Russian Foreign Policy in Crisis

Stanislav Secrieru of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) considers whether Russia’s economic crisis and lower oil prices will motivate Moscow to scale back its more aggressive foreign policy ambitions. Secrieru envisions two scenarios: a more compliant Kremlin seeking to bridge the gap with the West or Russia maintaining its normative independence in foreign policy making.

Rationalists argue that power capabilities define the actors’ foreign policy goals. Accordingly, they assume that a decline in state resources will compel Russia to scale down its international ambitions. There are expectations that, as the crisis strikes with full force, Russian foreign policy will soften and Moscow will adopt a more conciliatory tone. Thus, the crisis is seen as an opportunity “for a new beginning” in relations with the West.

It is considered that it would be wise for the US and EU to take several concrete steps to meet Russia’s regional and global concerns. Such an approach would neutralise the Kremlin’s suspicion that the West is likely to speculate on the vulnerabilities of a weakened Russia and extract more advantages. Alleviating these fears might help to find the right balance between the “three branches of European civilisation” – Russia, the EU and North America.

On the Russian side, the desire to overcome the all time low in relations with the West could be a favourable factor. Nevertheless, such adjustments will take place not as the natural consequence of a gradual convergence of values, but as the result of long-term calculations driven by Russia’s economic vulnerabilities and security imperatives.

Firstly, the crisis will sharpen the structural problems of the Russian economy and make diversification a vital task. Moscow is fully aware that energy resources alone cannot generate a new cycle of sustainable growth.

Secondly, the Russian corporate sector has a $500 billion debt, part of which might have to be restructured. Because of the heavy state presence in the economy, the debt is a quasi-governmental burden. This issue was raised with Minister Kudrin during the G7 finance ministers’ summit in Rome in February 2009.

Thirdly, if internal resources (the Reserve Fund, the National Wealth Fund and international reserves) shrink faster than anticipated and the crisis deepens, the government will need massive international loans to finance its budget deficits in the years to come. The profits made by Gazprom – the main contributor to the federal budget – are expected to drop in 2009 by $29 billion.

Finally, Russia will face serious security threats if the new US strategy fails in Afghanistan and some allies decide to withdraw by 2010-11. [pdf]

via Robert Amsterdam

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