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#13 - JRL 7068
No. 7
February 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
Andrei RYABOV, Member of the Scientific Council, Carnegie Centre

A well-known expert in the sphere of international relations noted recently that the present situation around Iraq was beginning to remind one of the situation on the eve of World War Two.

I would prefer to believe that the analogy with the 1939 events does not refer to the consequences of military actions. In my opinion, another thing was meant here. Like many years ago, the governments of major countries of the world and their diplomatic representatives are trying to play the double and even triple game simultaneously, publicly promising one thing and doing another, entering some agreements and rejecting them several days later. In a word, this is a starry hour of secret diplomacy and behind-the-scene political bargaining.

The situations are also similar for the reason that the players currently involved in the process cannot more or less correctly predict the consequences of the adopted decisions. Hence the natural desire to preserve a wider space for manoeuvre, to insure oneself against undesirable developments. No one doubts that the United States and its allies will destroy Saddam Hussein's armed forces without difficulty. And then some questions arise.

Is it possible that the Islamic fundamentalists will start a real terrorist war against industrialised countries belonging to the so-called Christian civilisation? Will moderate political regimes in Moslem countries loyal to the West keep the situation under control? What will be the effect of the war and its consequences on the world economy?

However, in this context we are more interested in the image of Russia in this explosive situation. We must admit that it's not so bad after all.

Having rather limited resources today, the Russian leadership has made its political line so flexible that Moscow's position has acquired significance for all potential players more or less involved in the Iraqi crisis.

President Putin is skillfully forming a flexible position based on the new realities. He makes it clear to the Americans that he still regards the United States as Russia's major partner in international affairs. At the same time, he supports the joint French-German position which insists on a peaceful settlement of the crisis and the continuation of UN inspections in Iraq. Apart from this, he sends a clear message to Islamic states' leaders: look, we are one of the few industrialised countries which understand your difficult situation and do everything possible to prevent the war. In this situation, our moved partners cannot but make response gestures towards the Kremlin. Thus, while on an official visit to Moscow, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, offered Russia to expand cooperation in various spheres, and also recognised that Chechnya was Russia's internal affair. Could such a statement be made a year ago?

Thus, what we see today are obvious gains of Russia's new foreign policy. Pragmatism and flexible manoeuvring bring much better results than Yeltsin's neo-imperial style with its claims to the role of a great power and utter helplessness of its attempts to have at least some influence in the modern world. However, frankly speaking, we must admit that this policy can be successful and promising only if there is some room left for manoeuvre (or, better still, if this room is expanding), if you can act as an intermediary, offer compromises and smooth over contradictions. However, if the Russian leadership (like many of its present partners) is confronted with the only alternative (this or that, and no other), possibilities for such a policy will narrow considerably. We shall have to choose. It will soon be seen whether Russia will have opportunities to successfully continue its new foreign policy course, or not.

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