Even Summary: Russia in Global Affairs

By Katherine Baughman

On January 18th, the Center for Strategic and International Studies together with Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies hosted a panel discussion on Russian foreign policy following the launch of a special issue of Strategic Analysis entitled “Russia in Global Affairs.” Six of the authors who contributed to this issue were in attendance: Maxim Bratersky, Leonid Grigoriev and Andrei Skryba, professors at the Higher School of Economics; Alexander Lukin, head of the Department of International Relations at the Higher School of Economics; Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics; and Ambassador Mark Entin, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Alexander Lukin began by outlining the nature of the journal in which this special issue was published as well as the particular topics of focus of each article within the issue. He spoke to the significance of Strategic Analysis as an English language publication operating in India, rather than a Western journal published in a country with more strained diplomatic relations with Russia. He then described his school of thought and that of his colleagues at the Higher School of Economics and Russia in Global Affairs as generally centrist —in other worlds, neither inordinately pro-Western, nor pro-Putin in its outlook.

After this brief introduction, Lukin immediately opened up the discussion to questions from those in attendance concerning the wide range of topics addressed in this special issue of Strategic Analysis. The first question regarding how Russia justifies its support of minority rule in Syria was addressed with an explanation of the Russian perception of terrorism as being rooted not in authoritarianism, but rather in the chaos that arises in the absence of a strong state. The panel defined Russia’s goal in Syria as preventing regime change in order to allow for a self-initiated, unimposed political reconciliation, and assured the audience that Russian military involvement would be scaled back once a non-military solution became feasible. The assertion that the situation in Syria could be described as “minority rule” was a point of contention for the panelists.

In discussing the Russian Federation’s involvement in Latin America since the fall of the Soviet Union, the panelists emphasized a transition to economic considerations and cooperation in the region. BRICS summits and Rosneft’s recent cooperation with Venezuela were cited as evidence of this trend, and educational exchange was mentioned as another area of successful Russian-Latin American interaction.

In regard to the question of how this recent pivot to Asia differs from similar cycles and pivots observed throughout Russian history, the panel identified five key points: 1) that China and Russia now operate on the basis of shared values and a common multipolar geopolitical vision; 2) the West is now strengthening these ties in its alienation of Russia and China; 3) the Asia Pacific is now a universally-acknowledged global center of power; 4) China, Russia’s largest trading partner, now is the largest economy in the world; and 5) Russian policy toward China no longer depends on Russia-West relations. According to the panel, these factors make this pivot more likely to be successful than those that came before.

The next round of questions brought an inquiry as to Russia’s goals in the global context: whether and how, in an era where world power status is decided by economic rather than military might, Russia aims to be considered as a first-tier power, and whether it is possible for Russia to become a part of a “global civilization.” Most of the panelists came to a consensus on the fact that though Russia aims to be an independent center in a multipolar world, it cannot be considered a great economic power due to its resource-driven and crisis-stricken economy. However, the contention was made that military power is not in fact irrelevant today, and that current world conflicts necessitate its importance in determining global influence. Whether or not Russia could become part of a global civilization, the panelists claimed, depended on one’s understanding of that term: while Russia is part of a global market and a globalized culture, it is not a part of Western global political civilization, nor does it strive to be.

Next, in answer to a question posed by an attendee on the topic, one panelist asserted that Russia must halt any violation of Finnish, Swedish and other Scandinavian countries’ airspace: though Russia has little leeway for maneuver in its foreign policy, he said, this is an area where it must alter its approach. However, he suggested that calling attention to a perceived security threat serves as a useful pretext for Scandinavian NATO member states to be granted the elevated NATO military presence they have long sought.

On an entirely different subject, Russia’s presence at the recent Paris Peace Conference was characterized by the panelists as a natural result of diplomatic inertia. They posited that a political resolution of the Syrian conflict and U.S.-Russian agreement on the containment of Iran must necessarily preclude Russia’s active involvement in resolving the Arab-Israeli crisis, in which it currently plays a passive role.

Lastly, the panelists addressed a query as to the extent to which domestic policy — and, specifically, President Vladimir Putin’s personal role in policy formulation — should inform our understanding of Russian foreign policy. They put forth the contention that neither the idea of “hostile encirclement” nor the personal worldview of President Putin serve as the source of policy in Russia. Russian policy as they view it is rather rooted in the desires, values and feelings of the Russians themselves. In the panelists’ estimation, the popularity of Putin’s policies — including that of the current anti-Western bent— stems from their correspondence to the mood of the people outside of the major Western Russian cities who make up the majority of the population. In other words, the will of the people, not domestic politics, determine Russian foreign policy.

In its wide scope and in the involved debate that it engendered, this panel discussion provided a unique and important perspective on the issues affecting Russian foreign policy.

Katherine Baughman is a first-year student in the MAERES program. She completed her BA at Middlebury College and interned with CSIS before beginning the MAERES program. She is currently a Graduate Fellow at CERES and is participating in the Center for Global Interests’ Rising Experts Program.

Interning with the Wilson Center – Heejae Park’s Impressions

This summer I interned at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank which fosters research, study, and discussion concerned with policy in national and world affairs. Specifically, I worked at the North Korea International Documentation Project (NKIDP), which is a part of the History and the Public Policy Program (HAPP) at the Wilson Center.

HAPP has several projects, including NKIDP, the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP), and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP). In order to inform policy makers, analysts, and scholars, HAPP facilitates and sponsors academic research in non-US archives about history by translating and publishing primary sources from non-US archives.

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Before I started my internship in earnest, I had a chance to go to the National Archives at College Park on a field trip with all the staff and other interns at HAPP. The National Archives at College Park has more documents, particularly more foreign service documents, than the National Archives in DC. Before heading to the National Archives, I found an interesting document called Russian-Language Publications and Records in Pyongyang and Other Locations in Korea, 10/1956-1/1958 while looking at the National Archives catalog page. Since it takes more than an hour to receive requested documents in the archives, it is always better to print the form of the document you are interested in (see first picture below) and submit it as soon as you arrive. I received several big stacks of documents on this subject, and the second picture below shows some examples of them.

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As an intern at the Wilson Center, my main job was to look at Russian documents written in the Soviet Embassy in North Korea during the Cold War era. For example, in July, I read Russian documents which were written in 1969.

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The documents include the records of conversations that occurred between the Soviet Ambassador and many Korean officials, such as Pak Seung-cheol, Kim Yong-nam or Kim Il Sung. There are also long and detailed reports by Soviet diplomats on topics such as North Korea’s domestic political or economic situation and relations with other communist allies, the Soviet Union and China. I read through these Russian documents, created a basic catalog, and posted them on the Wilson Center catalog website.

This job was fascinating because it is always hard to get reliable information about North Korea. Though we do have access to North Korean official publications, they do not always reveal the full truth. However, these Soviet Union documents and the diplomatic records, known to be reliable sources on North Korea, allow us to get a better understanding of both what was happening inside North Korea and with its international relationships, particularly with the Soviet Union and China throughout the Cold War.

In addition to creating a catalog and posting it on the website, I have had several opportunities to work with scholars directly. For example, Dr. Yafeng Xia, a professor of history at Long Island University, was working on his book on the Sino-North Korean relationship during 1949 to 1975 at the Wilson Center. Since the Russian documents that I read and made a catalog of included material on the Sino-North Korean relationship on that period, Dr. Yafeng Xia asked me to gather some information from the documents that he could include in his book. I discussed with him what might be useful for his book and felt great that I was able to be helpful.

Aside from my work, I learned a lot and met interesting people at the Wilson Center by attending various conferences and events which took place right in the building. For example, there was a film screening event, at which I watched a film called “Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine” by Mark Jonathan Harris, which described the Ukrainian crisis. Not only did the movie provide me with a deeper understanding on the Ukrainian crisis, but I was also able to listen to Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s talk after the movie. During my internship this summer, I attended a number of interesting events on Russian and North Korean affairs.

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Lastly, another exciting part of interning at the Wilson Center was that, since many scholars and important figures come to the Wilson Center and work for a year to finish their books or do a project, there are amazing people here that I can meet with and talk to. A very good example of this was the former Foreign Minister of Russia, Andrei Kozyrev, who served under President Yeltsin from 1991 to 1996. Having lunch with him was very interesting because I could hear some fun anecdotes from his time as a foreign minister. He will be finishing his memoir at the Wilson Center and the book will be published while he is working there for a year.

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I have enjoyed my summer here at the Wilson Center. I am very pleased that, thanks to my job, I could narrow down my academic interest and could learn a lot by going on field trips, attending events, and having opportunities to meet interesting figures. I think the Wilson Center is one of the best places to learn at as an intern.