If I were to say that Russian foreign policy is consistent, even under the same leader, I’d be lying. Here are several guidelines to follow that can help you gain a better understanding.
- Putin and Medvedev are pragmatists – there is less an ideology behind their actions (as with the Soviet Union) but more a fluid and changing strategy concerning the national (and electoral) interest. The country is pragmatic over anything else.
- Russia is defensive and is intent on self-preservation (hence why it has the largest military in the world).
- Russia will always have an obsession with the ‘near abroad‘ which is generally identified as countries bordering Russia or within it’s geographical sphere of influence.
- Russia for now has the legacy of the Cold War still intact, which means there are divisions between Russia and other countries (e.g. the USA).
- Russia is part of a group of countries, such as Germany and the rest of BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China), that informally and tactically promote the transformation of world order to a multi-polarity (no one dominant hegemony) which is overseen by an international legal system (e.g. International Criminal Court). Countries such as the US are against this for obvious reasons, which means that any close alliances between the two countries will be at best ad hoc (e.g. alliance for the War on Terror).
- Russia is not isolationist, but it is easy to think so. Integration into the West and International groups is extremely important for the current leadership, and has been for over a decade. However, Russia is a country that wants to maintain its independence of action (characterised by assertive tactical manoeuvres), and be accepted into a world order it favours.