The policy paper's preamble, written by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, calls for "the strengthening of relations of interdependence with the world's leading powers," with the most desirable partners being the United States and the European Union.
According to the "Russian Newsweek" story, the "triumphant optimism of Russian leaders in a time of record-high oil prices is a thing of the past. In the post-crisis world, Russia is forced to look for friends and start a useful economic ties." It cites an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying that "the crisis has shown that Russia cannot develop independently."
The report (which, judging from the sourcing, appears to be the result of an authorized leak from the Foreign Ministry) comes as an increasing number of stories are appearing in the Russian media calling for closer ties with the United States and the European Union. Writing last week in "Yezhednevnyy Zhurnal," for example, Aleksey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies made a similar argument for engagement with the West:
It is still unclear whether a true policy shift is in the cards. The combination of the economic crisis, last year's drop in oil prices, and U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to Moscow have certainly sparked a debate in the Russian elite about the direction of its foreign policy.
For years there has been evidence that a small segment of the elite has been very uncomfortable with the Kremlin's anti-Western orientation (See this piece by economist Sergei Dubinin just months after the Russia-Georgia war and this one by former deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Yevgeny Savostyanov late last year.) Now it appears that such voices are ascendant.
Will they be ascendant for long? And what will a new entente with the West mean?
The thing to remember here is what motivates Russia's rulers more than anything else is the long-term preservation of the political status quo -- that is, the long-term preservation of their power, privilege and wealth.
If Vladimir Putin and his inner circle can achieve such security through confrontation with the West, that is the route they will go. But if they can better achieve it through closer relations with the West, they can go down that road as well.
Right now, the Kremlin elite feels threatened by a creaky economy and an increasingly restless public. They need the West and appear ready to reach out -- and the West appears ready to respond in kind.
But sooner or later, the Kremlin is going to run into the same political-economic conundrum that has accompanied every Russian attempt at modernization. Modernizing an economy implies diversifying and decentralizing. It implies respect for property rights. It implies greater transparency. It implies respect for the rule of law as opposed to the rule of the gun.
And finally, it implies political decentralization. And that is something few Russian rulers have been willing to tolerate for long.
-- Brian Whitmore