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Mediterranean Quarterly 15.2 (2004) 83-102

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Iraq in the Context of Post-Soviet Foreign Policy

The relationship between Moscow and Baghdad, like Russia's foreign-policy relationships throughout the Persian Gulf region during the post-Soviet period, is a prominent example of the problems, contradictions, and conceptual meanderings of Russian policy since the collapse of communism. Russia's policy toward Iraq is the result of a combination of many different factors, domestic as well as foreign. These include the Kremlin's periodic attempts to formulate a new foreign policy doctrine, its desire to play an international role for which it has neither the economic nor the political capacity, its dislike of America's unilateral policies, its desire to maintain its influence in the Persian Gulf region while simultaneously integrating with the West, its need to retain former Soviet republics under its control, and its geopolitical nostalgia. All these factors result in a Russian foreign policy defined by unpredictable zigzags.

At the same time, Russia's own domestic processes, its comprehensive and contradictory evolution, the trying shift in both the elites and the system of values, and the internal struggle for power have had a direct influence on policy choices, including foreign policy. Foreign policy was often hostage to the Kremlin's internal struggles, and its course was monopolized by special interest groups or sold off to various lobbies.

Russia in Search of a New Foreign Policy Strategy

The numerous factors that directly influence the formation of Russian foreign policy all played a role during the Iraqi crisis. First, in many ways the [End Page 83] Russian elites continue to base their ideology on an understanding of the world formed during the Cold War. Even though President Vladimir Putin periodically speaks about global economic interests, the main emphasis of the country's foreign policy institutions continues to be national security and the safeguarding of the country's territorial integrity, in the military sense of the word. That is how the overwhelming majority of Russian diplomats and politicians view the contemporary world. One Russian expert writes, for instance: "For Russia, the issue is security in all its aspects and dimensions—global, regional, and national, as well as political, economic, social, ecological, and informational. The main strategic task of Russia's foreign policy institutions consists of securing a safe and stable environment."1 This is a typical statement. Such an approach, more appropriate for a department of defense than a department of foreign affairs, creates a conceptual gap between Moscow and many other states and is one of the contradictions of Russia's foreign policy behavior.

Second, Russia still has not formed a coherent position toward the world's sole superpower, the United States, or for that matter toward the West as a whole. The thesis about the inevitability of the improvement in relations between Russia and the United States turned out to be misleading. Relations between Russia and the United States could not be improved, because they had been created for another political and international reality and were, by definition, unimprovable. The countries should instead build completely new bilateral relations, based on a qualitatively new strategic and conceptual foundation. One cannot indefinitely keep improving the steam engine—at some point you need to switch to something fundamentally new, like a gas engine or an electric motor. Neither Moscow nor Washington tried to make that leap. Both sides lost a decade by trying to improve the steam engine, and as a result, they presently do not have a defined policy toward each other, and given their size and power, this cannot help but have a negative influence on world developments.

While the criticism toward the Bush administration's foreign policy is justified, it must be said that in the Iraqi crisis Russia lost a lot more in its [End Page 84] relations with the United States than it could afford. Its position was far from pragmatic and thus directly contradicted the major foreign policy principles as proclaimed by Putin. This cannot be attributed only to the American unilateral approach toward international...


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