When the Russian Foreign Ministry released its updated Foreign Policy Concept in February, codifying Russia’s global strategies, Washington yawned. Yet this document reveals much about the emerging “Putin Doctrine.” It further separates Russia from Western Europe and is especially critical of the United States. It also leaves no doubt: President Barack Obama’s “reset” policy cannot possibly survive his second term. Here’s the reality check.
Russia’s new foreign-policy doctrine is rooted in the Soviet and czarist past. To quote Alexander III, Russia has two allies: its army and its navy. The doctrine rejects any alliance membership — most of all NATO.
Unfortunately, this Putin-approved doctrine is likely to lead to further disagreements between Russia and the West, despite Obama’s continuing effort to reduce nuclear arms and stop ballistic missile defense modernization for Europe.
The Concept links arms control and missile defense, upholding Russia’s persistent desire for enforceable “legal guarantees” that any future missile defense system “will not be directed against Russian nuclear deterrent forces.” Moscow will demand further U.S. concessions on missile defenses while refusing to cut its huge advantage in tactical nuclear weapons.
The Putin Doctrine calls soft power “an integral component of modern international politics.” Astonishingly, it casts soft power as a tool of the Russian government’s commitment to “universal democratic values” and “human rights” — Moscow style. This includes raising foreign awareness of the Russian language and culture to help burnish Russia’s image abroad. Also in this category: the Kremlin’s hiring of Goldman Sachs to improve investors’ perception of Russia.
However, the Magnitsky affair, the anti-opposition crackdown, the incarceration of protesters and of the Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky — who this year marks 10 years in prison — fly in the face of such “soft power” exercises, especially when the Kremlin insists on labeling challenges from domestic opponents as “foreign agent activities.”
Interestingly, Moscow blames America for a number of dislocations, which reflect massive Russian investments in U.S. government bonds and the dollar. It vituperates against deficit and national debt, the Fed’s qualitative easings and the weak dollar (an “unsuitable” reserve currency, it insists). And Moscow goes way over the top in accusing Americans of adopting Russian orphans to collect disability payments or even for organ harvesting.
The Putin Doctrine places great emphasis on establishing lasting relations with neighboring countries. Given the disparity between the $2.5 trillion Russian G.D.P. and the much smaller economies of its neighbors, “regional integration” means, in practice, further Russian economic domination over its neighbors. Russia utilizes the Eurasian Economic Community, the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization to assert its leadership.
According to the Concept, the Eurasian union would define the future of the C.I.S. and become a “link between the European and Asia-Pacific regions.” President Xi Jinping’s first foreign visit — to Moscow — underscores Russia’s commitment to its own “pivot to Asia” and the massive energy deals that could result.
The Putin Doctrine proclaims that the United Nations is the principal international institution through which Russia implements its foreign policy, because Russia has a veto in the U.N. Security Council. Further, the document states that there is a threat for “world peace and stability” from “unilateral sanctions and other coercive measures, including armed aggression,” outside the framework of the Security Council.
The Concept warns that “some concepts that are being implemented are aimed at overthrowing legitimate governments in sovereign states under the pretext of protecting civilian population.” This is a clear reference to the NATO action in Libya. At the time, Putin said the Security Council resolution was “reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade.” After the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens by Al Qaeda-linked terrorists, he apparently believes that even more strongly.
Russia strives to protect its own state sovereignty — as well as Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. The Foreign Policy Concept here demonstrates Russia’s resolve not to let humanitarian concerns trump its commitment to the Syrian regime — a flat rejection of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine espoused by the Obama administration. Russia also hides behind the principle of noninterference in the case of the Iranian nuclear program. It resisted a new round of U.N. sanctions and repeatedly criticized the U.S./E.U. sanctions against Tehran.
The Foreign Policy Concept reflects Russia’s deep resentment of any criticism of what it considers its “internal affairs.” The document warns of the “destructive and unlawful use of ‘soft power’ and human rights concepts” by other countries to put “political pressure on sovereign regimes” and interfere “in internal affairs.” These are clear references to the alleged U.S. support of the Arab upheavals, U.S. democracy promotion and the Magnitsky Act.
The public version of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept reveals much. Doubtless, the classified version would be even more fascinating.
Washington should huddle with European nations to formulate a realistic cooperation agenda with Russia. The agenda should include promotion of economic freedom, business ties, transparency, good governance and the rule of law, as well as cooperation in medicine, science and space.
The new Foreign Policy Concept reveals the choices made by Putin’s Russia: an expanded sphere of influence; rapprochement with Beijing; and alienation from the West.
While Washington should continue its efforts to improve business ties, combat proliferation and protect human rights, ups and downs in U.S.-Russia and E.U.-Russia relations, unfortunately, will mar the future.
-Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy policy at The Heritage Foundation, Washington.
First appeared in The International Herald Tribune.