EGF Book Review:
Russian Foreign Policy The Return of Great Power Politics
Reviewed by Professor Andrej Kreutz
Markedly different from Helen Belopolski’s monograph ‘Russia and the Challengers: Russian Alignment with China, Iran, and Iraq in the Unipolar Era,’ which I have already reviewed, Jeffery Mankoff’s work, which was published as a Council on Foreign Relations Book, cannot claim to be a non-partisan and purely analytical study. In fact, the author, who is young and promising American scholar, belongs to the core of the US political and security establishment, and his work in some ways reflects wide-spread American clichés and worldview. However, what differentiates it from many books and papers which have been produced in the same political and institutional framework, is its apparent open-mindedness and the relative balance of its views and observations which, because of the author’s political background, are particularly interesting and worthy of readers attention. The fact that the author’s book has been published in first year of Barak Obama’s Presidency and on the eve of the reset in American-Russian relations, which was then initiated by the new administration, has also contributed to its content and value.
According to Mankoff, “the substance of disputes between Moscow and Washington today looks much like that of the 1990s,Russian leaders resent being ignored, while the US fears Russian attempts to overturn the post-Cold War status quo” (p.99). Since 1996 Primakov’s time and his suggested new vision of international relations, there has been no new approach to Russian foreign policy on the part of the Kremlin. According to Primakov, Moscow should have rejected the strident anti-Westernism of the USSR and the Liberal utopian pro-Western romanticism of both Gorbachev’s and the early Yeltsin’s periods, and instead favored an approach that emphasized Russia’s “status as a great power” and an “equal, mutually beneficial partnership” with the United States and Europe.
His final goal was the establishment of a multipolar world order, with Russia as one of the leading poles of the international system. The Primakov Doctrine, which won the overwhelming support of the Russian political elite, defended Russia’s fundamental identity as an autonomous Great Power and a key actor in the international system. It staunchly rejected the American demands which had even been accepted by Russian pro-western liberals such as Dimitri Trenin who wanted Russia to follow the post 1995 examples of Germany and Japan and trade political autonomy for integration in the American-dominated system of collective security and economic prosperity (p.73).
The majority of the post-Soviet Russian elites have always viewed their country in Great Power terms with world-wide interests and with a right to be consulted on a wide-variety of international issues, even if they, such as in the case of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, do not necessarily affect Russia’s interest in any direct way. Another aspect of the Great Power concept has been the emphasis on Russian’s sovereignty and internal autonomy from the unwanted foreign pressures and interventions in its domestic affairs.
The contradiction and tension between the Russian quest for Great Power status and autonomy and American aspirations for global domination and intervention have thus been inevitable and in fact always present, even during Yeltsin’s and Kozyrev’s tenures. However Mankoff argues that as over the last 10 years Russia has become stronger and its actions have been more assertive and consequential with the potential to do greater harm to US interests around the world, today’s US-Russian disputes have been more serious (p.99). In his view the last decade’s difficulties in the Russian-American relations which even led some commentators to write about the prospect of a new Cold War, have not been Putin’s fault but stem primarily from long-term structural changes affecting Russia’s position in the international order (p.99).
At the same time Mankoff points out that the relations with Washington are of crucial importance for Moscow. The US remains the control reference point for Russian foreign policy, even though for the US Russia no longer occupies a central position in the mind of its political strategists. The post-Cold War balance enabled Americans to demonstrate their superiority all over the world and not take Russian concern and interests seriously. US actions such as the attack on Serbia in 1999, the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, support for Kosovo’s independence, opposition to Russian’s entrance into the World Trade Organization and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 “fed into a perception in Moscow that the strategic partnership with Washington was something of a sham” (p.101). In the author’s view, “what was therefore notable about Putin’s approach was the degree to which he emphasized the maintenance of a basically positive relationship with the US, even at the cost of unpopular sacrifices” (p.101).
However, the fact that he stood up to the US policy on issues crucial for his country and, as Mankoff argues, his growing authoritarianism, contributed to the mutual crisis of perceptions and “the unwillingness of either Russia or the US to see the other as just another powerful state pursuing a limited series of national interests” (p.102). The author nevertheless is willing to admit that “even during the days of Primakov and the conflict over Kosovo or the war in Georgia, Russian policy has rarely, despite what many US strategists are won’t to perceive, been directed at countering US interest as such” (p.104).
Mankoff seems to be correct, indicating that Russia’s international behavior in general and its relations with much of the rest of the world including Europe, China and the countries of the former Soviet Union “can be understood only in the context of Moscow’s strategy for dealing with Washington” (p.103). However, the role and importance of the American factor differ greatly depending on the timing and geopolitical locations of the other power centers. In the case of Europe, its geographical proximity and the resulting economic interdependence to a significant degree prevented a number of abrupt shocks and disruptions which have taken place in the case of American-Russian relations. But Europe is also a main seat of NATO, the expansion of which caused so many Russian fears and anxieties, and it is still divided among a number of nation states, most of which want to preserve their own foreign policies. It seems that the author put rather too much stress on the international political role of the EU and its ideological differences with Russia and rather disregards the efforts of the major Western European nations such as France, Germany and Italy to improve and expand their relations with Moscow. From the American viewpoint it is probably understandable. Because of the input from the “New Europe”, the collective EU bodies are politically much closer to Washington than the Old European continental powers with their long history and still strong national consciousness.
However, Mankoff’s description of Russian-NATO relations is still balanced and includes a number of interesting details, such as the fact that in December 1994 NATO’s decision to take in new members from Central and Eastern Europe occurred as a result of strong pressure from the US despite of the protests from not only the Russians but also many in the US establishment as well (p.166). The author also warns that “as long as NATO remains uncertain about its exact role and final boundaries, it will have serious difficulties dealing with a Russia intent on holding the line against any further diminution of its international standing or the security margin on its borders” (p.175). As NATO was created and still remains an instrument of American power its relations with Moscow depend largely on Washington’s decisions.
The American factor remains important even in the case of Moscow’s relations with China. China is not only a key regional power, but also a country whose support Russia needs in order to promote a multipolar world order. According to the author “cooperation with China provides Moscow with a kind of diplomatic force multiplier and an alternative to pursuing integration with the powers of the West” (p.104). However, this is likely to be only temporary situation as long as the West remains the top priority for Russian politicians (p.229). In the future, rapid growth of Chinese power might make China a priority in its own rights, independent of Moscow’s relations with the West (p.229).
During the last two decades the most important political battlefield between Moscow and the Washington-dominated West have been the countries of the former Soviet Union, especially Ukraine and Georgia. Although President Obama’s policy and the results of the last year’s Ukrainian elections brought some kind of settlement there, a number of conflicts, particularly with Georgia, and those in Moldova, Azerbaijan and some other places still have potential for a new outbreak of regional tensions. However, in my view their broader international impact should not be exaggerated. Without substantial support from outside and/or foreign interventions, their role would be rather marginal.
Mankoff writes “neither Putin nor Medvedev have shown an inclination for a real confrontation with the US or the West” (p.302). Their goal has been, and remains partnership, but only on terms… that Russia itself had a hand in defining” (p.303). In his view “for all its ambiguity, the notion of a strategic partnership between Russia and Western powers may offer the best hope for maximizing cooperation and minimizing inevitable disagreements” (p.307). Most of the major international problems ranging from nuclear security to counterterrorism to energy security cannot be solved without Russian cooperation. However, that would require that “the US and EU take Russian concerns seriously and occasionally make difficult concessions” (p.307).
The difference of views and interests would not disappear at once but the West should make a real effort to encourage Moscow to make a positive contribution to resolve them and listen more carefully to some of its creative proposals (p.307). Mankoff concludes that Russia should be treated as other large non-Western states such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan and many more. All of them might frequently represent a significant challenge but cooperation with them is still possible and even necessary. Unfortunately because of the habit of thinking about Russia in terms of the bygone Cold War, it has been much harder for the West to workout a new framework for dealing with Moscow that is no longer either a foe or an ally.
Mankoff’s book is probably the most comprehensive and balanced work in recent American scholarship on Russian foreign policy. The fact that for obvious reasons, it has been written from an American perspective might even increase the value and importance of its observations and meticulous analysis. The last but probably the most important issue is the question whether Russia’s rapid but still fragile resurgence as a great power in the twenty-first century world politics will continue and also whether the American leaders will be wiling to listen to their competent experts and advisors.
| External Relations | Russia, Ukraine, Belarus