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The BBC's Paul Moss
"Cold War rhetoric has achieved a certain retro-chic in Moscow"
 real 28k

Monday, 5 March, 2001, 20:41 GMT
Russia walks tall under Putin
Vladimir Putin and Bill Clinton at the APEC summit in Brunei
Putin and Clinton sometimes agreed to disagree
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

Vladimir Putin came to power emphasising the priority of domestic over foreign policy, but in his first year he has set records for foreign travel.

It's time to understand: our place in the world depends directly on our success in solving our own internal problems

Putin's pre-election programme
He has visited most of Russia's neighbours, and all of its G8 partners, as well as an assortment of other states from Cuba to North and South Korea.

He has spent about as much time abroad in one year as Boris Yeltsin did in his entire presidency - but he has faced criticism at home for failing to turn his air miles into tangible results.

Russia's foreign policy under Mr Putin has only really crystallised in relation to the states of the former Soviet Union.

Under Putin, Russia is saying more bluntly than before that it sees these states, with the exception of the three Baltic nations, as its sphere of interest.

Walking tall

In one significant change of policy, Moscow has all but abandoned the moribund Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a means of projecting its influence, focusing instead on bilateral relations.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze: Feeling Russian pressure
This has paid off particularly well in the case of Ukraine, previously one of the most western-looking of CIS states, which signed in January a 52-point military co-operation accord with Russia - an accord which may undermine Kiev's special relationship with Nato.

Ukraine is also one of a number of countries that have found Russia increasingly intolerant of unpaid energy debts, and have been given a brief but chilling taste of what it would be like to have the gas tap turned off.

Boris Yeltsin pretended that he was not around, while Vladimir Putin pretends that he is around

Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky 16/10/00
Meanwhile, Russia has established a "Eurasian Nato" in league with Belarus and three central Asian states, and started to drag its feet over the withdrawal of troops from Moldova and Georgia.

As punishment for refusing to allow Russian troops to attack Chechnya from Georgian territory, Moscow has abolished visa-free travel for all Georgian citizens except those living in two breakaway regions.

These and other measures give Russia a feeling of walking taller in its own back yard than it ever did under President Yeltsin.

Iran deal torn up

Geopolitically, the cornerstone of Russian foreign policy has remained under Putin as it was in the later Yeltsin years - to challenge US global dominance by trying to promote a "multipolar" world, but lacks a coherent plan to achieve this.

What other countries call zones of crucially important interests, we see for ourselves too

Putin's pre-election programme
This has led Mr Putin to actively pursue relations with China, India and Iran.

The first two have for years been the Russian defence industry's main customers, and still are, while in 2000 Moscow noisily tore up a 1990s agreement with the US not to sign new arms deals with Iran.

But Russian officials themselves sometimes question how far this process can go.

Despite much talk of a "strategic partnership" China is recognised in Russia as a potentially very troublesome neighbour, and India has indicated that it does not want to become part of any Russian-Chinese "axis".

On the one hand we must renounce all our imperial ambitions. On the other, we must understand clearly and precisely where our own national interests lie, fight for those interests, and give them a clear expression

Vladimir Putin, 25/12/00
Mr Putin has also sought to loosen US influence in Europe, campaigning against any further eastward expansion of Nato, and the creation of the proposed US National Missile Defence shield, that will depend on missile tracking stations on European territory.

The Kremlin has promoted the idea of an alternative Russian-European missile defence shield, and watched with interest both Europe's decision to create an independent defence capability, and George W Bush's promises to withdraw troops from the Balkans.

However, no-one in Moscow is likely to be dreaming yet of Europe emerging as a separate pole to rival Washington in the hoped-for multipolar world.

US ties

And despite Russia's objections to America's geopolitical role, bilateral relations remain cordial.

At this moment of change... there are very serious differences in society's political elite about what exactly Russia's interests are

Alexei Arbatov, Russian MP
Mr Putin met President Bill Clinton four times in 2000. On tough issues like Chechnya they merely agreed to disagree.

In relations with Nato itself, Mr Putin has also combined his opposition to expansion with a pragmatic touch, agreeing to unfreeze relations with the alliance after the crises of 1999.

In recent weeks both Nato and Russia have spoken of an improving relationship.

The year's biggest diplomatic upset came at a summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - previously a body Moscow seemed to view favourably - when Russia blocked a communique calling on it to honour agreements on troop withdrawals from Moldova and Georgia, and to allow an OSCE mission back into Chechnya.

In his first year, Mr Putin has declared his determination to stick up for Russia's interests - but as some Russian analysts have themselves pointed it, Russia is still not completely sure what its interests are.

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28 Mar 00 | Europe
Putin's foreign policy riddle
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