Only an Economically Strong Country Can Pursue a Strong Foreign Policy

The international part of the presidential state of the nation address was expected to become the core of the document long before its delivery. This year the address was postponed from early April until mid-May, possibly because of the Iraqi war and related shocks on the international scene. The president wanted to find the right time for delivering his address: after the war but before the key events of the post-war settlement. Everything else the president said about domestic policy issues today could have been said before.

In the long months of the international crisis around Iraq, when the world was shocked and split into two very unequal and quite surprising parts, Vladimir Putin spoke about it only rarely and in very few words. Longer statements were left to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. This gave the foreign policy as a whole an additional margin of safety: it is logical that the president should have the final say, cutting off extreme views and inviting foreign partners to do the same.

The vital "international" errand of the address is that Russia should "take a firm place among the truly strong, economically developed and influential countries of the world" in the foreseeable future and "all of our decisions and actions should be made subordinate" to this goal, including on the international scene.

In other words, only an economically strong and competitive state can pursue a truly strong foreign policy. The presidential call for doubling the GDP within ten years and making the rouble fully convertible fits this logic because a freely convertible rouble means "a firm and reliable connection with the global economic system." Russia, which has become a full-fledged member of the eight industrialised countries, cannot but fulfil this task.

"Situated around us are countries with highly developed economies," said the president. "They are pushing Russia out of promising world markets wherever they can. And their apparent economic advantages spur on their geopolitical ambitions." Strong and well-armed national armies are being used now not to fight terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but "to expand the zones of strategic influence of individual states," Vladimir Putin said about the developments around Iraq.

In fact, this is the essence of Putin's foreign policy style, which he assumed when he came to power. A good foreign policy is a good economy and this goal can be attained through economic integration, which means rapprochement and non-confrontational attitude to dialogue with the other great powers, no matter how serious differences may be.

It is not necessary to cede moral positions or change foreign policy to carry on such dialogue. The president confirmed the principled stand of Russia (and the bulk of other countries) that the UN, though not everyone and not always likes its decisions, is nevertheless the only available universal mechanism and it is vital for the international community and individual countries to act on the basis of transparent and internationally recognised mechanisms of decision-making. "The UN and its Security Council remain the most important of these mechanisms," said Vladimir Putin.

He delivered his address after the Moscow visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell but before his two forthcoming meetings with the US president during the 300th anniversary celebrations in St. Petersburg in late May and at the G8 summit in Evian, France. In Evian, Putin will talk not only with the US leader but also with the heads of other leading countries. The foreign ministers elaborate the agenda of such summit meetings and discuss the key positions of their countries; this work will continue nearly until the day of the summit. In other words, Putin chose a very good moment for making an additional message to his colleagues.

He said, in part: "After the terrible tragedies of which all of us are aware, an counter-terror coalition was created with an active involvement of Russia and in close collaboration with the USA and other countries." Russia highly values this international counter-terror organisation as an instrument of international coordination of the fight against terror. The restoration of the unity of global powers in the struggle against common threats will be the main task of Russia's foreign policy in the next few weeks and in the longer term.

Dmitry Kosyrev, RIAN

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Author`s name Michael Simpson