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July 22, 2008
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Medvedev’s Message to Ambassadors
Russia has finally recovered. It has risen from its knees and is ready for the next stage – forcing the rest of the world to their knees. The new concept for Russian foreign policy was presented last week by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Now Russian diplomats can be mobilized to attain that goal.
A constant refrain in the new concept for Russian foreign policy, which was published last week, is that Russia has finally recovered. That claim is repeated no less than ten times in different variations throughout the text of the concept. The second chapter (“The Modern World and Russian Foreign Policy”) begins with a direct statement to that effect: “The new Russia, standing on the firm ground of national interests, has taken a valid place in global affairs.” The authors of the document have invents dozens of phrases synonymous with that one. In their opinion, “Russia exerts substantial influence on the formation of the new architecture of international relations,” “Russia has real potential to occupy a worthy place in the world,” “Russia brings a notable contribution to providing stability to the global economy and finances” and even “Russia will use its potential as a donor to carry out an active and focused policy in the sphere of cooperating in international development.”

The new, Medvedev foreign policy concept differs from all previous (Yeltsin 1993, Putin 2000) in that bravura. In 2000, Russian diplomacy protested bitterly that “certain considerations connected with the formation of new equitable, mutually-beneficial relations between Russia and the surrounding world are unjustified.” There are no such complaints now, for the hated unipolar world has practically been done away with. The phrase “great power” is no longer used, since it does not seem to portray the true greatness of the Russian Federation. Eight years ago, it sounded a little plaintive and nostalgic, since it was interspersed between claims of intrigues by enemies and imbalance in the world. There is no more of that either.

Medvedev’s new foreign policy concept advances brave new goals appropriate to Russia’s new ambitions. For example, now that the unipolar world has been dispensed with and Russia is a political pole, it will not hide its intentions of fighting for the geographic pole. The topic of developing natural resources in the Arctic is mentioned three times in the concept, and in the most unexpected contexts.

Another new phrase in the concept is “energy resources.” Eight years ago, the use of energy for leverage to resolve foreign policy problems was not mentioned at all. Now, the authors of the concept note with satisfaction that “economic interdependence of states will be one of the key factors of support for international stability.” Moreover, according to the document, Russia “will use all the economic leverage and resources at its disposal, and specific advantages, for the protection of its national interests.”

As they lay the greatness attained by Russia as the foundation of the concept for its foreign policy, the authors encounter two problems that could impede the implementation of the policy.

The first problem the authors of the concept find is that, in spite of the infallibility of the current foreign policy, its implementation leaves something to be desires in places. Medvedev stated that directly last week at the Foreign Ministry.

When the president came to the Stalin skyscraper on Smolensk Square to tell the ambassadors about Russia’s growing ambitions, the first thing he noticed is that many of the ardent defenders of Russia’s national interests would not even risk showing themselves in front of his face. A few minutes before he entered the auditorium, Medvedev’s press service discovered a gaping hole: 15 or 20 of the seats right in front of the tribune were empty. They literally begged the diplomats in the balcony to sit closer to the president, but in vain. Only one was willing to make the heroic step. It was seen later that it was too little.

The president began the public part of the meeting by saying, “We are counting on your daily active labor and deep understanding and awareness of the problems ours country is facing today. It is extremely important to make an appraisal and sometimes just to stand up for any attempts to guarantee national or group interests in circumvention of and to the detriment of international law.” He said that he was counting on “the active assistance of the Russian Foreign Ministry and all the diplomatic corps.”

After the press left, Medvedev gave full vent to his feelings. Several eyewitnesses told Vlast analytical weekly later that they had never seen Medvedev so vehement. “Everything was extremely harsh,” one of the ministers at the meeting said. “He gave a lecture on how to react to attacks on our country. He demanded that they be more independent and aggressive.” Another high-placed source said that “Medvedev told them clearly: your arguments in disputes are international law and the nuclear shield.”

Medvedev insisted that the ambassadors answered promptly anyone who dared criticize Russia. “I won’t hide it. He criticized us. But he criticized us on target,” a high-placed diplomat told Vlast. “He complained that we don’t stand up soundly enough to our opponents on Georgia.” Political scientist Vyacheslav Nikonov, grandson of the Soviet commissar for foreign affairs Vyacheslav Molotov, paraphrased Medvedev’s complaints, “There is no cohesiveness. It turns out to be diplomacy with different approaches. The coordination of actions leaves something to be desired. In a normal state, everything is built into a single system. But not in Russia yet.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry museum, which Medvedev visited after his speech, could remind of close cohesion. Museum director Yury Khilchevsky told Vlast that not a single Russian head of state had entered the museum before Medvedev. The museum holds such important symbols of foreign policy as Stalin’s pipe, Alexandra Kollontai’s dress and the draft of a speech by Molotov. True, the museum does not have the best-known symbol of foreign policy, Khrushchev’s shoe.

The diplomats tried to please the president with fine art. In the foyer of the Foreign Ministry, an exhibition of the works of sculptor Vladimir Surovtsev awaited him with representations of the former glory of Russia: a monument to Gen. Skobelev, a monument to the Varyag, a monument to the leaders of Arctic convoys. The most topical of them was a sculpture of a clown with two little dogs called “Bah! Who Came to Us Today!” Medvedev’s attention was attracted not to it, however, but to a sketch of the Famine (Golodomor) monument that is to appear soon in Moscow. Surovtsev told Vlast that the head of state did not approve of the name of the monument. He preferred something more timely, such as “Requiem for All the Victims of Hunger in Russia and the USSR in the 20th Century.”

The second problem the authors of the Russian foreign policy concept faced was the imperfection of the surrounding world and its unwillingness to accept Russia in its new role. That factor does not concern the Russian leadership too deeply, however. They explain that the West’s resistance to the confident advance of Moscow’s new policy is due to its weakness. “The reaction to the prospective loss by the historic West of its monopoly on globalization processes find expression, in particular, in the inertia of the political and psychological attitude of “containing Russia,” the concept assures its reader.

The creators of the new foreign policy concept see the solution to the problem in redoing the rest of the world. The document the president signed is full of ideas about how to reform the world to make it more pleasing to Russia.

The most ambitious Kremlin project in the new foreign policy concept is replacing the OSCE with an all-embracing European structure. To do so, an all-European summit has to be called and a new agreement on European security signed – obviously to replace the 1972 Helsinki Final Act. All that is said about the OSCE is that it should “voluntarily fulfill the function entrusted to it – as a forum for an equitable dialog of states.”

Obviously, the CIS should be remade as well. The concept of eight years ago naively stated that Russia “is attaining good-neighborly relations and strategic partnership in all the countries of the CIS.” But from now on the Russian Federation “is building friendly relations with each of the states of the CIS on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and consideration of each other’s interests.” A vivid example of this is the only mention of Ukraine and Georgia. Moscow promises to continue to fight against their accession to NATO. The creation of a Union State with Belarus is no longer on the list of priorities, while the Eurasian Economic Community, Collective Security Treaty Organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization have places of honor.

There is nothing good in store for NATO either, obviously, since “traditional, cumbersome military-political alliances can no longer counteract the whole specter of modern challenges and threats.” Much is said in the concept about reform of the UN, but it notes that “the status of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council should remain unchanged.”

The authors of the new concept excoriates certain forces (without mentioning the United States by name) that resort to unilateral actions that “destabilize the international situation, provoke international tension and the arms race, deepen international disagreements, incite ethnic and religious enmity and create threats to the security of other states.” However, the new concept finally admits that Russia strives to become the new United States and is not above adopting its behavior.

The culmination of the new concept can be considered the following passage: “If partners are not prepared for joint action, Russia will be forced to act independently for the protection of national interests, but always based on international law.” That sentence is almost a direct quotation of the speeches of U.S. President George W. Bush from 2002-2003 (in the run-up to the war in Iraq). The current American administration, which has acted independently numerous times, expressed similar loyalty to international law.

Mikhail Zygar, Vladimir Solovyev

All the Article in Russian as of July 21, 2008

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