A Focus on the Revival of Statism in Russia
In the wake of his rule, Vladimir Putin came to power when Russian foreign policy was weak, inconsistent and ineffective. It was then that a new foreign policy course began to form. Putin’s foreign policy appeared increasingly solid, goal-oriented, consistent and pragmatic. During his visit to Kosovo in 2001 Putin said that “the international community, which set up a protectorate in Kosovo at the end of the civil war in 1999, must act to implement a UN Security Council resolution guaranteeing the rights of minority Serbs in the province of Kosovo and the integrity of Yugoslavia.” Putin reiterated that the long-standing Russian ties with the Serbian people constitute the foundation of the bilateral relations. Russia viewed NATO intervention in Kosovo as being the cause of the Albanian nationalism in the region.
In his 2000 State of the Nation address, Putin said that:
Cold War is in the past, yet even today we have to overcome its hard consequence, including the attempts to infringe the rights of sovereign states under the umbrella of the so-called humanitarian interventions and the difficulty of finding a common language when it comes to resolving the issues of regional and international threats.
The situation in Kosovo, which Yeltsin failed to handle appropriately, had sparked a new wave of anti-Western sentiments and helped Putin to consolidate his political platform and to engage in the wide-scale military operations in the North Caucasus. Yeltsin said that “Russia has a number of extreme measures in store, but we decided not to use them so far. We are above that. On the moral level we are superior to the Americans. The NATO aggression against Yugoslavia is a very big mistake made by the American diplomacy and by Clinton, and they will be held accountable.” Subsequently, Yeltsin appealed to the leaders of the Contact Group on Yugoslavia and called for the Security Council meeting to end the bombing and to continue the search for peace – an effort that did not yield results. However, this demonstrates Yeltsin’s greater commitment to peace and political dialogue. He strove to prevent unilateral military interventions and sought greater involvement of the UN in the resolution of the crisis. In his State of the Nation speech, Yeltsin proclaimed, “I will do everything to put an end to military actions in Yugoslavia, but Russia has already made its choice – it will not allow itself to be drawn into the conflict. We are trying to avoid another global split.” In contrast to this, Putin stated that “with increased money inflows from abroad we have greater external interference with our internal affairs. In the past, states-colonizers referred to the so-called civilization mission while expanding their national interests, which happens today, only with democracy as a pretext.”
Disagreements between US and Russia over the resolution of the conflict in Chechnya became more common after Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia. He perceived and presented Chechen rebels as a threat not only to the Russian society and its territorial integrity, but also to the civilization at large, which he predominantly associated with the West, so as to achieve a greater international support for the operations in the Caucasus. In his April 2002 State of the Nation address, Putin said that “in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, many people realized that the Cold War is over and that there are different threats and there is another war with international terrorism. This does not require additional evidence and equally applies to Russia.” The first wave of terrorist attacks in Moscow and the second Chechen campaign that followed them boosted his ratings substantially before the presidential elections in 2000 and gave him greater confidence in promoting a centralized governance system across the nation.
The events of 2004 proved a major challenge for Putin, after two civilian airplanes were downed and more than a thousand schoolchildren and teachers were taken hostage in Beslan, North Ossetia, both of which resulted in hundreds of casualties. The attacks seemed to have been spreading across the whole region and people felt increasingly less secure from the threat. The initial reaction was hardly in line with the pragmatic Western-oriented course. In his first statement, President Putin admitted that Russia lacked sufficient and adequate defense, but also relegated partial responsibility for the Beslan incident to some unspecified external forces that worked to undermine the Russian influence in the region and to instigate secessionist sentiments and movements. In a vague reference to the West, he said that “some want to tear off a big chunk of our country and others are helping them. They are helping them in the belief that Russia, as one of the greatest nuclear powers of the world, still poses a threat to them and, therefore, this threat has to be eliminated. Terrorism is their only tool.”
However, US-Russian relations improved in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and after the two presidents met in 2001. Whereas certain Russian policymakers had expressed their willingness to support the USA, given the concessions on NATO enlargement initiatives were made, President Vladimir Putin immediately endorsed the US plan to launch a global war on terrorism, which was seen in line with Russia’s domestic campaigns to suppress insurgencies and secessionist tendencies.
The events of September 11, 2001 presented a perfect opportunity for Moscow to gain greater support for its domestic policies. “Fighting terrorism has been the argument used by Russia to combat rebel groups in Chechnya and it builds on a strong national consensus created by the bombings of civilian apartment complexes in Russia in 1999.” The obvious reason was that Putin already saw Russia as fighting such a war in Chechnya and that the resumption of this war in 1999 had greatly contributed to his accession to power. Russia thus supported the US-led campaign to oust the Taliban regime and to eliminate the Al-Qaida network in Afghanistan. As a result, Putin reluctantly accepted the US plan to deploy military bases in Central Asia, despite the domestic opposition. Russia was seen as an even closer ally than NATO. The response of the US leadership was the softened criticism of the war in Chechnya, which was subsequently referred to as the internal affair of the state.
When referring to the situation in Chechnya in 1994, Yeltsin had stressed the need to rely strictly on negotiations so as to reach a social and political consensus. The consensus is aimed at a common goal of consolidating the Russian state and increasing the welfare of its citizens without regard to the differences in opinions and political positions. In 1995, he stated that in rare cases when coercion is to be used all actions need to conform to the will of the people, which is enshrined in the Constitution. He further stated that Russia was compelled to use force against the outlawed Chechen regime in the first campaign that was started against the backdrop of weak statehood, poor condition of military forces, fragile civil society institutions, and a still growing democracy when the government was able not to suppress the wave of criticism and remain open both domestically and internationally. Despite the war in Chechnya, Yeltsin was well aware of the necessity to maintain a solid, business-like relationship with the West, and was not about to forfeit Russia’s right to fully participate in European and world affairs. To alleviate the international criticism during the height of the campaign, Yeltsin even allowed OSCE fact-finding missions to enter Chechnya in an effort to resolve the conflict. By permitting the OSCE to play an important role in Chechnya, the Yeltsin administration attempted to give evidence of its willingness to cooperate with international organizations, notwithstanding the strong criticism by the Republican-led US Congress.
However, Wallensteen rightly suggests that “with the conflict in Chechnya – for which an agreement was found in 1996, to be overturned by 1999 – Russia refused to allow any international participation. It is likely to be difficult for international organizations to be involved if it is resisted by a major power that also happens to be party to the conflict.”