Russian Foreign Policy for Europe and the United States
"Where will Russia go [in its foreign policy orientation]?" asked Ernst-Joerg von Studnitz at a recent talk at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "Russia has no choice but to pursue a Western course." Immediately following the 9/11 terror attack on the United States, von Studnitz stated, Russian president Vladimir Putin made a bold decision to declare that Russia stood with the U.S. This was a decision Putin took on his own, von Studnitz emphasized, and was not uniformly popular in Russia.
The turn towards the U.S. became even less popular within Russia in the days before and during the U.S. military campaign in Iraq. Putin then took a tough stand against the U.S., siding with France and Germany and making an "almost 180-degree turn" from his post-9/11 position. In speaking with Russians knowledgeable about the decision making process, von Studnitz related, the Russian general staff predicted a six-month war in Iraq. According to these sources, Putin was advised that the Americans would find themselves in trouble, and that Russia would find itself in a position to step in as peacemaker. In the end, Russian planners were stunned to see three U.S. ground divisions overrun Iraq in a matter of weeks. Putin, according to von Studnitz, saw it was a tremendous mistake to oppose the U.S., and felt set-up by advisors who advised siding with France and Germany.
At the recent June meeting in St. Petersburg, Presidents Putin and Bush seem to have mended their fences. The test of whether this mending will last, predicted von Studnitz, will come over the issue of Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran. There are early indications that Russia may pass this test, with their recent call for Iran to allow international surprise inspections of its nuclear facility. Putin will also try to try to balance Russia's relations with the U.S. with its largest trading partner, the European Union, stated von Studnitz.
Russia's trade with the EU constitutes 50 percent of its exports. While Russia is uncomfortable with the relative power of small European states within the EU's decision-making process, von Studnitz said, it recognizes that it must deal with the EU as a body. A new Russian-EU Council that was established at the recent St. Petersburg summit may prove to be a success in easing these relations. Perhaps more important for the overall process, according to von Studnitz, is the gradual influence of the private sector in driving market and democratic reforms within Russia. There are 3,000 German enterprises active in Russia, noted von Studnitz, and a great number of these are small-medium enterprises (SMEs). The economic activities of SMEs, both of foreign and domestic origin, contribute to the increase in the rule of law and the development of institutions and procedures that are compatible with Western norms.
Von Studnitz views a future Russian orientation towards China as unlikely. In the long term, he stated, China will be a competitor to Russia, especially in terms of demographics. Russia, he noted, has a population of 30 million east of the Urals, and only 7 million east of Lake Baikal in Siberia. By contrast, China has a population of 130 million in the Amur River basin across the border. Russia's main policy orientation will remain Western, concluded von Studnitz.