The new Russian geopolitics
Recent domestic political changes in Russia, including the process of amending the Constitution, have become the subject of close attention. Most experts believe that Putin's main goal is to formulate new political structure to preserve his rule over the county after the end of the term in 2024. However, the reasons for these transformations have deeper roots that are associated with changes in the geopolitical picture of the world.
Imperialism has always been the core of Russian political culture: its forms and formats could vary in different eras, but the essence remained the same. It lies in the fact that the main function of the Russian ruler (prince, tsar, emperor or president) is to ensure the state's territorial integrity. According to Russian strategists and thinkers, this goal is possible to achieve only when Russia has one of the central places in the system of international relations. The mission to maintain the great power status has unified all the laeaders aof the country, no matter how different they have been: even Emperor Peter the Great, who promoted the Western model of development, and Tsar Alexander III, who followed a special Russian way.
To a certain extent, having led the country in the late '90s, Vladimir Putin became a hostage to objective circumstances. Being a moderate conservative who sympathized with the philosophies of Peter the Great, he set the task of ensuring consistent political and economic integration with the West. This direction failed since the parties perceived the process differently. Russia hoped that the United States and the European Union would build dialogue as equal partners, not as winners that dictate the rules of the game. Many actions of leading Western countries (such as NATO's expansion to the East) played into the hands of the part of the Russian elite who convinced the general public and the president that Washington and Brussels did not respect the opinion of Moscow and were the source of the main threats to national security. In fact, it was the shortsightedness of Western policy, which completely ignored not only Russia's global, but also regional interests, that left no arguments for Putin to maintain the strategic orientation toward the West.
Today, few remember that before the famous Munich speech of 2007, the Russian president was harshly criticized inside the country for his indecisiveness and inability to force America and Europe to respect Russia. Russian rulers who showed weakness ceased to enjoy the trust of the population and political environment. This resulted in disastrous consequences. And the question is not only in fear of losing power: this is the lesser of potential problems. The indecisiveness of Tsar Nicholas II led to revolution, the Civil War, and the execution of the entire royal family. Gorbachev's excessively soft policy ended with the next collapse of the state. Putin knows Russian history well and feels the changing mood of society. Without this understanding and these instincts, it would be impossible to rule the country, where 190 nations of various religions, traditions, and mentality live together. The Western scientific and analytical community often overlooks this nuance. That is why there is confusion between the personality of Putin and Putinism as a concept of managing a complex and multi-layered system that has been forming for hundreds of years. From the standpoint of international politics, this concept is focused on the principle of total sovereignty.
Vladislav Surkov, the author of the modern ideology of Putinism, always emphasizes that Russia should contribute to the formation of a concert of great powers, where new architecture of international relations will be devised based on forgotten principles: non-interference in internal affairs (Westphalian system), balance of power (Vienna system), and the separation of spheres of influence and zones of responsibility (Yalta-Potsdam system). While realizing this concept, Moscow began to actively support right-wing conservative forces in Europe; returned to large Middle East policy; and strengthened its position in Africa (in particular the Maghreb — Libya and Egypt) and Latin America, which is the zone of special strategic interests of the United States, according to the Monroe Doctrine. Having firm position in key regions of the world, the Kremlin will get more advantages as part of future debates among the great powers on the formation of rules in the post-unipolar world. At the same time, it is important for Putin that Russia can participate in this process as an independent subject, not the younger brother of neighboring China, which is perceived as a strategic ally of Moscow. Is it really so?
After returning to the office in 2012, Putin began to focus more not on Peter the Great, but on Alexander III, the author of the famous phrase that Russia has only two allies: the army and navy. These are not just simple words for the Russian president, but the foundation of the long-term foreign policy strategy. Today, Moscow and Beijing are equally interested in accelerating the final collapse of the unipolar system. However, in the future process of building a new model, the Russians and Chinese will wage a fierce struggle for influence not only in Central Asia, but also in the post-Soviet space — the traditional zone of Russian interest. Even now, Beijing has a serious impact on Belarus, which, along with Ukraine, Putin considers an integral part of the Russian world core. Moscow understands the inevitability of a clash of interests with China. That is why the Kremlin seeks to expand bilateral relations with India, establish closer ties with Japan, and strengthen its influence on North Korea. At the same time, as a pragmatist, the Russian leader understands that in order to successfully solve such complicated geopolitical tasks, it is necessary to strengthen the internal rears by starting the process of changing the decaying system. There were critically weak particles that threatened national security. Putin not only reorganized the system, but also deprived those who have foreign citizenship or a residence permit of the right to occupy key positions.
Many former senior officials and politicians were connected by business and lobbying interests with other countries. So, when they made decisions, they had to consider the mood in America, Europe, and China. Now it is in the past. In other words, political elites became nationalized. Without this step, Putin would not be able to stabilize the internal situation and take up his original mission: to make Russia great again.
Areg Galstyan, PhD is a regular contributor to Forbes, the National Interest, and the American Thinker.