Fedor Lukyanov: “Nothing's going to work out without Russia”
Fedor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the "Russia in Global Affairs" journal, told German newspaper Die Zeit about current trends in Russian foreign policy.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently been pursuing active foreign policy: the African summit was followed by talks on Syria and visit to Saudi Arabia; Putin recently received Cuban President and flew to Hungary. Is this a coincidence or part of some kind of plan?
- Russia's capabilities in the international arena have increased. On the one hand, Moscow itself is more active, on the other hand, many want to expand relations with it. In the Middle East, for example. After situation in Syria radically changed as a result of Russian efforts, the role of Moscow is assessed in a completely different way. If it wasn't for the military operation in Syria, the king of Saudi Arabia would never have gone to Moscow and wouldn't have received Putin so warmly. Persian Gulf states recognize strength and influence of Russia. If the rulers there see that someone is influential, then they show interest - otherwise, they would never do that. In the past, they had either hostile relations with Russia or had no relations at all. Of course, Riyadh continues to buy American weapons. But the fact that Saudis coordinate oil prices with Moscow is more important for the Kremlin.
- Moscow is also becoming much more active in Africa...
- I would not overestimate Africa. Russia doesn't want to compete there with China or fill niches that it held in Soviet times. Africa is an opportunity for Russia to earn money, and the Soviet Union wanted to transform Africa ideologically. Russia doesn't do that - it just wants to make money.
- Is this the formula of Russian foreign policy: you go where there are niches, open spaces or vacuum of power?
- There has never been any vacuum in the Middle East. But US President Donald Trump believes that he needs only two partners in the region - Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is a new configuration that is used by players such as Russia or Turkey. Russia has extensive experience in the region, it's persistent. The goal is to rebuild and restore Syria. I'm not sure if this will work out. But we see that Damascus’s control has expanded. Moscow’s plan has been officially announced - to build a stable state by stabilizing situation.
- Does Moscow not want to help Syrians?
- Neither the West nor Russia thought about Syrian people in the first place. But the interests of Moscow and Damascus coincide. Russia doesn't want to control the entire Middle East. It's impossible. It wants to have a voice in the region, and nothing would work out without Russia. This characterizes not only the Middle East policy of Russia, but also its foreign policy as a whole.
- The Middle East is considered to be a complex region where interests of different players intersect. How does Russia maintain equilibrium?
- This is truly amazing. When military operation began four years ago, no one would have thought of it. The mood at that time was pretty alarming - "Why do we need a new Afghanistan?" - and there are several factors that explain why everything went well. One of them is the policy of other states. Neither Obama nor Trump had a clear goal. Many did not like the policy of Moscow, but at least it was clear - to consolidate the Assad regime and restore Syria. Compared to other players, Russian plan is impressive. Moreover, this plan was combined with willingness to take risks and use force and diplomacy effectively. Greater flexibility is required to keep in touch with such diverse players as Israel, Iran, Saudis, Turks and Kurds. In addition, there are no ideological restrictions in Moscow, while the EU and the US stated: "Assad is evil, he violates human rights."
- Does Moscow have no morality?
- No had morality in the Syrian conflict from the very beginning. While the United States demands respect for human rights, this doesn't mean that it acts from moral position. But Russia's actions contributed to stabilization... There is a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, as is often the case with clever statements: "No matter how beautiful the strategy is, you should sometimes look at the results." Moral position of the EU ultimately led to self-elimination of Europe from the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Egypt. This policy led to the situation that we can see today.
- What are the principles of Russia's foreign policy?
- Russian foreign policy is based on possibilities and ways to use them. Putin is different from other politicians in two important ways.
Firstly, in his view, the world functions as a system. Merkel, for example, doesn't think so; she solves specific problems with the help of her value system. Trump is primarily interested in the US trade balance. Currently, politicians rarely think globally. Putin sees a complete, coherent picture. When you click on one button, this leads to certain consequences. In the case of recognition of independence of Kosovo, for example, the West said: "This is a special case!" But things don't work that way.
Secondly, Putin sees opportunities and how to use them. This is not a strategy, it's not even a tactic. He knows how to use what is available here and now.
- Putin can react faster because he doesn't need to coordinate his actions, unlike Western politicians, who have to discuss decisions with parliaments.
- That's true, but there are other limitations.
- Does he have less resources?
- No. But he must proceed with his actions in accordance with the mood in society or influence this mood so that there's no negative reaction. Russia is not a dictatorship. Kremlin has built a semi-authoritarian model based on constant exchange of views with the public.