There has been much speculation about the possibility of Donald Trump adopting a more conciliatory approach towards Russia when he comes to office, and what this might mean for the future of the Euro-Atlantic community’s relations with Russia.
But if there is uncertainty about the approach Trump will take to both NATO and Russia, Moscow has already been explicit in its views, having recently published a new Foreign Policy Concept which outlines the broad assumptions and directions of Russian foreign policy. A quick glance through the document might cause some in the Euro-Atlantic community to scoff at some of the assertions about Moscow’s professed intentions, whether about maintaining the supremacy of international law and the central role of the UN, Russia’s contribution to peace and security in Europe or the importance of democracy and human rights. Others might assume that the concept is both formulaic and much like the last one, and that, since little has changed close attention is unnecessary.
This, however, would be to miss important signals about Russian foreign policy and thus what to expect from Moscow. Indeed, not only was the publication of the Concept timed to coincide with president Putin’s annual speech to the Federal Assembly, thus ensuring a higher degree of prominence, but the Concept is explicit in asserting that Russian foreign policy is consistent, ‘open and predictable’.
In considering prospects for NATO-Russia and US-Russia relations, two main points stand out from the Concept. First, it represents an update of the previous Concept, written in 2012 and published in early 2013. If that document bore the imprint of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, this one bears that of the combination of the Ukraine crisis and the sharp deterioration in Russia’s relations with the Euro-Atlantic community, with all its political and economic consequences, including the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, the grave situation in Syria, the rise of ISIS and the migration crisis.
The Foreign Policy Concept thus emphasises the view often stated by the Russian leadership that the world is becoming increasingly unstable and dangerous, with an increasing risk of regional conflicts and the escalation of crises. It also points the finger squarely at the Euro-Atlantic community for causing this ‘intensification of turbulence at the global and regional levels’. There are other digs at the Western community, including mentions of double standards when dealing with international terrorism, and financial, political and material support for terrorists, and the use of terrorist organisations by states to achieve political, ideological or other goals. These criticisms, though largely implicit in this document, are long standing accusations made by Moscow against the West.
Second, while the document asserts Moscow’s readiness to pursue mutually advantageous cooperation with partners on an equal basis, the tone adopted towards the Euro-Atlantic community, and particularly NATO and the US, is now more robust. The document notes the increasingly serious systemic problems that have built up over the last 25 years in the Euro-Atlantic region.
There are, of course, several old bones of contention, including conventional arms control disagreements, and criticism of the EU-Russia visa regime, NATO enlargement and the US ballistic missile defence programme. But the statement of Moscow’s opposition to US actions ‘outside the framework of international law’, and that it does not ‘accept [US] attempts to exert military, political, economic or other pressure and reserves the right to respond robustly to unfriendly actions, including strengthening national defence’ is new. Following on from this, Moscow intends ‘not to permit the implementation, on the pretext of realizing the concept of Responsibility to Protect, of military interventions or other forms of outside interference that infringe the norms of international law in particular the principle of sovereign equality of states’.
The Foreign Policy Concept is a serious statement of Moscow’s intent. It sets out Moscow’s positions on what are in effect a structural set of disagreements with the Western community, not only in direct relations, but in terms of how the world is seen, from very specific questions to the broader strategic horizon. Moscow’s view of possible cooperation, it appears, is based on the Euro-Atlantic community correcting its ‘mistakes’.
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