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Russia: global aspirations by Dr Arvind Gupta

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Author: Dr Arvind Gupta

By a strange alchemy Vladimir Putin stepped into the breach and is perceptibly reshaping the world from the unilateralism of the triumphant US to one of stable multi-polarity in which, significantly, India plays a major part. India-Russia relations are characterised by a benign aura that precludes any possibility of “if you are not with us, you are against us” syndrome largely because both peoples have traversed revolutions that have changed the course of history – the Russians in their passage through Communism and the Indians in their overthrow of colonialism. Some say this makes them “natural allies”.

Russia’s foreign policy has seen two major watersheds in the last few years – US invasion of Iraq (2003) and the Georgian conflict (2008).Russia: global aspirations In the runup to the Iraq war Russia reversed the policy of getting closer to the West. Putin’s speech at the Munich Conference in 2006 gave vent to Russia’s deep anguish at the US’s growing unilateralism and the way the West treated Russia. President Putin, speaking at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 delivered a remarkable speech in which he harshly criticised the US for unilateralism. He said, “We are seeing a greater disdain for the basic principles of international law… One State and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?” He confidently predicted that the emerging powers had the means to rectify the situation and bring about a multipolar world. The world took note of Putin’s open criticism and wondered whether that heralded the beginning of a new cold war. Fortunately, cold war predictions did not prove right but Russia since then has become ever more confident in crafting a multipolar world in which US hegemony is challenged by the emerging powers.

Russian resurgence

Russia’s hour of reckoning arrived in August 2008. Russia showed its deep unhappiness with NATO expansion programmes in its backyard. It took military action against Georgia when the latter, in defiance of Russian interests, tried to use force against the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There was also talk of Georgia joining NATO at some future date. Russia, quite unexpectedly, flexed its muscles and took strong military action against Georgia. The Georgian forces were routed. NATO did not come to Georgia’s assistance. The war gave unequivocal notice to NATO and the countries of the region that Russia would brook no interference in its backyard. Russia and NATO interaction was completely stopped after the six-day long military conflict. Russia appeared isolated but it did not flinch. The global financial crisis hammered Russia yet it did not make a compromise on Georgia. Clearly this was a resurgent Russia trying to regain its position in global affairs.

Assets leveraged

Russia’s foreign policy has become firmer and more assertive in the last decade. It has not hesitated to leverage its vast energy resources in pursuit of its national interests. Europe depends on Russia for a quarter of its energy needs. Russia is set to become major supplier of hydrocarbons to Japan and China. Rising oil prices have helped boost Russia’s confidence and capabilities. It still remains a major nuclear power, has a seat at the UN Security Council and is building partnerships and alliances to bolster its international profile. Russia has adopted a robust foreign policy concept and a matching military doctrine in recent years to achieve its foreign policy objectives.

Russian foreign policy objectives have been stated quite explicitly in the foreign policy concepts adopted in July 2008 under President Medvedev’s watch. These are: “… to ensure national security, to preserve and strengthen its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to achieve strong positions of authority in the world community that best meet the interests of the Russian Federation as one of influential centres in the modern world… to create favourable external conditions for the modernisation of Russia… to influence global processes to ensure formation of a just and democratic world order… with a central and coordinating role of the UN as the key organisation governing international relations… to promote good neighbourly relations with bordering States… to establish, on that basis, a system of bilateral and multilateral partnerships aimed to ensure stability of the international position of the country in the face of international foreign policy volatility… to provide comprehensive protection of rights and legitimate interests of Russian citizens and compatriots abroad… to promote an objective image of the Russian Federation globally as a democratic State committed to a socially-oriented market economy and an independent foreign policy… to promote and propagate, in foreign States, the Russian language and Russian peoples’ culture constituting a unique contribution to cultural and civilisational diversity of the contemporary world …”

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