SLUG: 5-48656 Yearender: Russia / Putin / Foreign Policy DATE: NOTE NUMBER:









INTRO: The year 2000 saw the rise of Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, a leader who has made foreign policy a top priority. Mr. Putin has underscored the desire to restore Russia's prestige in international diplomacy, but has simultaneously pursued Russia's interests in so-called "states of concern," like North Korea and Iran. From Moscow, correspondent Eve Conant looks at how and why Mr. Putin has launched his foreign-policy campaign on the landscape of the old Soviet bloc.

TEXT: Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent the past year shuttling across the globe - discussing missile diplomacy in North Korea, trying to broker peace in the Middle East and gathering support in countries like China for opposition to U-S plans to build a missile defense shield. His presidency began with the introduction of a new foreign-policy mandate for Russia; within nine months Mr. Putin had taken more trips abroad than the ailing Boris Yeltsin took during his last years in office.

The stated aim of Russia's new foreign policy was to ensure Moscow a firm and respected place in the emerging world order, without ignoring the country's economic limitations. Mr. Putin has been described as a "Europeanist" - more interested in integrating Russia into Europe than following United States initiatives. But this year also saw a clear emphasis on restoring ties with some old Soviet allies, such as Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Libya - countries which, from the Western perspective, are considered "states of concern" either because of a perceived nuclear threat, alleged sponsorship of terrorism or lack of democratic principles.

By the end of this year, President Putin's foreign policy initiatives seemed to underscore a desire to step in and fill the foreign-policy vacuum caused by political upheaval in the United States, and his readiness to bend the rules a bit - either by eliciting surprise announcements from North Korea that it is not a nuclear threat to the United States, or by picking up the telephone to get Middle East leaders to talk to each other after weeks of violence in the Palestinian territories.

Political analyst Andrei Kortunov says Russians view Mr. Putin as more of a nationalist and a patriot than his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who was more apt to follow the dictates of Western foreign-policy aims than fulfill Russia's own needs. Much of that, says Mr. Kortunov, comes from the pro-democracy image on which Mr. Yeltsin built his power base.


Mr. Putin is more opportunistic, more pragmatic, or - you might say - more cynical than Boris Yeltsin. Boris Yeltsin was a born again anti-Communist. He tried to emphasize his ideological zeal. Mr. Putin is not a Communist, of course, but he is not an anti-Communist, either. And therefore he can afford certain steps, like trips to North Korea or to Cuba, which his predecessor simply could not afford.

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Sergey Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies, says Mr. Putin is viewed by the Russian people as someone who places the nation's economic needs ahead of ideology - for example, by saying Russia will resume lucrative arms sales to Iran despite an expected Western outcry. Analysts say Russian arms sales to countries like Iran, Libya, Syria and North Korea could net Russia more than 450-million dollars per year, offsetting any financial loss caused by potential U-S sanctions. Analyst Markov says President Putin is less concerned with the possible image problem caused by looming sanctions than Mr. Yeltsin would have been.

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Putin has tried to build a much more pragmatic course of foreign policy. It's different, of course, than Mr. Yeltsin, who was like a new Russian czar. Putin is not a czar; he's a manager with a pragmatic approach. As part of this pragmatic approach, he is trying to lead Russia's foreign policy not by political ideology but in an economic way.

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But independent political analyst Andrei Piontkovksy says President Putin - an ex-KGB agent - is, in fact, very much driven by ideology. But it's a different ideology than that of Mr. Yeltsin. He says Mr. Putin's foreign policy reflects not only his own political background, but also the psychological wounds of Russia's political elite.


I think they suffered from a very deep frustration, resentment, and very deep complex of defeat in the Cold War. The practical action of Moscow on the international scene is driven again and again, not by national interests, not by some cynical calculation, but rather by resentment against the West and, first of all, against the United States, which won the Cold War. Putin is not a creator of this new, tough, anti-Western tendency in Russian policies. But certainly his own background, his biography and his mentality mark very strongly his vision of the world. He will be more consistent in this new anti-Western - sometimes even paranoidly anti-American - posturing of Russian foreign policy.

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Although President Putin is trying to maintain some balance - he just recently pardoned a U-S citizen sentenced to 20 years for espionage - there are more examples of anti-Western behavior, says Mr. Piontkovksy. He gives Russia's reaction to the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk as one example of Russia's approach to the outside world. Many Russian officials insist the vessel sank after colliding with a foreign vessel.


I think, if they repeat this lie over and over again, they begin to believe it themselves, because it's too difficult to accept the truth. And to perceive the world as confrontation between the United States and Russia is psychologically more comfortable than the reality of our economy and our position in the world.

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/// OPT /// Russian political analyst Andrey Kortunov says aside from the economics of it all, President Putin made foreign policy a key part of his first year in office for domestic reasons. He says a focus on foreign policy is a risk-free way for President Putin to remain popular among Russian citizens.


It's a rather cheap and not very binding field. It's a rather elite sport which you can get into without paying too high a price in terms of your public standing.

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Putin's year of foreign policy initiatives included a great deal of reaching out to old Soviet allies, but also threats to clamp down on some old Soviet enemies, such as Afghanistan, which Russia has accused of harboring and training Chechen rebels.


President Putin says, "If destabilization spreads over the former Soviet republics, it will hurt Russia. Therefore we naturally must and will take measures to ensure peace in Afghanistan, or at least prevent a spillover of violence into former Soviet territory.

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President Putin has energetically embraced a so-called new foreign policy. Although many Russia-watchers argue this is reminiscent of Cold War priorities, it also considered to be more in line with Russia's national economic interests and less of a policy of appeasement with the West. With President Putin's popularity ratings still much higher than other leaders in recent Russian history, it seems his approach to foreign policy, while perhaps raising some concern abroad, is welcomed at home. (Signed)