Monday, June 06, 2005

Russia: A Eurasian Strategy or Seeking to Be a Strategic Partner?

In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, Russia was the first country to pledge its support to the US war on terror. Subsequently however the country joined France and Germany in opposing the US invasion of Iraq. While it is clear that Russia’s number one foreign policy goal is to regain a position as a major power in the international system, as these examples attest, it has not been altogether certain just what strategy the Kremlin is following in pursuit of that goal. Is Russia working with the European Union to forge a counter-pole to balance US hegemony, the so-called Eurasian strategy, or is it attempting to enhance its position in the international system by positioning itself as a US strategic partner?

Given the lack of consistency in Russian foreign policy, many analysts have resorted to analyzing the pros and cons of each approach from the Russian perspective. Those who argue that Russia is following a Eurasian policy contend that Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies supports such an approach. However, Europe’s continued concerns about Russian excesses in Chechnya as well as its generally more violent approach to solving terrorism (similar to that of the Americans) complicates its relationship with Europe. Indeed, Washington has not only been more forgiving of Russia’s internal counter-terrorism efforts, it has been also less concerned that Europe about the lack of Russian progress toward democracy.

US Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Alexander Vershbow, recently addressed this question in a forum at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. In his view, Putin has jettisoned the Eurasian option in favor of pursuing strategic partnership with the United States. Not only do the two countries share interests on a broad range of issues, to include the struggle against terrorism and global oil policy, but Putin has come to realize in the wake of Ukraine that the Eurasian policy ultimately rests on the ability of Russia to drive a wedge between Europe and the US and Europe’s willingness to permit Russia to do so. The western reaction to events in Ukraine following the fraudulent presidential elections in fall of 2004 have convinced Russia’s president that it will be difficult at best to drive a wedge between the US and Europe. Hence, the country’s only recourse is to pursue a concordant with the US.

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