The Russians are balancing softly

Russia stands to gain from a reconfiguration of the world order, relatively speaking

Dan Drezner suspects that Russian President Vladimir Putin might have been reading his article. The international order, Putin says (and most Indians would agree), needs ‘a new architecture’. Drezner, however, thinks that this might not actually work to Russia’s benefit.

What’s interesting about this speech is that Putin is correct in describing the state of the world, but not necessarily correct in his belief that “a new architecture of international economic relations” is going to serve Russia’s interests.

Consider that Russia is already a member of one powerful club — the G-8. Any realistic reform of global economic governance is going to give China and India more power than Russia relative to the status quo, because Russia still has the great power trappings it inherited from the Cold War. Indeed, unless we’re talking about energy or nuclear weapons, Russia would be a less powerful actor after any reform effort.

Putin probably does not believe this, given sustained interest in the Russian economy and the comfort of high oil prices. Russia, however, should be very wary of what it wishes for — it might just get it. [Dan Drezner]

Not necessarily. Russia’s desire for changing the composition of the international high tables is driven by its conclusion that the current system is unable to check American power. Russia may be a powerful actor in theory, especially with its permanent membership of the UN Security Council. But in practice, it finds itself isolated by the West and more often than not, on the diplomatic backfoot.

The call for a reconfiguration of the international system, therefore, is essentially (soft) balancing. It is relative power that matters in the calculation. President Putin may have decided that it is worth losing some power relative to new actors like India, China and Brazil if the resulting configuration leads to a weakening of American power relative to the others, especially Russia. [See also: Don’t blame Putin]

4 thoughts on “The Russians are balancing softly”

  1. Nitin: Drezner’s original article was brilliant. It suggested a way out of India and China thirsting for increasingly anachronistic memberships (G-8, UNSC). Your idea of Russia trying to wriggle out of a corner does not sit easily with the arrogance with which they’ve conducted themselves. The Chinese, who wield much more power, and who are no pacifists, react much more cautiously (vis-a-vis the US) than the Russians do. It seems much easier to conclude that the Russians are just chest-thumping from the high of elevated energy prices than from some well thought-out strategy for US containment.

  2. libertarian,

    Yes. I wrote about Drezner’s article in March.

    As for the differences between Russians and Chinese, well, that’s how they are. Russia is direct, China is indirect, but essentially playing the same game. China’s setting up of the SCO and Boao Forum, for instance, a balancing act. Indeed, the SCO has trapping of “hard” (military) balancing.

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