The year 2009 was one of renaissance in Russia’s foreign policy. After the Georgian crisis of August 2008, Russia faced isolation in the international community. Russia’s relations with the United States, NATO and EU went into a freeze. Even the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) refrained from fully supporting domination by Russia.
Russia is once again being wooed by all. Several factors have contributed to this. The United States and NATO are entangled in a costly and seemingly unwinnable war in Afghanistan. They had to approach Russia for help in transferring military and non-military supplies to Afghanistan. The global financial crisis hit the developed countries hard. Russia was also hit, but managed to come out of it relatively less hurt thanks to its large foreign exchange reserves. Russia has played the energy card deftly to bolster its position. The West also needs Russian support in the UN Security Council on Iran and North Korea.
One of President Obama’s policy priorities was to “reset” US relations with Russia. This was the starting point for the turnaround in Russia-US relations. The two countries are negotiating a nuclear arms reduction treaty, a successor to START which expired in December 2009. Obama, in a bold move, sought to address Russian concerns over the deployment of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. In return Russia concluded an agreement on the transit of American arms, military equipment, property and personnel across Russia to support US forces fighting in Afghanistan.
Russia and NATO have sought to normalise relations after the Georgian crisis. Likewise, Russia-EU relations are also getting back to normal. The two sides held a summit at Stockholm in November 2009 at which the key issues of energy security, climate change and European security were discussed. Russia hopes that the two sides can work out a strategic partnership. It has proposed a draft European Security Treaty to the Europeans. NATO and EU are still to react but they cannot ignore such an important initiative which has the potential of transforming the security environment in Europe.
For Russia, the former CIS space is critical for its security and economic development. The Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC) Interstate Council met in Minsk in November and endorsed a customs union which has become operative from January 1, 2010. This is an important step towards the further integration of the CIS countries. EURASEC countries have also agreed to set up a $10 billion fund for ‘anti-crisis’ purposes. They have also agreed to establish a High Technology Centre.
Moscow promotes the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) as a security instrument for collective security in the CIS. CSTO decided in June 2009 to form rapid response teams to deal with security emergencies in the region. This is an important step considering that NATO-led ISAF is developing war fatigue in Afghanistan.
Energy forms an important instrument of Russia’s foreign policy. Russia has been accused of using the energy card to exert pressure on Europe. In order to address these concerns President Medvedev proposed a “Conceptual Approach” to a New Legal Base of International Cooperation in the Energy Sector in April 2009. Russia also went ahead in realising the Nord Stream gas pipeline and entered into appropriate agreements with Denmark, Finland and Sweden for the use of their EEZs. Likewise it reached an agreement with Turkey for use of the latter’s EEZ to construct the South Stream gas pipeline.
On global and regional issues, Russia is cooperating actively with Germany, United Kingdom, France, China and the United States to hammer out a deal under which Iran’s low enriched uranium from the Tehran reactor would be shipped out for further enrichment. It facilitated an agreement between Iran and IAEA for access to the Qom uranium enrichment plant. Russia’s cooperation is crucial for a resolution of the Iran nuclear issue. Russia also helped with the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1874 on North Korea, which though is less stringent than the Western countries would have liked. This has helped it retain its relevance in the North Korea nuclear conundrum.
Through the year, Russia was active at various multilateral forums like Asia Pacific Economic Organisation (APEC), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Russia-China-India trilateral dialogue. It wants to be heard and seen at major multilateral fora where it is actively promoting the concept of a multipolar world.
Russia is looking for partners in far-flung corners of the globe including Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East. In 2008 the Russian president visited Nigeria, Angola and Namibia for the first time. In the Middle East, the Russian president visited Egypt seeking a strategic partnership. Russia has been active at the UNSC and in the Quartet to revive the stalled Middle East peace process. Russia and the Arab League declared their intention to establish a Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum at the conclusion of the talks. Russia, which has a significant Muslim population of its own, has observer status at the OIC and the Arab League.
Melting of the ice in the Arctic region has also presented Russia with a significant geo-strategic opportunity. Russia is not to be left behind on the issue of piracy in Somalian waters. Its naval ships patrolled the area to conduct anti-piracy operations. Russia has proposed an international legal instrument for the prosecution of pirates.
Russia is worried about the situation in Afghanistan. It has held discussions with Pakistan and Tajikistan on the Afghan situation, and has introduced several nuances in its Afghan policy. Russia is no longer opposed to engagement with the “moderate Talibans” if they give up violence. It is also in favour of continued presence of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan to maintain stability.
These are the author’s personal views.