The present analysis will review the highlights of his speech and subsequently interpret their strategic significance for the wider audience. It’ll then conclude with some general observations gleaned from the preceding insight.
Russian President Vladimir Putin briefed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) last week during an expanded meeting with the Foreign Ministry Board that was reported upon by the official Kremlin website. The Russian leader reaffirmed his country’s pragmatic vision to become Eurasia’s supreme “balancing” force in the 21st century. Considering his influence on policy formulation by virtue of his position and the fact that he’s been in power in one high-level capacity or another for over two decades, it’s crucial to pay attention to everything that he said. The present analysis will therefore review the highlights of his speech and subsequently interpret their strategic significance for the wider audience. It’ll then conclude with some general observations gleaned from the preceding insight.
The Russian leader started off by reminding everyone of his recent articulation of what he earlier described as “healthy/moderate/responsible conservativism”. He said that “our Fundamental Law has now sealed such basic ideas and values as loyalty to the homeland, respect for our native tongue, history, culture and traditions of our predecessors. This is everything that unites our people around common ideals and determines the vector for the development of the sovereign, independent and peace-loving Russian state, an active member of the international community.” This is the foundation for everything else that follows.
President Putin then spoke about Russia’s desire to retain mutually beneficial cooperation with all of its partners, particularly concerning “terrorism and cross-border crime, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, poverty, inequality, climate change and environmental degradation.” He also reminded everyone that his previous proposal for a UNSC summit still stands. The coronavirus pandemic, otherwise known as World War C, “has seriously disrupted the usual course of life around the world” and remains the top challenge. President Putin suggested that “[the WHO’s] work should be supported in every way” and that “It could be even more active in mass immunization”.
He also briefly touched upon the role that he envisions Russia playing in combating climate change, which builds upon the prior comments that he made over the summer such as those during his speech at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) and his Direct Line Q&A with the Russian people. Basically, he sees his country complying with its international commitments in this sphere and actively leading the way towards decarbonization. Nevertheless, he also advised that “Our diplomacy should be more active in countering attempts by the European Union and the United States to assume the right to dictate the climate agenda single-handedly and to create standards for it”.
On the topic of what many have previously described as the “Russian World”, President Putin said that “I would like to mention the need to pay more attention to strengthening ties with our compatriots abroad, protecting their interests and preserving pan-Russian cultural identity, as well as to simplifying the procedures for granting Russian citizenship to them.” This could be interpreted as signaling that Russia won’t forget about its compatriots in the “Near Abroad”, including those who face discrimination in the Baltic States and Ukraine. He then spoke about the need to enhance Russia’s cooperation with several multilateral institutions.
These are the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAU), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and BRICS. Once he was done describing the need to strengthen relations with those blocs, the Russian leader proceeded to talk about the many specific challenges that his country’s foreign policy faces. He began by saying that “Ukraine’s internal crisis is among the most pressing and sensitive issues for us”. President Putin sharply criticized Kiev and its Western patrons, including the latter’s provocative military moves in the Black Sea as of late.
Related problems include NATO’s eastward expansion and its so-called “missile defense system”. The second-mentioned point of tension is especially concerning for Russia because President Putin believes that “These can easily be put to offensive use with the Mk-41 launchers there; replacing the software takes only minutes.” According to him, Poland is also exploiting the Eastern European Migrant Crisis and responding to it in disproportionately forceful and hypocritical ways. The Russian leader drew attention to how Warsaw was against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s similarly forceful moves against the EuroMaidan rioters yet nowadays employs the exact same tactics against illegal immigrants.
Another crisis issue that President Putin touched upon is Nagorno–Karabakh. He said that “Russian diplomacy is playing a growing role in further efforts to settle disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, restore economic ties and unblock vital transport corridors in the South Caucasus.” As for Afghanistan, he praised the Extended Troika format of talks but cautioned that more work remains to be done in coordination with his country’s partners –especially those in Central Asia – in order to sustainably stabilize the situation. After that, President Putin moved on to talking about the Asia-Pacific, which many in the West nowadays refer to as the “Indo-Pacific”.
The Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) is described as the guide for formulating Russia’s policy in this important part of the world. To that end, President Putin envisions Russia expanding relations with China, India, ASEAN, and the other countries that participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. He then turned towards talking about the many conflicts in West Asia. President Putin said that he supports the peace processes in Syria, Libya, and “Israel”-Palestine. He crucially reaffirmed that “Overall, forging a truly friendly, pragmatic and non-ideology based dialogue with all states in the Middle East remains our unconditional priority”, exactly as Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier elaborated.
Relations with the Global South nations of Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America were briefly discussed but not in detail. Basically, President Putin wants to also improve relations with them as well, including through what can be described as “vaccine diplomacy”. He then returned to talking about ties with the EU, which he said “remains our leading trade and economic partner”. The Russian leader regrets that ties have recently soured but said that “everything depends on our partners’ willingness to establish and maintain equal and respectful cooperation”, exactly as it does with NATO too. That bloc and its American leader’s diplomatic and military provocations are blamed for causing lots of instability.
Nevertheless, President Putin said that “the summit with President Biden in Geneva last June opened up a few opportunities for a dialogue and gradual alignment, straightening out our relations, and it is important that both sides consistently expand the agreements reached.” This inspires cautious optimism because he then added that “something is already being done, this much must be admitted: joint work has begun on the strategic stability and information security agenda.” The Russian leader then concluded his speech by thanking his country’s foreign policy veterans. He wished them success and health as well as expressed hope that they’ll continue succeeding with their work.
President Putin’s foreign policy briefing was immensely important for several reasons. First, it clarified his country’s position on multiple issues of serious sensitivity ranging from World War C to relations with the EU and the continued challenges connected with the Ukrainian conflict, et al. Second, it occurred in the current context of international uncertainty, which thus resulted in the Russian leader offering a much-needed vision for restoring confidence in the future. Third, every policy that he touched upon and proposed embodies his country’s pragmatic approach towards everything. Altogether, these three observations show that Russia is trying to lead the world out of its present crisis.
This is a remarkable self-appointed role but one which shouldn’t be surprising. Russia has always seen itself as the fulcrum of stability in the international system, both due to its pragmatic diplomatic traditions and its advantageous geography which enables it to “balance” International Relations across a broad swathe of the Eurasian supercontinent. This role is more important than ever before because the US’ increasingly irresponsible and reckless policies are only worsening international instability, which it’s deliberately exacerbating as part of a risky geostrategic gambit aimed at reversing its fading unipolar hegemony.
By contrast, Russia is seeking to accelerate the emerging Multipolar World Order, to which end it’s recalibrating its foreign policy in order to further optimize its practice in today’s very challenging conditions. While continuing to extend an olive branch towards the West as he’s always consistently done, President Putin seems to realize that he can no longer depend on its goodwill since this US-led portion of the world very clearly doesn’t mind engaging in counterproductive hostilities against Russia. This is the opposite position of his country’s growing number of non-Western partners, particularly China and India, which share Russia’s mutually beneficial multipolar vision.
The evolving impression is that Russia’s “balancing” act will continue to tilt in the non-Western direction so long as the US’ impedes progress on the incipient rapprochement that Moscow hopes to ultimately reach with the West. Although some steps have been taken in that direction since last summer’s Biden-Putin Summit, they aren’t sufficient at this stage to seriously consider any significant changes in the Eurasian Great Power’s grand strategy. This leads to the conclusion that the country will continue trying to expand its influence in the “Indo-Pacific”, resolving regional conflicts on the supercontinent, and proceeding with its far-reaching socio-economic reforms aimed at flexibly adapting to World War C.