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February 17, 2003
Coping with Contradictions
Igor Ivanov raises as many questions as he answers in a new book on Russian foreign policy. A partner post from EurasiaNet.org.
By Mark N. Katz
Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University and a frequent contributor to EurasiaNet.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanovs book The New Russian Diplomacy is instructive for both what it does and doesnt say. Ivanov charts a course for the revival of Russias geopolitical fortunes, yet the foreign minister shies away from confronting the contradictions that face the Russian government. The book thus leaves unanswered important questions that appear to be critical to the success of Russias diplomatic strategy.

Ivanov sets forth a clear description, as well as a defense, of Moscows current foreign policies. Moscows twin priorities, in Ivanovs words, are "creating the most favorable conditions possible for internal reform" and "not allowing the countrys international position to be weakened." He goes on to explore how the specifics of Moscows current foreign policies are intended to further these two principal goals. But while Ivanov presents a clear and lucid account of policy, his exposition also exposes contradictions that he does not address.

Ivanov states that Russian policy-makers in the post-Soviet era seek to incorporate the best characteristics of their tsarist and Soviet predecessors. Ivanov especially admires the 19th-century Russian diplomat Prince Aleksandr Gorchakov, who directed Russian foreign policy "after Russia had been weakened by the Crimean War and was in danger of becoming a second-rate state." Ivanov cites Gorchakovs memo to Tsar Alexander II advising the pursuit of foreign policies designed to support Russias internal development and prevent damage to its international position. He also mentions other tsarist and Soviet diplomats who pursued these aims when Russia was relatively weak. The pursuit of these strategic goals by post-Soviet Russia now is seen as being in the best tradition of Russian diplomacy.

But nowhere in the book does Ivanov discuss the question concerning the extent to which promoting internal reform and preserving Russias international position are mutually compatible. Ivanov appears to assume that they are, but this is not at all clear. While maintaining close relations with Saddam Hussein has helped preserve Moscows position in Iraq, for example, it does not appear that this policy has done anything to promote Russias internal reform. Indeed, it can be argued that close cooperation with Saddam has served to strengthen authoritarian tendencies within Russia itself. At the same time, Russias support for the Iraqi strongman has preserved Russian influence in Iraq while Saddam remains in power. Yet this may later serve to undercut Russias influence there with a post-Saddam regime. Russian support for dictatorships elsewhere poses similar problems.

The post-Soviet Russian government, of course, is not the only one to pursue close relations with dictatorial regimes. The United States, for instance, supported Central American caudillos for decades. But it is worth noting that where Washington-supported dictatorships were toppled, U.S. influence often suffered due to popular resentment over American support for the old regime. Cuba is perhaps the prime example of this phenomenon. Does Ivanov think that Russia is immune to a long-term loss of influence in a country where Russia currently supports a dictatorship? He does not acknowledge that this is even a possibility.

Ivanov also argues that only multilateral initiatives can resolve international security problems, and that unilateral (i.e., American) efforts cannot do so. He insists that regional organizations (such as NATO) must not undertake intervention without approval from the UN Security Council (where Russia wields a veto). He seems to imply that "unilateral" intervention by the United States and its allies is more of a threat to international security than whatever it is designed to thwart. But what if the UN Security Council cannot or will not respond to a crisis? Ivanov provides no guidance on this possibility.

The book contains discussions of Russian foreign policy toward various regions of the world. In this section, Ivanov follows up on his earlier criticism of American unilateralist tendencies, making it clear that Moscow does not welcome the presence of any outside power on the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS): "Russia will not tolerate attempts by third-party states to act within the CIS in a way that undermines Russian interests or in any way weakens Russias position." While Ivanov is not explicit, his words of caution are without doubt aimed at Washington, which has established a military presence since the September 11 terrorist attacks in both Central Asia and the Caucasus.

The assumption here appears to be that the more influence that "third-party states" (such as the United States) have in the CIS, the less influence Russia will have. Ivanov does not seem to acknowledge the possibility that a strong American presence in the CIS may, in fact, be the best hope for preserving Russian influence there. It remains to be seen whether a U.S. military presence can prevent Islamic radicalism from gaining strength in the Caucasus and Central Asia. But while Ivanov does not acknowledge it, Russia alone is hardly in a position to prevent this.

Despite advocating multilateralism, Ivanov appears to prefer a policy that develops "strategic partnerships" with the European Union, the United States, China, and India. But is this possible? It hardly seems likely that the EU, China, and India would welcome Moscow and Washington acting together to resolve the worlds problems. Given the tensions between China and India, neither of these two states is likely to be particularly pleased by Russias cooperation with the other. It is highly doubtful, then, that Russia will be able to pursue all these ambitious "strategic partnerships" simultaneously. Because of existing rivalries among these five actors, the development of one or more of these partnerships may preclude the development of others. Ivanov, though, doesnt acknowledge this possibility.

It should be no surprise that there are often contradictions between the domestic and foreign policies, or between the various foreign policies, that a state pursues. Democratic governments can hardly avoid them. While these contradictions may not be fully resolved, they can be softened--but only if they are acknowledged by those responsible for managing a countrys foreign policy. A major flaw in this book--and arguably a flaw in Russias foreign policy--is Ivanovs reluctance to acknowledge the existence of these contradictions and tell the world how the Russian policy-making establishment plans to deal with them.

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