Russia's New Europe

Russia's New Europe

Mini Teaser: A closet imperialist bent on reviving Moscow's dominion.

by Author(s): Janusz Bugajski

A specter is haunting the new Europe, the specter of "Russian
pragmatism." After a decade of ambiguity and uncertainty in Russian
policy, Vladimir Putin's Kremlin has embarked on a coherent and
rational plan to regain its influence over former satellites and to
limit Western penetration in key parts of the former Soviet Union.

Two recent dramatic events have highlighted President Vladimir
Putin's foreign policy ambitions: the crackdown on independent-minded
big business and the assault on Ukraine's territorial integrity.
Putin views the mammoth energy industries as valuable tools to expand
Moscow's foreign policy influence. While Yeltsin used the oligarchs
to guarantee his own power, Putin is determined to control the
oligarchs to expand Russian state interests. yukos ceo Mikhail
Khodorkovsky not only crossed the line in his domestic political
ambitions, but also increasingly contradicted the Kremlin's external
goals. A telling Pravda editorial on November 7 expressed outrage
over the hue and cry in the West at Khodorkovsky's arrest. According
to the editors, Putin is putting Russia back into the hands of the
authorities after a "decade of lunacy under Boris Yeltsin" and is
"placing a damper on the assault on Russia's resources by American
companies." In recent weeks, Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco were
vying to acquire a large part of yukos' shares, and this seriously
disturbed Moscow.

Meanwhile, the extent of Russia's growing assertiveness toward its
neighbors was on display when workers constructed a causeway across
the Kerch Strait that links the Black and Azov seas between Russia's
Taman Peninsula and Ukraine's Tuzla islet. Ukraine's Foreign Minister
warned Moscow that the construction violated his country's
territorial integrity. The Kremlin is applying strong pressure to
Kiev in demanding shared sovereignty over the navigable parts of the
Kerch Strait that legally belong to Ukraine, and it wants to turn the
Azov Sea into an "internal water" of the two states despite Ukraine's
substantially longer coastline. The incident demonstrates how Moscow
has unilaterally assumed the role of a guarantor or violator of its
neighbors' security. The Kerch provocation is intended to gain
territorial concessions from Kiev and to test the international
response. Putin has openly challenged the legitimacy of an existing
CIS border, and the muted Western response will simply encourage
bolder moves in the future.

Moscow is intent on steadily rebuilding Russia as a major power on
the "Eurasian" stage. For this purpose, it has defined three
categories of states in the eastern half of Europe: former Soviet
republics that can develop into vassals, ex-satellite states that
need to be politically neutralized and former non-allies that can
become useful partners. The first category, consisting of Belarus,
Ukraine and Moldova, constitute the core of Putin's current "empire

In the first few years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency, Moscow was
accommodating toward its neighbors while it pursued a policy of
radical democratization at home. This position altered as Russia's
foreign policy became more assertive. Key policy documents, including
the foreign policy concept and the military doctrine, were
characterized by marked suspicion of Western intentions and a resolve
to restore Russia's waning position as a global power. Foreign
Minister Andrei Kozyrev announced a more stridently imperialist
position by claiming that the entire eastern European zone remained a
"sphere of Russia's vitally important interests." Such trends were
reinforced after the December 1993 parliamentary elections steered
Yeltsin on a more nationalist course.

With the appointment of Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in January
1996, Russia took a more active and expansive role toward its former
satellites. Few political leaders were willing to acknowledge the
permanent loss of the union of subordinate Soviet republics.
Primakov's tougher stance, coupled with his espousal of a multipolar
world and the expansion of Russia's economic reach, prepared the
groundfor Putin's recasting of Russian foreign policy.

The Putin Doctrine

Vladimir Putin's election in 2000 precipitated the consolidation of a
strong central government that sought to rebuild its eroded
international status. This "Russia First" policy was a reaction to
disenchantment with the failures of Westernization, the shortcomings
of liberalism and alleged American aims to weaken Russia. Muscovite
foreign policy became more coherent and methodical in terms of goals,
strategies and tactics. Putin injected greater coordination between
state organs, business interests and intelligence services and
exploited the country's mammoth energy concerns in an effort to
harness them closer to the state apparatus. This new foreign policy
concept, issued in 2000, emphasized securing Russian economic
interests and rebuilding Russia's economy as an important component
of foreign policy.

The remnants of the KGB regained much of that institution's power as
Putin systematically promoted the Russian intelligence and security
apparatus, including the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Federal
Security Service. High-ranking ex-KGB officials were elevated to
senior Kremlin positions and the intelligence services were
buttressed in their foreign operations. The reinvigoration of
Russia's state security was especially troubling for countries prone
to Russian domination in the past. But while Poland, Hungary and the
Czech Republic fit under the NATO umbrella, Belarus, Ukraine and
Moldova remained vulnerable to Kremlin pressure.

Russia's policy toward eastern Europe has been regionalized into four
zones: the European wing of the Commonwealth of Independent States
(CIS), the Baltic republics, and central and southeastern Europe. The
European CIS (Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova) are viewed as important
for regaining a broad sphere of Russian influence and projecting
power toward central and western Europe. The Baltic states are
considered a buffer against Western influences in former Soviet
territories. Central Europeans, especially Poland, are perceived as a
potentially negative source of influence over CIS neighbors and
therefore in need of neutralization or containment. Southeastern
Europe is viewed as a traditional zone of interest where conflicts
could be manipulated and opportunities exploited to Russia's

Putin's Russia has set for itself six long-term objectives for that
part of the world. The first goal is to achieve pre-eminent influence
over the foreign policy orientations and security policies of nearby
states. This is especially evident in the CIS, where Moscow seeks
exclusive policy control, but it also applies to key countries in the
other sub-regions. The Kremlin has focused on capturing political
allies on the international stage and neutralizing potential
opposition to Russian policy.

Second, Russia seeks increasing economic benefits and monopolistic
positions through targeted foreign investments and buyouts of
strategic foreign infrastructure. This can supply Moscow with
substantial influence over the target country's economic, financial,
trade and investment policies. Russian government officials have
tried to direct capital toward nearby regions in which the Russian
state has long-term strategic interests. In specific economic
sectors, such as energy supplies, Russia pursues a monopolistic
regional position. In addition, by reigning in some of the most
influential oligarchs, the Putin Administration has sought to
increase its influence over targeted foreign investments, intensify
its political leverage and capture a greater share of revenues for
the state.

Third, Moscow aims to increase eastern Europe's dependence on Russian
energy supplies and economic investments and convert this dependence
into long-term inter-governmental influence. Close connections
between the Kremlin and large Russian companies--whether through
executive appointments, the promotion of overseas operations, or
financial, legal and police instruments--demonstrate that foreign and
economic policy are closely coordinated. Furthermore, Russian
enterprises themselves have sought to gain political influence
through involvement with officials, parties and media outlets in
targeted states.

Fourth, Russia is attempting to limit the scope and pace of Western
institutional enlargement in the European CIS. Moscow has obstructed
the creation of "rival alliances" such as the guuam initiative
(including Ukraine and Moldova) that could block Russian efforts to
solidify influence. Russian officials have opposed the process of
security integration with NATO and sought to prevent these countries
from participating in any U.S.-led coalitions opposed by Moscow,
thereby ensuring closer military integration in Russian-dominated
"collective security" mechanisms. Putin understands that Russia is
too weak to prevent NATO enlargement in three of the sub-zones, and
that any failed opposition would be domestically and internationally
damaging. Instead, he has sought to minimize the impact of NATO's
growth by seeking a role in Alliance decision-making to weaken its

Fifth, Moscow is preparing to use the region, especially the European
CIS, as a springboard to rebuild a larger sphere of influence and
reverse Moscow's decline as a major international player. Strategists
calculate that this can be accomplished with the help of Western
resources and by establishing "Great Power" status in eastern Europe
and Central Asia. Russia can then pose as a key player alongside the
United States and act as a balancer against American influence
throughout Eurasia.

Finally, by intensifying its involvement in the European arena,
Moscow seeks to weaken transatlantic relations. The objective is to
strengthen the European-Russian or Eurasian strategic "pole"
vis-Ã -vis the United States. By catalyzing the emerging transatlantic
drift, Russia can begin revising the post-World War II order and
establish a Russian-EU system of international security for the old

A key mechanism for Russia to recreate a sphere of dominance is the
CIS, which was established to bind smaller neighbors closer to Moscow
and create a political superstructure that would coordinate foreign,
security and economic policy. The Commonwealth, or the "near abroad",
was defined as a zone of Russia's "primary interests", the unity of
which needed to be restored and outside influences minimized. An
important economic calculation was involved, as Moscow sought to
ensure access and control over the major transportation routes and
energy pipelines crisscrossing the region. Under the CIS umbrella,
Russia also gained control over military facilities in its former
dominions and focused on the outer border of the CIS as its own
military frontier.

Essay Types: Essay