Vladimir Frolov, uses President Medvedev’s 2008 initiative to overhaul the existing security system in Europe as an example of what is wrong with Medvedev’s style in foreign policy: “vaguely worded” statements, “poor attention to detail”, and “a lack of follow-up.”
I agree with Vladimir on that. But is this style unique to Medvedev? Can anyone point to a single specific, well-articulated, and followed-through major foreign policy initiative originated by Medvedev’s predecessors, presidents Yeltsin and Putin? (I’m not denying, of course, that some Putin’s foreign policy statements were worded in a very “non-vague” fashion).
Medvedev’s “style” in foreign policy is a reflection, first and foremost, of the fundamental problem plaguing Russia’s foreign policy since the end of the Cold War: the lack of geostrategic vision, perennial defensiveness, poor record of planning and executing specific foreign-policy projects, and inability to support foreign policy initiatives with “informational warfare.”
Making things worse, Medvedev is an ultimate “domestic” president. Groomed for the presidency largely through being in charge of “national projects”, Medvedev didn’t have any solid foreign policy experience and apparently needed intense on-job training during last year’s war with Georgia.
Given the circumstances, instead of criticizing Medvedev for a vaguely worded proposal on the new security architecture in Europe, one should applaud him for actually coming up with the idea. For this is not only his first major foreign policy initiative, this is the first proposal of this magnitude coming out of Moscow in, perhaps, a good 20 years.
True, the Russian Constitution charges the president with special responsibilities in conducting foreign policy, yet one can hardly expect Medvedev or his administration to put on paper and/or specify every proposal he spells out. This is a job for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and this is where the problem seems to reside as Medvedev appears to have no real control over the huge MID bureaucracy.
In order to bring about real change – and not just in his “style”, but, rather, in the very substance of Russia’s foreign policy – Medvedev has to dramatically revamp his foreign policy team. A good start would be to fire his Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov — something I first called for about a year ago.
Lavrov was appointed in 2004 by then-president Putin and has apparently missed the fact that effective May 2008, he is supposed to report to another boss. But this is only a secondary problem with Lavrov. The major one is that having spent the bulk of his diplomatic career in the United States, Lavrov tends to reduce Russia’s foreign policy to its relations with the U.S. (Even worse, during last year’s war with Georgia, Lavrov behaved as if his personal relationship with then-U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was at the core of U.S.-Russia relations).
The Russian foreign policy cannot remain a hostage of the results of the Medvedev-Obama summits or – on a larger scale – of the outcome of U.S.-Russia arms control negotiations. It must become multidirectional, pro-active, flexible, and perfectly balanced in applying both “hard” and “soft’” power.
However, even with a new, young, and energetic, foreign policy team in place, putting meat on the bones of Medvedev’s Europe security proposal wouldn’t be my first priority. Much more urgent is the designing of a comprehensive, coherent, and goal-oriented Russian policy in the post-Soviet space — in particular, in Ukraine and Georgia.