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Alexei Arbatov, foreign policy expert: Russia has obviously taken a course towards alienation from the USA and Western Europe

Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe

September 28, 2012

Interview by Andrei Shary

A nervous reaction displayed by the Russian authorities for the PACE resolution on the implementation of Moscows obligations on the democratic development [of Russia] which has not been promulgated yet, is caused, according to experts, by two main factors. First, the Kremlin reorients its foreign policy and foreign economic strategy from Europe to Eurasia. Secondly, the recent repressive policies towards the civil society will inevitably affect [Russias] behaviour on the international arena. Alexei Arbatov, international relations expert and Director of the Center for International Security of the Russian Academy of Sciences, talks about this in his interview to the Radio Liberty.

Alexei Arbatov: Certainly, demonstrative gestures are used in diplomacy. Here just recently, the U.S. and the Israeli delegation walked out of the UN General Assembly meeting during the speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Today I have heard that when Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, made a speech on Syria in the UN Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also left the room (if only I am not mistaken and understand the news correctly). Demonstrations of this kind are held from time to time.

However, the problem is like this: unfortunately, a gesture of Sergei Naryshkin demonstrates the growing gap between Russia and the rest of Europe. Russias political developments affect both its foreign policy and its relations with other countries. Russia has decided to turn to the Asia-Pacific region, and this is proclaimed everywhere; the Eurasian concept of development and the Eurasian Union is in the Kremlins focus. Our foreign and foreign economic policies and our economic strategy has shifted the emphasis from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region. The Russian leadership has made it clear that, in general, for Europe it is not so important, and thus Europes criticism is unacceptable, and Russia is not even going to listen to it. [The Russian government] has taken the policies towards a clear weakening of contacts and relations with Europe. Europe is in a very poor economic situation (by the European standards, of course), and it serves as another reasons for Moscow not to care very much about the relations with Europe.

Radio Liberty: Whether this approach is justified?

Alexei Arbatov:
It is justified from the point of view of the course adopted in the country, the policy towards consolidation of power, marginalization of the opposition, change of the law, curbing of different civil freedoms and liberties and overall toughening of the political regime. From this point of view, what has been going on in [Russias] foreign policy is quite logical. But if you look at the situation with detachment from the outside and in the long run, I think that this policy is wrong, this course is opportunistic. Indeed, Europe is weak, America is facing economic difficulties, but these are temporary development. Even if the recession last for several years, I have no doubt that Europe and America will come out of it.

And Russia can finds it Asia? Well, maybe new trading partners. Russia's contribution to the exchange of goods in the region amounts to one per cent. Well, if we try hard, we may raise this index to perhaps two or three percent. But we have to realise that Europe and America have in Asia is much more trade ties and are more important in trade than Russia. What Russia really needs for its development is investments and new technologies. That's what Russia will not be able to find in Asia. Certainly Japan and South Korea have all this, but it is unlikely in this situation that Russia may get something more from these countries more than their purchase of Russian raw materials. And in relations with China, Russia will get what it gets now - investment into the natural resources which China will take hold of later, and mass-scale exports of low quality of Chinese consumer goods.

As for the decision of the Chairman of the State Duma not to go to Strasbourg, I think, no matter how it can be explained, in fact, the failure Naryshkin is an indicator of uncertainty in position. If one is sure that everything is correct, that the laws correspond to the Constitution, that one is supported by the majority of the population, that one can deal with the opposition with the help of political means rather than resorting to repreisals, than one has to go and listen to the criticism and defend ones position with arguments. But simply not to go is a struthious position, which, in my view, may look very nice, but in the long run is very bad for the future of Russias economic and political development.

Radio Liberty: Can we interpret your words so that Russia has been virtually curbing cooperation with the democratic club countries, including, certainly, Japan and South Korea? And that Russia prefers to deal with those countries that are not too careful in dealing with human rights and the development of civil society? Is Russia is focusing on such allies?

Alexei Arbatov: Certainly, this trend is quite clearly visible. But this does not mean that Russia will fenced off from Europe. There will be economic relations, Russia supplies energy to the West, and gets from Europe what it gets, there is even investment, and car assembly plants are built. But this has nothing to do with deeper integration which would lead to increased investment into the Russian economy and development of new technologies. Russia has clearly taken up the course towards alienation from democratic European countries and the U.S. As far as Asia is concerned, neither Japan nor South Korea make any claims on Russia over democracy and human rights. These countries have a different political structure. But I do not think that these highly advanced countries may ever replace Europe for Russia in terms of those calculations that have been previously made in the Kremlin. In particular, the doctrine of partnership for modernization, which was launched by ex President, Dmitry Medvedev in words only, and was never put into practice, is doomed to remain on paper only.


See also:

The original publication

Russia - EU Relations

Russia - US Relations



September 28, 2012

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