News / Europe

Russia, Seeking to Modernize, Showers West with Smiles

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, meets with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Yokohama (file photo - 14 Nov 2010)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, meets with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Yokohama (file photo - 14 Nov 2010)

Multimedia

Audio

Russia spent much of 2010 trying to mend fences with the West. It settled a big border dispute with Norway, and normalized relations with Ukraine, after a pro-Kremlin leader took over. But Russia's biggest change is with two big adversaries: Poland and the United States.

The men in the Kremlin do not smile easily. Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev banged his shoe at the United Nations. Andrei Gromyko, Soviet foreign minister, was known in the West as "Grim Grom" or "Mr. Nyet."

But this spring, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, unveiled a new look – a friendly face to the West. He told a European reporter: "I would like to see Russia smiling, and taking the face of a young, modern person."

Oil was on its way back to $90 a barrel. But foreign investment had not returned after Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia. Russia's group of allies – Belarus, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe – was lampooned as 'the losers' club.'

China and Russia switched economic places. Konstantin von Eggert, a Moscow political analyst, increasingly hears Russians worrying about China's relentless rise.

"Another factor is the growth of Chinese economic and political and military might on Russia's borders," said von Eggert. "China squeezes Russia out of Central Asia. It increasingly shows that Russia is its junior partner."

Modernizing alliances


Russia's leadership took a hard look at failed efforts to restore superpower glory. Downsizing ambitions, they chose a pragmatic slogan – "modernizing alliances."

Carnegie Moscow Center Director Dmitri Trenin is writing a book that explores 'post-imperial Russia'

"What Russian leaders has also done is essentially tell the foreign ministry people that simply supporting a crumbling image, a crumbling façade of Russia, the great power, was not enough," Trenin said. "So the mission of Russia's foreign policy was to reach out to countries that could be external modernization sources for Russia."

Russians complain that China sees Russia as a raw materials supplier. In contrast, Europe sees Russia as a frontier for industrial investment. But two obstacles can block full European cooperation – the United States and Poland.

Mutual cooperation

Moscow's reset with Washington is real.

It survives challenges Russian officials once called "provokatsiyii."

The unveiling of a Russian spy ring three days after President Medvedev's visit to Washington last summer; the deportation from Bangkok to New York of Russian arms dealer Victor Bout; and the post-election surge in Republican opposition to the New START treaty.

Keeping an eye on the prize, Russia cancelled the sale of anti-aircraft missiles that were to protect Iranian nuclear facilities. In return, Washington helps Russia enter the World Trade Organization, an event expected to bring more foreign investment. Washington protects Russia's southern flank by bolstering Afghanistan and keeping radical Islam from spilling into Central Asia.

"The Russian political class,  Russian leadership, imagine with horror – with creeping horror – what's going to happen when the international coalition headed by the United States pulls out of Afghanistan," said von Eggert. "Russia has porous borders with Central Asia, and if there is a Taliban spillover into places like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan or Uzbekistan, that is going to hit Russia very badly."

Better relations with Washington unlock American investment for Russia. Pepsi is buying Russia's largest dairy and juice company – the largest acquisition ever by a U.S. company in Russia.

Stumbling block

Poland also blocked full Russian access to European Union.

A big stumbling block was Katyn, the Russian forest where Stalin's secret police murdered thousands of Polish prisoners during World War II. On April 7, the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reached out to Poland, praying with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk at a memorial in Katyn.

Three days later, tragedy stuck. A Polish government plane carrying the nation's president and 95 other dignitaries crashed in fog near Katyn. President Medvedev persevered with the outreach, attending the funeral in Warsaw, opening the crash investigation to Polish participation, and engineering a Russian parliament vote officially blaming for Stalin for Katyn.

Then last week, President Medvedev turned his wide smile on the Poles in a state visit to Warsaw, the first by a Russian in almost a decade.

He decorated Poland's anti-Soviet film director Andrzej Wajda with the Russian People's Order of Friendship. Wajda's 2007 film, Katyn is about the World War massacre, which took the life of his father, a Polish cavalry officer.

Courting the West

After the ups and downs of 2010, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are sticking to courting the West. Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst, cautions that it will take years to erode mutual mistrust.

"This reset of relations with Poland is going very nicely on the public relations kind of part of it," Felgenhauer said. "In the basics the relations are still very edgy."

But with China rising fast in the east, Russia is determined to shore up its ties in the west.

You May Like

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More