- The New Russian Foreign Policy: East or West?
Five experts on Russian foreign policy have produced an uneven and contradictory book that fails to explore the implications of the Russian state’s incredible weakness and gives short shrift to such key foreign policy problems as Russian relations with China, India, and Japan. In his introduction, Michael Mandelbaum usefully speculates on the options for Russian policymakers but does not resolve the contradictions in the book regarding not only Russian involvement in the Caucasus and Central Asia but also the current direction of Russian foreign policy toward the West —toward the United States in particular. He seems reluctant to take part in the debate between those contributors who argue that Moscow is becoming less pro-Western and more assertive in the Soviet successor states and the Persian Gulf, and those who believe that Russian policy is less neo-imperialist and anti-Western. Apparently, Mandelbaum wants to have it both ways.
The book treats some dimensions of Russian foreign policy well. Two chapters are particularly useful to scholars and students: Sherman Garnett’s study of Russian relations with Ukraine, and other new neighbors in the west, and Rajan Menon’s chapter on Russian relations with new neighbors to the south. Overall, however, the group anticipates a so-called “new” policy that will be more hard-line and self-absorbed and “less accommodating or predictable than it was.” In doing so, the authors downplay Moscow’s efforts to gain [End Page 243] U.S. acceptance by ending Russia’s isolation and by making it’s policies more conciliatory to the West. Indeed, the recent U.S. adoption of a policy of “strategic patience” toward Russia indicates that Washington believes Moscow is moving toward a more moderate international position while a beleaguered leadership tries to sort out its domestic strife. It is obvious that U.S. policymakers, particularly State Department officials, such as Strobe Talbott and Steve Sestanovich, are concerned with the economic turmoil and political drift in Russia but do not share the view of The New Russian Foreign Policy that Russia’s policy has become harder and more self-absorbed.
The book adds to the conventional wisdom regarding the possibility of an anti-Western upsurge in Russian foreign policy but generally ignores the fact that Russia, finding itself isolated, alienated, and beleaguered, has adhered for the most part to the “new political thinking” of Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze. Indeed, it is stunning to observe the efforts of President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to cooperate with the West, particularly the United States, on a variety of international issues, including arms control and disarmament, as well as such regional issues as Bosnia, Iraq, and Libya. Primakov has been particularly cooperative in dealing with Western states on the Bosnian and Iraqi problems, notwithstanding his differences with the United States regarding the use of force in the Balkans and the Persian Gulf. Not even U.S. efforts to include East European states in NATO or U.S. claims that the Caspian Basin is within the range of U.S. national security interests have led to anti-American activity or an increase in Russian nationalism.
There are other indications of a more moderate Russian foreign policy today, including Yeltsin’s lack of attention to the 25 million Russians who live outside Russia’s borders and the withdrawal of Russian military forces from the Baltics, such as the early warning radar base in Skrunda, Latvia. Primakov played a major role in Moscow’s acceptance of the first round of East European membership in NATO. Moreover, Yeltsin and Primakov have taken no major steps to reverse the deterioration of Russia’s armed forces or to weaken compliance with a series of arms control measures. In fact, Primakov has been particularly helpful to Washington in working towards the Duma’s ratification of the START II treaty. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright believes that Primakov is responsible for the progress that Washington and Moscow have registered in “advancing our cooperation where our interests...