Russia’s Road to Isolation

Next week, Presidents Putin and Bush will meet in Slovakia. Mounting authoritarianism in Russia and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution seem to have ended the honeymoon the two men had enjoyed. Sergei Karaganov, Chairman of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, assesses Russia’s deepening foreign policy problems.

Two years ago, Russians could look at the world with satisfaction. We appeared stronger in the diplomatic arena than our economic and military power might warrant. Not anymore.

There were some successes last year, the most important being that our foreign debt, which restricts our economic sovereignty, is close to being paid off. Otherwise, although Russia’s objective strengths remain unchanged, our influence in international affairs has declined. From the Middle East to the war on terror and efforts to curtail the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Russia should be a valuable partner. Yet no clear Russian “footprint” on these issues can be discerned. Indeed, even the growing split between Europe and America has not stemmed Russia’s loss of standing.

This turn of events is confusing. President Vladimir Putin remains a fairly effective international communicator. Yet Russia suffered several obvious defeats in 2004 that tarnished its image and undermined its standing in the world.