Contested Identity and Foreign Policy: Interpreting Russia’s International Choices


Illustration: Dmitri Medvedev’s European Security Policy



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Illustration: Dmitri Medvedev’s European Security Policy

This section offers illustration of the above-made points using the example of Russia’s European security policy during 2008-2010. My purpose is limited to probing and highlighting the above-made theoretical points in an empirical context. I make no claim of offering a definitive analysis – a more detailed research would be required to do that. Dmitri Medvedev’s pan-European diplomacy may be understood in terms of the outlined necessary steps to establish a meaning of foreign policy action (please see table 2). The preliminary analysis offered here does not support the view of the Russia’s diplomacy as seeking to divide the European continent and strengthen Russia’s leverage in dealing with neigbors.

[TABLE 2 ABOUT HERE]
Step 1: Medvedev’s Pan-European Diplomacy

Speaking in Berlin in June 2008 Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev (2008a), articulated a broad perspective on Europe “from Vancouver to Vladivostok” and proposed a new all-European treaty to establish a new security architecture by moving beyond NATO expansion and the conflict over Kosovo. He cited the need to strengthen international law and urged to move beyond Atlanticism by developing an equal partnership between the European Union, the United States and Russia. Medvedev further suggested that, if the West and Russia were able to sign the Helsinki Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975, then they would be in an even better position to negotiate a new security treaty after the end of the Cold War.

Moscow’s intervention in Georgia’s conflict with South Ossetia of August 2008 created new tensions in Russia-West relations, yet Medvedev saw the conflict as an opportunity to strengthen his case. According to him, very fact that neither NATO, not OSCE were able to prevent the military confrontation indicated the need for an improved security framework in Europe. The two organizations, Medvedev argued, were important yet insufficient for filling the existing security vacuum. Comparing the significance of the Caucasus conflict to Russia to that of September 11, 2001 to the United States, Russia’s president insisted that “[w]e simply have to create a new security system, otherwise there will be no guarantees that someone like Saakashvili could not … try something similar to what happened in August” (Medvedev 2008b, 2009a). In November 2009, Russia published its proposal for a new security treaty by pledging to legally restrict its unilateral use of force in exchange for European nations and the United States doing the same. The Kremlin presented the draft as the document that would "finally do away with the legacy of the Cold War" (Humphries 2009).

Throughout the subsequent year, Medvedev promoted his idea, but at the end of 2010 he expressed disappointment with the lack of international support. During the Munich Security Conference in October 2010, the President appealed to the European audience with his vision of a new comprehensive security treaty, expressing hope to have a “worthy global response” to his idea (Bridge 2010; Bennhold 2010). However, in December, addressing the participants of the OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, Medvedev acknowledged that two and half years of discussions did not lead to any breakthrough. Citing the power of stereotypes, he said his initiative may have appeared ahead of its time and would have to wait before being considered in the future (RIA Novosti 2010).



Step 2: Does Medvedev Sound Like a Supporter of European Cooperation?

How should one interpret Medvedev’s vision? Some observers presented it as a tactics to promote Russia’s interests by driving a wedge between Western countries and undermining cohesiveness of existing European organizations, such NATO, the EU, and the OSCE (Bugajski 2010; Kulhanek 2010). In this interpretation, Medvedev’s policy continued Vladimir Putin’s efforts to divide the European continent by practicing selective energy deals and coercive diplomacy toward the former Soviet neighbors. One problem with this approach is that Medvedev’s own interpretation of his security initiative is excluded from analysis. Rather than studying Medvedev’s views, such an approach dismisses them either as largely irrelevant rhetoric – assuming that it is Putin who holds the real power in Russia – or as a smokescreen to conceal Moscow’s genuine intentions.

The President’s own explanation of his actions does not fit the West-hostile perspective that is occasionally attributed to him. Analogies, metaphors, examples and the overall language of his speeches and statements provide ample room for interpreting his subjective vision as that of a committed supporter of Russia-Europe cooperation. Positive references to the Helsinki Act and statesmen such as Charles De Gaulle and Mikhail Gorbachev, on the one hand, and negative references to the Cold War and conflicts that separated Russia and the West, on the other, constitute discursive evidence in favor of such interpretation. The metaphors of Europe from Vancouver to Vladivostok and a “common European home”, once exploited by Gorbachev, also provide support for such conclusion. Furthermore, despite his critique of the European organizations’ failure to deliver security, Medvedev’s language indicates support for Russia’s increased cooperation with these organizations, not the desire for their dissolution as obsolete entities.12 The President’s justification for such a framework is defined in positive-sum categories of common values, common history and common security interests, and reveals little bitterness over Western countries’ lack of attention to Russia’s concerns in the past. That Medvedev advocates cooperation with Europe, while remaining sensitive to the national interests of Russia, does not make him a supporter of weak European institutions and a strong unilateral Russia.
Step 3: Is Medvedev a Westernizer or a Statist?

To go beyond Medvedev’s subjective interpretation, the section matches his vision with those of existing schools of foreign policy thinking in Russia. Broadly speaking, the country has developed three distinct schools of thought about the self and the world – Westernist, Statist and Civilizationist. Westernizers places the emphasis on Russia’s similarity with Western nations and views the West as the most viable and progressive civilization in the world. Statists equate successful foreign policy with that of a strong independent state and emphasize the state’s ability to respond to external threats to Russia’s security. Finally, Civilizationists conceptualize the Russia-West relationship in terms of cultural oppositions. Viewing Russia as a civilization in its own right, many Civilizationists insist on its “mission” in the world and spreading Russian values abroad (Tsygankov 2010).

Medvedev’s security initiative found strong support among Westernizers and Statists, thereby obtaining inter-subjective meaning. Westernizers supported the initiative as helpful for integrating Russia with European institutions, which many of them viewed as indispensable for Russia’s development. For example, the Institute of Contemporary Development, a liberal think-tank headed by Igor Yurgens, issued a wide-ranging report describing Russia’a aspired future in the 21st century (Rossiya XXI veka 2010). The report presented the country as bound to the European Union by a legal treaty on strategic partnership in military, energy, political, and cultural areas, as well by a new security treaty concluded along the lines of 1975 Helsinki agreement. The authors of the report described the EU and Russia as two entities with shared values, security interests, and visions of world order (Rossiya XXI veka 2010, 44-45). Those favoring the Statist line of thinking extended their support to Medvedev on the ground of protecting Russia’s sovereignty and security from potential external threats. They viewed the lack of strategic ties with the West as a tough predicament for Russia because of the nation’s internal weakness and the rising China problem (Lukyanov 2008; Khramchikhin 2009; Suslov 2010). By insisting on equal partnership with Europe, Statists presented the optimal relationship with the EU in terms of a strategic “bargain” (Bordachev 2009) that would position Russia for political maneuvering in an increasinlgy dangerous multipolar world.

Although some Westernizers and Civilizationists challenged the Westernist-Statist consensus, it enjoyed the hegemonic status within the national discourse. Those critical of Medvedev’s security initiative (for example, Shevtsova 2010a; Kasparov 2010) found themselves marginalized in the political spectrum and without significant foreign policy resources. On the other hand, many of those who had previously been behind Putin’s assertive stance toward Europe13 now embraced Medvedev, whom they viewed as someone with sufficient support of Putin. As three European analysts concluded about the Russian discourse, “Although there is a lively debate between different factions around the Kremlin …, it is important to understand that this is a competition within the wider ‘Putin consensus’” (Krastev, Leonard and Wilson 2009).14 The Westernist-Statist consensus had precedents in Russia’s past and was therefore also historically sustainable. For both institutional and security reasons, a number of Russian statesmen, beginning with foreign ministers Nikolai de Giers and Alexander Gorchakov, historically favored a strong alliance with European nations, viewing it as essential for preserving peace and continuing with modernization at home.


Step 4: Is Medvedev Gaining International Recognition?

Russia’s attempt to objectivize the meaning of its policy on the international level was not successful. Despite sufficient backing at home, Medvedev’s vision did not receive the outside support he was looking for. Although some Western nations welcomed Russia’s efforts to reach out to Europe, they offered only general support and remained wary of Medvedev’s initiative. Germany and France responded by proposing to establish the EU-Russia Political and Security Committee as an institution to consult on strategic issues on the continent (Dempsey 2010; Terekhov 2010). They agreed with the need to address the vacuum of European security, but did not find Russia’s proposal satisfactory. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he saw no need for the new legally binding security treaty "because we do have a framework already" (Bridge 2010). The United States was equally dismissive. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found that a new European treaty was unnecessary – the position that Medvedev was described as reflecting “a certain envy” among “our American partners” (RIA Novosti 2010). Washington expressed full confidence in the NATO-centered security system in Europe and proposed that any revisions should be discussed in the OSCE context.15 Finally, the Eastern European nations were concerned that Russia’s initiative was about recognizing Russia’s sphere of interests and giving Moscow a veto over NATO’s international operations. They shared the perspective of Georgia and viewed Russia as the most important threat to their security.16


Step 5: Medevedev’s European Policy in Comparative Perspective

Medvedev’s European security proposals were generally in line with his policies in other international directions. Although Russia was critical of the United States’ unilateralism in world politics, Moscow did not call for any concerted effort to undermine the U.S. global position. Instead, Russia’s foreign policy documents defend the notion of collective leadership and multilateral diplomacy as the alternative to unilateralism and hegemony in international relations.17 Concerned about Washington’s plans to deploy elements of the missile defense system (MDS) in Europe, Medvedev sought to address the issue by establishing a good rapport with Barak Obama, cooperating with the United States on Iran and the new nuclear treaty, and proposing to develop MDS jointly. Russia’s president also worked on improving the image of Russia in Western business circles, and he traveled to the United States in part to facilitate investments and cooperation in the information technology sector. In relations with European nations, Russia sought to build new pipelines, like the North Stream, and jointly develop energy fields, such as Shtockman in the Barents Sea. Outside the West, Russia strengthened its regional influence and played an important role in establishing international coalitions, such as the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Moscow also further improved bilateral ties with China, Turkey and Israel.

Medvedev’s approach was formulated in his address to the Federation Council in November 2009, when he insisted that the effectiveness of foreign policy must be "judged by a simple criterion: Does it improve living standards in our country?" (Medvedev 2009b). He subsequently instructed Russia’s ambassadors to build “modernization alliances” across the world, especially with the United States and other Western nations (Medvedev 2010). The global economic crisis heralded a new era in which Russia could no longer think about its foreign policy priorities as predominantly Western, yet Moscow remained convinced of the value of reengaging the West. Overall, Medvedev’s foreign policies offer additional support to the interpretation of his European diplomacy as aiming to strengthen Russia’s relations with Western nations, rather than undermine their unity. The 2008-2010 period does not offer strong evidence to the latter.
Conclusion

This paper has advocated an approach to foreign policy that helps to establish its meaning in relevant national and international settings. While recognizing the importance of social context in interpreting state action, I stress the contested and heterogeneous nature of such a context. The contested identity approach adds to our understanding of foreign policy formation and the likelihood of its implementation.

Russia’s proposal to conclude a new European security treaty is a case in point. The approach undertaken in this paper illustrates the proposal’s inadequacy in terms of its ability to gain the sought inter-subjective meaning. Although Russia’s policy meant to move beyond the existing divisions on the continent and was supported at home – from those favoring strong ties with the West to those sensitive to Russia’s independence – it failed to generate broader support among Western governments. The Russian meaning of the proposal as an invitation to cooperate with Europe, not to divide it for power purposes, did not resonate abroad, and the proposal could not be implemented.Thecase of Russia’s European diplomacy tentatively supports one of the hypotheses articulated in table 1: an internally supported foreign policy may not be viewed as successful if it is not supported by the relevant outside audience.

More generally, the Russian case suggests that social contestation matters in both accurately describing foreign policy formation and predicting its outcomes. For a policy to be established and implemented, its official meaning must engage those on the broader national and international level. Obtaining such inter-subjective understanding shared by all relevant actors is essential for policy success. Scholars of foreign policy will therefore do well to pay more attention to theorizing social contexts in terms of their boundaries, overlaps and degree of contestation.




Table 1. Two Conditions of Foreign Policy Success








National Support








Yes

No


International Recognition

Yes

Success

Hope

No

Hope


Failure




Table 2. Russia’s European Diplomacy: Five Steps to Understanding






Foreign Policy Interpretation


Russia’s European Policy: Key Questions



Step 1

Recording State Action



What are Medvedev’s key actions and statements toward Europe?




Step 2

Interpreting the Official Documents


Is Medvedev Supporter of a European cooperation?


Step 3

Locating Policy withn National Schools of Thought


Is Medvedev a Westernizer of a Statist?

Step 4

Tracking International Recognition


Is Medvedev’s European policy gaining international recognition?


Step 5

Comparing Policy to Other Relevant Cases


Is Medvedev’s European policy comparable to policies in other directions?


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