The First Serious Foreign Policy Event of the President Putin

By Sergey Markedonov

New Russian Neighborhood Policy

On May 15th a non-formal CIS Summit was held in Moscow. Meetings in the framework of the Commonwealth have not been the subject of stormy discussions due to evident reason: it’s hard to make something efficient and operating from a divorce agency. And that is why each new CIS Summit, as a rule, in informational space is observed through the prism of one issue: “The patient is rather dead than alive or vice versa alive than dead?” However the current forum, despite it had no status of formal meeting and fixed agenda, has become the exception from the rules. It attracted great focus.

The informal CIS Summit together with the meeting of the heads of the CSTO member-states (Collective Security Treaty Organization), held the same day as the Commonwealth forum, has become the first serious foreign policy event of the old-new President of the Russian Federation. By this it’s worth to consider a whole list of concurrent circumstances. Literally after his inauguration Vladimir Putin signed several Decrees of symbolic sense. The President having returned to the Kremlin after four-year business trip to the White House, rushed to show the “city and the world” that a new state begins within Russian domestic and foreign policy.  We’ll observe in the nearest future how efficient the kind of demonstration is. Yet we only state. One of the first initiatives of Putin was the Decree “On Foreign Policy Course of the Russian Federation Accomplishment”.  In this document the post-soviet area was defined as the first rate priority. It’s worth to say that the theses concerning integrational projects, ethnic-political projects and de-facto Eurasian states take higher levels than description of the approaches of the Russian Federation towards European, American and Pacific directions.  In a few days after the series of symbolic decrees Putin refused to take part in the G8 Summit in Camp-David, planned on May 18-19th 2012. Vladimir Putin starts his activity within foreign policy arena with trying not to run after global projects, but makes inventory of his “neighborhood policy”.

Within Middle Asia direction Russia shall face difficult times. Only 5 days before inauguration of Putin, the US President Barak Obama came out with the planned visit to Afghanistan. The American President visited the country the third time. However, May trip of Obama is outlined within a number of other two —Āircumstances. American leader and his Afghan colleague Hamid Karzai signed a “Strategic Partnership Treaty”, anticipating among the rest withdrawal of coalition troops by 2014. Omitting politically correct rhetoric about signing of this document, than in a “dry matter” we have a state, which hardly can be named a state in a full meaning of this word, but it can quite be called the source of instability for Eurasia. And these are not abstract thoughts.

The beginning of 1990-s with all evidence showed that Afghanistan can be left. The question is whether it shall leave you. For Americans withdrawal from a trouble state, to a greater extent is not a critical geopolitical challenge. Terrorist threats for the overseas state can’t be compared with direct pressure on Middle Asia states, which in its turn, shall create a number of threats directly by Russian borders. However also today according to the information of the Federal Agency on Drug Traffic Control (FADTC), from Afghan heroin in Russia twice more people die than soviet soldiers for the total period of ten years of military actions (1979 – 1989) in Afghanistan. The difference is only in that in case of a complete collapse of Karzai administration after withdrawal of Americans and their allies except for drugs challenge there shall occur political ones. Obviously that Moscow can’t let the situation go. And already today they should prepare comprehensively for the issue of 2014.

Fascinating intrigue develops also around Ukraine. The event of European football is coming. But as it approaches the “united Europe” comments more rigidly regarding internal policy of Viktor Yanukovych. And this is despite that the fourth President of Ukraine did nothing to justify the concerns of the EU on his alleged pro-Russian line. Yanukovych, just like any other Ukrainian politician was ready for beneficial cooperation with West. As no matter how they argue about democracy, in foreign policy Kiev by Kuchma, and Yushchenko as well as the current President traditionally intended to develop the system of restraints and counterbalances towards Moscow. But today West is not satisfied with the actions of Ukrainian authorities in relation to Yulia Timoshenko. And Moscow can try to use the situation established. By this we should understand, that Kiev shall strive to avoid “final choice” balancing between the Russian Federation and the EU.

The Summit also included symbolic contracts establishment. Vladimir Putin knows almost all the CIS states’ and the CSTO heads (as “near CIS”). The exception was a newly elected President of Moldova Nicolae Tirmofti, with whom in distinction of his predecessor Vladimir Voronin Putin doesn’t yet have the story of relations. Not positive or negative one. Moldovan subject was reflected in the Presidential Decree of May 7th 2012. Thus the article on Moldavian-Transnistria conflict says that Moscow shall intend to play its role within its solution on the ground of territorial integrity of Moldova and its neutrality. The given formula can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, the readiness to assist other partners on talks format. From the other hand, we observe some “red lines’ of neutrality and territorial integrity observance. In distinction with Georgia, this integrity is threatened not only and not that much by separatist forces, as a definite part of Moldavian political class, supporting unification with Romania. Although the given approach despite the rhetoric of Romanian President, is approved by not all political forces in Bucharest. Anyway, this direction also shouldn’t be missed.

Nagorny Karabakh conflict has already become an eternal issue of post-Soviet policy. In the decree of May 7th regarding this subject, Moscow repeated its recent line. “Yes to updated Madrid principles!” And here Russia is at most ready to interact with other players, including the USA (in the format of the OSCE Minsk group). This, however, doesn’t mean that Baku and Yerevan won’t try with all means to influence for the Kremlin to define finally. And naturally, Moscow shall not do this preferring status quo.

However, bilateral relations of the Russian Federation with individual post-Soviet states, is only a part of problem. Not less important is to optimize common approaches of former “brother republics” on the issues of economy and security. And here often occurs the factor of self before all. Everybody support the idea for the CSTO to become an efficient body. But an issue on sponsorship or military participation arises, many leaders are ready to give the way to Russia. In other issues tactic reasons gain priority. Speaking plainly, if there are troubles with West, let’s ask Moscow. And if there are no such, then Russian aid is not really demanded. And even on the opposite, Russian factor becomes irritating. The CIS itself hasn’t gained a new form. With actualization of other integrational projects, this body itself becomes less demanded. It has less pragmatism and new ideas except for common Soviet don’t arise. And in order to make inventory of neighbor policy to be successful, it’s worth to think over not only individual projects, but also about attractive ideological content.