Russia is again seeking a role as a global power and is therefore flexing its muscles. Signs of change in Russian foreign policy have been mounting ever since President Vladimir Putin delivered a confrontational speech in Munich last February.
Since then Russia planted its flag on the seabed below the North Pole to demonstrate its claims to the Arctic and its natural resources; announced its intention to build its own missile defense system and issued repeated threats against Europe because of the planned deployment of a small American defense system; exploded a “stray” missile or bomb in Georgia as a warning signal to the government in Tbilisi and its Western friends; buzzed America’s military base on the Pacific island of Guam with surveillance aircraft; blocked a decision on the final status of Kosovo in the UN Security Council; and launched a hacker attack against computer systems in Estonia. In addition, each winter there is a repeated threat of “problems” with oil and gas deliveries to Europe.
High oil and gas prices, America’s self-inflicted global weakening due to its misadventure in Iraq, and the rise of China and India obviously have prompted Moscow to change its foreign policy. Yet none of this amounts to a fundamental change in Russia’s strategy, because Russia continues to adhere to its fundamental decision, made in the early 1990’s, to open itself to the West. Still, the style of Russian politics has changed from cooperation to confrontation. And, as history has shown, a change of style in foreign policy may quickly lead to a change in strategy.
Currently, Russia is undergoing a restoration. Such periods always follow revolutions and times of far-reaching change. The power of the center is being restored, following its partial disintegration after the end of the Soviet Union. But, ever since the sixteenth century, the center has played the main role in shaping Russian history, and now looks to be no different.