Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 12:57 UK

New Russian world order: the five principles

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev lays out the five principles

In the aftermath of the Georgian conflict, the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has laid down five principles that he says will guide Russian foreign policy.

The new Moscow rules are not a blueprint for a new "Cold War". That was a worldwide ideological and economic struggle. This is much more about defending national interests.

Going back to the 19th Century?

The principles, with their references to "privileged interests" and the protection of Russian citizens, would probably seem rather obvious to Russian leaders of the 19th Century. They would seem rather mild to Stalin and his successors, who saw the Soviet Union extending communism across the globe.

In some ways, we are going back to the century before last, with a nationalistic Russia very much looking out for its own interests, but open to co-operation with the outside world on issues where it is willing to be flexible.

President Medvedev's principles do not, for example, necessarily exclude Russian agreement to continuing the strong diplomatic stance against Iran. And energy contracts are not necessarily threatened.

Above all, what they tell us is that the Georgia conflict was for Russia, in Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's words, a "long-cherished moment of truth", which has created a new "clarity".

Here are the principles, in the words which President Medvedev used in an interview with the three main Russian TV channels (translated by the BBC Monitoring Service).

1. International law

"Russia recognises the primacy of the basic principles of international law, which define relations between civilised nations. It is in the framework of these principles, of this concept of international law, that we will develop our relations with other states."

2. Multi-polar world

"The world should be multi-polar. Unipolarity is unacceptable, domination is impermissible. We cannot accept a world order in which all decisions are taken by one country, even such a serious and authoritative country as the United States of America. This kind of world is unstable and fraught with conflict."

3. No isolation

"Russia does not want confrontation with any country; Russia has no intention of isolating itself. We will develop, as far as possible, friendly relations both with Europe and with the United State of America, as well as with other countries of the world."

4. Protect citizens

"Our unquestionable priority is to protect the life and dignity of our citizens, wherever they are. We will also proceed from this in pursuing our foreign policy. We will also protect the interest of our business community abroad. And it should be clear to everyone that if someone makes aggressive forays, he will get a response."

5. Spheres of influence

"Russia, just like other countries in the world, has regions where it has its privileged interests. In these regions, there are countries with which we have traditionally had friendly cordial relations, historically special relations. We will work very attentively in these regions and develop these friendly relations with these states, with our close neighbours."

Asked if these "priority regions" were those that bordered on Russia he replied: "Certainly the regions bordering [on Russia], but not only them."

And he stated: "As regards the future, it depends not just on us. It also depends on our friends, our partners in the international community. They have a choice."

The implications

Those therefore are the stated principles. What implications do they have?

To take them in the order he presented them:

The primacy of International Law: This on the face of it sounds encouraging. But Russia signed up to Security Council resolution 1808 in April this year, which reaffirmed "the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia... " - and has since abandoned that position.

It argues that a Georgian attack on South Ossetia on 7/8 August invalidated its commitment and required that it defend its citizens there. But it perhaps cannot proclaim its faith in international law and at the same time take unilateral action.

This principle therefore has to be seen as rather vague.

The world is multi-polar: This means that Russia will not accept the primacy of the United States (or a combination of the US and its allies) in determining world policy. It will require that its own interests are taken into account.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hinted at what this really means. "There is a feeling that Nato again needs frontline states to justify its existence," he said in a speech. He was putting down another marker against the extension of Nato membership to Ukraine and Georgia.

Russia does not seek confrontation: Again this sounds hopeful but it is based on the requirement that Russia's needs are met first. If the world agrees to its demands, then it is happy to be friends. But if not... therein lies the warning.

Protecting its citizens: The key phrase here is "wherever they are". This was the basis on which Russia went to war in South Ossetia and it contains within it the potential for future interventions - over Crimea, for example, populated by a majority Russian-background population yet owned by Ukraine only since 1954. If Ukraine looked set to join Nato, would Russia claim the protection of its "citizens" there?

Privileged interests: In this principle President Medvedev was getting down to the heart of the matter. Russia is demanding its own spheres of influence, especially, but not only, over states on its borders. This has the potential for further conflict if those "interests" are ignored.

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