This has been a very interesting few weeks in terms of Russian foreign affairs. While I won't claim that Russias internal affairs, especially in the northern Caucusus, are not a shambles, Medvedev seems to have set the Kremlin firmly on course for a new detente with the West.
In a recent(ish) thread escalating tensions between Armenia (who enjoy Russian patronage) and Azerbaijan, who are backed by Turkey, were discussed at lenght. Much sabre rattling and the huge growth in Azeri armed forces strenght seemed to herald a new war between the two uneasy neighbours. Until now that is. Suprisingly Russia has stepped in to broker the start of a peace process, many including myself, thought impossible.
Armenia, Azerbaijan Agree to Swap War Prisoners: Medvedev
A small step, but agreeing to return prisoners held for years and the bodies of war casualties is a big step in terms of Azeri/Armenian relations. Not only that the two leaders met face to face at the same table as Medvedev. The shadow of war has receeded substantially.
This is a vital deal for the EU as it not only safe guards but secures the Nabukoo pipeline that is due top come on stream in 2014. Ironically it is a rival to established Russian energy routes. So what, apart from security on its southern borders is the Kremlin gaining?
In stabilsiing the sourthern Caucusus Russia also puts a hold on prospective Iranian inroads and checks Turkeys new and rapidly evolving diplomatic influence. It also of course helps seal the borders with Ingushetia and Chechnya.
Improved relations with NATO are on the table. There is talk in the ongoing negotations that Russia could become a partner in the proposed missle shield.
Link here from Russia Today, which is the Kremlins mouth piece:
The deal will also see Russia increase co-operation with the US in Afghanistan. That it seems has already bourne fruit with a joint Russian/US drugs raid in Afghanistan smashing a large heroin factory:
BBC News - Russia and US collaborate in Afghanistan drug raid
So Russia is getting on on the root source of narcotics that are flooding into Russia (and the EU). Recently the Kremlin has criticised NATO for not doing enough to stop trafficing and cultivation, now they are on the ground themselves in Afghanistan (again!). The pay off for Russian access to Afghanistan seems to be increased access to NATO. That of course has huge implications for Pakistan. Pakistans old days of having the US over a barrel could be coming to an end.More than a tonne of heroin and opium was seized during the raids, which took place on Thursday close to the border with Pakistan, Viktor Ivanov announced.
Mr Ivanov said the haul had a street value of $250m (£157m) and was believed to have been destined for Central Asia.
A Summit between NATO and Russia is due in November. As a prelude to that Russia and Poland have also signed an oil deal:
euronews - Poland and Russia sign key gas deal
There may be a few other suprises in store. Recognition of S. Ossetia in exchange for Georgia joining NATO? In the same week Iran loads it first fuel into a nuclear reactor, Russia is also seen to be talking to NATO about the missile shield. It should be noted that Russia already stopped shipment of and cancelled the deal for S300 anti-air missles to Iran. Now its been known for a while that Russia is keen to be under the proposed shields protection. Could a NATO advanced Radar be on the cards for Georgian soil as a compromise?
These recent developments seem to hint at a new era of NATO/Euro-Russia relations. It could also signal that Russia is preparing to look more Westward to secure its interests and find a trust worthy partner to help protect mutual interests.
There are perhaps limits to how much cooperation there can be between the Kremlin and especially Europe, given Russias excessive security operations in the northern Caucusus. But still the November NATO/Russia Summit could be a watershed for east/west relations.
Should we be optimistic?