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RIA Novosti
May 6, 2008
Will Medvedev remain faithful to Putin’s foreign policy stance?

May 7 sees the inauguration of Dmitry Medvedev as Russian president. RIA Novosti asked a number of well-known foreign political analysts for their views on whether or not Medvedev will continue to uphold Russia's foreign interests with quite the same vigor as Vladimir Putin.

Tobi Gati, Senior Adviser, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP

Q: Do you expect that Mr. Medvedev will have the same principles in foreign policy that Putin had?

A: I think that a new president in any country - in Russia or in the United States -- is going to take some time to assess and reassess how he or she can make a mark on foreign policy. It should not be assumed that a new leader will have a radically different policy, but it's probably also wrong to assume that everything will continue the way it is.

Policy is a combination of national interests and, at the presidential level, personal inclinations. Certainly elements of both played a role in the strong relationship between Presidents Bush and Putin - but even very good personal relations did not prevent a downturn in the bilateral relationship.

So I think in the United States the next few months will be a period of watching and waiting to see what Dmitri Medvedev has to say about foreign policy -- and probably also some "Kremlinology," i.e., looking to see if there are any significant personnel changes in key positions. Among policymakers and experts there is a lot of concern about Russian policy - not only foreign policy but also domestic policy. Many believe that the way Russia develops internally influences significantly its foreign policy.

Another thing to remember is that the US will soon have a new president as well. This presents an opportunity for both sides to assess where our interests may overlap and where we continue to have major differences. The world is changing and so will US-Russian relations.

Q: Putin once said that Medvedev will be as nationalistic as Putin was himself. Do you think Medvedev tends to be as nationalistic as Putin and what does it mean to you?

A: The president of any country will of course want his or her country's interests to be respected and will defend them vigorously. It would be strange to vote for someone who believed otherwise. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of a leader to explain the complexities of the world we live in and avoid extremist positions. Making America the enemy during the Russian presidential campaign didn't help things, and making Russia the enemy during America's campaign won't either.

The US and Russia have every reason to make the effort to develop better relations. And what better time to start than when we both have new leaders?

Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institute

Q: Do you expect that Mr. Medvedev will have the same principles in foreign policy that Putin had?

A: Let's see. I'm not making any predictions. I just know objectively that the two men were extremely close colleagues, and while president (elect) Medvedev was very much a handpicked successor of Mr. Putin, he is of a different age bracket and to some extent of a different generation. And his background is different. And at least the tonality of what he has said and some of the substance of what he has said is suggested that he will over time (become) his own man. One will expect the president of Russia to be his own man.

Q: Putin once said that Medvedev will be as nationalistic as Putin was himself. Do you think Medvedev tends to be as nationalistic as Putin and what does it mean to you?

A: If that means that he would advance the national interest of a Russian Federation, (then) naturally. What would you expect? I would guarantee you that in that sense the next president of the US will also be a nationalist. But the next president will be (an) internationalist as well. And I think that one of the key challenges for statesmen, world leaders, is to both advance their own nation's interests and advance those of the international communities and not see the two in tension with each other.

Angela Stent, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Q: Do you expect that Mr. Medvedev will have the same principles in foreign policy that Putin had?

A: I think in the beginning it will be a lot of continuity. But I would expect there could be change over time. I think it will depend on whether he brings a new team of people working in the foreign policy field. I think it would, to some extent, depend also on what the West does. Since we have an electoral campaign in the US, there isn't going to be (anything) happening from our side until, probably, we have a new president. And I do understand that Western actions will also have an influence. So I think we could see change, but I don't expect any changes probably for the rest of this year. In the West, Mr. Medvedev is certainly known as someone who would like to have Russia as a full participant in the global economy, who believes in liberal economic policy. And I think if he continues that course, that would be a signal too. Nobody is of course sure here about what will be happening. We're all waiting to see.

Professor Anatol Lieven, King's College London, Department of War Studies

The new President of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, is not looking for trouble with the West - but then, neither was, or is, his predecessor and continued de facto boss, Vladimir Putin. The greater part of the present Russian establishment would like good relations with the West, for a whole range of pragmatic reasons including both Russia's interests and the interests of the Russian ruling class.

However, the Russian establishment is also united around a version of Russia's national interests which will make seriously improved relations with the West extremely difficult - unless the US and its closest allies like Britain are prepared to change key policies and show much greater flexibility on certain issues. Differences between Medvedev and Putin have been largely ones of nuance.

There is a certain amount of room on both sides for the improvement of the diplomatic atmosphere through changes of rhetoric and progress on minor issues; but not very much room, and even that will probably be destroyed if John McCain wins the US presidency in November.

Quite apart from the fact of Putin looking over his shoulder, President Medvedev will therefore be operating within a rather narrow range of foreign policy possibilities. He may adopt a somewhat softer style than Putin has done in recent years. He will probably seek better co-operation on issues like Afghanistan, the war on terror, and trade issues, especially with the EU - assuming that the West really wants this.

He will follow what seems to be Putin's line of seeking in the end to reach some kind of practical compromise over the US anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, which Russia cannot stop anyway. He may also try to be more helpful over Iran's nuclear programme, though even some American neo-conservatives have now decided that it is hopeless to prevent an Iranian nuclear potential, and that deterrence remains the only viable option.

But on three key issues the present line will remain basically unchanged, and if the West wants better relations - or, in one case, to prevent a disastrous crisis in relations - then it is the West that will have to change. The first is the Russian state's domination of the Russian energy sector and transport links. The second is Kosovo. Independence is now a fact, but so is partition. If the West accepts this, then an eventual compromise with Russia is possible. If the West tries to force the remaining Kosovo Serbs into an independent Kosovo, then Russian backing for Serbian resistance is certain. The same is true of Western support for the Georgian reconquest of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

This brings me to the final issue, NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine. All the other issues can be managed and contained. This has the capacity to destroy any co-operative relationship. And if the West presses ahead with this, then Medvedev and any other Russian leader will have to resist.

On the other hand, much may happen in the next few years. As the British prime minister MacMillan said, the most important factor in foreign affairs is "events, dear boy". Underlying events however will be one central development in the world: the relative decline of the United States, and whether the next US administration responds to this by seeking accommodations or lashing out in an effort to recover weakening positions. The Russian government can do little to shape this process. It can only react to US actions with greater or lesser degrees of wisdom and restraint.

Alena Ledeneva, Reader in Russian Politics and Society at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

As the US has proved to the rest of the world, an aggressive foreign policy pays off. The Bush administration has found a talented student in Mr Putin, who has effectively mirrored the rhetoric and turned it against the West. Whether Mr Medvedev will follow these steps is an open question until November 2008. It is certainly more likely that the Russian president would have to stay aggressive vis- -vis the Republican administration of Mr McCain. A Democratic victory would signify more hope for the declared liberal course of Mr Medvedev, both externally and internally. European policies towards Russia might also be a factor.

On a personal level, Medvedev has got ‘big shoes to fill.' Putin has made a name for Russia and for himself. In some ways, it was easier for Putin (with Yeltsin in the background) than it will ever be for Medvedev. Putin has built up the team he claimed to represent into a collegial and loyal network. Being part of that network has its advantages and disadvantages for Medvedev. While it didn't take him much effort to become the president, it will take time and practice to develop his leadership. Finally, whereas Putin was both a trained interlocutor and a ‘natural' in his rhetoric, Medvedev's academic background might play against him. These internal challenges will be reflected in Medvedev's foreign policy.

Alexander Kvasnevsky, former president of Poland

Q: Do you expect that Mr. Medvedev will have the same principles in foreign policy that Putin had?

A: In my opinion, Medvedev will continue Putin's policy for the first year. But the following year I think that Medvedev will become more independent. I actually don't expect any serious changes in Russia's foreign policy, although that might be good. For example, over the last year I noticed that Russian policy in Central Europe was not very active.

Q: Putin once said that Medvedev as president would be the same type of nationalist as he is. What do you think he meant by this?

A: That was probably a joke with a certain statement. We'll see. I've met with Putin several times. I don't remember meeting Medvedev, but I perhaps saw him among a group of Russian politicians. Putin, of course, injected a feeling of national pride but at times also appeared to be quite a flexible politician. But I'll say once again that I don't expect any real changes in Medvedev's foreign policy in the near future.

Q: Should we hope for an improvement in Russian-Polish relations under Medvedev?

A: If there are any changes, then they won't be very large. The list of differences between Russia and Poland is quite long. The issue of Ukraine: we are for Ukraine's integration into Europe, Russia is against it. There is the same difference in regard to Georgia. We are for the democratization of Belarus, but Russia...probably is, too, but not as serious as it should be. There are differences in regard to Trans-Dniester and Kosovo. We're not happy that Russia wants to build a natural gas pipeline on the bed of the Baltic Sea. Our new prime minister was just recently in Moscow. I think that the new president of Russia would also be interested in coming to Poland on an official visit. This needs to happen because we are neighbors. We need to develop our trade relations, develop our border relations between Kaliningrad [Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania] and Poland, tourism, as well as scientific and culture exchanges.

Nivedita Das Kundu, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, India

Russia's foreign policy under Dmitry Medvedev would seek more of continuity of Putin's policy in foreign affairs. Medvedev has dismissed Western hopes that he would strike a softer tone in foreign policy after being sworn in as president in May 7th 2008.

Putin, who is expected to preserve significant influence as Medvedev's prime minister, has been credited at home for restoring some of Russia's international clout after the chaos of the 1990s.

Putin has progressively taken a more assertive line in foreign policy, accusing the United States of starting an arms race, denouncing its plans to build part of a missile shield in Eastern Europe and criticizing NATO's plans for expansion and on Kosovo's independence.

Medvedev, like Putin, feels that Kosovo's independence gave a boost to separatism across Europe and has said the further expansion of NATO will be harmful and counterproductive.

It will be a more or less direct continuation of the path which is being carried out by President Putin. However, President Medvedev would keep control over foreign policy to defend Russia's interests by all legal means.

As Russian president, Medvedev will govern the foreign policy of the country and represent Russia on the world stage. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see once he gets power, if there will be any change or not.

Certainly there will be a honeymoon period in the early stages, however, how much Putin & Medvedev can share or divide up responsibilities needs to seen!

Raj Chengappa, Managing Editor of India Today magazine (India)

I'm sure that Mr. Dmitri Medvedev will continue the foreign policy of Mr. Vladimir Putin. For the last two years he was one of the major figures in the inner circle of Vladimir Putin and therefore actively participated in formulation and implementation of Russian foreign policy principles. I'm quite sure that they won't be any drastic changes in this sphere. Similarly to Vladimir Putin, Mr. Medvedev, to my mind, will stand against the unipolar world order and will probably pay more attention to the involvement of the BRIC countries in working out of a new system of international relations.

Putin who has recently been elected the leader of the United Russia Party, will focus mainly on domestic issues, whereas Mr. Medvedev will concentrate his efforts on foreign policy matters.

The new Russian president, Mr Medvedev, I'm convinced, will strive for the further development of trade and economic ties between India and Russia.

Edy Prasetyono, Head of Department of International relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Indonesia

Not as firm and assertive as Putin, I am afraid. Putin was great in his foreign policy. He sought to create a balance in world politics.