Russian foreign policy, having shown for some time signs of certain renewal and possible change, is falling back into the old trap of anti-Western stance and rhetoric. President Medvedev during his much anticipated press-conference on May 18, disappointed not only those who expected dramatic domestic policy announcements from him, but the foreign policy watchers too.
He produced quite a few old clichés and precious few new ideas. Missile defense in Europe? Russia may quit START-3 if the US goes on with the plans. Ukraine? Free to go its way, but has to check its European integration plans against relations with Russia-promoted Customs union. Libya? Moscow has fallen out with the West over it.
A few days before the press-conference Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted only in very general terms to a cruel five-year sentence against Andrei Sannikov, one of the leaders of Belarusian opposition, while the European Union and the U.S. have condemned it in the strongest terms. Russia is quickly returning to its standard mode of behavior, enshrined by Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech in 2007. Essentially it boils down to a rejection of any notion that foreign policy could have any moral dimension and treat values seriously.
Moscow is always first to accuse others of double standards, and sometimes these accusations are true. But when it comes to its own foreign policy, it never shies away from practicing double standards too. Looking at Russia’s immediate entourage, when it comes to the Baltic States, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, i.e. countries with relatively democratic governments, or at least aspiring to be ones, Russia monitors the situation there with unwavering attention and condemns perceived violations of democratic rules with vigor.
Latvian Waffen-SS legionnaires commemorating something? The government in Riga gets a rap from Moscow. Some crazy Ukrainian nationalists shouting anti-Russian slogans? The State Duma takes time off its main session to adopt a harsh statement. The Georgian opposition comes to Moscow? They are welcomed at the highest level. But the moment something happens in a dictatorship, Russia falls silent.
Russian citizens in places like Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, political activists in Belarus never get more than a fleeting mention in Russia’s official discourse. In the case of Belarus this produces a most bizarre result. Moscow finds itself closely allied, in fact, forming a union, with the only dictatorship in Europe – and seemingly makes no bones about it. To be more precise, it doesn’t want to pay for Alexander Lukashenko’s upkeep anymore, unless he agrees to surrender Belarus’s remaining economic assets. But this, although very dangerous to the Minsk dictator, has nothing to do with concerns about democracy there.
This is presented as pragmatism, dealing with governments, accepting reality. And sometimes this is the only option indeed. Western countries are not immune from lapses of moral judgment in their relations with the world. But they never make such attitude the cornerstone of their policy. Russia does – and instead of pragmatism this betrays a national moral vacuum, that no amount of oil and gas deals will ever be able to fill.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is an independent Russian journalist and political analyst. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.