From the 1999-2000 foreign policy chaos to a fundamentally new status of Russia on the world scene and new problems related to this new status. From the leader of a state in crisis to the head of state that has become a new leader of the world economic growth. This is the service record of Vladimir Putin as the country's senior diplomat.
In the autumn of 2000, this author wrote: "I want to remind those who forget easily that a year ago Moscow was shaken by absolutely schizoid and completely unbelievable scandals, like the one over the Bank of New York, the smouldering Yugoslav war and the recently avoided Russia-NATO confrontation over Pristina. Meanwhile, the Americans were preparing to walk out of the ABM Treaty, which was fraught with the disintegration of our security system. Taken together, this formed a picture of apocalypses and nascent isolation of Russia in Europe and America... But the appearance of Vladimir Putin disrupted these plans and the attempts to put pressure on Putin's Moscow were ineffective."
Today, in 2004, some people may wonder what all this meant. They do not remember that the US air strikes against Yugoslavia and open disregard of Moscow's protests could have developed into a war. At least this is what could have happened after the forced march of Russian paratroopers to the airfield in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, and the order issued by General Wesley Clark, this year's presidential candidate, to attack the Russians. Thank God, the British troops in the province refused to comply.
Few people today remember the case of the New York bank, which amounted to the wholesale persecution of US bankers who worked with Russian accounts. The idea was to "teach" the Western business community not to work with Russian businessmen, who were indiscriminately viewed as corrupt operators or members of organised crime.
The new president began by getting down in earnest to foreign policy. Before Putin, Moscow had one problem, which I described in this way: "...Suffice it to recall the long list of summit meetings which Boris Yeltsin was invited to attend and the favourite 'pastime' of that era. We tried to guess which would Yeltsin do: refuse to attend, send one of his numerous premiers or the foreign minister, or wreck the meeting at the last possible moment."
The new leader used this situation to his advantage. Here are a few examples. In the spring of 2000, Vladimir Putin, who was running his election campaign, refused (rather like Yeltsin did) to go abroad and in this way created a long list of foreign leaders who wanted to meet him. That spring, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to Moscow and subsequently signalled to his Western colleagues that Putin was a man one could do business with.
The world media wrote at the time that the unexpected style of the new president helped him to become one of the club of world leaders. That style was described as boring, ineffective, soft, remote, calm and unruffled. Putin was presented as a classical example of a Eurobureaucrat, acceptable to the likes of him. It was said that he had not worsened relations with any country but had won new friends without losing old ones.
As for the possible isolation of Russia, it ended at the G7 meeting in Okinawa in 2000, where Putin arrived from Pyongyang and thus became a key and irreplaceable figure at the summit - at least during the discussion of the Korean problem. Putin's trial of strength was over: he was accepted as not just a competent leader, but as "one of them," G7 leaders interpreted his calmness as an unwillingness to provoke a conflict and a desire to co-operate.
The latter was graphically confirmed at the turning point in the history of Putin's diplomacy. This refers to his intuitive decision to call George Bush with an offer of assistance after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The call was logically followed by a long line of events that created Russia's current status on the world scene, the status of a power that can refuse to agree with its partners, be they NATO, the USA or Britain, without discontinuing co-operation with them.
But, the shrewdness of Putin's telephone call and his personal style aside, it is the substance of his diplomacy that matters. A new Foreign Policy Concept adopted in the summer of 2000 incorporated amendments on the "economic" and "pragmatic" nature of the policy that came from the new president. It was not isolationism or foreign policy modesty but the proclamation of a new position, according to which Russia's economic development should be the end goal of its foreign policy and a powerful foreign policy instrument. Before Putin, Russia was seen as - and indeed was - a victim of inept reforms and financial crisis, which made her an economic disaster zone. The beginning of Putin's presidency coincided with the beginning of economic growth.
Few people remember that Vladimir Putin stressed at the APEC summit in Brunei in November 2000 that he represented a country that would register year-end economic growth of 7%. That shocking news did not sink in immediately. The world refused to believe it, thinking that it was a striking but unique achievement. However, economic growth continued in the subsequent years, in particular thanks to a calm and conflict-free foreign policy.
As a result, Russia has attained a new status at the end of Putin's first term. It is no longer an international patient. Last autumn international research structures that report the world's economic results recognised Russia as a record-setting country in terms of economic growth and one of the brilliant four world leaders of the future - China, India, Russia and Brazil.
It was a signal event promising Moscow radical change. We can foresee new trials and tests similar to the ones China had to pass ten years ago. When China was viewed as a poor and problem country, it was hardly noticed. But when it became clear in the 1990s that the Chinese economy would soon surge ahead of the US economy, the world's attitude to China changed dramatically. The US administration has stopped its trials of China's strength, which lasted throughout the 1990s, only recently. China has become one of the accepted world leaders. Russia is only facing this trial.
It is this, rather than Iraq or Russia's internal events, the elections in the USA or the expansion of the EU that can explain the strange pause in Russia's relations with the USA and Europe. They have not decided yet what to do with Russia (or India and Brazil, for that matter) as a leader of tomorrow - to help it or hinder its development.
The Russian mindset is marked by certain inertia, too. The psychological shift from disease to health, from the siege mentality to international leadership takes time. The main foreign policy problems of Putin's first term were connected above all with this inertia, with the psychological unwillingness of departments and major corporations to accept the new situation, Russia's new role in the world, the fact that they lag behind changes in the world, and their inability to think ahead.
This is why the foreign policy of the next presidential term will be most probably focused on a different set of tasks than those he tackled during his first term.