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April 2, 2012 |  1 comment |  Print | E-Mail Atlantic Faces  

Dr. Bobo Lo, Director of the Russia and China Programs at the CER

Bobo Lo joined the Centre for European Reform in March 2008 as Director of the Russia and China programs. He was previously Head of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House and a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Between 1995 and 1999, he served as First Secretary and then Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Moscow.

Dr. Lo has written and commentated extensively on Russian domestic and foreign policy. He has completed a new book on Sino-Russian relations, 'Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing and the New Geopolitics'. He is the author of three other books, including 'Vladimir Putin and the Evolution of Russian Foreign Policy' and 'Russian Foreign Policy in the Post-Soviet Era: Reality, Illusion and Mythmaking'.

1. What are the current priorities you have in your work?

I cover a very broad waterfront – Russia, China, the global balance of power. Right now, I am working on several pieces: ‘Russia – The Eastern Dimension’, which is about Moscow’s attitudes and policies towards Asia; ‘Russia, China and the US: the end of triangularism and the beginning of bipolarity’; and ‘The global financial crisis – its implications for Chinese domestic and foreign policy’. Over the next six months, I will also be writing on the Russia-US relationship; Russia, China and the geopolitics of Central Asia; and the Russian Far East.

2. How do you feel that Russia’s foreign policy attitude to the West will develop under Medvedev?

Medvedev’s influence on Russian foreign policy is almost entirely cosmetic. There has been some softening in style and presentation, but the substance remains fundamentally the same. Russia will continue to project itself as a global great power; retain an assertive, patrimonial attitude in its neighbourhood; and demand a central role for itself on all major international issues, even where its influence is minimal. It will seek to challenge the global leadership of the US at every opportunity, and resist what it sees as the encroachment of the West in its neighbourhood. As before, Putin will call all the shots, with Medvedev serving a decorative purpose (at best).

3. Can Russia ever reconcile itself with NATO and the EU?

We should distinguish between Russian attitudes towards NATO and towards the EU. As long as Putin remain the supreme leader, Moscow will never reconcile itself to NATO. It will continue to regard the alliance as a ‘relic of the Cold War’ and a painful reminder of the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War. This hostility will be more muted in relatively good times between Moscow and Washington, and more overt when the Russia-US relationship is in difficulty. But the only way Russia will change its attitude towards NATO is if the alliance becomes either wholly ineffectual or if Russia accedes as a ‘super-member’ on a par with the United States. Both these scenarios are improbable. Russia recognizes the EU as a powerful trading bloc, but has no respect for it as a political actor. It also resents the fact that the EU has become virtually synonymous with 21st century Europe. It seeks to challenge the EU’s normative leadership and, more generally, to redefine Europe in ways that would be more inclusive of Russian interests and sensitivities. Instead of the EU’s rules-based and institutionalized vision of Europe, Moscow seeks a return to 19th century ideas of a ‘common European civilization’ and the Concert of Great Powers. On a practical level, Russia prefers to do business with Germany and France, rather than deal with the smaller European states or EU bureaucracy. When it does engage with Brussels, it has consistently exploited divisions among EU member-states.

4. What is the greatest challenge facing the transatlantic relationship?

The greatest challenge is undoubtedly that of US (and Western) engagement in Russia’s European neighbourhood, particularly in Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. There is a fundamental conflict between Russian strategic interests as perceived in Moscow, and American political, economic and normative objectives. Although Russia’s rulers have no intention of restoring the Soviet Union, even partially, they believe that the so-called European Common Neighbourhood is anything but ‘common’. They see it instead as Russia’s sphere of ‘special’ or ‘privileged’ interests, in which it exercises a dominant political and economic influence, and where outsiders can only play a part on Moscow’s say-so. The attitude of Western leaders, and particularly the Obama administration, is diametrically opposed. They believe that states such as Ukraine should be able to make their own sovereign choices, free from Russian interference. They also reject as a geopolitical anachronism the very principle of spheres of interests. This disagreement between Russia and the US is essentially irreconcilable, although both sides will strive hard to prevent a new military escalation.


Unregistered User

Wed, Apr 25th 2012, 02:57

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I like this comment! What's this?
Hello Bobo

I believe that we were friends in Canberra in the early 1960s. Please Google me at "Ivan Png" and let's make contact.

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