The Theses on Foreign Policy

The theses on foreign policy presented in this report are the result of a project co-run by the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). As part of the project, 30 interviews were conducted with RIAC members: prominent diplomats, major international relations experts, media executives and entrepreneurs. As a separate part of the project, a series of case studies were conducted with the participation of experts and RIAC members. Work on the project was closely related to other aspects of the CSR’s activity with regard to the most topical issues of Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. The theses were based upon the results of a parallel study conducted by a team of researchers at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The key findings of this study are as follows:

The modern world is at a crossroads.

There is a high possibility that rivalry between the key players will intensify. A number of global problems are worsening. At the same time, the level of globalization that has been reached to date allows for negative trends to be mitigated by making the cost of conflicts unacceptably high. It is in Russia’s best interests to help ensure that this is the scenario that unfolds. Efforts to facilitate the resolution of conflicts and help create a comfortable, democratic, controllable and safe international environment without boundaries and divisions should form the core of Russia’s global positioning. It should not be a fundamental premise of Russia’s foreign policy to count on the inevitable “chaotization” of international relations.

Russia is one of the most prominent powers in the world today.

It has managed to overcome the threat of disintegration and the most difficult political consequences that resulted from the collapse of the USSR. The country conducts an active foreign policy, and is consistent in protecting its interests abroad. At the same time, Russia is lagging behind in a number of critical areas. This backwardness undermines Russia’s sovereignty, restricts its foreign policy potential, and limits the available foreign political arsenal to a narrow choice of instruments. Overcoming this is a strategic task that is critical to Russia’s global positioning.

The underdevelopment of the Russian economy and its governance institutions poses a much more significant threat to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity than realistic military threats that Russia is already well protected from.

A favorable international environment needs to be created in order to tackle these problems. It is impossible to overcome this underdevelopment in isolation from the increasingly globalizing outside world. Russia is faced with the urgent need to produce an optimal formula that would help it benefit from globalization in the interests of its own development, while simultaneously retaining room for broad foreign political manoeuvre in the interests of protecting its security.

Participation in globalization processes and developing foreign policy that serves the interests of the country’s development while preserving strategic security independence, is the essence of Russia’s global positioning. To achieve this goal, several interconnected tasks must be resolved.

THE FIRST TASK is to radically change the country’s policy in the post-Soviet space through the creation of appealing economic integration and collective security institutions. Russia should also transcend the borders of the “post-Soviet” paradigm through cooperation with partners outside the region. Overcoming boundaries and settling conflicts in the post-Soviet states, the most violent of which is the conflict in Donbass, is also on the agenda.

THE SECOND TASK is to use and actively develop non-Western lines of economic and political cooperation. There is an imbalance in Russia’s relations with China and India, which are its key strategic partners, between the high level of political confidence and the relatively weak economic interaction. The same is observed in Russia’s relations with a number of other partners. What is required here is a qualitative strengthening of the economic foundations of these relations, using growth power of new development centers in order to overcome Russia’s underdevelopment. In many cases, Russia’s partnerships with other countries are restricted by the structure of its economy and the narrow range of its exports. Russia should be consistent in eliminating obstacles to bilateral ties such as cumbersome customs procedures, infrastructural limitations, etc.

THE THIRD TASK is to be consistent in securing compromises on key political problems in Russia’s relations with the West. This means preventing a new arms race, reformatting the Euro-Atlantic security system, maintaining selective cooperation on common problems with a view to engaging in other aspects of such cooperation, and changing the spirit of Russia’s relations with the West from confrontation to mutually beneficial cooperation in the modern polycentric world.

THE FOURTH TASK is to reinforce the global governance institutions, while the UN will secure the central role. Russia needs to create a larger, common interest in tackling common global problems. Such topics as global energy security, food security, cyber security, cooperation on climate change and the environment have huge potential in this respect. At the same time, Russia should maintain its stance on those issues on which it already has a strong position, such as nuclear nonproliferation, peacekeeping, space exploration, polar research, etc.

is to link Russia’s foreign policy to its domestic development goals. This will require diversification of its foreign policy instruments. The country should actively involve regions, businesspeople, universities and non-governmental organizations in international cooperation, and also create a comfortable environment for highly qualified migrants and investors.

Two extreme alternatives need to be avoided in foreign politics. The first alternative is self-isolation, the militarization of the economy and society, and rigid centralization against the background of Russia’s involvement in further conflicts. The second alternative is a chaotic retreat with unilateral concessions and capitulations forced by worsening problems at home. Both these alternatives are fraught with catastrophe for the country.

Russia’s future in the modern world is defined by the viability of its production forces, the quality of its human capital, and the stability and effectiveness of its state governance institutions. Without a qualitative leap forward at home, Russia is doomed to a peripheral role in the world. It is a strategic priority of Russia’s foreign policy to create favorable international conditions for such a leap to take place.