Dmitri Trenin has a piece in the Moscow Times today taking a look at the motivations behind the recent shift in Russian foreign policy to warm up to Europe and the United States – and of course, it’s the economy, stupid. Pressure is being felt in Moscow from the surging growth of China, and the sense that the country urgently needs to catch up with a modernization of its technological base. But of course this goal brings up a familiar problem: the dysfunctional legal system:
The Russian government’s concept of modernization is too narrow to succeed. Unless the basic conditions for doing business in Russia improve substantially and until the government starts to modernize itself, technology transfers will have little effect.
Putin himself has furnished proof of that. Speaking recently at the Russian Academy of Sciences, he said the Soviet economy was structurally incapable of using most of the technological secrets acquired through KGB-style industrial espionage. Without an independent judiciary, secure property rights and a check on corruption, Putin’s modernization will mimic Brezhnev’s. The danger is not of the Kremlin losing interest in technology transfers from the West, but rather its inability to create the right legal, business and political environment to capitalize on them.
Trenin goes on to talk about the “important choices” that will have to be made, and the “compelling arguments” that Kremlin progressives will have to make to the hawks. His argument about isolation after the Georgia war is not as convincing, as it seems that Russia suffered no real consequences following the invasion, but perhaps this new foreign policy concept will be something to watch carefully … not that I’m drinking the Kool-Aid.