Yesterday Vladimir Putin approved a new ‘Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation’. Documents like this are aspirational; they reflect what a government would like to do, not what it is able to do. They are also for public consumption; their purpose is to send certain signals to the policy community, both inside and outside of government. Nevertheless, they are up to a point a fair reflection of how the government views the world at the time of writing.
In my last post I spoke of the idea that Russia is at ‘war’ with the West. Certainly, some Russian nationalist politicians and intellectuals would agree with that idea (or at least consider that the West is waging war on Russia). They regard globalization as a tool of American hegemony, see ‘democracy promotion’ as an American tool to destabilize the world and prevent anybody from challenging US supremacy, talk in terms of ‘geopolitics’ and the ‘clash of civilizations’, and stress the need to fight back against ‘American aggression’, to isolate Russia from globalizing processes, and to create a genuine Eurasian Union as a counterbalance to US hegemony. If the Russian government truly is at ‘war’ with the West, these are the sort of ideas one would expect to find in the new Foreign Policy Concept.
The Concept contains nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it repeats again and again the desire for good relations with all of Russia’s ‘partners’, and the need to promote multilateral organizations and international trade. This does not mean that it doesn’t criticize the West at all. The document says that ‘the contemporary world is passing through a period of profound changes, the essence of which is the formation of a polycentric international system.’ The West’s efforts to prevent this are increasing instability in international relations, it asserts. To this it adds that Russia must ‘resist the attempts of individual states or groups of states to revise the generally recognized principles of international order’ by, for instance, using the excuse of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries. Despite such expressions of irritation with Western foreign policy, the Concept does not conclude that Russia must fight back against the United States and its allies, turn back the clock of globalization, and construct a new Eurasian civilization. Indeed, geopolitical and civilizational discourse are entirely absent from the document.
Instead, the Concept speaks of supporting ‘universal democratic values’. It promotes the idea of ‘regional integration based on the norms and rules of the World Trade Organization,’ and says that Russia ‘intends to actively support the formation of a just and democratic economic trading and financial system in the world … as the conditions of the contemporary world economic challenges demand a common approach … [and] international cooperation.’ This approach is hardly likely to provide much succor to Russian nationalists who want their country to turn its back on globalization.
The document calls for ‘genuine unification of the efforts of the international community.’ It speaks of the European Union (EU) as an ‘important trading and foreign policy partner’, and speaks of Russia’s interest in ‘a constructive, stable and predictable cooperation with the countries of the EU’, as well as of Russia’s wish ‘to create a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean on the basis of the harmonization of the processes of European and Eurasian integration’. It talks also of Russia’s desire for ‘an equal partnership’ with NATO and ‘mutually beneficial relations with the United States’ through ‘the development of dialogue with the USA’, which would lead to ‘constructive cooperation with the USA’.
This is very much the tone of the document as a whole. It says that Russia wants ‘economic partnership’ with ASEAN and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, ‘partnership with India’, ‘strategic partnership’ with Vietnam, ‘mutual cooperation’ with Australia and New Zealand, development of ‘bilateral relations’ with the states of the Near East and North Africa, ‘strengthened relations with the states of Latin America’, and so on and so forth. In short, Russia wants to be friends with everybody.
That is probably unrealistic, but it is interesting that the Russian Foreign Ministry has stated such an aspiration. Completely lacking in the new foreign policy concept is any sense that Russia has enemies, that it is under attack, that it has to take offensive action to defend itself, that it needs to batten down the hatches and prepare for assault, that it should take the lead of the forces of anti-globalization, or anything similar. The Concept repeatedly states that Russia’s relations with foreign countries must be based upon ‘mutual respect’ – an indication that it will not pursue better relations by abandoning its own interests – but this is certainly isn’t the product of a government which thinks it is at war.