Changes in the Wind
Russia, regardless of the ideology in vogue at the time, has always operated on a pragmatic level. Even in the Soviet era, western analysts – and foreign Communists – were blindsided by the deals struck with the Anti-Comintern force of Nazi Germany, regardless of the cold, harsh logic behind the decision. This was not a decision based upon ideology, or backwardness, or barbarity, but a situation – an event. The West had pursued a policy of appeasement towards Germany, and Russia saw their enemies moving toward them. Space had to be made, and time had to be bought. This example is one of many. A factor that should be calculated into the analysis of Russian foreign policy is its unpredictability in the face of specific events that makes the nation feel threatened, where Russia will act with what it deems most pragmatic, given the situation. Russian foreign policy in the post-Soviet era has been largely reactionary to perceived threats by the United States, particularly through NATO, and terrorism. Two particular time periods deserve examination in post-Soviet Russia: the early to late 90s, during which the dominant force shifted from Westernism to Statism, and Putin's radical shift back and forth between Statism as well as Westernism in the face of Chechen terrorism and US policies.
The seemingly sudden end to radical Westernism in Russia was accelerated by changes in both administration and sudden entanglements, and not merely a slow erosion (64). Russia, initially intoxicated by radical Westernism, was met with a barrage of issues that threatened its power. United Nations intervention in the Balkans was dramatically opposed by parliament, and NATO's swallowing up of former Soviet bloc members allowed for mobilization against the Westernists in Russia – a trend that would continue (66). To chalk this up to some sort of formula of a combination of inescapable economic backwardness and a distinct separation from the West is a gross oversimplification and borderline ignorant of the facts on the ground. Russia, under westernization, had gone as far as abandoning its traditional “shatter zone” with the complete disregard of some former territories and former Soviet Republics. Russia felt threatened – and one is most unpredictable when backed into a corner, especially in a relative democracy. Kozyrev, Boris Yeltisn's foreign minister, had been the most important driving force behind westernization. With nationalist victories in the 1993 and 1995 elections, Yeltsin made the conscious decision to wildly modify his policy by removing Koryzev and appointing Primakov, who signaled the abandonment of Westernism and the adoption of Statism (65). The appointment was a cold calculation against the growing nationalist power in Russia. Still, even Primakov was not yet opposed so much to NATO expansion and instead pushed for a more multipolar world. To say that relations merely “worsened” with the West with NATO's airstrikes in the Balkans in 1999 is an understatement. NATO's rampant expansionism set the stage for Russia in the 21st century (103). For better or worse, Russia found itself poised once more as a counterbalance to the West, though not on the bipolar level of the Cold War, and Statist Russia quickly allied itself with nonwestern powers in an attempt at ensuring a power balance.
Much of Russia's foreign policy has been reactionary to how the United States acts. The Chechen War in 1999 has had a lasting effect on Russia, beyond the obvious tension. Much like how Americans united around Bush in the aftermath of 9-11, so too did Russians around Putin, who was a greatly unpopular prime minister (103). Putin was quite friendly to western interests in the aftermath of 9-11, sharing with them a mutual concern regarding terrorism. Russia had been plagued with terrorism since 1999, and Putin saw this as more of a threat to Russian security than conventional warfare between states (105). Another event in the United States' continuation of the war on terror ultimately put the two powers at odds, once more – the invasion of Iraq. The United States had acted unilaterally, completing going over the head of the United Nations unlike the earlier airstrikes at the turn of the century (143). This boiled into three separate fears: a US policy of regime change, internal revolutions, and radicalization of Muslims through a perceived clash of civilizations. Russia perceives the continued expansion of NATO as a threat of a military bloc right on its border. Russia also blames the “colored revolutions” as being orchestrated by the United States, and took steps to expunge “foreign agents” from Russia, including even the Peace Corps.
Russia is no longer quite as bound by ideology as it once had been, particularly under the Soviet era. Russia operates in an incredibly pragmatic manner, twisting and turning to worm its way through the obstacles that it finds itself within. These often result in longterm policy changes, as a direct result of experience, drastically changing the political landscape of the country. “Persistent factors” are not so persistent; reducing Russian foreign policy to a formula will often leave an analyst surprised and dumbfounded. Russia's attempts at westernization were derailed by sharp, painful situations, and terrorism's influence on the country is third only perhaps to Israel and the United States. It is important to keep an eye on Russia's approach to foreign policy in the brewing turmoil within the Middle East, especially given their feelings of being “duped” by the United Nations with regards to Libya – and now they stand flatly opposing interventionism in Syria.
Tsygankov, Andrei P. Russia's Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity. 2nd ed. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010. Print.