effective role for itself as a peacemaker. In order for the “pivot to the East” to have a place for a feat so much needed by Russia, it seems necessary to overestimate how Moscow’s policy can stabilize this region in the face of growing competition between China and the United States.

Summing up, we can say that, on the whole, the outgoing year 2020 turned out to be quite successful for Russian foreign policy. In the world, no new significant threats have arisen for the implementation of Russia’s national development goals, and the old ones have received complete outlines.

By inventing the world’s first vaccine against coronavirus, Russia will be able to strengthen its partnership with the countries of the global South and enter markets where only Western competitors previously dominated.

International policy in Europe and the post-Soviet space has become simpler and clearer. On the whole, Russia still shows itself more prepared for a world where each state puts its interests above abstract obligations created in a completely different era.

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