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May 2007
Endowment FOR International PEACE 50
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Russia’s Strategic Choices Briefs inspired by the launch of our

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By Dmitri Trenin international operations at
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace www.CarnegieEndowment.org.

resident Putin’s speech in Munich, his enization has worked, so far. The United Summary
address to parliament, the Foreign States has become an object of rough official Russia’s recent foreign policy
Ministry’s policy paper, and the practi- censure, and some near neighbors, like Geor-
has taken on a combative tone
cal developments that followed from these gia and Estonia, are being subjected to tough
statements have set the stage for a closer look actions. “We are now big and rich,” said and adopted a revisionist
at Russia’s role in the world and the implica- Vladimir Putin as he shrugged off a reporter’s content. Moscow today speaks
tions for the West. question about other nations’ revived con- its mind publicly and freely,
Anyone listening to Russian officials is cerns about Russia. He is also on record say-
and makes clear it no longer
impressed by their self-confidence, and even ing that defending national interests normal-
triumphalism. As the Russians see it, Russia ly arouses foreign opposition. It is only wants to be bound by accords
is up, the United States is down, and Europe one-sided concessions that win the applause. concluded when Russia was
is out. This jubilation is understandable. For Like most developments within the coun- weak. However, while the
too long, Russian elites felt humiliated, re- try, Russia’s foreign policy is informed by a
Kremlin is clear about what it
jected, and ridiculed. Just ten years ago, the clear material interest. Moscow is looking for
talk of the global village was of a world with- opportunities wherever they may be, and is does not like or want, it has
out Russia. Today it is about a Russia resur- prepared to compete tooth and nail to get yet to articulate a positive
gent: a sea change, one worth celebrating. what it wants. This is the foundation of what
international agenda. In fact,
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calls com-
An Apparent Success Story … mon sense, which has replaced ideological, Russia faces a number of
There is no question that Russia is back on idealistic, or, indeed, any other nonmaterial fundamental foreign policy
its feet, at long last. The post-Soviet econom- affinities in Russia’s foreign relations. choices that cannot be
ic slump is almost history—in 2007, after Russia’s ultimate interest is a status of a
explained by a reference to
eight years of steady growth, Russia’s gross major world power, on par with the United
domestic product will reach its 1990 level. States and China. With the country sover- sheer pragmatism or the show
The macroeconomic indicators are stellar. eign again, and the Kremlin fully sovereign of newly regained power. In
Moscow is no longer a supplicant at the In- within it, the next step is to eliminate ar- dealing with Russia at this
ternational Monetary Fund (IMF), it is on rangements that were concluded when Mos-
stage, the West needs to reach
the threshold of joining the World Trade Or- cow’s influence was at its nadir. Having re-
ganization (WTO), and is setting its aim on covered from a period of weakness, Russia is beyond the binary formula of
the Organisation for Economic Cooperation turning revisionist. That should come as no integration or isolation and
and Development (OECD). As the West lost surprise: since the mid-1990s Russian for- focus instead on the national
much of its leverage over Russia, the coun- eign ministers adopted Prince Gorchakov,
try’s territorial integrity was restored: Chech- Alexander II’s able top diplomat, as their role

model. It took Gorchakov fourteen years to foment popular indignation with “foreign Rus-
repeal the Paris treaty, which followed sophobia.” Off-hand comments by U.S. offi-
Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Crimean cials, obscure articles in U.S. journals, and dull
war. In Gorchakov’s footsteps, Vladimir Putin documents issued by U.S. government agen-
threatened to pull out of the Conventional cies that are not even mentioned by the U.S.
Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty less than seven- media become top stories in Russia, serving as
teen years after it was signed. a proof of the United States’ hidden agenda,
But this is hardly an isolated case. Russia believed to be still centered on Russia.
has abruptly changed the rules of the game in Russia takes issue with U.S. “attempts to
Dmitri Trenin is senior
the Sakhalin-2 project. Its intention to quit construct a unipolar world” (as Putin put it in
associate and deputy director of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) his Munich speech), NATO enlargement,
the Carnegie Moscow Center. He treaty is not a hollow threat. The Russian mil- U.S. missile defense deployments in Central
retired from the Russian Army itary see it as a relic of the Cold War, totally Europe, and the official U.S. policy of democ-
after a military career that unsuited to twenty-first century strategic reali- racy promotion. Interestingly, Moscow pres-
included participating in the
ties, and discriminating against the two coun- ents these issues as direct threats or at least se-
Geneva strategic arms control
negotiations and teaching at the
tries which are parties to it, the United States rious problems; even as it says that, effectively,
Military Institute. Trenin was the and Russia. In the name of the Russian na- they mean little: a unipolar world is a chimera;
first Russian officer to be selected tional security interests, it has to go. This is, NATO enlargement actually weakens the alli-
for the NATO Defense College. verbatim, the Bush administration’s rationale ance; ten interceptors in Poland guided by a
He holds a Ph.D. from the for withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Mis- radar in the Czech Republic will not blunt the
Institute of the U.S.A. and
sile (ABM) Treaty. Like the United States, Russian deterrent; color revolutions have fiz-
Canada (1984), and was a senior
fellow at the Institute of Europe
Russia now prefers to have a free hand. zled out, and an “orange” Ukraine is a more
from 1993 to 1997. He is the amenable partner for Russia than Leonid
author of numerous articles and Taking a Second Look Kuchma’s government ever was and certainly
several books, including The End Critics say that this happy triumphalism is more than Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus
of Eurasia (Carnegie, 2002), short-sighted and may be short-lived. It is not is today.
Russia’s Restless Frontier: The
so much Russia that is up, but that energy
Chechnya Factor in Post-Soviet
Russia (Carnegie, 2004), and
prices are. Yet, what goes up, must come down. A Frustrated Russia
Getting Russia Right (forthcom- Even if the demand continues to be strong and Privately, top Russian officials still reel from the
ing, Carnegie 2007). prices stay high, there are well-founded con- rejection of their earlier overtures. Moscow’s
cerns about Russia’s ability to satisfy that de- private probing on a possibility to join NATO
mand. Investment, technology, infrastructure, was never seriously entertained; its removal of
and efficiency are all wanting. Russia, of course, an intelligence gathering station in Cuba was
will continue as an energy source for the in- taken for granted; its acceptance of U.S. forces
dustrialized and industrializing world, but it in Central Asia and U.S. military instructors in
does not qualify as the world’s secretary of en- Georgia were seen as reluctant bowing to reali-
ergy. And, except for arms and metals, there is ties; its mild reaction to NATO membership
little else it offers on the global market. for the Baltic states and to the U.S. withdrawal
Much in Russia’s behavior continues to be a from the ABM Treaty were attributed to Rus-
reaction to what outsiders do or say. Russia sia’s general foreign policy impotence. There
feels strong, but it is still strangely prickly, was certainly a lack of sensitivity in the West,
which reveals deep-seated insecurity. In a dra- which frustrated Russia. However, what Rus-
matic reversal from Soviet practices, Russian sian leaders fail to realize is that a repetition of
government propagandists masochistically seek these litanies engenders no sympathy, let alone
out criticisms of Moscow’s policies—the black- soul-searching in the West.
er, the better—and have them translated and Putin’s demarche in Munich vented this
beamed to the domestic audience, probably to frustration. He also rejected the two previous
Strategic Choices 3

models of Russian-Western relations, as he tral Asian states, but the interest died down
saw them: Gorbachev’s partnership through when this attempt fell flat.
concessions and Yeltsin’s partnership through The problem is that, just as inside Russia, a
submission. Instead, Putin sought to lay down high and prestigious position is associated
his own terms of engagement—partnership with privilege and status, rather than responsi-
through strength, built on respect and equali- bility. The Kremlin appears to see the G8 as
ty. It remains to be seen whether the new the equivalent of a global Politburo, and the
toughness will breed understanding and en- UN Security Council as a central committee.
gagement or simply more toughness. Craving for status is natural among nations,
but one has to match ambitions to capabili-
Looking for the Positive ties. Great power only makes sense in the
Side of Russia’s Foreign Policy twenty-first century as long as it is also a great
Unlike the perceived slights and strong re- country, attractive to its own people. Energy
sponses, the positive elements of Russia’s for- superpower is a myth, and a dangerous one.
eign policy agenda are understated. Moscow Being the only major country that can openly
bungled a real chance to take the lead on en- defy the United States is a distinction laced
ergy issues during its G8 presidency: its with liabilities. Moscow, as an informal spokes-
heavy-handed handling of the gas price dis- man for the major emerging economies (Bra-
pute with Ukraine, and then Belarus, effec- zil, Russia, India, China, or BRIC), has few
tively framed its first year in the world’s top supporters in Beijing, Brasilia, or Delhi. The
chair. By the time Russia’s presidency had Shanghai Cooperation Organization may
ended, its credibility had markedly ebbed. “unite” more than one-third of the world’s
Russia ratified the Kyoto protocol as part of a population, but Russia’s share in the SCO’s
deal to get the EU’s approval of Russia’s WTO “grand total” is a meager 5 percent.
bid, but its position on global warming is un- Despite vast potential, Russia has not been
clear. Russia joined its G8 partners in writing able to make good use of its soft power. The
off poor countries’ debts, in Moscow’s case, fact that Russia has become a workplace for
mostly for past arms sales to the regimes that millions of people from across the former So-
are no more. On fighting poverty itself, Rus- viet neighborhood is no achievement for Rus-
sia briefly tried to act as an advocate of Cen- sian foreign policy. When Moscow felt the


The International Community’s Toolbox for Russia

The international community, particularly the United States, can either harm or help its relationship with
Russia in several different ways:
n When the issue of granting Russia permanent normal trading relationship (PNTR) status reaches
Capitol Hill later this year, the discussion could go beyond economics and into a general debate on
Russia. Should that debate lead to a negative conclusion on PNTR, it will further harm the relation-
ship, and it will fail to bring about any desirable change in Moscow’s domestic or foreign policy.
n Russia’s WTO membership is the most powerful transformative instrument in the hands of the
international community.
n The Jackson-Vanik amendment—which denies unconditional normal trade relations between the
United States and certain countries, including Russia—has no real effect on the U.S.-Russian
economic exchanges, but has become, in Russian eyes, a symbol of U.S. ill will toward Russia. It is a
clear liability.

need to act to project or protect its interests in a survival battle, gotten off its crutches, and
the new states, whether Belarus, Georgia, earned the luxury, but also the necessity, to
Moldova, or Ukraine, it squandered part of its think ahead. However, even Kremlin-friendly
moral authority with the new states. An early commentators point to the lack of priorities in
recourse to sanctions is hardly a soft power in- its foreign policy. Russia is on its own, alone,
strument. Russia has singularly failed to make and adrift. Where will this drift end up? With
others want what it wants, or see things as it Gorbachev’s diplomatic legacy derided and
does. The 2006 hate campaign against Geor- discarded, and Prince Gorchakov as a new
gian immigrants in Russia struck a particularly icon from the Great Game era, is Andrei Gro-
ugly note. The 2007 campaign against Estonia myko making a comeback? Before it is too
found Moscow isolated. Even when Russia has late, the Kremlin needs to restore the balance
a point, as in the abolition of energy subsidies, between the yeses and nos of diplomacy, re-
fighting illegal migration, checking the quality evaluate its cooperation to coercion ratio, and
of imported goods, or honoring the memory find answers to a range of critical strategic
of WWII soldiers, its actions manage to fur- choices it has yet to confront.
n What are Russia’s aims in its immediate
Russia is back on its feet, at long last, but triumphalism neighborhood? Is it merely seeking influence
by means of its soft power, or does it want to
is short-sighted and could be short-lived. dominate the region? This is a choice between
post- and neo-imperialism.
n What about Russia’s European vocation, so
ther destroy the image it wants to build. This
loudly proclaimed at the beginning of the de-
points to a serious and dangerous bug in the
cade? Is Moscow serious about building com-
Russian foreign policy software.
mon spaces with the EU, which would effec-
Russia’s foreign policy pragmatism is re-
tively make Russia and Europe two
freshing, but it cannot exist without a founda-
semi-detached houses? Or is the EU just an-
tion of values. Otherwise, pragmatism would
other partner among so many others: Associa-
only stand for money, and the more money is
tion of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),
offered, the more pragmatic the stand. For
Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR),
what does Russia stand? Presumably these are
the African Union? This is a choice between
the same things that are written in its Consti-
anchoring or drifting.
tution—the rule of law, human rights, and de-
mocracy. A senior Kremlin official recently also n Are oil and gas export commodities or en-
mentioned Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms: ergy weapons? Will Russian leaders seek a
freedom of speech, freedom of worship, free- symbiotic supplier-consumer relationship
dom from want, freedom from fear. Why then with the rest of the G8 or will they see this
does Russia, more often than not, side with the relationship as essentially acrimonious, and
certifiably less representative regimes? Is it geo- try to bolster their position by building coali-
politics, material interests, aversion toward tions of suppliers to provoke intense competi-
Western, especially U.S., policies, or all of the tion among the consumers for scarce sup-
above? Or is Russia building a different kind of plies?
democracy, which is closer to China’s system n Is NATO a partner or a problem? Does the
than Europe’s? This is no idle question. NATO-Russia Council primarily serve the
purpose of gaining first-hand information on
Russia’s Foreign Policy Crossroads the alliance, or that of building common secu-
That today’s Russia should be in search of for- rity and organizing strategic interaction?
eign policy bearings is normal. It has just won Should Russia look forward to NATO’s im-
Strategic Choices 

minent failure in Afghanistan, and get ready to world peace than WMD proliferation and
to cut deals with the Taliban when the Is- terrorism? Are enemies, instigated and led by
lamists retake Kabul? Is the intention to fight Washington, really closing in on Russia, ready
terrorism or to play a new Great Game in to link up with enemies within? Are these
Central Asia? Meanwhile, is it wise to threaten same ill-wishers seeking to lock Russia in its
the European NATO countries with a new petro-state niche, even as they publicly and
version of SS-20 INF missiles? Does this re- hypocritically voice concern that this is where
cent threat mean brinkmanship, immaturity, Russia is moving? Is the Russian leadership
or “longing for a simpler world”? Apart from seeking something like a new Cold War with
the INF Treaty, is it really good for Russia to the United States, determined to avoid one, or
also quit the CFE? In short, does Russia con- simply content to drift?
sider the West a potential military adversary in
the twenty-first century?
Moscow on the Potomac
n Perhaps China is the alternative as a true The United States may be down as a result of
strategic partner, even eventually an ally? its policy failures and difficulties in Iraq and
There is no doubt that friendship with China elsewhere in the Middle East, but not nearly
is a major asset not to be given away. It is also as much as some in Russia wish it to be. Glob-
true that China’s national might has grown al multipolarity will take some time in com-
several times in the past twenty years, even as ing, and even when it arrives, the United
the Soviet Union disintegrated and Russia States is likely to remain primus inter pares.
went through a painful transition. Do Mos- Unfortunately, much of Russian thinking and
cow’s Realpolitiker envisage a strategy of bal- rhetoric about the United States today is cen-
ancing China’s strength vis-à-vis Russia, or, on
the contrary, are Western democracies to be
balanced by means of an unequal alliance with Russia has not been able to make good use of its
China? What is the realistic strategy for devel- soft power. More than a set of slogans, it needs a
oping the Russian Far East and Siberia, so that
they remain Russian fifty years from now? positive international agenda of its own.
Russia has officially proclaimed 2007 as the
Year of China: this should help concentrate tered on U.S. foreign policy. This obscures the
the mind. central fact that a strong relationship with the
n Can reaching out to India, another emerg- United States is indispensable to Russia’s
ing Asian giant, give Moscow a major and to- reaching its prime national objectives of mod-
tally unproblematic ally? In that case, how ernization, economic integration, and securi-
does Russia plan to engage with the principal ty. Has Moscow given serious thought to how
movers and shakers of today’s India, its entre- to get this relationship to work for Russia’s
preneurial class? Or are Russian leaders pre- benefit? Without a dramatic change of atti-
pared to live with the fiction of a strategic tudes in the United States, Gazprom’s dreams
partnership that is paper-thin, even if that pa- of entering the U.S. energy market will have
per has all the appropriate signatures? no chance, no matter how much it spends on
n Finally, Russia should consider the United public relations firms.
States. Ironically, vehement Russian criticism The Kremlin needs to revert to its early
of U.S. policies comes at a time when key 2000 maxim: don’t mess with the United
Bush administration policies are being quietly States. The relationship is too important for
revised. Is U.S.-driven democracy promotion, pranks and posturing. Moscow needs to dras-
now clearly petering out, truly a bigger threat tically improve its communication with

Washington. Putin’s speech in Munich testi- seem to know it. They are remarkably adapt-
fies to the lack of dialogue. To establish it, able and highly successful abroad, and nowhere
Moscow will have to rely on people who are more so than in the United States. It is time
serious, not just street-smart. It will have to the regime started to learn from its citizens.
reach out to Congress, not just the adminis- As to U.S. foreign policy, it will take care of
tration. It will need to learn to engage with itself. The country has a great capacity for self-
Americans, not just sit and watch them as if correction. The United States is not the world’s
from some bunker. The embassy in Washing- main security problem. In a world “free” from
ton should not be a mere listening post, but a the United States, Osama bin Laden would
hub for contacts and public relations in the still be roaming somewhere, fighting “Jews
and crusaders.” Someone would still have to
do something about nukes in bad hands,
Russia’s foreign policy should not be held to a higher which would be threatening other countries,
either for ransom or just out of spite for past
standard than that of other countries.
wrongs. Afghanistan would loom larger on
the Russian General Staff ’s radar. Other major
nations would be free to rise faster, creating
widest sense. In order to be successful at en- perhaps more disruption: historically, multi-
gagement, Russia will need to do unto the polar world systems are known for periodic
United States what it wants the United States tests of strength.
to do unto Russia. Yet Russia’s foreign policy should not be
Rather than complaining about the rules of held to a higher standard than that of other
the game and ever-biased umpires, Russia will countries. Western approaches toward Mos-
achieve more if it learns to adapt and succeed cow are certainly not beyond reproach. There
by the rules that exist, and thus earn the right is a danger that, in 2007–2008, due to the
and the capacity to participate in making fu- overlapping election cycles in both the United
ture rules. At the individual level, Russians States and Russia, the relationship may suffer


The Trouble with Iran

n For the Iranian nuclear issue, there is no military solution.
n For any diplomatic solution to succeed, Russia is indispensable.
n Russia’s fundamental interest in keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons coincides with that of the
United States, the EU, and Israel.
n If Washington decides to engage Tehran as it has engaged Pyongyang, Moscow will be the key
partner, and must be treated as such.
n As the Russian civilian nuclear agency seeks to transform itself into a corporation with a global reach,
Moscow has less of an incentive to cooperate with pariah states and every interest to seek entry into
the global market, controlled by the United States and France.
n Therein lies the basis for U.S.-Russian potential collaboration, which could ensure that Iran agrees to
forgo the nuclear weapons option, and Russia becomes even deeper integrated into the rules-based
global economy.
n In 2007, a window of opportunity is presented to move ahead toward those goals.
Strategic Choices 

still more. The current atmosphere is toxic. Where the interests are opposed, damage
However, there is a chance coupled with a control is in order. The new states of Eurasia
challenge. Russia and the United States are ne- will ultimately choose their own political ori-
gotiating an agreement on civilian nuclear co- entation. However, an outbreak of hostilities
operation which, if concluded, could mean in the zones of conflict in Georgia or serious
better business opportunities for both coun- instability in Ukraine must be prevented.
tries and enhanced security for the world.
Also, since the United States agreed in No- Using the Right Roadmap
vember 2006 to let Russia join the WTO, the Getting the Russia policy right requires a change
issue of granting Russia permanent normal in focus. Washington would achieve much
trading relationship (PNTR) status must be more if it thought first about what is good for
addressed on Capitol Hill. This coming de- the United States internationally, rather than
bate will probably not be confined to the mer- about what is good for Russia internally. Even-
its of Russia’s trade policies, but cover the en- tually, Russia will take care of itself, but Af-
tire ground of Russian domestic and ghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and the broader
international behavior. issue of stability and security in the Middle East
Here are a few thoughts ahead of this dis- demand cooperation with Moscow.
cussion. For its part, the Russian leadership needs to
Russia is not in decline. It is experiencing make several strategic choices that would clar-
the growing pains of reinventing itself. Today’s ify Russia’s foreign policy goals. Focusing on
Russia is not the Soviet Union II: consider the
effect of private property, capital, open bor-
ders, and the utter absence of an ideology. It is A strong relationship with the United States
not the eternal evil empire. Its current story is is indispensable to Russia’s modernization,
capitalism rather than democracy, but capital-
economic integration, and security.
ism eventually leads to democracy via the in-
stitution of the rule of law and the rise of the
middle class. complaints wins no respect for a big country.
In dealing with Russia, interests are key. Focusing on threats leaves one friendless. Rus-
There is much common ground on such is- sia needs to establish a positive international
sues as Iran, North Korea, WMD and missile agenda of its own, one that is more than a set
proliferation, and the global nuclear balance: of slogans, and one it means to implement. In
nuclear multipolarity has arrived. The need to a dynamic world, Moscow can ill afford to be
fight terrorism will stay after Bush and Putin adrift. It’s time to check one’s bearings. n
go. Stability in Afghanistan is a common con-
cern. On energy, for all their emphasis on en- The Carnegie Endowment normally does not
ergy sovereignty—which echoes energy inde- take institutional positions on public policy is-
pendence calls in the United States and energy sues; the views presented here do not necessarily
diversification in Europe—Russians realize reflect the views of the Endowment, its officers,
that they need Western technology, and, above staff, or trustees.
all, Western markets. Agreeing on the exact
parameters of interdependence will not be © 2007 Carnegie Endowment for International
easy, but the dialogue needs to restart. Peace. All rights reserved.
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International Peace is a private,
Russia Redefines Itself and Its Relations with the West, Dmitri Trenin
nonprofit organization dedicated
to advancing cooperation between
(Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007).
nations and promoting active Moscow’s Washington Tango: Russia Needs a New Strategy vis-à-vis the United States,
international engagement by the Dmitri Trenin (Kommersant, November 15, 2006).
United States. Founded in 1910,
Bush and Putin Have a Lot of Work to Do, Dmitri Trenin and Mark Medish
Carnegie is nonpartisan and
dedicated to achieving practical
(International Herald Tribune, November 17, 2006).
results. Building on the successful Russia Leaves the West, Dmitri Trenin (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006).
establishment of the Carnegie
Reading Russia Right, Dmitri Trenin (Policy Brief No. 42: Special Edition, October 2005).
Moscow Center, the Endowment
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