Πέμπτη, 7 Νοεμβρίου 2013

Russian diplomacy is back, too

When the USSR crashed, so did its foreign ministry and its well-trained employees, who leached away into international commercial employment. Now they have regained some state support and a clear objective.
by Yann Breault
The 27-storey Russian foreign ministry on Moscow’s Smolensk Square was built after the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), its Stalinist bulk a reminder of Russia’s superpower past. It was put up between 1948 and 1953, when the Communist cause was gaining ground and the USSR’s diplomatic activities extended around the globe.
There was no more prestigious career in the Soviet Union then than the diplomatic service. New recruits were picked among academic high-flyers who had been active in the Communist youth movement. They were trained at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (founded in 1934) or the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (founded in 1944). Their knowledge of foreign languages was excellent; that was rare in other Soviet ministries.
For diplomats, the chance to experience the outside world appealed, and they were even more excited to play a central role on behalf of the Soviet motherland — synonymous with Russia — and of all humanity. In the USSR, there was still a belief that the fate of world revolution depended on Moscow. Given Russia’s long-standing inferiority complex about Europe, it would be hard for a diplomat not to feel nostalgia for Russia’s international standing in the Soviet era.
Stalinist architecture may have encouraged Russophobia during the cold war, but it did not alienate the westernised elite who were in favour of dismantling Soviet power. When Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down as president of the USSR on 25 December 1991 and handed over the nuclear codes to Boris Yeltsin, the foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev had already moved his team into the ministry. In an edict of 18 December 1991, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic claimed all of the USSR’s embassies and consulates abroad.

Joining the civilised world

Russia’s leaders ensured complete diplomatic continuity; they were also keen to be admitted to what they called “the civilised world” and reassured western governments that Russia would fulfil all its obligations under international agreements, in particular disarmament treaties. In a letter of 24 December, President Yeltsin informed the UN secretary general that Russia would take over the USSR’s seat on the Security Council, as though that were a foregone conclusion.
Kozyrev sent a brief note verbale (a special diplomatic communication) on 2 January 2002 to the heads of diplomatic missions in Moscow, telling foreign governments that accredited Soviet representatives in their countries should now be regarded as belonging to the Russian Federation; this put non-Russians who still worked in the former USSR’s embassies and consulates in a difficult position.
Kozyrev wanted to speed up the rapprochement with the West that Gorbachev had initiated, and even talked of possible Russian membership of NATO, denying there were any differences between Russian interests and those of liberal democracies. The Russian diplomatic corps were highly sceptical of this; they had been trained at least as much in Realpolitik as in Marxism-Leninism, not that they were incompatible. Yeltsin mistrusted Kozyrev and publicly criticised him for incompetence in his mission.
In the new world of slashed budgets, the prestige of the diplomatic service was greatly reduced. Between 1991 and 1993, Russia closed 36 embassies and consulates. When new departments were created to manage relations with former republics of the USSR, the ministry had trouble filling the posts. As knowledge of European languages was much sought by foreign companies, many employees left, enticed by private sector working conditions.
The foreign ministry’s disconcerting ultra-occidentalist policy did nothing to motivate its employees, and the international humiliations Russia suffered throughout the 1990s degraded the profession’s prestige. Faced with a 40% fall in economic output on 1990 levels, the political forces that declared themselves the most democratic in Russia’s history lost much of their credibility.

New NATO relations

In January 1996 the appointment of Yevgeny Primakov as foreign minister signalled a change in relations with NATO. His prestigious academic career as an Arabist and director of the Institute of Economics and International Relations was more important than his later role as first deputy chairman of the KGB, a job Gorbachev asked him to take after the failed coup of August 1991. But an intelligence chief taking charge of the foreign ministry conveyed a message. The respect he commanded with his classical vision of Realpolitik and his call for the creation of a multi-polar world had a lasting impact on Russia’s international standing.
Yeltsin was too suspicious of Primakov to give him free rein in foreign policy. The president did not want to compromise the rapprochement with the West that he had backed, and he was concerned about the credit Primakov had gained with many opponents for having modified Kozyrev’s line. Yeltsin appointed Primakov prime minister on 11 September 1998, presenting it as a concession to the opposition, but stripped him of all his functions in May 1999, to the satisfaction of the oligarchs, especially Boris Berezovsky, who had no hold over Primakov.
Things are less sombre now in the Russian diplomatic service compared with the early Yeltsin years. Vladimir Putin’s arrival as president was the beginning of an impressive reconstruction programme for state structures, made possible by reclaiming control of the energy sector and the spectacular rise of hydrocarbon prices. The effects of this quickly fed into foreign policy.
Efforts have been made to raise the diplomatic service’s prestige, such as the 2002 decision to make 10 February “Diplomats’ Day” (10 February marks the first mention of a “department for diplomatic missions” created by Ivan the Terrible in 1569). Russia, through its civil service, is now happy to look back more widely at its history; the rehabilitation of symbols is not limited to the Communist period, but also borrows from the glories of the Tsarist past.
The foreign minister’s activities remain subordinate to presidential power. But mutual distrust between president and diplomats has given way to symbiosis, particularly since Sergei Lavrov took up his post in March 2004. This seasoned diplomat held the post of Russian ambassador to the United Nations for a decade.
The symbiosis is based on a shared nostalgia for Soviet power and profound disillusionment with the West. Russia’s diplomats know that the messianic period of the Soviet regime is over, and are content to dream of a renaissance of civilisation that is Slavophile and Eurasian. But although post-Soviet Russia has given up its claim to bear the torch for human destiny, it finds it harder to accept the US’s inability to do the same. Putin’s article for The New York Times (1) denouncing US exceptionalism touched a nerve in Moscow and Washington, for different reasons. Exceptionalism exists, but resistance to the present unipolar international order motivates a more active Russian policy in international forums, where Russia can gather support for its cause.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which is demanding that US troops should not be stationed in Central Asia after the end of their mission in Afghanistan, is one such forum, and so is the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which is keen to see the dollar’s role as international monetary standard reduced.
At the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg this September, Russia took the lead in a huge movement opposed to unilateral US intervention in the Middle East. The bilateral US-Russian agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons may have helped assuage Russian diplomats’ nostalgia for the past.

Around the world

Besides the permanent missions attached to international organisations, Russia’s foreign minister directs the activities of 149 embassies and 93 consulates in 190 countries. The ministry’s administration in Moscow and its missions overseas employ around 12,000, one third of them diplomats; 25% are under 30, and 80% of those are graduates of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations or the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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