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Opinion: Russia's Eastward Drift

When Britain, France and Germany meet with Russia over Iran's nuclear ambitions, they will be dealing with a country that has developed a new, bolder foreign policy.

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A bolder, eastward-looking Russia's time has come

At the moment, it seems the Kremlin will waste no opportunity to make its presence felt on the international stage, something the EU three will no doubt experience when they meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday in Vienna.

In its recent diplomatic initiatives -- from the gas dispute with Ukraine, to the public ambition of a full membership in the G8, to the invitation to Hamas, to its job as a mediator in the nuclear conflict with Iran -- Moscow is demonstrating a new self-confidence that is bordering on a foreign policy revolution. As it goes it alone diplomatically, the Kremlin this time appears not nearly as concerned with its image in the West, even as it expects inclusion.

The "Putin system" triumph

One of the reasons for the more aggressive Russian foreign policy is the consolidation of the political and economic power in the hands of the Kremlin elite. In passing the controversial NGO law and creating a "Public Chamber" of prominent citizens loyal to him, his "managed democracy" system is complete. The next test will be in early 2008, when Putin's successor is selected.

Michail Chodorkowski Prozess in Moskau Demonstrant

Civil rights are being curbed in Putin's Russia

Additionally, Russia has managed to stabilize itself financially and economically. The Russian economy has been growing for more than six years. Foreign debt has almost been completely paid off, and in January cash reserves totaled $181.4 billion (152.5 billions euros), a new high.

Foreign investment has increased because Russia is considered a growth market for many European companies. The country's energy wealth and the high prices for gas and oil in the world markets have also played an important role.

Unconditional partnerships

A third reason is Russia's new international alliances. Putin's attempts to integrate into the West have failed. The USA and the EU -- most recently, Germany -- have criticized changes within Russia. The West has tied its cooperation to the acceptance of Western values.

In Asia, the market of the future, Russia has found acceptance without such political conditions -- and not only as an exporter of oil and gas. In the decade-old "Shanghai Cooperation Organization," an alliance between China, India and Russia, a political security alliance -- albeit a loose one -- has been formed behind the idea of a "multi-polar world order."

Central Asian nations rich in natural resources like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are starting to prefer Russia to the democracy-transfers encouraged by the West. In addition, the central Asian pipeline network running through Russia only strengthens Russia as the great energy power in the 21st century.

Gasstreit Russland Ukraine Gashahn wird zugedreht Gazprom Gas

Russia has solidified its position as a energy powerhouse

No longer dependent on the West

Putin sees his two great ambitions within reach: the return of Russia as a modern power, and the integration of his country in the world economy.

Questions remain as to whether Russia, as the energy superpower, can truly justify its ambition and whether the modernization of the Russia economy can proceed despite democratic deficits. Still, the prospect of integration into Western structures is no longer a method of dealing with Russia.

The times during which Russia depended on the West are over. Russia is not the former Soviet Union, but it is also not the weak, unstable country it was in the 1990s.

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