Not by Bread Alone: Russian Foreign Policy under Putin

Not by Bread Alone: Russian Foreign Policy under Putin

Not by Bread Alone: Russian Foreign Policy under Putin

Not by Bread Alone: Russian Foreign Policy under Putin

Synopsis

Since its independence in 1991, Russia has struggled with the growing pains of defining its role in international politics. After Vladimir Putin ascended to power in 2000, the country undertook grandiose foreign policy projects in an attempt to delineate its place among the world's superpowers. With this in mind, Robert Nalbandov examines the milestones of Russia's international relations since the turn of the twenty-first century. He focuses on the specific goals, engagement practices, and tools used by Putin's administration to promote Russia's vital national and strategic interests in specific geographic locations. His findings illuminate Putin's foreign policy objective of reinstituting Russian global strategic dominance. Nalbandov argues that identity-based politics have dominated Putin's tenure and that Russia's east/west split is reflected in Asian-European politics. Nalbandov's analysis shows that unchecked domestic power, an almost exclusive application of hard power, and determined ambition for unabridged global influence and a defined place as a world superpower are the keys to Putin's Russia.

Excerpt

In 1990, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a German rock band, the Scorpions, came up with perhaps its most famous song, “The Wind of Change.” The iconic words “The world is closing in / Did you ever think / That we could be so close / Like brothers” were the closest depiction of the spirit of expectation of drastic and—at that time—positive transformations in the world. Globalization was still too far on the political horizon to talk about, but the conflict between civilizations, as described by Huntington at the dawn of the bipolar era, was long gone.

With its first breath as a newly reborn state, Russia resembled Ilya Murometc, its fairy tale hero, staring at the stone on the three-prong road and choosing between three equally destructive options: imminent death (physical extermination), losing the horse (economic deprivation), or staying alive but forgetting himself (identity oblivion). Dimitri Simes added political context to the Russian trilemma regarding the three possible outcomes of the situation in the new post-Soviet geopolitical environment, predicting “the restoration of the Russian empire under an authoritarian, xenophobic, anti-Western regime; the splintering of the region into different groupings with widely divergent foreign policies and cultures; instability and possibly even civil war; or the emergence of truly independent democratic nations united by some form of a common market and collective security framework.” The independent Russian state survived, notwithstanding two bloody wars in Chechnya and sporadic outbursts of separatist feelings in Tatarstan, one of its major Muslim enclaves. This was achieved, however, not at the expense of societal consolidation and strengthening of the social contract between the citizens and the government, but as a result of titanic efforts on the part of President Putin’s government to build the “vertical of power,” a famous euphemistic cliché of neoauthoritarianism.

The Soviet Union did not die in 1991: it lapsed into a quarter-centurylong lethargy and was awakened by Putin’s calls for the Russkii Mir (Russian world), a thinly veiled reference to the Pax Romana by the Roman emperor Octavian Augustus in 27 BC. At the end of 2006, speaking prior to the start of the Year of the Russian Language, Putin said . . .

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