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Russian Foreign Policy and the United States after Putin

Author: Jeffrey Mankoff
July/August 2008
Problems of Post-Communism


With enormous constitutional authority and controlling access to both wealth and power, the Russian president is the central factor in determining Russia’s foreign policy course. The transition from Vladimir Putin to Dmitry Medvedev thus has serious implications for Russia’s relations with other countries, above all the United States, still the chief reference point for Russian diplomacy. Since Medvedev was Putin’s hand-picked heir, it would seem logical to expect a fair degree of continuity in terms of the objectives Russia will pursue in its relationships with other powers—especially since Putin is positioned to continue influencing events as prime minister. This expectation is hardly far-fetched, yet there are enough uncertainties that the problem deserves closer attention. Despite the increasingly authoritarian, centralized nature of the Russian political system, the president’s preferences are not the only factor shaping foreign policy. Looking ahead, at least three additional considerations bear close watching: the ideological preferences of the country’s elites, the interests of important bureaucratic players who are intertwined with the decision-making authorities, and the ease (or lack thereof) with which Medvedev asserts his authority over these competing factions.

Understanding how Medvedev’s elevation to the presidency will affect Russian foreign policy also requires an appreciation of Putin’s impact in this sphere, which was far from negligible. Putin has had substantial influence on foreign policy, and especially on relations with the United States (despite the end of the cold war, still Russia’s central foreign policy priority).

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