Medvedev’s eagerness to escalate the quarrel over the Kuril islands appears out of character and invites the question about its political rationale.
The rationale behind the conflict-fanning course appears more solid in the context of Russia’s efforts to strengthen its profile in the Asia-Pacific region where the notion of “sovereignty” is taken very seriously. The coherence of Russian foreign policy is certainly undermined by the need to play by one set of rules in the dynamic Asia-Pacific, and by different rules in the conflict-ridden Caucasus that borders the nearly-nuclear Iran, and by a third set of rules in the post-geopolitical Europe, so that the squabble with Japan occurs simultaneously with debates in the State Duma on the ratification of the maritime border treaty with Norway. A greater problem is that in none of its neighborhoods can Russia perform a role that would have answered partners’ expectations and its own ambitions. There is an irreducible weakness at the very center of Russian political decision-making where the ruling duumvirate cannot accept its fundamental inadequacy to the tasks of Russia’s modernization. Foreign policy has become a means to camouflage this inadequacy rather than to resolve these tasks, but such a strategy can only succeed in fooling its authors.