Foreign Policy of Russia: National Interests and Regional Priorities
“National Interest” is a key concept in international relations. All nations attempt to secure National Interests or fulfill them. A state always tries to justify its activities on the basis of its National Interests. Official definition of national interest is various, however, more relevant explanation might be the following one: National interest means objectives, values, desires, demands interests that a state seek to achieve, protect, complete, defend and secure in relations with other states. According to experts, three key factors play essential role in constructing and explaining the “national interest”, those are memory, fear, and values.
Memory is formed along the history of the country and influences the national interests of the country. Despite the famous quote of Palmerstone about changeable interests, still exists the expressions such as “out historical friend” or “enemy” which forms inevitably influences on the foreign Policy. Considering the USSR as Russia, still allows Russia to actively intervene in the policies of neighboring states, be it Moldova, Georgia or Ukraine. Memory that is associated with the Imperial Policy, still plays major role in constructing foreign policy of Russian Federation.
The perception of any entity as carriers of alien and dangerous values pushes the authorities to actively confront them. In the eyes of Russia, West is the main source of confrontation. Therefore, the line between foreign and domestic policies is blurred, and struggle against the influence of ill-wishers, drives as external as well as internal policy of the country.
The set of values is a combination of historical baggage, which generates ideas about the role and rights of a citizen. Unfortunately, almost monarchical approach allows Russian Federation to exclude citizens from the process of forming “national interests”. These latter have been once again approved by the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation last year. (17–12–97 1300 on the Approval of the Concept of National Security of Russian Federation)
In this document we read that national interests of Russia are based on the national wealth and national values of the peoples of the Russian Federation. They are provided with the capabilities of the economy, the political and military organization of the state, the spiritual, moral and intellectual potential of a multinational Russian society.
Primary and vital interests of the state are to protect the constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia, to establish political, economic and social stability, to unconditionally enforce the laws and maintain law and order, to develop international cooperation based on partnership.
Vital interests are once again emphasized in the Foreign Policy Concept of the country. This latter has been moderated several time up to now. Namely, Russian government published the concept in 2000, 2008, 2013 and 2016.
In those documents we could enlist five groups of foreign policy goals which also cover national interests.
First group: sovereignty, international position and territorial integrity
Second group: international cooperation and global peace
Third group: economy
Fourth group: relationship with neighbouring countries
Fifth group: relationship with foreign countries and Russian behaviour in international relations
This latter goal can be divided into relationships with foreign countries through the priority. In these concepts we can find the section that is dedicated to regional priorities. In the first category, post-soviet states take place, then black sea regions, Western countries, Asia-Pacific, MENA region, Latin-American countries and African states. (2000, 2008, 2013 and 2016 Foreign Policy Concepts, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation).
1. Countries part of the post-Soviet space: CIS, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), CSTO, Ukraine, Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia;
2. Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions;
3. Western countries: European Union, OSCE members, NATO, United States, Canada, Balkan states and members of the Arctic Council;
4. Asia Pacific region: Shanghai Cooperation Organization, ASEAN, China, India, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indochina, Australia and New Zealand;
5. Middle Eastern and Northern African countries: Iraq, Israel, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Arab League, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Lebanon;
6. Latin-Central American countries: MERCOSUR members, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua and others.;
7. African countries: African Union members and all African states.
Russia has many times demonstrated to believe having an exclusive influence in post-soviet region. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Union State with Belarus represent the Russian political will to play a key role in the this space, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and, on the other hand, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) represent, respectively, the Russian military and economic hand in the region.
The Caspian and Black Sea regions come before Europe in the list because of its geographical position ( Seas are attached to Russian borders and represent a small part of Russian national waters). Developments in this region are addressed carefully, especially in the framework of a stable commercial cooperation among countries (Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Kazakhstan.
Relationships with Western states are much more tense and delicate, in particular after the events that took place between 2014 and 2016 (Stent A., 2014). Deterioration of Russia-EU relations is expressed in the 2016 FP Concept, where Russia stopped considering itself as a European state, at least formally. Among European partners, the Foreign Policy Concept explicitly points out Italy, Germany, Spain and France, as more important in terms of economic and political ties with the Russian Federation. The United States and Canada are also mentioned in this section. Canad is considered as an essential partner for dialogue related to the Arctic region. And, the United States is a key player in world affairs and, therefore, it is expected to seek cooperation with the Russian Federation on all the most urgent issues, from terrorism to nuclear security.
Regarding the communitarian organizations, it seems that the Kremlin considers the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) more essential than NATO for European security (Dyner A. M., 2016). North Atlantic Treaty Organization led by the United States is seen as a menace by Russia: “The Russian Federation maintains its negative perspective towards NATO’s expansion, the Alliance’s military infrastructure approaching Russian borders, and its growing military activity in regions neighbouring Russia” (2016 Foreign Policy Concept, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 2019).
Regarding the other regions, the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East are much more important for Russia than Africa and Latin America. The Asia-Pacific is becoming year by year more significant for Russia, especially in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with China. Indeed, “Russia attaches importance to further strengthening the SCO’s role in regional and global affairs and expanding its membership, and stands for increasing the SCO’s political and economic potential, and implementing practical measures within its framework to consolidate mutual trust and partnership in Central Asia” (2016 Foreign Policy Concept, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 2019). China is one of the most important partner in this region, especially in the field of trade and also for the development of Siberian and Eastern regions. The second significant Asian country to cooperate with is India, which is one of the biggest customer of weapons.
The Middle East has become increasingly important after the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015. Therefore, in the last FP concept Russian support to the government of the Syrian Republic is evident.
To sum up, as for any state national interests of Russian Federation is mainly oriented on territorial security, sovereignty, political, economic and social stability. However, difference with other countries might be found in the tools that are used for achieving or securing national interests. This topic will be discussed in the next article.