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Novoye Vremya, August 22, 2004

Reflecting on Two Chairs Which Are Unavailable. Advantages and Disadvantages of Putin's Foreign Policy

By Leonid Batkin

When a prominent democratic leader was openly rebuked that almost five years had been lost because he had sitting between two chairs, he replied that there were actually two chairs; i.e., while protesting against Putin's foreign policy it is impossible not to admit that the foreign policy has become more considerate and circumspect, and should be approved.

This might seem true. Dashes typical of the era of Yeltsin and Primakov, especially those related to the ejection of Milosevic from the scene and NATO’s eastward expansion, which was allegedly dangerous for Russia, all those nearly insane threats, cries and anti-American gestures have ended. Vladimir Putin is much more competent and sane than his "unpredictable" predecessor.

Simultaneously, he is incomparably more secret and pragmatic, is able to distinguish what Russia can cope with and what the Kremlin cannot change anyway; what should be stated and which goals should actually be sought for. The president's main idea is that the foreign policy must ensure the vector of Russia's internal movement as seen under Putin's plans.

Therefore, as it has ultimately come clear, "rapprochement with the West" and "accession to the world community," just as the renowned tirade concerning "free society of free people," cannot mean adherence to liberal and democratic values. On the contrary., under the guise of maneuvering and playing on private discrepancies between the US and, for instance, France, embracing the cunning and cynical Berlusconi and under the flag of "combating international terrorism" Putin manages to get immediate and tangible dividends, primarily the consent of the Western rulers and the business to improvidently shut their eyes to everything which has been happening increasingly in Russia under Putin: from the incessant bloodshed in Chechnya to the cynical devastation of YUKOS or elimination of any shoots of independent television.

So, no "two chairs" actually exist, but the prudent and tough crackdown, by means of using the kit of keys and picklocks in foreign policy as well. Vladimir Putin, who has inspired awe in Russia, has been sensibly continuing his domestic policy abroad, althoughusing "different means."

Firstly: the president has been eagerly resorting to informal protocol and informal meetings with leaders of Western states, calling them "friends" and by names. Yeltsin had used to do this, but unlike his predecessor Putin doesn't confuse the temporal smiling tone comme il faut - and various savage escapades a la Khrushchev, explosions of politically unsound anger, etc.

Strangely, these sweet meetings usually end in no drastically new decisions and agreements. More likely, they remain ritual.

Secondly, by developing the military industrial complex anew and actually trying to restore defensive potential of the Armed Forces, Vladimir Putin hopes that, at the expense of using some evident geopolitical advantages and even the marginality of Russia for the G-7, the former empire can regain its special status and a semblance of previous prestige; by pleasing Western gentlemen create a semblance that they are courting the lady of Russia in slight rivalry. Sometimes this is successful. However, this resembles mere flirting. When Putin is expected - primarily by Bush - to take some positive and practical steps, our president fans himself inresponse and like his partners assumes no binding commitments. No profound relations are emerging – they cannot happen.

Thirdly, I think relations with Japan prove an exceedingly significant test. Hope appeared at times even under Yeltsin. A new democratic Russian course in foreign policy is out of the question until a serious and fair search for compromise is found regarding the peace treaty and the South Kurile Islands.

Fourthly, the president is undoubtedly concerned about economic relations with the West, investment and so on. Nothing radical is achieved in this field either.

Fifthly, no changes occur in Chechnya, which is an overwhelming, dead-end problem. The stubborn, hypocritical and impotent approach to the tragedy of Chechnya (and the whole of Russia) has spread the conflict to Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Sixthly, ambiguity concerning the CIS: hugs with Kuchma and concessions to the present-day Ukraine, which is far from democratic, on the one hand and coolness in relations with Lukashenko, who has begun to hurt Putin too openly (who never forgives similar treatment to anybody). Not a single word of criticism for actions of khans of Central Asia, but tension in relationship with the Baltic states, especially Latvia, which is a democratic and pro-Western country (the undoubted problem of Russian-speaking population should be resolved through a different style and behaviour); double standards and ambiguity with regard to Georgia and the detached autonomies - another example of a fruitless game based on contradictions.

To enable Russia's breakthrough into the future, a foreign policy, which is "civilized" and "pro-Western" must be subjugated to different missions in domestic policy, not the tasks of Putin but, pardon me, the tasks set by Sakharov.


Novoye Vremya, August 22, 2004

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