Toughening the message

In one of my recent posts, I wrote that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had prepared a new concept of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation. President Vladimir Putin was supposed to sign the document by the end of 2012. But he didn’t. As reported by the Kommersant daily, Putin wants the concept to be re-worked. Such a decision can easily be viewed as a non-confidence vote in the team of concept writers and, by implication, in their boss, the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Given that there are no obvious problems with Lavrov’s performance, the snub over the concept looks like Putin reprimanding Lavrov for publicly opposing the Duma adoption ban.

Even more intriguing sounds the explanation of Putin’s unwillingness to sign the concept in its current form: according to the Kommersant‘s sources in the presidential administration, Putin wants some messages in the document to be “toughened.” More specifically, Putin is seeking more aggressive language to condemn meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.

Putin’s international views–and increasingly Russia’s foreign policy in general–are driven by his belief that “international relations are facing a growing number of challenges and threats,” a sentiment he expressed again a few days ago at a meeting with foreign ambassadors. Although I can certainly agree with Putin that the current events in the Middle East and Africa are troubling, I see absolutely no evidence that the number of challenges to Russia’s national security is “growing.”

What is growing is the size and scope of the Kremlin’s campaign to maintain control over the country by trumping up perceived threats to Russia’s sovereignty. Besides, as signs of erosion of public support for the regime–and him personally–accumulate, Putin seems to consider the propaganda of the “enemy at the gates” image as one of the most effective tools to keep in check the country’s elites.

Putin’s seeds definitely find a fertile ground. In a recent interview, a Duma deputy and member of the United Russia party’s General Council Evgeniy Fedorov went as far as to call Russia a “colony” of the United States and opined that the real power in the country belongs to the U.S. Department of State.

To those who would argue that Fedorov is no more than a middle-level bureaucrat in need of medication, I’d like to remind one of my favorite Russian proverbs: A fish rots from the head down.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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4 Responses to Toughening the message

  1. Dear Eugene,

    The problem here is that we don’t yet know in what respect the document will be “toughened”. My guess for what it’s worth is that what has put the cat amongst the pigeons is the Magnitsky law. I don’t want to exaggerate the importance of the Magnitsky law importance but however one interprets it, it is a challenge to Russian state sovereignty and it would be hardly surprising if Putin did not want a doctrinal response to it.

    For the rest I have no doubt that the deterioration in the international climate has worked to Putin’s advantage. That however poses the question the democracy promoters and anti ballistic missile warriors in Washington ought to be asking themselves: do they want to help Putin stay in power or do they want Russian politics to evolve so that he can one day be peacefully and constitutionally replaced by someone else? If it’s the latter then perhaps it’s time to recognise that what they are doing is achieving the opposite.

  2. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    I have a fundamental problem with a notion that the international climate is “deteriorating.” Sure, the world isn’t becoming safer or better, but I see no evidence–as Putin does–that it’s becoming more dangerous in general and for Russia in particular. The fact is that Putin’s is using this “argument” to strengthen a bunker mentality in the country.

    I would agree that in a short-run, the anti-Putin campaign benefits Putin himself, domestically speaking. However, in a long-run, will Russia benefit from Putin becoming a larger version of Lukashenko?


    • Dear Eugene,

      When I said “international climate” I specifically meant US Russia relations. They undoubtedly have deteriorated and the initiative for this as I repeatedly say has come from Washington. That it is working to Putin’s domestic advantage is for him the free gift that goes on giving. If the US wants to see viable alternatives to Putin emerge in Russia (something both of us want) then it should leave him and Russia alone.

      Having said this, I do as it happens think the international climate is deteriorating. Not only is the Middle East looking increasingly violent and unstable but US China relations are becoming increasingly antagonistic and adversarial and there is now a clear trend for other Pacific nations to become drawn in. Given that Russia is also a Pacific power the potential problems (and opportunities) it creates for Russia are obvious.

      Overall it seems to me that we are far removed from what looked like the quiet and sunny uplands of the mid 1990s. With hindsight that period looks increasingly like the anomaly and it looks as if the opportunities it provided were squandered.

  3. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    If I was a devoted fan of conspiracy theories (and I have to admit that I’m at least a “closet” admirer of such theories:)), I would have argued that Putin inspired the downturn in US-Russia relations because it so nicely suits his current objective: to find any relevant factor–internal or external–to boost his declining domestic support. For this reason alone, I don’t think Putin wants to be “left alone.”

    Sure, the US did its part in damaging the relations: the Magnitsky Act is the most evident example. Yet there is a point I’be been relentlessly trying to make: there is a difference in approaches vis-a-vis Russia between the Obama administration and Congress. It might be subtle, but it does exist, and Russia never did anything to explore this split. (Would this not be Lavrov’s job, by the way?). And speaking of conspiracy theories, could it be that Putin intentionally ignored this split because 1) he’s angry at Obama, and 2) see above?

    Distributing blame around is a dead-end approach for Russia for many reasons, one of which is that the US is still a superpower and Russia is not. Period. Instead of making of itself what it’s not, Russia would be better off by getting everything it can from Obama’s willingness to work with it. After all, if Russia can’t work with Obama, who can it do business with? Can you name anyone as potential US president who would be better for Russia?


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