Sonntag, 5. August 2012

With Putin Back in the Kremlin - Where Will Russian Foreign Policy Go?

I've commented before on Russian foreign policy and it looks like this is going to be a recurrent theme on this blog and, frankly, a theme that I hope will be picked up by others as well. Over the past couple of weeks, there were two remarkable developments that did not quite make it to the news bulletins across the world. But both are indicators of what Russian foreign policy will look like, now that Putin has returned to the Kremlin. The first is actually a setback for Moscow's strategic aims. Following a visit from Putin to Tashkent, Uzbekistan announced that it will be leaving the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). The organisation was once supposed to e Russia's NATO equivalent, but it was also a tool with which the Kremlin had hoped to consolidate its influence in Central Asia. But some Central Asian countries are growing uncomfortable with Moscow's entitlement attitude to the region and after the Kremlin had pioneered the introduction of a Rapid Reaction Force that could be deployed without full consent of all member states, Uzbekistan signalled it was willing to drop out. Following the allied withdrawal from Afghanistan, the CSTO moved towards a strategy for containing Afghanistan's potentially destabilising influence with a containment strategy along the Uzbeki-Afghan border. This would have required, in all likelihood, the long-term deployment of Russian forces to Uzbekistan, a move that would have undermined, at least potentially, the independence of Uzbekistan. It did not help that Russia's Chief of the General Staff General Nikolai Makarov, already having the reputation of a nutter, gave credence to such fears. In Helsinki a couple of days ago, he told his Finnish audience that any cooperation between Finland and NATO would be considered an unfriendly act and a sign of hostile intent. Never mind that Finland as a Western and independent power is free to cooperate with whomever it pleases, it is such rhetoric and often the action that follows suit (think of Estonia in 2007) that drives countries from the Russian camp and not towards it. And it is against this background that Mitt Romney (whom I otherwise find little compelling) has a point. Under Putin's leadership, Russia is indeed moving to become the West's 'number one geopolitical foe'.

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