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CIAO Focus, August 2013: Russia's Foreign Policy

• Russia has become more integrated in the international system and continues to play a prominent role in global governance, through institutions such as the G20 , G8 and recently, the WTO . But, Russia often finds itself opposing the position taken by the West on high- profile issues, such as conflict in Syria, sanctions on Iran, Internet governance and climate change;

• Russia wants to reorient its foreign policy to prioritise its eastern vector, and if successful, this may place Russia further out of step with any EU / US consensus. However, a combination of factors, including caution toward China and a fast changing energy market, make the success of Russia’s ‘pivot to Asia’ doubtful;

• Russia’s efforts to (re)integrate the post-Soviet space are seen as a major development with implications for other actors in the region, including the EU and US , with the Customs Union and Eurasian Union projects gaining momentum. Russia appears willing to invest resources to this end, and its position as a regional power provides a range of pull factors to attract other states to participate;

• Recent increases in Russia’s defence spending, accompanied by an intensification of military exercises, have raised concerns that Russia is militarising at a time when other actors, notably EU member states, are reducing defence spending. Russia’s deployment of offensive weaponry near EU borders contributes to a lack of confidence and transparency on security issues;

• ‘Soft power’ or the ability of actors to achieve their goals through attraction rather than coercion has received impetus from the Russian state in recent years. In sum, the development of language and cultural institutions, appeals to the large Russian-speaking diaspora and the use of Soviet-style ‘conservative’ messages may be influencing attitudes in the post-Soviet space. But, there are contradictions that limit its effectiveness, including the absence of an attractive, basic idea as a foundation; hindered relations. But, there are notable successes, including improving trade relations, arms reduction agreements and cooperation in the Arctic;

• Overall, Russia is not viewed as a strategic partner for either the EU or the US, but as an ‘ad hoc’ partner, willing to cooperate on a narrow range of issues that fall well within its own interests. However, Russia’s weakness on the international stage often limits its ability to be a strategic competitor. Instead, on some, but not all issues, Russia is seen to play the role of ‘spoiler’ — an actor unable to push its own self-interest to conclusion, but ready to hinder other actors from achieving their goals.

--Sean P. Roberts, The Finnish Institute for International Affairs


From the CIAO Database:

Russia as an international actor: The view from Europe and the US

Russia as a Humanitarian Aid Donor

Responsibility to protect... itself? Russia's strategy towards the crisis in Syria

The End of an Era in EU-Russia Relations

Russia's pressure politics: The Kremlin's uncompromising approach to opponents threatens political stability

Outside Sources: *

Russia "disappointed" bilateral talks with US cancelled (BBC News)

Russia (The Guardian)

Another Cold Spell for U.S.-Russia Relations (Council on Foreign Relations)

Russian International Affairs Council

Center for Russia and Eurasia (The Rand Corporation)

Russia and Eurasia (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

* Outside links are not maintained. For broken outside links, CIAO recommends the Way Back Machine.