Argumenty i Fakty
How Will Russia’s Foreign Policy Change under Putin?
President-elect Vladimir Putin will need to strengthen Russia’s global standing. What changes can we expect on the Western and other fronts?
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Putin only five days after his election. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney openly called Putin’s victory “a mockery of the elections.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Putin very reservedly. The warmest words came from China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and the CIS countries.
Dmitry Medvedev’s biggest achievement was the reset policy, which slowed after the United States approved a ballistic missile shield for Europe. In a policy article published before the March 4 election, Putin criticized the West for using armed force against Libya and other “inconvenient” regimes.
Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief, Russia in Global Affairs magazine:
No one in the West is happy about Putin’s return. But they will have to deal with him. I don’t expect any major changes in foreign policy. With the exception of the Libyan resolution, which exposed some differences between the president and the prime minister, the tandem pursued a coordinated policy. So I expect only a few new elements.
Putin is wary of the United States, but not because he is a former KGB officer. His relations with Bush showed that Americans do not honor their commitments. Talks will become increasingly difficult and more drawn-out. Putin wants Russia to move closer to Europe. Russia’s stance on Syria and Iran is likely to remain uncompromising. Putin wrote in his article that Russia should prepare for Western traps.
Konstantin Sivkov, First Vice President, Academy of Geopolitical Problems:
The West will keep trying to assume control over Russia’s commodities, territory and military potential to overcome the economic crisis. Initially, relations will definitely worsen. The West will support radical liberals and could take action against Russian foreign property and freeze the bank accounts of the Russian elite. In response, Putin could redirect Russia’s policy towards the East (China and India). But relations will become more pragmatic and even warm when the West sees that its attempts to dominate Russia have failed. Relations will be closest with Germany, Italy and France (especially if the French elect a pro-European president). We may see the development of a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing axis, which Washington will be unable to counter.
Nikolai Zlobin, Director, Russia and Eurasia Project, World Security Institute (Washington):
The rhetoric in relations with Washington could become tougher. But Putin’s anti-American rhetoric has never developed into an anti-American policy. Putin clearly regrets that bilateral economic relations are not as strong as military-political ties. I believe he will try to adjust relations with the United States according to the Russian-Chinese formula: 90 percent economy and only 10 percent politics. We could cooperate in a wide range of fields, from IT to nuclear power, defense and space exploration. The United States has no icebreakers, a field in which Russia excels. Joint Arctic projects are not as utopian as they may appear at first glance.
Russia and Ukraine: friends or foes
Moscow is now in a better position to establish influence in Ukraine than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russian-Ukrainian relations have reached a milestone. The recent “no war, no peace” arrangement, with its cheese wars and frustrating gas and pipeline talks, cannot continue forever.
Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin needs a foreign policy triumph, and he is determined to arrange one. Moreover, this needs to be a victory without war because the type of small-scale armed conflict we saw in 2008 would be fraught with risks.
The choice of potential sites is limited. With China, it would be a major victory just to preserve the status quo. The West, for all the resetting and partnership for modernization rhetoric, is unlikely to sign any landmark agreements on lifting the Third Energy Package restrictions, visa-free travel or removing the U.S. missile defense system from Russia’s borders. Since Russia has virtually resumed economic sponsorship of Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko is unlikely to make any major concessions, while the pro-European coalition is growing stronger in Moldova. Extending the Customs Union to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would be inefficient. This only leaves Ukraine.
Viktor Yanukovych’s administration does not have much to show for its two years in power. They rashly surrendered Sevastopol, without getting so much as a gas discount or guarantee of Russian gas transit in return, thereby losing whatever bargaining chips they had. Faced with huge gas bills, Ukrainian officials alternate between humble requests, threats and dreams of alternative gas supplies.
To make things worse, Yanukovych has found himself personally isolated in the West. The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is stalling because Europe is reluctant to “associate” itself with a regime that jails its political opponents. His negotiations with the IMF have reached an impasse because the government is reluctant to raise domestic gas prices before the elections.
This is a perfect moment for Moscow to take control, before Ukraine opts for rapprochement with the West. It is essential to persuade Ukraine to join the Customs Union, negotiate direct gas supplies to its consumers, and take ownership of its rapidly depreciating pipeline system into the bargain. In return, Moscow could promise Yanukovych the kind of economic concessions that will enable him to win the parliamentary elections and 2015 presidential vote.
But Moscow needs to act fast. If they stall, the Ukrainian opposition may gain in strength or the Ukrainian elite’s incessant squabbling over the last pieces of the ever-diminishing pie could destabilize the government, leaving it unable to fulfill any promises made to Moscow. If Russia fails to capitalize on the situation to achieve the kind of dominance in the post-Soviet region it has long claimed, the world will begin to doubt the seriousness of Moscow’s intentions.
However, Putin’s statement that the weak get beaten is not always true. In the world to the west of Ukraine, the weak are in fact often helped out. But Ukraine seems to have made its choice.
Ukraine Proposes Amending National Anthem to Boost Optimism
The Supreme Rada, the lower house of the Ukrainian parliament, is considering a bill to change the lyrics of the country’s national anthem, replacing the depressing first line with something more uplifting.
Independent Rada member Dmytro Vetvitsky proposed replacing the well-known line Ukraine has not yet perished with Thank God Ukraine has justice and freedom.
“Ukraine fought hard for its independence and Ukrainians have been killed in endless wars. But today, thank God, it is a peaceful country. It is time to put it in good order. And we must do it with God in our hearts,” Vetvitsky said.
He cited the national anthems of other countries which mention God, such as those of Serbia and Britain. However, some of his colleagues do not agree, claiming that Ukraine, although not atheist, is still a secular country where the state is separated from the Church. Therefore, including God in the first line of the anthem is not really appropriate, they said. Moreover, people of other faiths in Ukraine may be offended.
“If anything in Ukraine were to change as a result of this… As it is, this idea sounds like just another pre-election gimmick, like the stripping of parliamentary immunity,” said opposition member Yury Prokopchuk. “I wonder what kind of justice and freedom Tymoshenko and Lutsenko have experienced in Ukraine,” he added.
Rada deputies from the Party of Regions agree that the national anthem needs to be changed. Vadym Kolesnichenko said that Vetvitsky’s proposal deserves respect.
“Even if this bill gets rejected, I will submit a similar one. I will support it,” he said.
Political psychologist Pavel Frolov does not think the lyrics should be changed. Stability and permanence is what state symbols are valued for, he said. “But the mention of death causes fear and anxiety,” he added.
Ukraine has seen about 20 proposals to change its national anthem since it was approved in 2003. The most famous proposed first lines are Let Ukraine live forever in glory and freedom, and Our Lord good and great, save Ukraine for us. Thankfully, these were never accepted.
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