Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the updated concept of foreign policy, suggested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for consideration of the Kremlin. On February 15, at the operational conference with the members of the Security Council he said that the document takes into account the distribution of the balance of power in the world, the financial crisis, the instability in the Middle East and North Africa. “The concept focuses on the use of modern forms and methods of foreign policy, including economic diplomacy, the introduction of elements of the so-called ‘soft-power,’ smart integration into the global information flows,” stressed Putin. Chief Editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine Fyodor Lukyanov also spoke positively about this document. According to him, the updated concept is well prepared and meets the modern standards.
The Day asked the senior researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center Lilia Shevtsova to comment on this foreign policy document and tell us what its novelty is and how should we perceive the statement made by Russian President that the integration of the former Soviet Union will not be stopped.
Formatting of Longstanding Trends
“In short, its novelty is not in its content but in emphasizing the already existing course.
“In comments on the presented ‘updated’ concept of Russia’s foreign policy we can hear that it’s a totally ‘new’ concept of foreign policy. In any case, everyone’s emphasizing the fact of its renewed character and speak about nearly ‘an overturn’ in Russia’s foreign policy. In fact, this is just new verbal formatting of the longstanding trends. Putin’s overturn began long before Dmitry Medvedev came to the Kremlin. The current course that has just been formalized, in fact, began in 2004 when Orange Revolution took place in Kyiv. This event, which has become a shock to the Kremlin, forced its inhabitants to think about their future destiny and build the first trenches, trying to dissociate itself from Western influence.
“Fears and suspicions provoked by the ‘color revolutions’ turned into rhetorical mantra that Putin has first proclaimed in 2007 in Munich, when, speaking to the European ruling elite, he began to smash America. This speech was the turning point from the policy of the integration to Europe (on the Kremlin’s conditions) to the movement in the opposite direction and attempts of fencing itself from the West.
“Medvedev’s break did not change the started trend. It would be a mistake to assume that Medvedev had foreign policy concept of his own and he tried to carry out a softer line towards liberal democracies. It is absolutely wrong. First, Medvedev remained a puppet, who could not lead independent policy. Second, Medvedev carried out the Munich line, even if it was quite inconsistent at first. But it was the inconsistency of Putin himself, who hesitated in the choice of priorities and resources, while continuing to hone his new course. In time of Medvedev’s presidency the war between Russia and Georgia took place. It was Medvedev who threatened Viktor Yushchenko.
“The ‘reset’ with the United States during Medvedev’s ruling was merely an exchange of concessions between Washington and Moscow with the assurance from Washington not to interfere in Russia’s affairs, as well as in the affairs of post-Soviet countries. This was Putin’s main demand in Munich.
“Therefore, now Putin proposed the line, which he has been shaping for nine years already. The essence of the renewed concept is the following: Moscow tells the world that the West is drowning while Russia is the ‘island of stability’ and a special ‘civilization’ that will not allow anyone to influence its internal processes; Moscow will build its own galaxy from other neighboring states. If you free the concept from the verbal husk, you will see that for the first time Moscow is saying: we will hold back the West and its influence not only on our territory, but also in the post-Soviet countries.
“However, when you read the document, you get an impression of Kremlin’s inadequacy. After all, Russia is stagnating. The authorities cannot cope with corruption. Russia is no longer interesting to the world. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s concept describes the mighty state, which is going to offer the world their ‘system of values.’ As if Kremlin is talking about some other country. What Kremlin ‘values’ do they mean? Corruption as a means of state building? Violence as a tool for consolidation of the society? Orthodox fundamentalism as a new ideology?
“Anyway, I don’t think that the authors of the concept are absolutely not aware of the place and the time. Rather, this concept has two objectives: first, to create mirages and simulate power, as usual, and, secondly, it focuses on society and should give rise to the fear in the society of risks and global threats and give the feeling of being surrounded by enemies.
“However, the concept contains the notion of ‘soft power’ and many have grasped it firmly, saying that now Russia began to use Western instruments of influence. But, let’s think: does Russia have arguments of influence that do not come with force and could make Russia an attractive state? Russia’s influence is based on four factors: nuclear weapons, resources, arms, and the ability to be an unpredictable state.
“‘Soft power’ includes primarily informational, human, and other mechanisms of influencing other societies. They have to create an image of attractive Russia. Do we have any reasons to believe this?
“It is more important what the Kremlin says: we will oppose other countries in their efforts to use their ‘soft power.’ This sounds serious. It means that they want to put up a barrier for ‘human rights concepts,’ which are being used in the West and close Russia for any liberal influence from the outside.
“I think that there are no idealists among the Kremlin elite. They understand well that they cannot make Russia an attractive state in terms of the current criteria for attractiveness – they cannot present Russia as a dynamic, developed, and civilized state that takes care of its citizens. They start a new game of simulation. But wait. Except for rejection of the “soft power” of other states, this notion gives Russian elite an opportunity to create new ways of enrichment. Indeed, the notion itself implies the creation of new organizations, such as the ‘Russian World,’ that is organization of the Soviet Friendship Societies type, which can be used as channels for withdrawing money, corruption, and other specific needs. We all know well what these needs are.”
The Authors of Russian Concept Build Their Foreign Policy on Wrong Coordinates
Please comment on the idea that many of the troubles and problems of instability and unpredictability of the world come from the attempts of the West, mainly the United States, to intervene in the internal affairs of other states.
“I should admit that the concept pays tribute to the necessary symbols. Thus, among the main goals of the foreign policy it mentions modernization. However, the authors soon forgot about this goal and focused all their attention on things they believe to be really important. The most important is ‘reduction of the capacity of the historical West’ and shifting ‘potential of power and development to the East.’ Indeed, the West, as a civilization, has not yet come out of the crisis. But this is not the first crisis in its history and at all times a crisis was a means for upgrading the Western civilization (as it happened both in the 1930s and in the 1970s). There is every reason to believe that this crisis will also be a source of new revival for the West. What concerns shifting of potential power to the East, here they mean China, which is viewed by many as a new world pole. However, we should also listen to the opinion that China is on the wane and it will not avoid the collapse of the centralized system. If this is true, the authors of the Russian concept build their foreign policy on wrong coordinates.
Moreover, they need to understand also that there has never been real partnership between authoritarian states. By distancing itself from Europe and the West and hoping for a partnership with a more powerful China, Russia may become a ‘junior partner’ of China. This, by the way, has been long predicted by Zbigniew Brzezinski. This role will unlikely be pleasant for the Kremlin since Beijing will not be as helpful and as polite as the Western partners of the Kremlin!
“The authors of the concept try to prove that ‘the attempts of imposing one’s own scale of values on others’ lead to slipping into chaos and lack of control in international relations. ‘Reideologization’ of international relations, which means strengthening the focus on values, allegedly undermines the stability, according to the Kremlin. This is the old song of the Soviet era. And the revival of this idea, as one of the key arguments of the Kremlin’s foreign policy, means going back to the Soviet past. In reality, in recent years the West has been refraining from the topic of values in its foreign policy. Both the US and the EU in their interaction with Russia did everything not to irritate the Kremlin. The West rejected the idea of ‘reideologization’! Nevertheless, this pragmatism did not save the world from the instability.
“Today, the increased attention of the Western public opinion (not the executive power!) to the values – Magnitsky Law and November Resolution of Bundestag, of course, worry the Kremlin. This attention and concern of the Western community about what happens in Russia, forced the Kremlin to define clear focus in its ‘renewed’ doctrine. They had to tell the West to mind their own business. In a sense, what Putin just did with his doctrine must be a preemptive signal for the West.
“The Russian government has decided to prevent a critical turn in actions of the Western governments by, in fact, pulling their own ultimatum, saying: We will not tolerate this! This ultimatum just shows how much the Kremlin is concerned about the internal situation in the country and that it is preparing the world to the fact that he will rule tough and will defend his own ‘dimension of values.’ In short this means that all such ‘statements’ are expressed due to the political situation in Russian and the uncertainty of the government and not due to the changes in the dynamics of the international relations. In a sense, this concept is the act of elimination of mechanisms of foreign policy and their complete subjection to the domestic political fears.
The Kremlin turns back to opposing and containing the West. Indeed, the internal enemy cannot come by itself, it must be a result of the outside influence.”
About the Attempt of the Authoritarian State to Surround Itself With Its Own Galaxy
What would you say about Putin’s statement that the integration of the former Soviet Union cannot be stopped despite the “cries from the outside”? What should Russia’s neighbors think of this statement?
“Cooperation within the CIS and the development of integration processes in the post-Soviet countries is the major regional priority that is reflected in the concept. In principle, this goal would have not been frightening or unnatural is the initiator of the new integration would be a normal and successful democracy and not a state that is based on authoritarian principles and where government must use foreign policy instruments for legitimization and survival. In short, we are talking about an attempt of an authoritarian state, which still claims to be the center of power, to surround itself with its own galaxy. All of this looks like an attempt to create a new Authoritarian Union. The question is how such union can facilitate reforms, community development? The answer is obvious. Why then is Russia trying to create such an alliance? The thing is that the Russian autocracy needs ‘spheres of interest.’ This is what makes it different from other authoritarian regimes. It needs a ‘security belt.’ It’s one thing when an authoritarian state borders on Baltic states, which are a part of Europe. And this fact can undermine the authoritarian regime. Another thing is when there is a country ruled by Lukashenko type right next to you. You can fence yourself from the rest of the world with a belt of authoritarianisms. You can call it ‘collective force of response.’ Why would Russia need it? To defend faltered regimes in the member states of the Union.
“Interestingly, all members or potential members of such union do not show the desire to escape under the wing of Russia. Kazakhstan is looking to the side. Lukashenko is daring Moscow. Uzbekistan once again runs out of the CSTO. Ukraine still wants to cheat Moscow and simultaneously moves in opposite directions by maintaining friendship with the Kremlin (but not a close one) and having friendly relations with Europe.
“By putting forward his regional priority, Putin made it clear to his neighbors that they are the scope of Russia’s interest and that they will ‘actively facilitate’ cooperation… However, it is quite unlikely that Moscow will succeed in building its own galaxy. Traditional means of attracting are nearly exhausted. And there is no ‘soft power’ in sight.”