Matt Rojansky Yana Leksyutina Li Xing
Russian President Vladimir Putin will miss the upcoming G8 Summit in Washington later this week, a move seen as a reset of relations after his inauguration. Is Putin's decision a deliberate snub to the US? How does he plan to move forward Russia's relations with the US and China? Global Times (GT) reporter Li Ying talked with Li Xing (Li), director for Russian studies at the School of Political Science and International Studies at Beijing Normal University, Matt Rojansky (Rojansky), deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Yana Leksyutina (Leksyutina), associate professor at the School of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University, on these issues.
GT: Do you agree with the analysis that Putin's decision not to attend the G8 Summit is a deliberate snub to the US?
Leksyutina: Yes, I do agree. We can attribute Putin's decision to two explanations. First, it can be explained as a response to the slightly negative US reaction to Putin returning to the Russian presidency and, more recently, to the circumstances of Putin's inauguration ceremony.
Second, this decision aims to show a slight change in Russian foreign policy, a tougher stance of Putin's administration toward the West, and specifically to the US, in comparison with Dmitry Medvedev's tenure.
It can also be a sign of Russia's preference of the G20 framework, rather then in the outdated Western-dominated G8 format.
Rojansky: It may or may not have been deliberate, but it surely will be perceived as a snub after the White House made special arrangements with other major world leaders to accommodate Putin's schedule.
This will be exacerbated by an intense partisan election campaign and debate about US-Russia relations provoked by the WTO accession.
Li: Putin wants to show he will not just be a follower of the West. However, it doesn't mean that he would not seek cooperation with Western countries.
Another reason is that the G8 Summit is more like a club for Western countries and Russia doesn't have a big say.
GT: What do you think are the main diplomatic priorities for Putin in his new term?
Leksyutina: The main diplomatic mission is to return Russia to its rightful place in the world. Putin came to power with the idea of making the world respect Russia's national interests.
Special emphasis will be paid to conducting an independent foreign policy free from Western influence. Another important task is to enhance Russia's role in the Asia-Pacific region.
Li: Putin will first keep strengthening the relationship with the former Soviet Union nations and then expand eastward domestically in order to develop his new Eurasian focus.
Second, he will carry on the strategic partnership with China and a pragmatic diplomacy toward the West.
Rojansky: Putin himself acknowledges that he must increase attention to Russia's Far East as well as relations with Asia. But the strategic relationship with the US and NATO, as well as asserting Russian influence in the post-Soviet space, especially the customs union and energy infrastructure ownership abroad, will likely remain his top foreign policy priorities for the short-term.
GT: How do you think Putin will act in terms of Russia-US relations? What are the main obstacles to their development?
Li: Russia-US relations are constantly cyclical. As the US presidential election is coming this fall, the Obama campaign wants to show a tough attitude on Russia, which explains the finger-pointing about Russia's election earlier this year. But this will improve after the US election.
Such high-level ties are always based on mutual interests. Russia has to expand economic cooperation with the US and the White House needs the Kremlin's support on international security issues such as Iran and Syria.
Rojansky: The main obstacles are missile defense, a lack of trust, "zero-sum thinking" in the post-Soviet space especially, and unresolved conflicts between Russia and its near neighbors who are now US and NATO partners or allies.
Putin will likely stay the course and not make any major changes from his own policy seen between 2000-08 or Medvedev's policy under his guidance.
Leksyutina: There are definitely hard times ahead for Russia-US relations during Putin's new presidential term. There are a lot of contentious issues, such as the US-led NATO project to build a missile shield in Europe, human rights situation in Russia, Iran and Syria and so on.
GT: Do you think Putin's election would bring the world a stronger Russia and then ease international pressure on China?
Li: Not really. The West will have more understanding of Russia's policy rather than China's since they have a closer cultural connection.
However, objectively, a stronger Russia benefits China because it helps the world become multi-polar and constrains the West.
Russia and China's relations will move to a new level, including cooperation on energy and the military. Moreover, the two countries may well form a closer strategic partnership over international security.
Rojansky: I do not see great prospects for advancing the Russia-China relationship to the level of strategic partnership, in part because the US is independently more important for both China and Russia, and Washington will continue to deal with each on a separate track.
Of course economic growth would come primarily from the development of Russia's Far East, but for political reasons this is unlikely. It's a very sensitive question for Moscow which recognizes that Chinese resources, financial, demographic, and increasingly even military, have effectively transformed Russia into the junior partner in the relationship.
Leksyutina: I wouldn't say it would necessarily bring the world a stronger Russia in terms of economic or military might. Putin's election might only mean Russia's foreign policy will become less responsive to the needs of the West and the US. Obviously, a more provocative Russia is good news for China, as it will distract US attention and pressure from China.
Concerning the prospects of Russia-China relations, Putin's return to the Kremlin will likely result in foreign policy readjustments toward greater cooperation with China and make Russian diplomacy more oriented toward the East. The focus of Russia-China relations will be measures aimed at strengthening trade and economic ties, which remain the weakest components of bilateral cooperation.