From Putin to Medvedev … and back to Putin
This chapter opens a new section in the book. It first analyses the Medvedev interregnum, which occurred between Putin’s second and third Presidencies in Russia. In particular, it examines Russia’s relations with the West and with the international community as a whole, in order to determine the impact and the influence of developments in global affairs on Russia’s CIS policies. The chapter discusses Medvedev’s foreign policy outlook at length and argues that Medvedev’s Presidency was characterised by a growing sense of confidence over Russia’s domestic achievements and the country’s place in the international arena. The chapter argues that Russia’s renewed self-assurance resulted not only from improved economic performance, but also from the country’s successful war against Georgia in August 2008, interpreted as awarding Russia a special role as the provider of security and the guarantor of stability in Eurasia. The chapter then discusses the return of President Putin to the Russian Presidency in 2012, which led to a significantly more assertive policy both internationally – in Syria and in the Balkans – and regionally – in the former Soviet space, especially in the South Caucasus, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. The chapter argues that Putin’s policies in the Near Abroad and the Middle East not only responded to new geo-strategic realities and potentially legitimate state concerns – EU enlargement and the potential spread of Islamist fundamentalism in the Middle East – but also reflected concerns over domestic ‘regime change’. These resulted from the advent of the Arab Spring and the growth of internal opposition to Putin’s leadership. More significantly, the chapter describes how Putin fully embraced a ‘civilisational’ narrative , as the justifier and the driver behind Russia’s policies in Eurasia. This translated into efforts by the Kremlin to establish a powerful Russian-led economic and military bloc in Eurasia, which was intended to turn Russia once again into a Great Power in the international arena.