Rashid A Mughal
There are two schools of thought as far as Russian foreign policy is concerned: Atlantic School and Eurasian School. Firstly, Atlantic School came to the forefront in the Gorbachev’s period with the policy of Perestroika and Glasnost. As Yeltsin also gave importance to west policy, Atlantic School became prominent. According to this school, Russia derives its ancestry from Christian civilisation. With the acceptance of orthodox Christianity, Russia entered into framework of Byzantine which meant that Russia is a European country. Because of this, direction of Russian diplomacy turned towards west. Russia established partnership with west and joined western political, economical and military organisations. The major foreign policy tendency of Atlantic school is that Russia should have economic cooperation with west and should take its place in the civilised world as a normal country. In order to carry out this, Russia had to give up its long-standing traditional Russian ideology. Atlantic School theory, prevents integration of Russia into international system. Those who defend Atlantic School do not see west as a problem. Security problems in the neighbourhood,however, come from unstable areas like Central Asia and Afghanistan. Atlantic school followers view Nationalism and radical extremism in the region as threat to Russia.
The other theory- Eurasian School of thought is totally against the former one and criticises policies which Atlantic School supports. With the losing importance of Atlantic School in the foreign policy matters, especially after 1992, Eurasianism became prominent and they started to dominate foreign policy. Eurasian School consists of many different groups like Russian Orthodox Church, extreme nationalists, Stalinists and so forth. Eurasianists believe that Russia is an original civilisation because of orthodoxy and geopolitical position.The basis of their understanding and their main aim is to establish national identity against west. Unlike Atlantic School which supports establishing close relations with west and USA, Eurasianists advocate to establish political, economical and military relations with former USSR republics which were named as ‘near abroad’. Because of failure of economic policies of Atlantic School, Eurasianists actively advocated that Russia should get rid of external dependence by using its own resources. Unless Russia has national interests, it should not cooperate with west.
As Eurasian School gained power in the political life, Yeltsin had to change Russian foreign policy. When the dose of criticism increased enormously, Moscow began giving more and more importance to former Soviet Republics, particularly Central Asian countries. Moreover, with this understanding, Moscow did not avoid to criticise west policies. For example, Moscow objected to NATO policies towards Balkans; furthermore, Yeltsin characterised NATO movements towards Serbians in Bosnia as genocide. Although it planned to improve relations with NATO, they did oppose expansionist policies of NATO.
Russia had to renounce many kinds of rights in Europe, Caucasia and Central Asia like industrial and military infrastructure. At the same time, it also lost administrative rights over Russian citizens who lived abroad. Kremlin administration wanted to re-establish Russia that was Super Power by getting over historical and political collapse and rebuild its prestige. Although Russia was faced with political change dramatically, new republics which were separated from 85 year Soviet Union could not split from integration of Moscow in terms of economic production, marketing, distribution and administrative management. Russia gave importance for re-union especially with Ukraine and Belarus. Three Baltic countries- Latvia, Lithonia and Estonia did not join re-union (CIS) because they chose EU and NATO, a political decision.
Unfortunately, this organisation could not achieve economic integration and success. While Belarus and Kazakhstan improved economic relations with Russia, other countries are pro-Europe and USA. Financial support is crucial for Central Asian countries. One way or another, Russia tried to create common field with former Soviet republics. Indeed, it implemented these policies in order to avoid dependence on Europe and USA. The main purpose for Russia was to be more active in former areas, especially in Central Asia because of energy policies. With the collapse of Soviet Union, Russia wanted to re-gain it’s past glory and be a super power again. However,it found itself in a hard economic and political crisis. On the one hand, Russia did not have former imperial identity, its boundaries had narrowed down and to be a super power again seemed a distant goal . On the other hand insufficient economic reforms, privatisations and total lawlessness caused instabilities in Russia. Public was really fed up with these problems and needed a new leader. It was golden chance for Vladimir Putin to come on the stage and thus he became president.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.
Rashid A Mughal