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Tekst Lien Russian Foreign Policy. Lecture Series The Concept of Russia. Aim of the course : give insights in Russia’s FP and illuminate characteristics of Russia’s FP behaviour. Russia in the world: balancing relations between EU and CIS (these are the 2 areas the main focus will be on)

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tekst lien russian foreign policy

Tekst LienRussian Foreign Policy

Lecture Series

The Concept of Russia


Aim of the course: give insights in Russia’s FP and illuminate characteristics ofRussia’s FP behaviour. Russia in the world: balancing relations between EU and CIS (these are the 2 areas the main focus will be on)
  • I will not speak about historical/economic aspects (previous lectures), nor security issues (next lecture)
  • Because of the vagueness of the russkaya ideya: I will focus on one aspect: pragmatism (also called opportunism by Coudenys)


structure of the course
Structureof the Course
  • Central question:

the essence of Russian Foreign Policy

  • Background info to illustrate my point:
  • different stages in Russian Foreign Policy
  • overview of key actors and agreements
  • examples: two countries in Russia’s near abroad (blizkoe zarubezh’e): Ukraine and Belarus  looking at R’s relations with these countries, we will see how pragmatic or eclectic R’s FP actually is,
  • And then come to a conclusion about the essence of RFP


status quaestionis russian foreign policy
Status Quaestionis: Russian Foreign Policy
  • The nature of Russian Foreign Policy? keywords that are often used are pragmatism, multi-vector foreign policy and national interest (see FP concept, later in the course)
  • I was at seminar on RFP some weeks ago: some more ‘nuanced visions’ of RFP:
  • Are these official platitudes (Bobo Lo), used by the Russian government to mask an eclectic and chaotic approach to foreign policy? Or is it the other way round, and do these official platitudes mask a FP agenda for predominantly economic and political gains ?
  • Is there an evolution under Putin?


To assess whether there has been an evolution in Russia’s foreign policy since Putin, and in order to identify the pragmatic nature of Russia’s FP crucial to tell you something about the development of Russian foreign policy since the implosion of the Soviet Union.
  • no intention to give a detailed overview of every single thing that happened in the Russian Federation over the past decade
  • simply highlight some key events, like international or regional treaties and agreements that characterise Russia’s Foreign Policy behaviour.


the development of r ussian f oreign p olicy in the nineties
The Development of Russian Foreign Policy in the nineties

Three periods:

  • ‘romantic period’ under Andrei Kozyrev (1990-1996)
  • ‘realist period’ under Evgeny Primakov (1996-sept 1998)
  • Russian foreign policy since Putin (1999- present)


kozyrev honeymoon period 1990 1996
Kozyrev honeymoon-period 1990-1996
  • Distinct pro-western course
  • liberal internationalism (why? K:Russia’s national interests parallel to those of the democratic world andto a large extent a reflection of Russia’s democratic aspirations )
  • K considered last Soviet decade as a struggle against the inhumanity of the communist regime.  logical next step was Russia’s unification with the West; co-operation with the international political economy and security community. needed to avoid alienation from the West by all means. (Mr. Da, symbolising his smooth relations with the West  Gromyko)


BUT: far more pressing issues in the near abroad:
  • presence of Soviet nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan
  • emergence of secession movements and civil strife in the Caucasus, Moldova (Transdniestr conflict) and Tajikistan
  • the issue of large Russian population who found themselves after the implosion of the Soviet Union in the near abroad
  • most importantly the economic interdependence in the post-Soviet space.  economic relations with ex-Soviet states had to be institutionalised


Russian foreign ministry didn’t have real concept for the post-Soviet space policy vacuum resulted in 1992 in a nationalist reaction against Kozyrev’s liberal internationalism.
  • partly rooted in Russia’s frustration about the slow progress of integration with western economic and security structures - the EU and USA perceived co-operation as a slower and more gradual process.

 debate between

  • derzhavniki
  • (nationalists: R Khasbulatov, A Rutskoy; pro-CIS, V. Zhirinovsky; reconstruction of Russian empire)
  • and liberal internationalists (Kozyrev)


primakov s realpolitik
Primakov’s realpolitik
  • January 1996: Primakov, second phase in RFP.
  • FP tookRealist turn and a more Eurasian focus (roots in Soviet FP and FSB)
  • main aim of his realpolitik: Russia regaining its great power status & expanding Russia’s influence in post-Soviet space and in countries more isolated in the world


primakov doctrine
Primakov Doctrine
  • Objective:
  • return to Russia’s great power status
  • means:
  • consistently observing Russia’s national interest
  • underlying worldview:
  • a multipolar world


interlude were the 2 phases so distinct
Interlude: Were the 2 phases so distinct?
  • Debate between nationalists and internationalists picturedRussia’s 2 FP options as mutually exclusive, but Russian diplomacy has successfully combined them over the last decade. The two phases were not so distinct as one often pictures it. How can we see this?
  • 1993: Kozyrev abandoned superdemocratism and tended to post-imperial pragmatism(Aron) taking into consideration Russia’s national interests, its nuclear power status and its regional responsibilities. The derzhavniki from their side weakened their ‘imperial restorationism’.


1993: draft version of FP concept of the RF:revolutionary policy shift in priorities that prevailed since 1987. emphasis: rather domestic and inward-looking, economic progress and democratic stabilisation prevailed over FP objectives.
  • The document named 9 vitally important interests. only 2 concerned the world outside the post-Soviet space. The post-Soviet space were declared the most important area of Russian foreign and security policy.

 both under Kozyrev and under Primakov, the Russian diplomatic elite succeeded in keeping open both FP options: Co-operation in post-Soviet space and relations with the West (G7). So unlike this visualization, one could better visualize the FP in these two phases in the following way.






East & Near Abroad


multi vector foreign policy
Multi-Vector Foreign Policy

1991 1992 1994 1996 1997

1992 CIS treaty on collective security(signed by Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan new signed 28/4 Dushan °ODKB (org of the treaty on coll sec)

1994: member of ASEAN (Association of Souteast asian nations) regional forum

1996: Shanghai Five China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan This group was originally created as a forum to resolve old Soviet-Chinese border disputes.

8/12/91 CIS

April 1997: Union with Belarus

July 1997: full dialogue partner in ASEAN

March 1992 Russia becomes member of Council of Baltic Sea States

25/12/91: Russia takes over UN membership

1994 PCA signed with EU

February 1996: Russia becomes member of Council of Europe

May 1997: Founding Act with NATO

Russia-Nato permanent joint council

December 1997:start of Northern Dimension Initiative in EU


timeline shows one cannot exactly distinguish a radical pro-Western choice under Kozyrev or a radical pro-Eurasian choice under Primakov.  a clear multi-vector policy, over the past decade, the Russian diplomatic elite managed to steer clear of too extreme views and maintain contacts on different fronts.

In this light, we can see the proclaimed ‘romantic’, pro-Western stance under Kozyrev maybe simply as a normalisation of relations with the West after seventy years of communism. Casier: ‘The Kozyrev era was maybe more typical of the late Soviet days and the rhetoric of Reformism, than it was typical of a fully developed foreign policy.’ (Casier 2000)


russian foreign policy under igor ivanov
Russian Foreign policy under Igor Ivanov
  • The most important event in his first years as a Minister of Foreign Affairs was the Kosovo crisis in Spring 1999.
  • March 1999, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary became new members of NATO. in that same month, NATO started bombing Kosovo.
  • Serbia is traditionally an ally of Russia, bound together by late 19th C ideas of pan-Slavism  a lot protest from Russia (voiced by Ivanov – Chernomyrdin became special envoy)
  • out-of-area operation of NATO especially angered Russia realised that NATO didn’t take into account Russia’s views  the relationship with NATO, although institutionalised, was largelysymbolic.
  • anti-western reaction among Russian people


R pulled out of the NATO - Russia Permanent Joint CouncilBUTanti-western reaction on the government level not to be overstated. R remained member of the Balkans Contact Group and maintained its bilateral relations with NATO member states, and G7
  • R made a distinction between relations with NATO as an organisation (against which it protested) and bilateral relations with its individual member states.
  • Nato’s actions in Kosovo nevertheless resulted in a shift to a more pragmatic FP stance of Russia. The relationship with the West lost sentimental glue that bound Russia together with the Western countries in an anticommunist pro-reform consensus in the early nineties


third phase v v putin second half 1999
Third phase: V.V. Putin, second half 1999

policy analysts often speak of a Kozyrev and a Primakov-doctrine but hardly speak of an Ivanov-doctrine. Attribute it to > Putin was such an eye-catching newcomer on the scene not due to invisibility of Ivanov as a foreign minister or to his capabilities. The attention for Putin is inherent maybe to the ‘elected monarchy’ (Shevtsova, Malfliet) that Russian Presidency already had started to become since Yeltsin.

A new direction in Russian foreign policy?

  • June 1999 Cologne European Council: ‘Common Strategy of European Union on Russia’
  • October 1999: ‘Medium Term Strategy for the Development of Relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union’
  • January 2000: Concept of National Security of the Russian Federation(Koncepcija nacional’noj bezopasnosti)
  • April 2000: Military Doctrine(Voennaja Doktrina)
  • June 2000: Foreign Policy Concept(Koncepcija vnešnej politiki)


Putin : more transparent pragmatism.
  • The Medium Term Strategy = clear answer to vague common strategy of EU.
  • stressed the strategic partnership between the EU and Russia
  • summed up concrete goals, eg maximum use of benefits offered by PCA, working on a pan-European security structure, opening of EU market to Russian exports, improving efficiency of political dialogue &c.
  • FP Concept also clear: 1of key sentences: ‘the Russian Federation is pursuing an independent and constructive foreign policy. It is based on consistency and predictability, on mutually advantageous pragmatism.’ Russia’s national interest: high on the list. The text also suggests that Russia has a balanced foreign policy, ‘predetermined by the geopolitical position of Russia as one of the largest Eurasian powers, requiring an optimal combination of efforts along all vectors’.
  • first priority = regional: multilateral and bilateral co-operation in the CIS area. Secondly, bilateral relations with the European states are called a traditional foreign policy priority of Russia, and the relations with the EU are called ‘of key importance’.
  • Attitude shift rather than policy shift > change of President
  • Multi-vector foreign policy continued


continuation of multi vector foreign policy
Continuation of multi-vector foreign policy

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003

June 2001: Shanghai FiveShanghai Cooperation Organisation

December 1999: agreement on formation ofUnion State with Belarus

January / June 2000: Military Doctrine and Concept of National Security

May 2001: Eurasian Economic Community Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan

June 1999: Common Strategy

October 1999: Medium Term Strategy

2001 Common European Economic Space Putin & Prodi charged high level group to define the concept for economic relations in the medium term

March 2003: Wider Europe - Neighbourhood Initiative

May 2002: 19+1 formula: new Russia-NATO council


not only the agreements, but also the historical precedents of Russian foreign policy, the attitudes/ opinions professed by Putin, Ivanov, by FP analysts, can help to give some more insights in RFP
  • Historical precedents: typical: Primakov saw Aleksandr Gorchakov as a great example refused to give up Russia’s great power status after the enormous defeat of Russia in the Crimean war in the middle of the 19th century.
  • Robert Legvold: 4 scenarios for R’s FP
  • Strategic partnership with the West (EU, Putin&Bush)
  • Partnership with China and/or India
  • Option of ‘the West and the rest’: isolated countries
  • Fortress Russia: Russia standing on its own, only alliances with former Soviet republics

 Go West, Go East, or focus on the Near Abroad?

Does Russia have to choose?

Foreign policy choice determined by mutually advantageous pragmatism with economic undertone


two examples the little brothers of russia
Two Examples: the little brothers of Russia


  • independency initially not taken seriously by Russia, especially because big Russian minority living in U (even now still 11% of the population describes him/herself as Russians in the 2002 census). But soon clear that U serious about independence, especially stimulated by the western regions of Ukraine where Ukrainian nationalism soared higher than in the East (where many Russians still lived). Initially, relations with Russia were tense, because of the nuclear weapons that were still present in Ukraine and especially also because of the squabbling over the Black Sea Fleet - Soviet military remnant that both Ukraine and Russia laid claims on. Eventually, a Treaty of Friendship was signed in 1995 and Russia recognised the borders of Ukraine.
  • Gongadze murder in September 2000 and the release of tapes that linked murder to Kuchma and revealed corruption: Ukraine’s President Kuchma came under heavy scrutiny. The tapescandal / Kuchmagate: °international reaction; negative image of U as a corruption-ridden country. most countries considering sanctions against Ukraine (USA even withdrew a considerable amount of financial support)
  • Russia (Putin) publicly announced support for Kuchma. But (pragmatic he is) only in exchange for economic benefits, taking over some major firms in the East of Ukraine. A case of mutually advantageous pragmatism.
  • Russia ‘supports’ Ukraine’s European Ambitions but tries to involve it more into CIS and EEC (year of Ukraine in Russia and vice versa) Russia prefers the scenario ‘together to Europe’ Joint naval exercis yester(way of peace 2003)


  • Last week: Lukashenka sees the Union with Russia as the main guarantor of security for Belarus – and I think he is right.
  • Belarus: ‘the black hole of Europe’, a ‘natural park of communism’, the ‘forgotten heart of Europe’, and ‘a country with a death wish’,
  • Since Lukashenka in power, country reversed blooming relations with the West and turned to Russia. Lukashenka always enthusiastic about a Union with Russia and the union finally gained pace in 1996. At that time, El’tsin needed to get re-elected and figured that a Union with a ‘Slavic brother’ would certainly render enthusiasm among the Russian voters, because it brought back ideas of Slavic brotherhood and restoration of the SU or Russian Empire, expansion of the Russian sphere of influence. Again the main incentives for this rapprochement with Belarus was pragmatic  electoral profit or gain.
  • Putin:pragmatism became increasingly obvious. El’tsin still made effort to go along with Lukashenka in his baroque rhetoric of Slavic unity and pan-Slavism – E gave Lukashenka the impression of being equals Putin publicly humiliated Lukashenka in Aug: proposed during joint press conference a merger scenario for Belarus in Union with Russia making Belarus ninetieth subject of the RF and, according to Putin, ‘creating a single state in the full meaning of the word’. He said later on that one cannot seriously consider the small Belarus (population like Belgium) with an ailing economy an equal of the mastodon that Russia is.
  • Nevertheless, pragmatism enables Russia to maintain Union with this country while simultaneously intensifying relations with the European Union, taking in mind EU sanctions against B and only recently lifted travel bans on some Belarusian high officials, this seemscontroversial but apparently perfectly feasible for Russia.


  • mutually advantageous pragmatism, multi-vector foreign policy and national interest: ‘official platitudes’ (Bobo Lo) to mask blatant eclecticism in Russia’s foreign relations, or do these terms really have substance?
  • Russia’s foreign policy indeed is a multi-vector foreign policy, nothing more, nothing less.
  • main motive of Russia’s foreign policy: economic and security gains  therefore pragmatism not official platitude but recurring phenomenon in Russian history:
  • (Think of the colonisation in Siberia and the moving of complete ethnies from one place to the other. Think of the official nationalism under tsarism. Think of Stalin’s language politics. Think of Stalin’s initial pact with Hitler. other examples are legion.)
  • Pragmatism masks (or rather, justifies) paradoxes: Putin combines eurocentric cultural-historical affinity with an Americacentric strategic culture (Bobo Lo) The contradictory nature of this policy was justified by pragmatism in choices.
  • Russia’s pragmatic side is most obvious in the CIS area (eg Common European Economic Space and Eurasian Economic Community, almost simultaneously developed)


last question evolution under putin
Last Question: Evolution under Putin?


was twofold:

  • Russia continues multi-vector foreign policy, but the European vector has intensified a bit (the common strategy and reply, the agreement on Kaliningrad, the Common European Economic Space, etc). But this has its main roots in economic relations and not so much in real political dialogue
  • Most important evolution: demystification of Russia’s foreign policy, ‘sentimental glue disappeared’.

! Russian idea hasn’t vanished from Russian society, but discourse in FP is more straightforwardly pragmatic and less terminology reminiscent of the Russian empire, panslavism and slavic brotherhood’ is used


So with this lecture I tried to give an overview of Russian foreign policy over the last decade and I illuminated some views on the Russian tenets of foreign policy; I think it is up to you all to find aspects of the Russian idea or the concept of Russia in Russia’s current Foreign policy.