THE MEDVEDEV INHERITANCE: DIPLOMATIC PROSPECTS
"Dmitry Medvedev was due on Wednesday to be inaugurated as Russia’s president in succession to Vladimir Putin, who will become prime minister. For the first time in Russia’s turbulent history, a leader in good health is peacefully handing over the keys of the Kremlin to a legally approved successor.
The symbolism should not hide the political reality – Mr Putin will remain Russia’s real ruler for some time to come. And the ex-KGB men he promoted will stay close to the seat of power.
However, if Mr Medvedev plays his cards well he may succeed in accumulating authority, given signs that Mr Putin may eventually wish to retire and that power in Russia gravitates around the Kremlin.
While both men have put continuity high on the agenda, they have also cast the new presidency as an opportunity for a change of emphasis. The argument is not without foundation – Mr Medvedev is the first leader since 1917 to come from outside the Communist party.
A lawyer, he has pledged to promote the rule of law. That promise should be welcome to the many Russians who suffer daily from abuses of power, including corruption and judicial malpractice. Not the least among them is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oil baron, who was imprisoned on politically motivated fraud charges and now faces new allegations. Mr Medvedev must show that by upholding the rule of law he means to strengthen the rights of citizens and not simply to reinforce the rights of an over-mighty state, as Mr Putin has done.
Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev also seem to want to ease tensions with the west. Mr Putin has made efforts to settle disputes, including with the US over missile defence and with the European Union over Poland’s meat trade. The west should make the most of the opportunity – co-operation with Russia is important on issues including energy, global terrorism, the Middle East and Iran.
But western leaders should not be naive. What Russia does matters more than what Russia says. Even as it is making semi-friendly overtures to the west, it is protesting against Nato enlargement and raising pressure on Georgia, by increasing its troops in breakaway Abkhazia. The rhetoric in Moscow and Tbilisi is alarming. While both states claim they do not want war, the danger of blundering into one is growing.
The west must be firm – the sovereignty of the ex-Soviet Union states must be upheld, like the sovereignty of countries elsewhere. Mr Medvedev must show that, as a lawyer, he has as much respect for international as for domestic law".
"Seize the moment, talk to Medvedev", The Financial Times, 8 May 2008, Editorial in www.ft.com
"I expect the relations to shift slowly to where they used to be at 2001 to 2002, because they went too far downwards during the last six years. There’s a fundamental contradiction in Russian foreign policy toward the West generally, and the United States in particular. Strategically, the needs of Russia dictate a very close alliance with the West because we face the same fundamental security challenges of Islamic radicalism and a rising China. But at the same time there have been a lot of internal political impulses pushing the Kremlin to strained relations with the West.
First, there is the deep psychological setback of defeat in the Cold War and loss of superpower status suffered by the Russian political elite. Second, it’s been useful politically to portray the West as the enemy to justify outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime. There are also the financial interests of the ruling group because they not only rule Russia; they also in effect “own” Russia, being de facto owners of the main oil and gas companies. They are interested in very high oil prices, so there is a tendency in Russian foreign policy to keep tensions high in the Middle East, and that’s especially clear in the case of Iran’s nuclear problem.
So it is inevitable that Russian foreign policy is contradictory and has a cyclic character. It seems to me that now we have reached the end of the latest negative confrontational cycle and there are the first indications of an upward tendency. Both during the recent ministers’ meeting in Moscow and during the Sochi summit [April 2008 meeting between Putin and Bush], Moscow was rather conciliatory. Earlier, the Kremlin had threatened to target its nuclear missiles on European cities and so on. But in Moscow and during Sochi, Putin went out of his way to emphasize that he believed that Russian concerns were understood by the United States and Americans were sincerely trying to assuage our concerns. There is now a tendency to reduce a bit the anti-Western posturing in government policy and propaganda".
Andrei Piontkovsky [Director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moskva], in www.cfr.org
There has indeed been a changing of the guard in Moskva. Putin has in accordance with the constitution of the Russian Federation, become the first Russian leader in history to serve out his term and see a peaceful transfer of power. Moving over to the premiership, and the head of the ruling party, Putin will of course for quite some time to come, be the primus inter pares in the duumvirate with Medvedev. However history shows that such arrangements (Marc Anthony and Octavian come to mind as does Tsars Pyotr I and his half-brother Ivan VI) rarely last very long, especially in Russia. So, assuming that within a not very long amount of time that Medvedev will be the senior partner in this modern day dvoetsarstvovanie, what can we expect from him diplomatically? And, how will Russian diplomacy change, both in content and in form from the Putin regime? Well first off, Medvedev is an entirely different animal than any Russian leader since 1917, if not since the great pre-war premier, P.A. Stolypin. In essence both men were not chinovnikii or appartchikii, but members of civil society, what in Russia is termed the 'intelligentsia' (in the original, 19th century Russian meaning of the word). As Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has recently commented the mere fact that Medvedev is "the first Russian leader in my memory who doesn't come from the Communist Party or the security services" (see: "Medvedev Good for the West, says Poland," in www.ft.com), is a reason for welcoming him. Second, unlike Grazhdanin Putin, Medvedev does not appear to harbour any deep suspicions of the West, nor is he prone to have any nostalgia for the now defunct Sovietskaya Vlast. Something that Putin and many members of his entourage still suffer from. In short, with Medvedev the outside world is now dealing with the future not the past of Russian foreign policy.
What however it may well be asked is the 'future of Russian foreign policy'? I would argue that it will consist of a the following points, points strongly held and not liable to be easily given up or away: upholding, in a non-belligerent, if at times perhaps annoying fashion, Russian prestige and Russian's position in the world. The days when Russia could simply be presented with faite accompli's, by the Americans as was the case in the Yeltsin regime is long past. Similarly, you can count on Russia upholding the power and the prestige of institutions like the United Nations, which it is a member. The same can be said for the Middle East Quartet, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Council of Europe. Similarly do not expect Moskva to be inclined to smile warmly upon any unilateral American proposals `a la the Iraq War in the future. Russia's opposition in 2003, was of course opportunistic, but, it also derived from a calculated stance that to give legitimacy to any American, unilateral power plays could very well be a harbinger of a similar type of maneuver against Russia itself. In short, expect to see a continuation of Putin's multi-lateral, anti-hegemonic diplomatic card, vis-`a-vis the Americans. Other points that one can foresee Medvedev pursuing are: attempting to reinsert itself diplomatically, using the oil and gas card, into the Balkans. Similarly, Medvedev's Russia will try to maintain as much influence as possible in both Ukraine, and, in Belarus. With it not impossible to foresee the time when, in the case of the latter country, when the Lukashenko regime implodes that Moskva may finally chose to reunite with the now isolated country rather than allowing it to 'fall' into the 'Western Camp'. Vis-`a-vis the European Union, it is likely the relations will veer from cordial and correct, to warm and friendly. Depending upon both the issues and which particular group of countries that one is talking of. With the warmest relations being with Germany, France and Italia. Relations being colder with Poland, the Baltic Countries and the UK as well. It would not be unlikely that Medvedev will follow Putin's practice of attempting, to play the jeu of divida et impera with the EU as a whole. Towards the Americans, Russia's relations will again veer: from difficult if not a bit frosty, to at times perhaps lukewarm and correct. Do not expect much in the way of any real closeness or improvements to the Russian-American relationship anytime soon. There is simply not enough similarity of interests, either diplomatic or economic for the Americans to be willing to treat Moskva in a more equal or at the very least a more quid pro quo fashion. The usual American habit of asking Russia for concessions, gratis, is all too likely to set to continue. And, it does not matter in the least if the President is a Republican or a Democrat. A liberal or a Conservative. The underlying mentality, of the makers of American foreign policy is the same towards Moskva: demand the world, and, pay nothing for it. Parque ils travailler pour le Roi de Prusse!
To sum up: the watchword as the Putin Regime gives way to the Medvedev Regime is: continuity of purpose and the underlying focus of Russian foreign policy, with discontinuity as per the manner in which policy is presented to the outside world. I do not anticipate any of the diplomatic maladroit antics that Putin has cared to indulge in the past few years. The infamous speech at the Security Conference at Munich, a few years back being the ne plus ultra. I expect that Medvedev will allow his capable Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov to manage more of Russian foreign policy and to present a more friendly and negotiable visage to the world. In short, I agree with those who argue that the coming of the new Russian President is a cause, if not necessarily for joy than certainly for quiet appreciation that there are new possibilities available, both in Russia domestically and for Russia abroad.