In view of China’s threats to annex Taiwan and Russia’s threats to possibly want to join Eastern Ukraine, there are quite enlightening disputes about direction among the Russian experts. Representative for this is the contribution by Dmimitri Trenin “Russia turns to itself” and Dr. Rahr’s reply “Russia’s role in the world”, which is documented as an article below. Dmitri Trenin heads the Carnegie Moscow Center and is one of Russia’s leading foreign policy experts. He represents more a Russia First policy, howver questions the assumption of NATO being a threat as Ukraine wanted to become a part of the Eurasian Union or Russia, and on this basis does not rule out a possible rapprochement with the West, while Putin and Gazprom adviser Dr. Rahr focuses on the Russia´s alleged encirclement by MNATO and misses a vision for Russia via Russia First in a Eurasian Union and the SCO as anti-NATO. Rahr attacks Trenin, who is still hoping for a Russian-Western rapprochement in the long term due to the strengthened position, quite harshly and head-on. SCO becomes the new anti-NATO and Eurasian security architecture. Dr Kulikov, the former right-hand man of Putin adviser Yakunin, doubts this and, like Trenin, believes that Putin could become dependent on China. Sounds a bit desperate at times. This is not yet so clear in the US either. The Long Telegram, parts of the State Department and also Chief of Joint Staff Milley and a few other generals want to give Russia the opportunity to jump out or at least to remain neutral. The Rahr-Tretin debate shows that there is a dispute aboutforeign policy direction in Russia, but I am not very confident either and Rahr is attacking Trenin very hard. It is difficult to judge whether he believes this SCO to be Eurasian anti-NATO himself (India, etc?) or is just driving up the price In any case, one is well advised to take a position of strength despite being open to dialogue, but now wait and see how things develop in Ukraine, now that Erdogan also wants to get involved and even have Afghanistan poeace talks in Turkey..
Russia’s turn to itself
Moscow is back on the world stage and only acts according to its own interests
by Dmitri Trenin
President Putin has had two major goals since 1999: to preserve the unity of Russia and restore its status as a great power. He was successful in doing this. The central government has become firmly established throughout the Russian Federation. Russia, which was almost written off internationally around the turn of the millennium, returned to the global arena as a great power. The successes are undeniable, but they weren’t cheap. The establishment of the verticals of power in Russia was authoritarian, which is already traditional. However, the political regime did not develop into a fully fledged state: it serves the interests of a numerically small elite who used the country’s resources for personal and group purposes. Given the gradual but noticeable growth of the bourgeois consciousness of Russians, this will lead to serious problems in the future. The re-establishment of Russia as a great power was associated with a renewed confrontation with the USA, which leads us to expect a long and unequal struggle. Putin’s foreign policy developed complex and also contradicting itself. She changed more than once. In 2000, Putin pushed for Russia to join NATO; In 2001 he expected to become the US’s main ally and ordered support for US troops in Afghanistan. Putin wanted a “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok” and emphasized Russia’s European orientation in the German Bundestag.
What did Putin achieve?
Obviously, the Putin era is coming to an end. Putin has more than three years in office and he can run again in the presidential elections in 2024 and 2030. But despite everything: An era is nearing its end. That is why it is possible and sensible to take stock of the last 20 years. What was achieved, where did he fail? What remains and what needs to be changed? First, Russian sovereignty was restored under Putin. The rapid rise in oil prices in the 2000s made it possible to move towards economic growth and free oneself from external financial dependence on a new capitalist base that had been created in the 1990s. The nationalization of a large part of the oil industry formed the basis for a coordinated energy policy. The reform of the armed forces in the first half of the 2010s gave the Kremlin an effective tool for protecting and promoting the country’s state interests. The unbroken support of Putin by the majority of the population brought stability to the government. Second, at the beginning of the 21st century, Russia regained the status of a great power. Attempts to achieve autonomous status within the US-centered Euro-Atlantic system in the 1990s and 2000s failed. The Russian elite and society did not accept the US leadership – a necessary prerequisite for integration into the Western system. Russia also failed to build its own power center in Eurasia because the leaders of the former Soviet republics were unwilling to recognize Moscow’s dominance. For Russia, a country that is both independent and lonely, great power status is a necessity.
Preliminary Russian policy on Asia
The failure of these two integrations forced Putin to take a sharp turn in the second half of the 2010s. Outwardly it looked like a movement from Europe to Eurasia, which was perceived as a turn to the East, especially to China. In fact, it was Russia’s turn to itself, the search for a stable haven of calm that would enable stability in a rapidly changing global environment. The current self-determination of Russia is the assertion of an independent size, which is located in the north of the Eurasian continent and is directly adjacent to East and Central Asia, Europe, the Near and Middle East and North America. Moscow is no longer oriented in one direction, towards Europe, the USA or China. Russia has relations with its many neighbors and is guided only by its own interests. Even before the confrontation between Russia and the USA and the mutual alienation with the EU, the eastern direction of foreign policy under Putin gained importance. On the one hand, the turn to the east was a consequence of the general rise of Asia in the world economy. On the other hand, Moscow was forced to take into account its weakness in the east of its country. On the basis of these considerations, Putin made great efforts in the 2000s to finally resolve the problem of the border with China and to establish a productive partnership with Beijing. A “preliminary Russian policy on Asia” began under Putin. In addition to the alliance-like partnership with China, he tried to develop relations with India as a great power in Asia and a traditional partner of Russia; he sought Japan and South Korea as resources for technology imports and investments, and he saw the ASEAN countries as a growing market. Post-Soviet economic integration, which has been intensifying within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) since 2009, was given a Central Asian accent. Bilateral relations and multilateral formats – within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS and RIC (Russia, India, China) – have created conditions under which Russia, while not the largest and dominant actor, is also in equilibrium with more powerful countries can produce.
Russia’s new role in the Middle East
The new quality of Russian foreign policy was most evident in the Near and Middle East, especially with the military operation in Syria since 2015. Moscow occupies a unique position here: it has contacts with all important forces in the region, including Iran and Israel. With relatively little effort and with limited losses, Russia has achieved its goals there. For the first time since the collapse of the USSR, Moscow was once again perceived as a player in the region. The secret of this success: Moscow has geared its actions exclusively to its interests and not to ideologies or the interests of others. In addition, they did not want to impose a political model on other countries and were able to act on the basis of local realities. Syria and the Middle East as a whole have become a signal that Russia has returned to the world stage and will be a global player of a different quality than the USSR. Instead of making enormous efforts to extend its model to others, Moscow is now looking for niches that it can use. Energy, weapons, nuclear technology and food are exported. At the same time, Russia, as a military and diplomatic actor, offers to a certain extent “political cover” for some states. This means that you are not only present in Europe and Asia, but also in Africa and Latin America.
What couldn’t Putin achieve?
In domestic politics it was not possible, as announced, to form a national Russian elite. The group that came to power with Putin turned out to be less resilient to material temptations. To this day, this political elite is a group of people who not only put their corporate interests above national and state interests, but also live in isolation from their country, but practically at their own expense. In this respect – freed from public service duties and strict moral restraints – the current elite is different from its Soviet and imperial predecessors. This deficiency in the existing regime weakens its long-term perspective. In terms of foreign policy, the transition from the concepts of a “larger Europe” to the idea of a “larger Eurasia” was painful. Cooperation with Europe, Russia’s closest neighbor, has stalled not only because of the Ukraine crisis and fundamental differences in political values. From the EU point of view, the basis for this cooperation was that Russia would come closer to European standards, but without including Russia in the EU. The Russian hope that the EU’s elites would leave the Atlantic orbit with the end of the Cold War and build a larger Europe with Russia turned out to be unrealistic. Then they tried to play on the political fields of the EU countries and helped nationalist forces that challenged the local elites. That was a mistake. For the foreseeable future, Russian-European relations will be shaped by economic, scientific, cultural and humanitarian interests. Geopolitics and military security remain the domains of Russian-American relations.
Problems in Greater Eurasia
The stagnation in relations between Moscow and Delhi, which began with the collapse of the USSR, continues. Relations with India, whose economic strength and international ambitions are growing rapidly, lags behind those with China. Coupled with a significant weakening of relations with the EU, this poses a threat to Russia’s geopolitical balance in the greater Eurasia region. A peace treaty with Japan, which could finally solve the territorial problems, failed. Putin has worked hard to use Japan as a source for the modernization of Russia and an element of greater Eurasian equilibrium. This failure will further increase Russia’s dependence on China. To mitigate this, relations with India and Japan would be very important. The economic integration with several CIS countries, which Putin activated with the customs union, certainly serves the interests of Russia and its partners. At the same time, the EAEU is a limited project. It has no prospect of becoming a geopolitical center of power in Eurasia. The partner countries are too concerned about their state sovereignty. The EAEU also lacks the opportunity to become a serious competitor or partner of other integration associations, be it the EU or ASEAN.
Wanted: Russia’s place in the world order
Finally, some of Putin’s concepts have not been tested in practice. The idea of a multipolar world, that is, a world of geopolitical and geo-economic equilibrium, certainly corresponds to Russia’s interests. At the same time, the idea of changing the existing world order, that is, of eliminating the global hegemony of the USA, is rather harmful. To support the enemies of the USA only because they oppose the global hegemon does not mean to strengthen one’s own position. You create additional problems. What is important for Russia is not the world order itself, but Russia’s place in it. The pursuit of a worthy and beneficial place in the emerging world order requires a clear goal setting and a well thought-out strategy. The lack of a long-term strategy on the one hand and the tendency to tactical maneuvers on the other hand lead to risks in foreign policy. Putin has repeatedly given assurances that Russia will not allow a confrontation with the United States. But the US-Russian confrontation has been a fact for five years. Now there are similar assurances that there will be no new arms race with the US. But in view of the dismantling of the arms control system initiated by Washington, there is no guarantee that the military-technical balance with the USA can be maintained without serious investment in defense.
Of course, not everything depends on Moscow. Washington has its own plans that can change. It’s about something else. Russia, as a less powerful force, is obliged to defend its interests in order to avoid head-on clashes with a rival. A major mistake in Russian foreign policy since the mid-1990s has been its strong fixation on NATO’s eastward expansion. Sure, the accession of Central and Eastern European countries to NATO has not strengthened Russia’s security and weakened Moscow’s foreign policy positions. At the same time, Moscow’s attempts to oppose the alliance’s eastern movement have tended to exacerbate the negative consequences of this expansion for Russia. In addition, the military-political steps taken by Moscow during the Ukraine crisis breathed new life into NATO and contributed to Russia being perceived again as a military enemy of the West. The resurgence of this image – a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War – is a strategic defeat for Russia.
Ukraine policy a serious mistake
The exaggerated importance of NATO enlargement has also had a major impact on Russia’s policy towards Ukraine. It is this policy that has become the worst mistake in recent years. This is not about the actions in Crimea, which were a reaction to a sharp change in the situation in Kiev, but about the logic of behavior that led to the Ukraine crisis in 2014, which in the post-Soviet period became a turning point in foreign policy Russia became.
In addition to the unjustified fear of the rise of NATO, the mistake lay in the Kremlin’s misconceptions about the aspirations of the Ukrainian elites and the character of Ukrainian society. It was believed that the Ukrainian elites could be involved in the Eurasian integration project and that Ukrainians and Russians – branches of a people – support it. It was believed that Ukraine was necessary as a critical mass for a Eurasian power center. Putin’s attempt to admit Ukraine into the EAEU was not all in vain. This would also have been costly for Russia. We have to recognize that the state of Ukraine is a great and hostile neighbor of Russia. The only relief for Moscow is that Ukraine’s internal problems no longer burden Russia. Probably for a long time, apparently forever.
Russia’s role in the world
Tolerate the US ? What a mistake. One answer to Dmitri Trenin by Alexander Rahr
Dmitri Trenin should have the opportunity to give the Russian government more advice. He can think strategically. His article on Russia’s return to the premier league of world politics testifies to this. It is difficult not to agree with him: Vladimir Putin first saved Russia from collapse and then made it a world power again. For the West – not in a positive sense, because Russia has become the West’s strongest adversary in the conception of the coming world order: not only in Europe, but also in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Above all, Russia is opposing the existing European security architecture. Moscow does not accept NATO’s eastward expansion. The war in Georgia in 2008, the Ukraine conflict, the occupation of Crimea, the war in Donbass and the militarization of Kaliningrad bear witness to this. During the Cold War, the West fought against Soviet communism. Today he is fighting against Russian nationalism. Russia alone cannot defy the overwhelming power of the West. This requires a strong ally: China. At the Valdai Club last October, the Russian President spoke for the first time of a Moscow-Beijing military alliance. On the basis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an Asian security architecture could emerge in the 2020s – as a counterweight to NATO. In Asia, the largest economic alliance in history has just been launched – under Beijing’s leadership.
There are also economic and political reasons why Russia is tending away from the EU to Asia. There is no threat of pressure from Asia, no sanctions, no “orange revolutions”, no conflict of values - just trade. For Trenin, Russia’s orientation towards Asia is more like a “turning of Russia towards itself”. As so often in history, Russia must withdraw strategically in order to gather strength. In Asia, Russia will be able to gather these forces more easily today than in Europe. The US is challenging Russia The loss of Russia can cost Europe dearly. Trenin recalls the early years of the Putin era when Russia expressed interest in NATO membership. If this had been successful, there would be a common economic and security area from Lisbon to Vladivostok today. But since the end of the Cold War, the US has only viewed Russia as a regional power – a role that proud Russia would never come to terms with. If the US were to interfere with Russia in regaining its great power status, Russia would not dare to do so in partnership, but in opposition to the West. Trenin warns the Russian leadership: Eliminating the global hegemony of the USA and messing with the USA is “rather harmful” for Russian interests. Above all, Trenin does not believe in tactical support for the enemies of the United States. He accuses Russia of a lack of strategy.
However, it was not Russia but the USA that challenged the Russian leadership by encircling Russia with NATO. Not Russia, but the US was the first to break all existing Cold War disarmament treaties. Not Russia, but the USA supported “orange revolutions” in their distant foreign countries. Not Russia, but the USA first committed a breach of international law with wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya. Trenin thinks that Russia should have let the US have it. Here he is wrong.
What Russian threat?
Where does Russia threaten the security interests of the West today? In cyberspace? Thirty years ago Russia surrendered a quarter of its empire’s territory without losing a war. Moscow has lost two thirds of its former population, including many ethnic Russians. Moscow has given the economically highly developed republics such as Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States independence. Russia has shifted its military force back a thousand kilometers to the east. Western elites should use their logical mind when speaking of a Russian threat. Or are the real dangers for the West from the authoritarian developments in Russia, as US and European politicians like to claim? Trenin is right, however, in his criticism of the current Russian elite. The political scientist regrets that they are less interested in the national interests of their country than in their own self-enrichment. Like most observers in the West, Trenin believes that Putin cannot build his power base on just a few loyal courtiers in the long term. In the past thirty years after communism, a mature bourgeoisie emerged in Russia for the first time in its history and stood up for its basic rights. At the same time, Trenin, who lives in Moscow, must not forget: the majority of Russians continue to support Putin, for them the highest state power is sacrosanct, any criticism or sanctions by the West are perceived by the Russians as an attack on their country and trigger corresponding anti-Western reactions out. Most Russians have even come to terms with corruption; this exists just as above in society as it does below. The West is wrong in believing that Navalny could organize a youth uprising against Putin. Trenin is unable to give the reader a perspective for the future of Russian development. Maybe he doesn’t want to sound too pessimistic.