- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Introduction: Eastern Promises--Russian Energy for Asia

Paul J. Saunders

Russia’s reemergence as a major power in the international system has prompted renewed attention to developments in the country as well as to Moscow’s foreign policy actions and goals. Because oil and natural gas resources drive much of Russia’s growing power, the Kremlin’s domestic and foreign energy policies have been of particular interest to U.S. policymakers and observers of the country.

Growing global energy demand and rising energy prices provide essential context for Russia’s reemergence, simultaneously raising anxiety levels among the major consumer countries and raising confidence levels among the major producer countries. These tendencies have been especially apparent in Asia, a region that has seen sharp increases in energy consumption and is highly dependent on imported fuels. Yet, as has been the case in many other periods of rapid change, neither the anxieties nor the confidence will likely prove fully justified. Such is the unambiguous message of these two important articles by Mikhail Kroutikhin and Robert Legvold.

A central reason for this caution lies in a key conclusion that each author reaches independently: Russia’s foreign energy policy in Asia and elsewhere is driven largely by domestic political factors rather than by a well-elaborated and comprehensive international strategy. For his part, Kroutikhin sees Russia’s foreign energy policy as an almost accidental outgrowth of competition between three political "clans"—the "St. Petersburg lawyers"—connected to a degree to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and somewhat more to President Dmitry Medvedev—who seek control over Gazprom, and particularly the company’s money; the siloviki, current and former security agency officials with statist political and economic views who dominate the oil sector, especially Rosneft; and the "Family," the remnants of Yeltsin-era economic elites who continue to control major financial and metallurgical firms as well as some smaller energy companies. In Kroutikhin’s view, Vladimir Putin led Russia in essence by serving as the balancer and referee in this intra-elite struggle over the country’s energy companies. Kroutikhin suggests, however, that although the ongoing instability ensured that Putin could remain in office, such a position also limited his authority; each group resisted— often effectively—decisions that threatened the group’s narrow interests. Thus any serious effort at developing a national energy policy was impossible. Legvold goes one step further, arguing that Russia’s foreign policy does not drive its energy policy; on the contrary, he argues that foreign policy is subordinate to the interests of Russia’s oil and gas complex...

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