Leaked Russian document: Could Medvedev era tilt more pro-West?

A leaked Russian document lays out a major reappraisal of the country's foreign policy priorities under President Medvedev. The confidential Foreign Ministry report calls on the Kremlin to abandon the prickly, go-it-alone approaches of the Vladimir Putin era.

By , Correspondent

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    Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev addresses guests of a dinner hosted by his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, in Ankara, Turkey on Wednesday. A leaked Russian document lays out a major reappraisal of the country's foreign policy priorities under President Medvedev.
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Someone in Moscow is tearing a page out of the American playbook, and leaking secret documents to the press.

Nobody knows who handed over a 70-page sweeping reappraisal of Russian foreign policy priorities, apparently generated by a committee inside Russia's Foreign Ministry, to the Russian edition of Newsweek.

But everyone is talking about the confidential report, which calls on the Kremlin to abandon the prickly, go-it-alone approaches of the Vladimir Putin era and reach out for terms of closer cooperation with the developed world, particularly the US and the European Union.

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"It sounds like someone with an American logic must have leaked this, because it's absolutely not normal for it to happen in Russia," says Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice rector of the official Diplomatic Academy, which trains Russian diplomats.

"Who knows what to make of it?" he says. "We don't need a new foreign policy doctrine. We already have one, and they don't get changed every couple of years."

Officials in the Foreign Ministry have confirmed the document's authenticity to journalists, but no one will define its purpose or say what the Kremlin might have wanted it for.

Why was it made public?

And no one seems to have the slightest idea who made it public, or why?

Most analysts say the leak was probably deliberate, and a few suggest it may be a sign of a growing bureaucratic rift between the still powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, and the more liberal but significantly less popular President Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr. Medvedev's ongoing problem is on full display in a public opinion poll released by the independent Levada Center in Moscow last week, which shows that halfway through his first term in office, just 22 percent of Russians think the president conducts his policies independently, while 66 percent believe he's still under the thumb of Mr. Putin.

Experts suggest the leaked document is most likely an attempt to update Russia's 2008 foreign policy doctrine to take account of Medvedev's call to make economic and technological "modernization" the central theme of his presidency.

"It's a review of Russia's standing in the world as a result of the [global economic] crisis," says Dmitry Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "It's a recognition that some of the hubris of the Putin era has to be moderated, and a recognition that Russia can't modernize on its own."

In a preamble to the document, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calls for building "modernizing alliances" with countries that can help Russia to overcome its traditional technological backwardness and economic isolation. "The greatest importance will be attached to ... strengthening of relations of mutual dependence with leading world powers based on mutual penetration of economy and culture," he wrote.

Mr. Lavrov praised US President Barack Obama as a "potentially transformative" leader whose reset of relations with Moscow have markedly improved the tone of dialogue and led to some solid achievements, including the signing of a new strategic arms reduction treaty last month.

But he also worried that Mr. Obama's popularity at home is sagging, and that could embolden US conservatives to undo the reset. "The military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishments of the USA [are seeking to] return to the confrontational policies of the last administration," Lavrov wrote.

Joining WTO, improving flow of investment

Some implications of a more West-oriented approach discussed in the document include joining the World Trade Organization and negotiating a visa-free regime between Russia and the European Union, to enable the flow of investments, ideas, and skilled labor.

It also seems to suggest downgrading Moscow's relationships with less developed countries, and takes a very rare official swipe at China. "We need to proceed from the assumption that we need to hold China to acting in concert with Russia in international forums, where they need our help more than we need theirs," the document says, according to the Newsweek transcript.

"It's pretty unusual to officially voice these kinds of sentiments about China," says Mr. Trenin. "But, in general, it makes sense to prioritize our relations with developed countries, because that's where investments and innovations are going to come from."

In another controversial passage, the document advocates a more aggressive economic strategy for dealing with crisis-hit countries of the post-Soviet region. The idea would be to take advantage of their economic distress and "sharp fall of investment attractiveness" in their national assets to snap up industries in the Baltic states, oil and gas infrastructure in Ukraine and Belarus, and to merge Ukraine's aviation industry with Russia's.

"What looks benign to Germans or Americans may not seem so to people in the Baltics or Ukraine, where they may fear being bought out by Russian capital," says Trenin.

"But that's capitalism. It's not about military takeover anymore, but about promoting Russia Inc.," he says. "In a way, it signifies that Russia is joining the club."

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