RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY: Sources and Implications

By Wieclawski, Jacek | International Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY: Sources and Implications


Wieclawski, Jacek, International Journal


RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY Sources and Implications Olga Oliker, Keith Crane, Lowell H. Schwartz, and Catherine Yusupov Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2009. 222 pp, US$42.50 paper ISBN: 978-0-8330-4607-9

The book is an interesting study prepared by the RAND Corporation's experts for the United States air force. It offers an in-depth analysis of the political, economic, military, and social factors that shape contemporary Russian foreign policy and surveys the murky prospects for Russo-American relations. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin looms large throughout. He has made the most of his durable popularity, which originally grew out of the economic instability his country suffered during the 1990s. During his term as president, he concentrated power in his office and tilted the country decisively toward autocracy, drastically limiting the scope of independent political action (10). Reforms of the Russian judicial system strongly benefited the governing elite, and the Kremlin worked to exert control over leading companies in key sectors by means of economic "consolidation" (16-17). Thanks to the strong economic growth over which Putin and Medvedev have presided, many Russians have come to accept the limits the government has imposed on their political freedoms for the sake of "competent" governance (20). The recent global economic crisis has not changed this fundamental calculus.

Russia's unprecedented economic growth in the period between 1998 and 2007, in which annual GDP growth averaged 6.7 percent, provides the foundation for the country's recent foreign policy. Ou and gas exports are especiaUy significant in this regard, but the authors argue that they are less important to Russia's overaU budget than is frequently assumed. High raw material prices have aUowed the Kremlin to increase health and education spending, but the government has parked most of the revenue from energy sales in the stabilization fund or has invested it abroad (49). But despite this impressive record of growth, the authors conclude that the Russian economy is unlikely to expand as quickly in the years ahead. This point is especiaUy salient for Russian foreign policy because even modest growth will be difficult to achieve in future without further integration into the world economy.

Another major chaUenge facing Russia is to develop a unified set of policy aims since the country's governing elites often disagree about what goals to prioritize. In his second presidential term, Putin managed to build a consensus around improving Russia's international status and continuing its economic development (87-88). Moscow has also been striving to strengthen its position among the republics of the former Soviet Union, but its record in this area is mixed, in part because of failures to translate energy reserves into political leverage.

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