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Moscow Times
December 13, 2007
Medvedev Quiet on Foreign Policy
By Simon Saradzhyan
Staff Writer

Despite being tipped as a presidential contender for months, Dmitry Medvedev has offered little but curt generalities about his stance on foreign policy issues.

This may be a reflection of Medvedev's dislike for the strong anti-Western rhetoric that seems to have become almost obligatory for senior officials over the past year, and his silence promises an incremental rapprochement with the West if he becomes president, analysts said Wednesday.

Medvedev showed an inclination toward Europe and a dislike for confrontational rhetoric in one of the few statements on foreign policy he has made since entering public politics as first deputy prime minister in November 2005.

"To me it is clear that Russia needs to position itself as a part of Europe," he said when asked whether he would take an isolationist approach as president. He was speaking at a lunch with international journalists during a June 2006 congress of the World Association of Newspapers in Moscow.

When pressed for his vision of Russia's role in international affairs, he said he did not see the country adopting a confrontational stance against the United States.

Medvedev focused on the economy and refrained from assessing foreign policy during his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, but he made a good impression with investors in the audience.

"I would say that it's true we don't know much about Medvedev's foreign policy views, but ... he put in a good performance at Davos," said Rose Gottemoeller, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. "If he can succeed with that crowd, then he can succeed with the G8, APEC, et cetera."

"Maybe one of the reasons why Medvedev has hardly said anything about foreign policy," said Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the U.S.-based World Security Institute, "is that he doesn't want to participate in all of that anti-Western demagoguery."

Medvedev is widely expected to continue Putin's policies on major foreign policy issues such as arms control, energy and nonproliferation, including the Iran and North Korea nuclear dossiers. Putin, after all, is backing him as the president who would follow his course.

"Medvedev is likely to respect and follow Putin's leadership, especially in the areas where Putin has more experience and direct control of key policymakers," said Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

The assumption that Medvedev would rely on Putin for guidance on such issues is backed up by the fact that none of the senior government officials seen as his close allies and possible members of his presidential team has a strong record on foreign policy, analysts said.

If he were to grow more independent of Putin over time, however, he might strike a more conciliatory and less emotional note in conducting foreign policy, especially with the European Union, Safranchuk said.

"Internally and ideologically, Medvedev is a very Europeanized person who would seek better relations with both the Old and New Europe while settling for poor relations with the United States as long as the terms remained polite," Safranchuk said.

In contrast, Medvedev's former rival for Putin's blessing as president, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, has been outspoken on foreign policy and focused his criticism on the United States.

Unlike Ivanov, Medvedev has explicitly rejected the idea of using the term "sovereign democracy" to respond to Western concerns that the Kremlin is rolling back democracy.

Medvedev is being perceived by European leaders as liberal-minded in his dealings with the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Putin by telephone this week that she believed she could work well with Medvedev.

But Graham Allison, director of Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said Medvedev, who serves as Gazprom chairman, would probably not drop Russia's aggressive defense of its control of energy flows from former Soviet republics. "The assertiveness of Gazprom in dealing with customers is suggestive," he said.

Medvedev may also seek strong ties with China. He has chaired government commissions for the Year of China in Russia, and he reportedly prefers to go to China for his private vacations. "Medvedev has great respect for China and sees it as a partner with which Russia should pursue greater cooperation," Safranchuk said.

Medvedev might, however, have less interest in being involved in the mediation of the Middle East peace process than Putin, he said. Putin recently proposed holding the next Middle East peace conference in Moscow -- a gathering that Putin might chair himself if he becomes prime minister under Medvedev.

Even after winning Putin's backing as the next president this week, Medvedev has said little about his views on international affairs. "Russia has reclaimed its proper place in the world community. Russia has become a different country: stronger and more prosperous," he said in a speech shown on state television Tuesday.

"We are no longer being lectured like schoolchildren," he said.

Timothy Colton, director of Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, said Medvedev gave every impression of being fixated on the country's internal development.

"Compared to the alternatives, he is probably the most reasonable Russian leader we in the West were likely to get from the process," he added.