Saturday, February 9, 2019

Moscow’s Foreign Policy has Ceased to Evolve and Entered Pereiod of 'Clinical Death,' Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 8 – Those seeking to trace an evolution in Russian foreign policy over the last five years are deceiving themselves, Vladimir Pastukhov says. Since the Maidan in Ukraine, it “has ceased to evolve and become both dogmatic and unimaginative” employing “one and the same” approach regardless of the issue involved.

            The London-based Russian political analyst drew that conclusion unwelcome for many in the West who constantly hope for and even expect evolution in Moscow at a conference of the Henry Jackson Society this week, the title of which – “The Evolution of Russian Foreign Policy” -- was suggestive of exactly the opposite (

            Russian foreign policy reached this state, Pastukhov says, after passing through two earlier stages which involved real changes but led to the current state in which Russian foreign policy has no independent role beyond being a mouthpiece for a country that is in fact at war with the world.

            The first phase, which lasted approximately from 1992 to 2002, was “an era of ‘the diplomacy of heightened expectations.’” The Russian political class at that time was convinced that the West owed it an enormous debt simply because Moscow now called itself “’the best friend of the West.’”

            Moscow expected the West to make all kinds of unforced and unanswered concessions simply because Moscow said that it was no longer the enemy of the West but its friend, an untenable position given that the West had its own interests and understandings that were very much at variance with those in Russia, Pastukhov says.

            The West started from the assumption that the USSR “had lost the Cold War and had passed from the political scene because it couldn’t withstand the economic competition from the Western democracies.”  That isn’t how people in Moscow saw things at all, the Russian analyst continues.

            Instead, in Moscow, most people thought and still think that “the USSR and in the first instance Gorbachev and then the democrats who inherited power from him did the West an enormous service, by disarming and ‘unmasking itself’ by virtue of its own good will.” In this view, the West owed Russia a lot.

            That “cognitive dissonance” meant that this era could not last. “The turning point became the Balkan crisis, the quintessence of which was the well-known turning around of Primakov’s plane over the Atlantic.”  At the time, this was viewed by the West as an effort by Moscow “to save face”  rather than a more fundamental change of course.

            In fact, it was something far more fundamental and laid the groundwork for “all the basic elements of Putin’s foreign policy,” Pastukhov argues.

            The second post-Soviet phase of Moscow’s foreign policy lasted from 2002 to 2012 and can be described as “the era of ‘diplomacy of grievances,’” one in which the Russian leadership took the view expressed in the formula “’if you do not want to respect us from good will, we will force you to respect us by force.’”

            As Kremlin aid Vladislav Surkov put it, the world had entered into a new period of “global competition of Russia and the West.”  That formulation matters, Pastukhov says, because during that period the Russian leadership was speaking “only about competition and not about war.”

            “Russia began to carry out a policy of resistance and containment against the West, copying its own policy of Cold War times. The turning point of this period can be considered Putin’s Munich speech and the war in Georgia,” which showed that Russia no longer felt compelled to stay within frameworks established by others.

            The latest phase of Moscow’s foreign policy began about 2012 and continues to this day.  “I would call this diplomacy without complexes, diplomacy which is ashamed of nothing and which fears nothing, and one which has nothing to lose besides its press releases,” Pastukhov suggests.

            At the base of this policy, he continues, “lies the almost Khrushchevian thesis ‘We will bury you.’” Translated into present-day language, this means that we do not fear you and will fight with you as equals despite the risks and future consequences. All that you didn’t give us, we will now simply take by ourselves.”

            Those behind this policy have experienced the dashing of expectations of the past and the disappointments that the mere expression of grievances did little to salve. “In the depth of their souls, they suppose Gorbachev was guilty in everything and that everything would have looked entirely different if the USSR had continued to speak with the West in the language of force.”

            Now, these people want to restore that world, a world of “open confrontation with the West.” And as a result, “Russian diplomacy today is the diplomacy of wartime.” It has lost its flexibility and strength and become simply a servile cover for military actions, a shift perhaps especially surprising given the undoubted abilities of Sergey Lavrov.

            But at present, Pastuhov concludes, neither Lavrov nor his institution “play any essential role in the definition of Russia’s foreign policy course.” Indeed, after the Salisbury poisonings, it is “senseless” to speak about Russian diplomacy “as a policy and as an art.” It is simply a technical device for the Kremlin’s “’war party.’”

            “This is the clinical death of Russian diplomacy,” the London analyst says, “and to pull it out of this state will be possible only after a change in the overarching paradigm of the political development of Russia. Most probably, it will be necessary to elaborate the foreign policy of ‘the Russia of the future’ from square one.”   

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