As President Medvedev is building up the foreign policy foundation of his presidency, eyes are also on Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov. In June, Lavrov gave a major speech at the Deutsche Bank international conference in Moscow. Some aspects of this speech cast doubt over Lavrov’s fitness to serve as a "manager" of Medvedev’s foreign policy team.
One cannot but agree with Lavrov that one of the "new realities" of the contemporary world is "the return of Russia to global politics, economy and finances as an active and full-fledged "player." Says Lavrov:
"…This concerns our place in the world market not only for energy, but also for grain and our leader positions in space and nuclear energy and … the role of the ruble as one of the world’s most reliable currencies."
All true, but Lavrov’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has little to do with Russia being the world’s leader in energy and grain production (or the ruble being one of the world’s most reliable currencies, for that matter).
What about bold foreign policy initiatives emanating from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs per se, initiatives that would match, in their originality and comprehension, Russia’s newly-acquired status of a "full-fledged" global player?
Lavrov calls for a "pan-European summit, to fill the political vacuum that is forming in the Euro-Atlantic Region and shape a positive agenda which we lack so badly at present."
This is a great idea! Especially because one can hear an echo of president Medvedev’s recent call for a new configuration of the trans-Atlantic security arrangements. One would argue that it’s precisely Lavrov’s job to flesh out his boss’ proposal: what this "positive agenda" should be and who is going to "shape" it. But don’t look for answers in Lavrov’s speech. There are none. Lavrov seems to be waiting for someone else to answer these questions. Who?
For a professional diplomat, Lavrov appears to be somewhat uncomfortable with the contemporary world as it is, especially with what he calls "the global "rules of the game." He is visibly upset with the fact that the international politics is too "ideologized." He calls for freeing the world’s politics from the "ideological load" and takes pride in the fact that "Russia is guided in international affairs by understandable, pragmatic interests, devoid of any ideological motives whatsoever…"
International affairs devoid of any ideological motives? What planet is Lavrov from?
Lavrov’s job is not to hide his head in the sand, but, rather, to find an appropriate response to any "ideological load" targeting Russia’s national interest. It’s Lavrov’s job, too, to create Russia’s foreign policy "ideology" that would be attractive to its allies and intimidating to its foes. And, yes, adding pragmatism to this ideology will only help.
Lavrov admits that "this situation [the world’s affairs "loaded" with ideology] is unlikely to change soon…" Is he willing to wait? Apparently, yes. Lavrov proposes a strategic "pause" in Russia’s relations with the West, a pause that would put on hold a host of contentious issues lest things turn worse. That’s how Lavrov explains the need for a pause:
"[A]ll projects must stay where they are, be it Kosovo UDI, the realization of plans to deploy elements of a US global missile defense system in Eastern Europe or Nato’s eastward expansion. Because any striving to complete at any cost by a specific date the realization of what causes rigid non-acceptance by partners and threatens a collapse of the established relations will trigger a reaction. This vicious circle needs to be broken."
Does Lavrov really believe that real-life conflicts could pause because the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation doesn’t know how to solve them?
Lavrov was appointed to his post in 2004, and, boy, were these 4 years easy for him? Lavrov might simply be tired. Otherwise, it’s difficult to explain his almost nostalgic reference to the "mutual trust and respect" between Russia and the United States during the Cold War:
"It sounds paradoxical, but there was more mutual trust and respect during the Cold War…There was awareness of the need — alongside the wish — to deal with truly significant issues for our two countries and the world as a whole."
A remarkable statement for a man who is supposed to execute Russian foreign policy in the post-Cold War era.
As president Medvedev is honing his message to the rest of the world, he might well consider changing the messenger.