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Article of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, ‘The Foreign Policy of Russia: A New Phase,’ Published in the Journal Expert on December 17, 2007


18-12-2007

Russia will actively continue playing a balancing role in global affairs, using its capabilities in the present-day world. Moreover, we will not allow ourselves to be drawn into confrontations of any kind and never will be a part of new “holy alliances” against whomsoever.

The speech of Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, in Munich in February 2007 was, undoubtedly, a landmark event in the foreign policy self-determination of the country that had taken years of internal creative work and diplomatic efforts. And by this it has considerably helped to further crystallize European and global politics. Munich became a powerful catalyst of a “reappraisal of values,” as applied to the realities of the contemporary world, on the part of the international partners of Russia, primarily from among western countries. The clarification by the Russian leader of the question of Moscow’s aspirations in the world arena and of the terms on which we are ready to cooperate – from sovereign positions of newly gained foreign policy independence – has reinforced the predictability of the “Russian factor” in international affairs.

It is with Munich that we associate the start of the movement of our western partners towards consideration for Russia’s concerns and approaches to topical international problems. We’re also witnessing some gleams of qualitative shifts in the analysis of the contemporary phase of world development in the US and Europe, although so far mostly at the expert community level. At the same time it is obvious that our partners are thinking – that the thought process has begun. One of the conclusions being drawn at that is the realization of the fundamentally nonconfrontational character of Russian foreign policy.

Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes’ article in Foreign Affairs and Roderic Lyne’s October report for the meeting of the Trilateral Commission are the latest testimonies to this. The former British ambassador to Moscow offers the advice not to base policy towards Russia on the “false premise of confrontation,” but “fully recognize the right of Russia to defend its own interests and pursue an independent foreign policy in the framework of international law and respect for sovereign rights of other states.” We would like that he would be listened to.

All manner of ideas of “global penetration” as a strategy allegedly meeting the interests of Russia appear to be all the more dangerous, contrary to our vital national interests and playing into the hands of lovers of a black-and-white vision of the world. I am convinced that international influence will always be a function of the inner state of Russia. There is no need to do something artificially, plunge into “activism” for external effects, in isolation from the real and accomplishable Russian foreign policy interests buttressed by our domestic potential. As was more than once the case in the past, we will exert influence on world processes not by means of a deliberate policy of containment against somebody, but on lines of the promotion of the intelligible principles and broad aims of our foreign policy and of our own vision of the common good of the international community.

Thus, what, in my opinion, are the peculiar features of the post-Munich phase in the evolution of world politics?

Russia’s New Status

In the first place, President Putin’s Munich speech has heralded the new status of Russia, which is now on the upgrade. It took us quite a lot of time and energy to overcome the costs of a deep and complicated restructuring of the country and learn independently to determine the pace and depth of changes within the framework of the choice we made in favor of the core values of democracy and market, which a modern society and state aspiring to effective development and a worthy place in the world just cannot live without. In a natural way, the results of our internal development convert themselves into greater financial-economic and political capabilities on the international scene. Russian diplomacy has acquired a solid foundation.

Our partners should understand that in our history we are again going through a stage of inner concentration needed for another rise of the country. Therefore in external, as in internal affairs Russia devotes paramount attention to questions of an economic character. We simply want to firmly stand on our feet, which, for example, fully corresponds to the perceptions of the Americans, French, Germans and other peoples about themselves and their country. This is the minimum that also ensures our partner qualities in the international arena.

To Russia, which has taken the path of peacefully transforming itself in a most profound way, claims are being presented as regards democracy, rights and freedoms, and the rule of law. Moreover, our partners do not want to put up with the fact that, in the framework of universal democratic values, we will move along our own, not externally imposed, path, respecting and keeping up our age-old traditions.

Those who criticize the internal development of our country, forget that western democracy long ago entered a period of political (including election) technologies that, of course, proved to be among “items of western export” to Russia and the post-Soviet space as a whole in the 90s of the last century.

In general, it is necessary together to discuss the questions we occasionally have about each other and do that in a mutually respectful fashion, without pinning labels. One of the platforms for this is to be the Institute of Freedom and Democracy whose upcoming creation we announced at the last Russia-EU summit. The aim is to activate a dialogue of the public, NGOs and experts on the issues of organization of the electoral process, election monitoring, the status of national minorities and migrants, rights of children and youth, and the state of freedom of speech without respect of countries, as they say. The realization of this initiative could help create a truly single Euro-Atlantic space of freedom and democracy – without dividing lines and double standards.

A Theory Confirmed by Practice

Over recent years we have succeeded in formulating an adequate theoretical base of Russian diplomacy tying it to our historical tradition, specific national interests and the real events of international life. In our work we have been realizing one of the major advantages we have acquired following the end of the Cold War. I mean a broad, unblinkered view of things, a kind of intellectual emancipation, and a renunciation of taboos and cliches. The necessity of tailoring international reality to some or other ideologized schemes is a symptom of intellectual and psychological isolationism.

By voicing our ideas and suggestions, we in many respects contributed to the intellectual liberation of the domestic expert community that to no small extent was under the pressure of the 1990s financial difficulties and, as a consequence, dependence on foreign grants. At that time many grantors sought to impose on our public a “quite simple” scheme – either accept western ideas and analysis or “return to the Soviet past.” The propaganda work being conducted around us was based on the theses about “the victory in the Cold War” and about “the unipolar world.” There were also those who seriously wanted to deny us the right of having a voice in world politics and even the right to decide our internal matters ourselves, and in the end – to deprive us of an independent place in history.

By and large it has to be admitted that this problem has a broader significance – for the entire post-Soviet space. As was so often the case in history, a society in a state of intellectual ferment is confronted with the temptation of accepting as an axiom the dubious premise that “light emanates from the West,” and that what has been achieved there is the end product of human development, a kind of “end of history.” Often this both disorients and demobilizes the society. As a consequence harm is inflicted upon democratic evolution – as presupposing pluralism and competition. Neither is it taken into account that some or other countries might have their own selfish interests that do not necessarily fit in with the interests of “sponsored” countries.

Emancipation on a Global Scale

The West is at the crossroads. Of the monolithic Cold War unity one can no longer speak: the unifying ideological motives have largely disappeared, as has the “Soviet military threat.” In fact, the end of the Cold War has led to western countries’ mutual emancipation from each other, and objectively there’s no longer any necessity of bloc discipline. A key compounding aspect is the full-scale foreign policy crisis of the US. This is primarily a crisis of the very world-view foundations of the messianic foreign policy philosophy of America. It is hard to say how much time it will take before America reconciles itself to the circumstances-induced reformatting of its international role – that is now as one of the world’s leading states, perhaps – the first among equals, but notably equals. The tendency towards militarization of foreign policy thinking will have to be overcome. As Madeleine Albright, comparing the Vietnam war and the Iraq occupation, has aptly noted, “America’s strength has become an encumbrance.”

As in the West, mutual emancipation takes place in the post-Soviet space, becoming a major element of transition to normal interstate relations based on national interests, on the universal rules of international law and market economy. However, the deep, cultural and civilizational commonality of the CIS states remains, which gives grounds to speak of the strengthening of the overall humanitarian space of the Commonwealth.

Neither do Russian-US relations stand aside from the overall emancipation tendency. This is, first and foremost, getting rid of hostility and the ideology that fed it. Between Russia and the US a continuity holds out in the form of our common responsibility for the maintenance of strategic stability. But it is already obvious that the baggage of the past is not enough to build present-day, stable and forward-looking ties. Globalization prompts the necessity of forming relations of positive interdependence and in the first place in the sphere of economy.

The democratic transformation in Russia has removed the objective grounds for ideological incompatibility and confrontation and opened hitherto unseen horizons for the development of our cooperation. The experience of the joint work of Moscow and Washington in recent years shows that given the political will we can fully realize this potential of mutual rapprochement and interaction.

Today, responsible politicians in both countries seriously attend to the problem of how to prevent the incipient alienation between us. I will stress, not a new confrontation – no objective grounds exist for it – but our mutual estrangement. This would not correspond to the interests of either our countries or the entire world community. We would not like to see an atmosphere of indifference become established in our relationship. It is important to keep up the positive dynamics imparted by the close mutually respectful and trustful contacts between Presidents Putin and Bush.

Cooperate, But How?

The epoch of the Great Geographical Discoveries is long past, and there is no “vacuum” anywhere which would need filling. In principle one may conclude that a network diplomacy is gathering momentum all over the world. This is also a direct consequence of the emancipation of international relations since the end of the Cold War. Such diplomacy unavoidably devalues the cumbersome and inflexible alliances of the old type – with fixed commitments for the contingency of threats that no longer exist.

The inadequacy of the “old alliances” to the requirements of our time vividly manifests itself in that to mobilize their members for universal participation in specific unilaterally conceived military actions is becoming increasingly difficult. There had to be created the “coalition of the willing,” but this is not multilaterality. It’s just some nations joining the decisions already made by somebody else. A true multilaterality is not in the number of partners, but in the modalities of interaction: it presupposes joint analysis and joint decision-making and then on this basis – common responsibility.

In the actions of the European Union there has recently begun to appear “collective unilaterality” when any member can demand “solidarity” on any personal problem. As a result – the bloc position adversely affecting our relations with the EU.

Neither do we see any logic in Russia being perceived as an integral part of Europe only in the human rights dimension, while denying us this privilege in military-political and economic affairs. Totally unacceptable is the return to the past when our relations with the EU and individual European states were largely a function of Russian-American relations.

We hope that the approval at the EU Lisbon Summit of the draft treaty on EU reform will bring nearer the launching of negotiations on a treaty on our strategic partnership. This is all the more important as we have many big common things to do, which the Russia-EU summit in Portugal reaffirmed. Anyway we would like to have dealings with a European Union promoting in the dialogue with Russia its understandable collective interests. The individual interests of the EU members are known to us; with many of them bilateral relations are not encumbered with any artificial barriers and are evolving far more productively than with the Brussels structures.

It should also be understandable that for all the nonconfrontational posture in Russian foreign policy some “red lines” exist for us: when a real threat is posed to either our national security or the existing international legal order. In this regard, we cannot but respond and uphold our positions to the hilt. Russia does not haggle – our international partners should grasp this as well. Apart from principle, vitally important interests of practical politics are also affected in these questions. Each question is self-valuable – any deals on the basis of exchanges of some for others are to be ruled out.

What’s Ahead: A Crisis or Catharsis?

Fifteen years have passed since the end of the Cold War. The adaptation of the political elites of many states to the new realities has got dragged out. As in the Cold War period, “friendly” governments are forgiven everything – from clamping down on opposition groups and pressure on business to open reprisals and even crimes against opponents.

Such a policy discredits the very slogan of democracy, replacing it with “democratizationism” – a primitive tool for achieving one’s own geostrategic goals. We cannot but be worried that such projects are being undertaken near our borders, and in their realization, voluntarily or involuntarily, anti-Russian sentiment is encouraged.

By and large, the problem is especially acute: Will we manage to get rid of the mentality of the previous epoch and finish the transformation of the global and regional security structures on an equal basis in accordance with the requirements of the times quickly enough? Success in the fight against international terrorism, WMD proliferation, drug trafficking, in overcoming global poverty, in ensuring energy security and in coping with climate change depends on the ability to do it. The delay in creating open collective security systems cannot but evoke fears. Moreover, there is every reason to assume that the inertia of previous approaches and instincts, including the politico-psychological precept of “containment” of Russia, can hardly be overcome by evolutionary methods.

Coinciding in time are the approaching solutions on a whole array of most topical themes: the CFE Treaty, missile defenses, Kosovo, the various aspects of Middle East settlement, the situation surrounding the nuclear program of Iran. This, essentially, is the most concentrated manifestation of the moment of truth which the logic of the development of events leads us to. The evolving situation is fraught with serious risks if matters are again tackled on the basis of unilateral, the more so military, schemes, through the isolation of one party or another. But the same situation may be viewed not only as a threat, but also as a unique possibility for truly collective work, a good example of which the recent international Middle East meeting at Annapolis hopefully gives.

A New “Concert”

There is an acute need today for new, flexible forms of collective leadership based on mutual consideration for interests and an awareness of responsibility for the destinies of the world. This may be called the “concert of the powers of the 21st century.” It is clear that in the era of globalization the number of global problems requiring joint approaches also increases, along with centers of growth and power influencing solutions of these problems. The process of institutionalization of the G8’s dialogue with the traditional partners – China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa – goes in this direction. The objective reality of multipolarity is also manifest in the discussions on reform of the UN Security Council.

For the Euro-Atlantic area there would be no harm in a triple mutual understanding – between the United States, Russia and the European Union. Within the framework of that “triangle” there are things on which Europe is closer to the US, but on a number of strategic issues it has more similarity with Russia. Take the theme of use of force and other forms of coercion, the death penalty as well as attitude to international law.

Despite the differences, we must strive to arrive at the maximally possible common denominator. In any case, if somebody really thinks that “containment” can’t be dispensed with, then the “triple concert” is the best, and most importantly – the nonconfrontational and no-cost form of dispelling the various suspicions through the strengthening of mutual trust. Such cooperation could also be viewed as the most benign format of collective – involving the Americans themselves – management of the process of the “soft landing” of the US into the reality of a truly globalizing, multipolar world.

Russia will actively continue to play a balancing role in global affairs, using its capabilities in the present-day world. However, we do not and will not allow ourselves to be drawn into confrontations of any kind and never will be a part of new “holy alliances” against whomsoever. This also means refusal to participate in, or support any structures which embody what Fyodor Dostoyevsky called “European contradictions.”

This must be grasped by those who tend to accuse Russia of feeling the “intolerable lightness of being,” and from the viewpoint of its strong internal and international position, supposedly condescendingly and detachedly looking on the problems of others. While refusing to participate in the projects in whose success we do not believe or which we consider harmful, we always put forward some positive alternatives and suggest considering them substantively in the framework of collective work, and it is not our fault that not always the partners are ready for this. We never put a spoke in someone’s wheel. Not we, but others come to us with their problems. Not we, but others raise the stakes too high and in such a way that one of the parties must necessarily feel having lost, and then also humiliated.

The past year has confirmed the necessity of reconsidering the approaches towards how interaction is to be built in tackling international and regional problems. In general, one small thing is lacking: to seek counsel and support makes sense before a decision is made. We will never refuse to carry out a joint analysis of the situation which must lie at the core of joint decisions and actions. Cooperation is possible only on such equal terms.

It is always better to decide matters in a collective, starting with an informal comparison of positions, not with an unexpected public announcement of unilateral decisions. There will be fewer mistakes then, and there will be no disappointments or grievances for sure. And then, I am certain, the initial meaning can be returned to the words “friend and ally” so that no one has to choose between friendship with an ally and their own national interests.