Unwrapping Russian foreign policy.

Author:Kent, Thomas J.R.
Position:Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics - Book review

Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics

Jeffrey Mankoff

(Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 359 pages.

A typical outsider's concept of Russian foreign policy might envisage Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin seated comfortably in the Kremlin, deciding what they want to accomplish, then skillfully selecting from an array of policy tools readily at their command: the military and security services, Gazprom's collections department, state-controlled media (i.e. drivers of public opinion), and state businesses ready to ship arms and build nuclear power plants wherever needed.

In his book Russian Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Mankoff, adjunct fellow for Russia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and associate director of International Security Studies at Yale University, challenges this image. He posits that Russia lacks a clear idea of its foreign policy goals and questions whether or not Russian state and state-influenced institutions follow leaders' interests rather than having agendas or priorities of their own.

For Mankoff, Russian foreign policy is hardly a fixed idea implemented by all-powerful figures in the Kremlin, but rather the product of a constantly changing tableau of leadership intent, official institutions' rival interests, and the ups-and-downs of the Russian economy. The frequently mixed signals from western nations--sometimes treating Moscow as an equal partner, sometimes warning that Russia still needs to be encircled and contained--also impact Russia's behavior.

Mankoff captures the nuances of each of these factors in his book, a tour d'horizon of the world as viewed from Moscow and of the forces that shape Kremlin policy. Gazprom and companies that build nuclear power stations emerge as international actors themselves, interested in maximizing profits regardless of whether the issue is gas supplies to Ukraine or a nuclear plant in Iran. The implications of their actions for the European Union--concerned about Ukraine's political independence-or the United States--worried by Iran's nuclear program--are not their leading concern. Meanwhile, the Kremlin cannot manipulate public opinion as easily as an outsider might think; Mankoff describes the latter as more isolationist than elite opinion and as a functioning restraint on Russian policy. The army and security services, for their part, also have a significant voice in defining policy.

Russia's basic political philosophy seems to be constantly evolving...

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