Russian History


The Foreign Policy Mechanism

In the Soviet system, the predominant foreign policy actor was the general secretary of the CPSU, who also was the preeminent figure in the party's Politburo (the highest executive body of the government). By virtue of this position, the general secretary also was the country's recognized foreign representative. Other Politburo members with major foreign policy responsibility were the ministers of foreign affairs and defense (always members of the Politburo), the chairman of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti--KGB; see Glossary), and the chief of the CPSU's International Department. The minister of foreign economic relations had foreign policy responsibility in commercial relations, and other members of the Council of Ministers provided input when their specific areas involved foreign affairs.

In 1988 constitutional revisions gave the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union's national parliament, new powers to oversee foreign policy and some input in policy formulation. The centralization of foreign policy decision making in the Politburo, together with the long tenure of its members, contributed to the Soviet Union's ability to plan and guide foreign policy over long periods with a constancy lacking in pluralistic political systems.

When a large part of the Soviet Union's foreign policy functions devolved to Russia in 1992, the Soviet pattern of centralizing foreign policy continued. The Russian constitution of 1993 gives the executive branch the chief role in making foreign policy, with the legislative branch occupying a distinctly subsidiary role. In the years since 1993, President Yeltsin has formed various organizations in the executive branch to assist him in formulating foreign policy. The mechanism of policy making has remained unwieldy, however, and the increasingly nationalistic parliament has used every power it commands to influence policy making.