Russia Adrift

By Rubinstein, Alvin Z. | Harvard International Review, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Russia Adrift


Rubinstein, Alvin Z., Harvard International Review


Abstract:

Ever since Christmas Day 1991, when Russia was thrust precipitately onto the international stage as a nation-state, it has been trying to fashion a national security policy for its changed status in a new era. The other 14 union-republics of the former Soviet Union welcomed independence; Russia did not. Where other republics embraced the uncertain future and quickly learned to play the game of regional and world politics - some better than others, but all with a mix of shrewdness and accommodation geared to preserving their unexpectedly bequeathed sovereignty and status - Russia's leaders were divided, fractious, and unable to forge consensus or cooperation. A power in decline, Russia knows it must adapt to an evolving international system unlike any heretofore known. Not only are empires and imperial expansion out of fashion, but so too are traditional alliances.

Text:

Strategic Anchors for Russia's Foreign Policy

Ever since Christmas Day 1991, when Russia was thrust precipitately onto the international stage as a nation-state, it has been trying to fashion a national security policy for its changed status in a new era. The other 14 union-republics of the former Soviet Union welcomed independence; Russia did not. Where other republics embraced the uncertain future and quickly learned to play the game of regional and world politics-some better than others, but all with a mixture of shrewdness and accommodation geared to preserving their unexpectedly bequeathed sovereignty and status Russia's leaders were divided, fractious, and unable to forge consensus or cooperation.

The Romantic Interregnum

Initially, the foreign-policy orientation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin was unmistakably pro-West. Secretary of State James A. Baker III found him reassuring, forthcoming, and informed, noting that Yeltsin looked forward to developing a "strategic partnership" with the United States and that he agreed to work with the other former Soviet republics to control nuclear weapons, curb nuclear proliferation, and push quickly for ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (CFE). Yeltsin's foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, was in the Westernizing tradition of Russian foreign policy. Keen on collaboration with the West, he was confident that economic concessions and assistance would be forthcoming and prepared for an evolving political strategic partnership that recognized Russia's role as a great power and charter member of the post-Soviet European Concert of Powers.

But the possibility of a Russian American strategic relationship was never really explored. Yeltsin expected too much. His hopes that the United States would use its "peace dividend" to help finance Russia's democratic transformation and political integration into the West were disappointed in 1992 and dashed in 1993. Early on, Russia's reformers fell victim to Yeltsin's indecisiveness, to internecine turf struggles in the Kremlin, to the resistance of government bureaucracies, and to the rampant corruption spawned by crony capitalism. By 1994, Yeltsin's priorities were more accurately characterized as holding the line and the reins of power than as pushing basic reforms. The economy continued to show negative growth: from 1992 to 1999 there was not a single year in which Russia's GDP increased.

With the reformers discredited and the ultra-nationalists gaining in strength, in part because of NATO's preparations for enlargement, Yeltsin reversed course. Stung by his political opponents and seeking to strengthen his position for the presidential election in june 1996, Yeltsin sacked Kozyrev in January 1996 and superseded his pro-Western orientation with an eclectic "balance-of-interests" approach favored by Kozyrev's successor, Yevgeny Primakov. Perhaps Kozyrev's only success in collaborating with the United States was in persuading Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to relinquish their nuclear-weapons capabilities and join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear powers, thus making Russia the sole successor to the Soviet Union's status as a nuclear superpower and a logical partner with the United States in managing the complex nuclear issue. …

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