Challenges of the Russian Foreign Policy

There is no doubt whatsoever that Russia today has returned to the international scene as a leading world power, after labouring hard for two decades. Its immense geographical area, its special role in ensuring international peace and security and its global interests made it imperative for Russia to pursue a multifaceted foreign policy, having as its main goal the establishment of favourable external conditions for ongoing internal development.  To achieve this goal, Russia is using multilateral diplomacy as a means to safeguard its interests in the new international environment.

As a matter of fact, our contemporary international life with its complexities and dynamics requires creativeness and innovative approaches.  The era of bloc policies is behind us and the states today are seeking flexible conditions, within the framework of which they are guided by the need to accommodate collective interests free of ideological orientations.  It seems that Russia understood the message of our times and adapted its diplomacy to the new conditions, which require trust and common understanding of the requirements for a more fair, equitable and democratic world.  We are giving here below some examples pertaining to matters of security, bilateral relations, international problems and economic policies.

First and foremost, the proposal of President Medvedev for the adoption of a new European Security Treaty, with a view to shaping a positive agenda in Euro-Atlantic politics and establishing an open collective security system from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Russia believes that accomplishment of this task would be a major step in breaking with Cold War ideology and policies.  Related to the questions of security are the relations of Russia with NATO.  Russia has shown, that it cannot ignore the expansion of the alliance eastwards, expressing its concern over the appearance of military bases on the territory of new NATO members, like Bulgaria and Romania.  Moreover, NATO’s stance on the Caucasus crisis caused some cooling of the NATO - Russia relations.  Believing, however, that the security of the European countries should be built on mutual trust, Russia participates in the Russia-NATO Council, on the basis of respect for the principle of equal security.  If properly used, this Council can become an important pillar of Euro-Atlantic security and cooperation.

As far as bilateral relations are concerned, those with the United States are of particular importance.  Obama’s election to the Presidency has changed the scene.  There is now a sincere desire to start an equal, mutually respectful dialogue.  The forthcoming visit of President Obama to Moscow (6-8 July) affords the opportunity to discuss a variety of important issues.  High on the agenda is the new document which will replace the START-1 Treaty, elapsing in December this year.  The discussions will certainly cover the missile defence ( USA bases in Poland and the Czech Republic), European security, the economy, environment protection and climate change etc.  The feeling in Moscow is that President Obama has the desire to advance on the substance of the issues to be discussed.

Geographical proximity and long historical ties between Russia and China have contributed to the development of bilateral co-operation reflected in identical or similar views on many key international issues.  Regular summit meetings, in place since 1996, yielded positive results in many fields; in particular that of strategic security issues.  The friendly and mutually beneficial Russia - China relationship made the two countries heavy-weight in the international arena. 

Europe, on the other hand, never stopped to be a priority concern for Russia. Moscow’s relations with the European Union aim at the strengthening of an integrated European architecture, with a view to creating a common European space, based on the commitment to common values, mutual recognition of interests, obligations and the principles of sincerity, trust, transparency, mutual respect and predictability.

The Middle East, Cyprus, Iran and their problems are, inter alia, issues of permanent interest for Russia.  For the solution of the problem of the Middle East, Russia supports the concept of the two states and, through contacts with Hamas, exercises its influence in order to achieve the Palestinian unity, a prerequisite for any solution.  Initiatives of the Russian Federation in the UN Security Council resulted in the backing up of the convocation of an international conference on the Middle East, in Moscow this year. 

On the Cyprus question Moscow’s longstanding support to the Republic of Cyprus aims at securing a permanent, just and viable solution, on the basis of the UN Security Council resolutions and the voluntary agreement of the two communities. 

Concerning the nuclear programme of Iran, Russia seeks through its continued co-operation with Tehran a peaceful, political solution to the problem, on the basis of the decisions that are taken in the UN and the IAEA. 

In the Balkans, where we meet Russian pipelines and American military bases, Moscow has developed deep-rooted traditional ties.  In order to strengthen historical ties, Russia is ready to undertake joint projects in the fields of energy, investment, trade or other fields of economic co-operation.

Finally, in the economic field, Russia is very active in the G20 (involved in the Financial Stability Board), while continuing to provide aid to countries affected by the economic crisis, like Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.  Moreover, within the framework of the newly established (2006) group of the four most promising economies, known as BRIC (initials of Brazil, Russia, India and China) there is an exchange of views on the possibility to coordinate their actions in the G20, the G8, in the UN and other fora.

We have adumbrated some of the challenges facing the foreign policy of Russia and the lesson we draw is that in its relations with a number of countries, big or small, Russia seeks to move from the coordination of positions to coordinated or joint action in dealing with international problems. This, to conclude, we consider as a big achievement of Russian diplomacy.

*Dr Andrestinos N. Papadopoulos is Ambassador ad honorem of the Republic of Cyprus