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Friday, July 18, 2008

Formalizing the Putin Dictatorship and the New Cold War

The Moscow Times reports:

President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday unveiled a new foreign policy strategy that grants unprecedented rights to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and shows that the Kremlin will maintain the tough course set during Putin's presidency.

The foreign policy strategy, signed by Medvedev on Saturday but released Tuesday to coincide with a keynote speech to ambassadors, says the prime minister will be allowed for the first time to implement foreign policy measures, a right previously assumed to be monopolized by the president.

Amid speculation that presidential powers would be weakened after Putin left the Kremlin, Medvedev said immediately after his election in March that he would retain the presidential right to control foreign policy.

A Kremlin spokesman declined to comment on the redivision of foreign policy powers Tuesday, and the Kremlin did not release further details about the prime minister's new role in foreign policy.

Other than this and several other differences, the new strategy strongly resembles one approved by then-President Putin in 2000, reiterating Russia's interest in reasserting itself as an international player in a multipolar world where UN and international law reign supreme and unilateral actions by countries like the United States are unwelcome.

"The vague and somewhat incomprehensible expectations that there might be some kind of liberalization in foreign policy" under Medvedev have proven unfounded, said Dmitry Trenin, political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Medvedev himself reiterated the continuity of Putin's foreign policy course in his Tuesday address to dozens of Russian ambassadors flown in from all corners of the world for an annual Kremlin meeting. Medvedev criticized U.S. plans to deploy parts of a missile-defense shied in Eastern Europe and Western nations' failure to ratify the revised Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.

"This common [security] heritage cannot survive if one side selectively destroys isolated elements of the strategic regime. This does not satisfy us," Medvedev told the envoys.

Medvedev also said Russia cannot rely on oral promises by other countries on national security, in an apparent reference to the reluctance of U.S. President George W. Bush's administration to sign or extend new arms treaties or allow Russia to closely monitor its planned missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe.

The 2008 foreign policy meticulously lists Russia's grievances vis-a-vis the United States and NATO, including not only missile defense and the CFE treaty, but also NATO's plan to expand to include Georgia and Ukraine. Russia has suspended its participation in CFE after a number of NATO members failed to ratify it.

The strategy also calls for a new comprehensive security pact to be developed and adopted by European countries to prevent further erosion of existing arms controls. It also reiterates Moscow's idea to transform the U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bans medium-range nuclear-capable missiles, into an international treaty. Previously, this proposal was considered more of a bargaining chip in negotiations with the United States over an entire spectrum of arms-control issues. The inclusion of it into the foreign policy strategy demonstrates that Moscow is serious about trying to convince other nations to scrap their medium-range missiles, which is unrealistic, said Alexander Golts, an independent defense and foreign policy analyst.

Interestingly, while the 2000 strategy devotes only two paragraphs to relations with the United States and speaks of the need to overcome "formidable differences" in relations, the new strategy elaborates much more on these ties. Despite the fact that relations have deteriorated in recent years, the new strategy speaks of "great potential" for cooperation in security, economic and other spheres and calls for "a strategic partnership." It calls for retiring "strategic principles of the past" and focusing on "real threats" while also working to resolve differences in the "spirit of mutual respect."

The new strategy strongly emphasizes the importance of international law, which should come as no surprise given Medvedev's background as a lawyer, Trenin said.

Another key difference from the 2000 strategy is that it does not refer to the long-delayed creation of the Russia-Belarus Union as a priority. The new strategy only notes that the union should be based on principles of a market economy.

The new document also does not repeat the 2000 assertion that there are "good prospects for the development of relations" with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Instead, it refers to the European Union as a long-term economic and foreign policy partner and singles out France, Germany and Italy among the countries that Russia wants to advance relations with. It also says Russia would like to develop relations with Britain — a sign that Moscow wants to normalize ties strained by the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko and the treatment of British investors at TNK-BP.

Russia in recent years has sought to develop ties with key EU member states, drawing accusations from the others that it is seeking to play EU members off one another. "The mentioning of individual countries sends a signal to the countries that are not mentioned that Russia doesn't view them" as partners because of their unfriendly conduct, Trenin said.

Significantly, the new strategy no longer implies or asserts that the Commonwealth of Independent States is a vehicle for the integration of former Soviet republics. Rather, it speaks of the importance of developing ties with individual CIS members while giving priority to integration with select neighbors, such as those in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Commonwealth.

Unlike the old strategy, the new one also refers to the need to fight fascism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, but it identifies no countries where these phenomena need to be addressed. Both Medvedev and Putin have repeatedly accused the Baltic states of violating the rights of Russian-speaking minorities and wrongly collaborating with Nazi Germany in World War II.

Medvedev noted that his strategy also differs in its list of priorities. At the top of the list is ensuring national security, followed by creating the foreign conditions needed to modernize Russia and protect its economic rights. It also vows that Russia will not allow itself to be dragged into a new arms race that could prove devastating for the national economy.

"These two key assumptions, if observed, would lay the cornerstone for a normal foreign policy," Trenin said.

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