At the annual assembly of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, Russia’s expert community and policy makers considered foreign policy from an entirely new perspective: human capital.

Fyodor Lukyanov (right) and Sergei Karaganov (center) at the annual assembly. Photo: Foreign and Defense Policy Council

At the annual assembly of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council in Moscow, the primary focus was on how to prepare the Russian foreign policy community, including both experts and leaders, for the 21st century. The Council has always worked to design foreign policy strategies that contribute to Russia’s development as a great power. However, under new leadership, the council took a fundamentally new approach this year, focusing on long-term planning from the perspective of human capital.

After twenty years in which Sergei Karaganov led the Council, this year’s assembly was the first one under the chairmanship of a new leader, Fyodor Lukyanov, who is also editor-in-chief of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs. Fyodor Lukyanov said that the current objective is to rethink the last twenty years of Russia’s development and design a new strategy for the 21st century that would become the basis for a new start.

There are two major interrelated issues that need to be addressed in that context. First, to determine what kind of foreign policy Russia will need in the future. Second, to evaluate what kind of human capital it needs to make this foreign policy feasible.

The key change experts want to see in Russia’s foreign policy is inclusivity. Russian businesses, nongovernmental organizations and individuals are not involved in policy development and implementation. They have to become active participants of international relations to contribute to economic cooperation and soft power.

Those two components were diagnosed as insufficient in the country’s current diplomacy. International development policy could become one of the ways to address the issue as proactive business involvement would allow both strengthening economic ties and contribute to the nation’s soft power. The approach was shared both by established experts and policy practitioners, many of who were members of the Council from its creation, as well as by younger experts.

According to the deputy editor-in-chief of the nation's top analytical weekly Kommersant Vlast, Alexander Gabuev, 28, who became the youngest member of the Council, “The key question is how to improve the competencies of both current and future diplomats in those areas. Many of them have been trained to tackle security and consular problems while the country needs soft power and business cooperation professionals.”

Several public officials including Konstantin Kosachev, Head of the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo), as well as the Deputy Ministers for Economic Development Andrei Klepach and Foreign Affairs Vasily Nebenzya, took part in the 21st Assembly and agreed with the suggested approach.

The Council will continue working on its Strategy XXI and human capital is to remain at its core. In doing so, the Council will continue to fulfill its mission that started more than twenty years ago.

The Council, the oldest existing nongovernmental organization in Russia, was established in early 1992 to bring together foreign policy experts and practitioners as well as businessmen and civil society activists.

For decades now, the Council has been closely cooperating with the Presidential Administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Defense Ministry and other key government agencies involved in foreign policy development and implementation. Dozens of current and former Russian government officials are members of the council.

Going forward, the Council can also play an important leadership role in helping Russia’s foreign policy community create a framework for leadership succession. In Russia’s foreign policy community, most organizations are launched, reach their peak and fade away under the same leadership. This doesn’t have to be the case.

As Ilya Breyman, Head of the Government Practice of Ward Howell, Russia’s largest HR consulting company, suggests, “Succession is a key aspect of sustainability. Leaders need to be evaluated not just based on their own performance but also based on their successors’ performance.”

Since this year’s assembly was structured around the topic of human capital, participants also considered the current Ukrainian crisis from the perspective of human capital. While there’s consensus that the current crisis in the relations between the EU and Ukraine is not beneficial for Russia, it’s up to Russia to develop a new generation of experts and leaders who can respond to similar types of situations in the future.

“The only way for Russia to develop relations with Ukraine in the future is to develop its human capital and the quality of life to a stage when they will become soft power assets rather than liabilities,” they concluded.