Moscow has been experimenting with proactive policies with greater caution than it is normally given credit for.
What is really striking about Russia’s concentration in dealing with its neighbours is that it reaches such a degree where there is little attention left for a wide range of global issues, even those that directly impact its wellbeing.
The combination of self-assertive rhetoric and carefully measured advances is not without drawbacks related partly to miscalculations in risk assessment typical for extremely closed systems of decision-making, and partly because big words followed by small deeds tend to produce greatly strengthened awareness and resistance.
Every attempt by Moscow to play on the differences between big and small European states supplies new arguments to the EU commission in the debates about forging a common platform, so instead of fostering neo-Finlandization (political neutrality rewarded by lucrative deals) Russia ends up facilitating defensive alliance-building.
One particular point in Putin’s autumnal offensive in the last year of his second term was that Russia could not be ignored or taken for granted. This message has been taken seriously by many neighbours: now they expect a resurgent Russia to behave accordingly, but the Kremlin is not quite ready to take the responsibility that the desired status of “great regional power” would imply.
It focuses on drawing red lines across such unacceptable projects as the trans-Caspian gas pipeline or Georgia’s admission to NATO, but advancing few constructive initiatives.