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Russia courts old allies, steps up defiance of the West

President Dmitry Medvedev said Saturday that Russia is 'a nation to be reckoned with.'

By Correspondent / September 8, 2008

Tough talk: President Dimitry Medvedev said Saturday that the war in Georgia showed the world that "Russia is a nation to be reckoned with" at a State Council meeting (above) in Moscow.

Sergei Chirikov/AP



Russia is groping for fresh ways to engage with the world after its lightning-fast summer war with Georgia chilled relations with the West and dismayed even some of its closest regional allies.

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"We are facing the beginning of a complete review of Russian foreign policy," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow foreign-policy journal. "Things have changed and, based on what Russian leaders are saying, our long effort to integrate with Western institutions, to become part of the Western system, is over. The aim now is to be an independent power in a multipolar world in which Russia is a major player."

Analysts here are divided over whether a "new cold war" between Russia and the West is in the offing, but a growing sense of isolation is leading Moscow to circle the wagons closer to home and to revive alliances with former Soviet allies such as Syria and Cuba, and new partners such as Venezuela.

At a State Council meeting with Russian regional leaders Saturday, President Dmitry Medvedev announced that national security will have to be bolstered to counteract unnamed forces "who are trying to exert political pressure on Russia."

In a series of statements over the past week Mr. Medvedev has spelled out what amounts to a Russian version of the Monroe Doctrine, warning that Moscow will intervene to protect its citizens and business interests, particularly in the "near abroad," meaning the former Soviet Union. "The events in [Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia] showed that Russia will not allow anyone to infringe upon the lives and dignity of its citizens, that Russia is a state to be, from now on, reckoned with," he told the regional leaders.

The basic message to the West is "don't even think of parking here," says Natalya Narochnitskaya, former deputy chair of the State Duma's foreign relations commission and now an executive of the Moscow-based Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, which is funded by Russian business interests.

After a decade that has seen NATO – a 26-nation Western military alliance – absorb all the former USSR's allies and move to the borders of Russia itself, and the US move to install strategic antimissile weapons in Poland and the Czech Republic, Moscow has had enough. "There is a red line, where Russia cannot accept further pressure on its borders in its traditional geopolitical arena," Ms. Narochnitskaya says.

Multipolar era emerging?

Russian policy-makers say the world order has shifted from the bipolar arrangement of the four-decade-long standoff between the US and the USSR, to a brief period of American preeminence, to an emerging multi-polar era in which many powerful players will have to learn to work out their differences.