World as seen by Vladimir Putin

Fyodor Lukyanov, Chefredakteur der Fachzeitschrift „Russia in Global Affairs“, ist einer der Referenten unseres Kongresses „Russland nach den Wahlen: Modernisierung oder Stagnation? – Perspektiven einer Partnerschaft„. In seinem auf Englisch verfassten Text richtet er unser Augenmerk auf Russlands Rolle in der Welt – aus russischer Sicht. Das Vertrauen in die starke Kraft Russlands ist der einzige Weg zum Erfolg in einer unberechenbaren Welt – so beschreibt unser Autor die Welt mit Putins Augen.

Prior to presidential election early March Vladimir Putin made several statements about his future policy, including foreign affairs and general view of the world and Russia’s place in it.

According to Putin, the world is unpredictable and fraught with many threats – from increasing, impatient aggression and the erosion of international law, to “illegal instruments of soft power” (a new concept) that has been introduced from the outside but eats away from within. The spirit of the article dedicated to foreign affairs and published one week before elections is wary and defensive – Russia must be ready to counter numerous challenges and threats. This makes its message different from the main thrust of Putin’s speech in Munich five years ago, which had an offensive, and many believe, even an aggressive flavor. Today, this offensive spirit has given way to alarm and concern.

Above all, Russia should stop looking back at the events of 20 years ago. The post-Soviet era is over and its agenda has been exhausted. This is important because for the entire period leading up to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, with the numerous consequences that came along with it, was as a point of departure for the nation and its ruling class, which was unable to overcome the psychological trauma of it.

Putin’s Russia is disappointed in the West, and not so much because the West does not respect Russia and is not ready to treat it as an equal partner. Worse yet, Western policy is ineffective and short-sighted and fails to produce the desired effect. Nothing is going as expected, neither the Arab Spring, nor the European debt crisis, nor events in Iran and North Korea.

Putin repeats his usual positions: central to international relations is “the time-honored principle of state sovereignty,” while the protection of human rights from the outside is “outright demagogy.” Putin is convinced that nobody has yet invented any fundamental idea that can replace the principle of sovereignty. World politics is based on solid principles rather than abstract values, the application of which is determined arbitrarily on a case-by-case basis, proceeding from the current alignment of forces.

Putin is convinced Russia must remain a global power acting across the entire field. This distinguishes his approach from that which took shape under President Dmitry Medvedev: toward pursuit of immediate and geographically close, albeit vast, interests. Importantly, activity all around the world, that is, a global status, is required not for expansion but for the maintenance of the status quo. Reliance on force – solid force – is the only path to success in unpredictable world.

Putin remains deeply mistrustful of the United States. He developed this mistrust during his first two presidential terms while dealing with his then counterpart George W. Bush. Putin reveals this attitude constantly in his public statements. A pause of three and a half years, during which time Putin abstained from direct involvement in foreign policy, has not diminished his grievance of a lack of reciprocity in the 2000s, and this attitude will affect foreign policy.

For all that, Putin views Russia as an open country that is ready for economic cooperation with all countries; as a country that is not seeking isolation and is not trying to build even a semblance of autarky in the economy. Especially revealing in this context is his admission that the purchase of military hardware abroad is a normal practice (on a reasonable scale), and his explanation of the benefits that Russia’s unpopular WTO membership will bring to the country. In general, Putin is interested in big business and its promotion, strategic alliances of large companies and major deals as an instrument of political rapprochement. This applies especially to European Union which will draw more Putin’s attention, than Medvedev paid it.

Finally, Russia has become much more attentive to China and the rest of Asia, particularly in the context of developing Siberia and the Far East. A common view on the problems of the current world order that has long been acknowledged is now being supplemented by the desire “to catch the Chinese wind in the sails of our economy.” Putin has emphasized the seriousness of Russia’s attitude toward its Eastern neighbor by mentioning in passing its intention to monitor immigration from China. This reservation shows that China occupies an important place on Russia’s agenda.

Recent developments have shown that serious strategic planning is virtually pointless in the current unpredictable world. It appears that Russia’s usual tactic of responding to continuously changing foreign impulses is the only rational choice, even if it does not fully justify itself. It is for this that he is preparing himself and the country.

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