Russia Has Not Changed its Foreign Policy Goals

diena041509.pngI came across this translation from the Latvian press on TOL about whether or not the global financial crisis is changing Russia’s foreign policy ambitions in its near abroad.  The short answer: no.

You would think that given this increasingly complex domestic situation, Russia’s rulers would not have the time or money to continue the aggressive foreign policies which they have pursued in recent years – those which culminated in August 2008 with the war against Georgia.

But let us not fool ourselves. There are two reasons why the crisis is strengthening, not weakening Russia’s desire to continue on its way with its decided foreign policy course.

First there was something that was stressed at the Tallinn conferenceby many long-term observers of Russian politics, including a respectedresearcher from the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, Lilia Shevtsova, as wellas Janusz Bugajski from the Centre for Strategic and InternationalStudies in Washington. They argued that Russia’s foreign policy servesits domestic policy, and the goal is to ensure that the Kremlin canmaintain control over the country’s people, constantly threatening themwith foreign dangers and mobilizing them against enemies. Internaldissatisfaction with those who run the country will not force them toget rid of this mechanism of power. On the contrary – it is a powerfuldriving force to put it to even greater use, because what would be moreadvantageous right now than to tell people that all of their problemscan be blamed on evil imperialists and their running dogs in Georgia,Ukraine, Estonia, and Latvia?


Secondly, as the Kremlin knows very well, power is never absolute, itis always relative. In a kingdom of the blind, someone with one eyebecomes king. Russia has lost a great deal of money from the world’sfinancial crisis, but the blow for neighbouring countries has been evengreater. Russia’s currency reserves have declined by 200 billiondollars, but they still are at the level of 400 billion dollars. It isnot particularly difficult to find 10 billion dollars to use forstrategic intervention. The noisiest example of this was the loan of 2billion dollars from Russia to Kyrgyzstan after that country decided toshut down a military airfield at Manas. The United States used it as animportant base to support its military force in Afghanistan. As aformer U.S. State Department employee, David Kramer, said at theconference in Tallinn, “The Russians really screwed us.” The Manas basewas not irreplaceable, but it was very important for the Americans, andRussia took it away, knowing full well how important the war inAfghanistan is in President Obama’s foreign policy.