December 8, 2016
By Vadim Shtepa
The new Russian foreign policy concept, signed by President Vladimir Putin, was published on December 1 (Gov.ru, December 1). It replaced the previous concept adopted in 2013. The Russian financial website Finanz.ru candidly named the new foreign policy concept a “Cold War doctrine,” because of its premise of confrontation with the West (Finanz.ru, December 1). Indeed, if in the 2013 foreign policy concept Russia considered itself “an integral part of Europe,” now such language is excluded and replaced instead with accusations of “geopolitical expansion” by the European Union (EU). The paper says that by restraining Russia, the EU together with the US, undermines regional and global stability. For the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States has been declared a “threat” to Russia’s national security (Gov.ru, Finanz.ru, December 1).
Liudmila Kravchenko, an expert from the Sulakshin analytical center, observed an interesting pattern in the history of Russian foreign policy concepts—they usually become obsolete very quickly. Such concepts were adopted in 2000, 2008, 2013, and now there is a new one, very different from its most recent predecessor (Rusrand.ru, December, 6).
The demand for a new concept resulted from changes in Russian foreign policy in recent years. Since 2014, Moscow illegally annexed Crimea, started a war in eastern Ukraine and came under sanctions by the international community. However, the Kremlin does not see the solution of these problems in ceasing military expansion. On the contrary, one of the objectives of the new foreign policy concept is “the consolidation of Russia’s position as one of the most influential centers in the modern world.” It may explain the active participation of Russian troops in the Syrian crisis—in spite of the economic crisis at home.
The concept endorses “enhancing the factor of force in international relations,” which refers to using military force. Apparently, Moscow believes that by using military force it can emerge from international isolation it has driven itself into. The Kremlin is trying to present its military intervention in the Syrian conflict in a way to suggest that without Russia the world community could not manage to solve it.
Russian government cooperation with various dictatorships inevitably leads to increased rows with democratic countries. The new foreign policy concept depicts the Western countries as global rivals, who “tend to hold their positions.” The idea of “integration into the global world” presented in the previous concept is already forgotten.
One of the most important goals in the concept is formulated as “strengthening the position of the Russian media in the global information space.” Needless to say, if the state is engaged in media operations, the media loses its informational role and becomes a mere propaganda tool. It is inconceivable that the US or the UK governments become suddenly engaged in “strengthening the international positions” of the English-language media. Free media are independent, but in the Russian case, it is obvious that the media are seen as an instrument of the state.
Some of the wording in this concept looks quite cynical for an unbiased observer. For example, “Russia stands for compliance with international obligations in good faith, against interference in the internal affairs of other states.” In light of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, where it committed an infringement of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and violated other international treaties protecting the territorial integrity of sovereign states, this statement is hypocritical at best.
The foreign policy concept claims that Russia “firmly opposes aggressive nationalism,” but it used the nationalist concept of the “Russian World” to justify its assault on eastern Ukraine. Back in 2015, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov named the “Russian World” idea an “absolute priority of Russian foreign policy” (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, November 1, 2015).
The war in Ukraine is defined in this concept as an “internal Ukrainian conflict.” Although for the impartial observer it is obvious that without the participation of Russian troops and military equipment, the emergence of the Donetsk and Lugansk “people’s republics” would be impossible. The Ukrainian political analyst Yuri Kostyuchenko says: “The Kremlin insists on the internal nature of a conflict that it has unleashed in another country” (Day.kyiv.ua, December, 5).
The crisis in Russia’s relations with the West, according to this concept, is not generated by Russian aggression, but by the “geopolitical expansion” of NATO and the EU. And Russia promises an “adequate response.” One of these responses apparently was the placement of the Bastion missile system in the Kaliningrad region, which caused concern in Poland and Lithuania (Newsru.com, November 22).
Russia’s opposition political analyst Konstantin Eggert believes that the Kremlin hopes for a political situation in Europe that is more favorable to its interests. He adds that the Russian authorities are trying to keep the old Brezhnev policy of dividing Europe and the US by maintaining intensive contacts with France and Germany. Arguing for a “multipolar world,” Moscow actually aims to restore the bipolar world of Soviet times, divided into “zones of influence” (Spektr, December 2).
However, this propaganda might collapse under the weight of the economic crisis—as Soviet propaganda collapsed in the mid-1980s. According to experts, the total economic losses of Russia in 2014–2017, due to the fall of oil prices and international economic sanctions, will be about $600 billion (Vedomosti, February 5). Russia compensates for its inability to compete with the West with purely propagandist efforts, creating for itself a virtual image of a “superpower” as a media illusion. However, in today’s information world, it is often very effective.