© Dmitry Astakhov, picture alliance

As the example of the crisis in and around Ukraine underlines, we are witnessing drastic change in Russian domestic and foreign policy. Observers disagree on the relationship between these changes. One group argues that the nationalist turn in Russia has led to a more aggressive foreign policy. Others justify the internal change of course in terms of fears that the colour revolutions could spread to Russia; it is also construed as an attempt to win popular support for an aggressive foreign policy. Another interpretation lays responsibility for the crisis in and around Ukraine on Western actors, in particular NATO, the United States and the EU, for expanding their spheres of influence too close to Russia’s borders.

The Kremlin’s propaganda asserts a “war of values” against the West, with an anti-Western foreign policy now increasingly forming the basis of the Russian regime’s legitimacy. A power shift within the Russian elites has led to a noticeable strengthening of nationalist and anti-Western forces. Russian legislation has become more repressive and supplies the regime with new instruments to wield against opposition.

Russia’s economic and financial policies have also been subjugated to the new foreign policy course. On the one hand, the Kremlin is increasingly pursuing protectionist development projects and presenting these – via the state media – as responses to EU sanctions and falling oil prices. On the other, it has increased the military budget while forcing other ministries to cut spending. A longer-term development strategy – as proposed in the modernisation plans of former President Dmitry Medvedev – is currently not identifiable. Although former finance minister Alexei Kudrin has been asked to prepare a new national economic strategy, the openings for the technocratic elite are restricted to securing economic stability.

Russia’s anti-Western stance and growing protectionism also call into question the prospects for economic cooperation between Russia and the EU. Even in areas of complex mutual dependency such as energy, the politicisation of economic relations generates almost incalculable economic risks. Facing political confrontation with the EU and the United States, Russia is seeking closer relations with Asian partners, especially China. But it appears questionable whether the partnership with China can ensure the same access to technologies and capital hitherto provided by the West. It is also unclear whether the Chinese are interested in levels of cooperation extending beyond securing cheap energy supplies and a market for Chinese consumer goods.


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