Russia’s Response to U.S. Regional Influence
This essay analyzes the evolution of Russian policy towards Central Asia and the Caspian since 1991, and suggests a framework to understand the shift in Russian foreign policy as a whole under President Vladimir Putin. Under the Putin administration, Russia has made a concerted effort to pursue its interests in the Caspian Basin, based on its control of export routes and its general economic influence, and its concern to stop the spread of Islamic fundamentalism from the south. Even before September 11, it was clear that Putin had decided to support the United States as the now dominant superpower, rather than try to balance against the U.S. hegemony. Also, he wanted to promote Russia's "soft power" and not rely on its "hard power" legacy from the Cold War. The U.S.-led war on terrorism cemented Russian cooperation with the United States, but also caused a shift back toward hard power considerations. Russian policy, however, remains deeply suspicious of Washington's efforts to project U.S. military and economic influence into an area that Moscow still regards as its own "back yard." Putin has not been very successful in imposing order on the chaotic networks of security chiefs and oligarchs that pull Russian foreign policy in different directions. His pro-American stance has little support among Russian elites or public opinion, although his high popularity rating has given him freedom to maneuver in foreign policy. Nevertheless, these constraints raise doubts about the sustainability of Putin's strategy as he enters his second term.