Don’t mention the war

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.

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17 thoughts on “Don’t mention the war”

  1. It would be interesting to see what the Chinese version of “Foreign Policy Concept” looks like. Somehow China has managed to fit, profitably, in the global system, and without much confrontation (some, but not much). I suspect the Russian elite probably would like to do the same (or at least it would make sense to me if they wanted to). The current weakness of the ruble could be, in part, an attempt to mimic the Chinese miracle, to some extent. From this angle (if there’s any truth to it), it could be the case that China and Russia are not really moving towards a strategic alliance, but are antagonistic competitors, and all the talk of ‘eurasia counterbalancing US hegemony’ might be just a bunch of nonsense…

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  2. Judging by the avalanche of op-eds, twitts, blogposts etc following Putin’s “Message to the Federal Assembly”, it looks like the only people who watched it are:

    1) So-called “Russia’s experts”
    2) Liberasts.
    3) Ukrainians.

    Look – even Dima Medvedev slept through it! Again.

    P.S. Putin also didn’t mention the Ukraine. Does it mean that Russia denies Ukraine’s existence?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. President Putin was speaking to the people of Russia. Russia already has a great relationship with most of the world. BRICS is alive and active world-wide. The Presidential election is next year and he is not running for the job. Putin is getting the people of Russia ready for the election of a new President.

    Unlike the US there are limits in most countries as to how long the campaign can last. In Russia it is 90 days so a pep talk is not considered actual campaigning. Most countries with a Parliamentary style government limit campaigning to 40-60 days.

    No doubt there was also a message to President-elect Donald Trump in the foreign relations part of the speech.

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    1. “The Presidential election is next year and he is not running for the job.”

      Since when? Please, name you sources that Putin won’t stand for office of the president of Russia in 2018 elections (which, btw, is not next year).

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  4. Since when should we care so much of what Mr. Putin says instead of what he does? He pronounces tons of bullshit each week the West doesn’t even bother to notice. Why do you pay so much attention to an ordinary yada-yada-yada speach only the paid house experts in Moscow are taking notice of? It’s ludicrous.

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    1. Actions are subject to many interpretations. Paying attention to somebody’s words helps provide a better interpretation, especially when the person is very consistent in what he says.

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      1. “Paying attention to somebody’s words helps provide a better interpretation”

        Professor, Putin said to a little boy asking where Russia’s borders end, that Russia “has no borders”. Your interpretation?

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  5. @Lyttenburgh
    “Professor, Putin said to a little boy asking where Russia’s borders end, that Russia “has no borders”. Your interpretation?”

    As far as I remember Putin said nothing of that kind. He said that Russia’s border “ends nowhere”, which is actually true, because any closed curve indeed has no end.

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    1. 2Mikhail

      I know that. In original “Российские границы нигде не заканчиваются” (с). But Professor didn’t grace me with response to that anyway…

      As well to the fact, that during the joint conference of 2 advising councils to the president of RF (The council of Culture and Russian language, respeactively) this Thursday Putin remarked to one of Luminaries, who was arguing most forcefully for gib me monies polox proclaiming 2021 “The Year of Dostoyevski in Russia”, to re-read some of Dostoyevski’s correspondence and chosen works. Why? Because “even now these words are important” and how Dostoyevski’s ideas tie in with the present tren of “Eurasian integration” (c). And what did the professor wrote?

      “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.

      […]

      …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.”

      My point? Everyone saw in Putin’s words whatever they wanted. Humans in their attempt to “read between the lines” (c) are very keen to pass as “hidden truth” whatever they think is right.

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      1. ‘But Professor didn’t grace me with response to that anyway…’

        Putin likes to crack jokes, sometimes of a fairly crude nature. I don’t assign any particular meaning to it. He has a sense of humour. It’s not of geopolitical relevance.

        As for Dostoevsky etc, Putin has mentioned Dostoevsky repeatedly over the past 16 years, but it’s a mistake to view the great author as ‘anti-Western’. While he undoubtedly spoke harshly of Europe, he also believed that Russia was very much a part of it, and that Russia’s mission was to save Europe from itself. That’s very different from the civilizational discourse of his contemporary Danilevsky and of some modern day Eurasianists. In any case, one shouldn’t assume that ‘Eurasian integration’ necessarily implies belief in Russia as a separate ‘Eurasian civilization’, nor that it implies that Russia should be cutting ties with Europe/America.

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  6. Thank you for your reply, Professor.

    I was refering to the following quote from Dostoyevski, read on that symposium by I.L. Volgin, president of Dostoyevski’s Foundation:

    «… политика чести и бескорыстия есть не только высшая, но, может быть, и самая выгодная политика для великой нации, именно потому, что она великая. Политика текущей практичности и беспрерывного бросания себя туда, где повыгоднее, где понасущнее, изобличает мелочь, внутреннее бессилие государства, горькое положение. Дипломатический ум, ум практической и насущной выгоды всегда оказывался ниже правды и чести, а правда и честь кончали тем, что всегда торжествовали…

    […]

    Россия поступит честно – вот и весь ответ на вопрос [ommited by the speaker – Пусть в Англии первый министр извращает правду пред парламентом из политики и сообщает ему официально, что истребление шестидесяти тысяч болгар произошло не турками, не башибузуками, а славянскими выходцами, — и пусть весь парламент из политики верит ему и безмолвно одобряет его ложь: в России ничего подобного быть не может и не должно. Скажут иные: не может же Россия идти во всяком случае навстречу явной своей невыгоде? Но, однако, в чем выгода России?] Выгода России именно, коли надо, пойти даже и на явную невыгоду, на явную жертву, лишь бы не нарушить справедливости… Одной материальной выгодой, одним «хлебом» такой высокий организм, как Россия, не может удовлетвориться».
    – Dostoyevsky’s collective works in 15 volumes, volume 13 (Diary – 1876), pg. 203, pg. 229ю

    My translation:

    “…the policy of honor and selflessness is not only the highest, but, perhaps, the most favorable of policies for a great nation, precisely because it is great. Current policy of practicality and of constant casting yourself to where it is more profitable, where it is most fashionable, exposes pettiness, the internal impotence of the state, its bitter situation. The diplomatic mind, the mind of practical and immediate benefit has always been lower than the truth and honor, and truth and honor in end always triumphed.

    […]

    Russia will act with honesty – that’s the whole answer to the question. Let England’s first minister due to the needs of the policy pervert the truth before the Parliament and informs it officially that the destruction of sixty thousand Bulgarians had been done not by the Turks, not by bashi-bazouks but by people of Slavic origins – and let the whole parliament of politicians believe him and silently approve of his lie: in Russia nothing like this can happen, nor should it happen. Some of them will say: surely, Russia can not act against its own benefit in every single case? But, however, what is the benefit of Russia? The benefit of Russia, if necessary, is even to take a disadvantage, to really sacrifice something but would not allow the injustice to happen… By the material gain alone, by the “bread” alone such tall organism as Russia can not be sustained. ”

    Putin answered to this:

    “Теперь по поводу того, что наши классики, в том числе Достоевский, своим творчеством оказывали влияние даже на экономику. На экономику не знаю, но на политику точно. И кто не читал, просто рекомендую посмотреть то, что писал Достоевский по поводу евразийского вектора российской политики. Чрезвычайно интересно, как будто сегодня написано. Посмотрите, пожалуйста, те, кто ещё не видел, просто полистайте, это легко найти.

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