Russia's foreign policy under Vladimir Putin: achievements and failures




1. Russia regained its status as a leading world power. Economic revival and stable economic growth have increased Russia's international prestige. Some countries like Russia and other countries don't; some are helping it to spread its influence and others are resisting it. Its views now carry far more weight in the international arena than they did in the 1990s, when Moscow's opinion on international crises was generally ignored.

This goal has been achieved without a substantial increase in nuclear or other capacities, or not only due to such increases. Russia's increased importance as an exporter of oil and gas also played a role, along with the inclusion of Russia in the group of the most rapidly developing emerging economies (the BRIC, comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China). One more important factor was the rehabilitation of the "sick man of Europe," which many people did not expect to see.

2. Restoration of Russians' self-confidence. A nation's well-being is a key element of its coexistence with other nations and a crucial goal of its foreign policy. Today all Russians, whether at home or abroad, from ambassadors to tourists, feel that they are citizens of a large, strong, growing and respected state.

In the 1990s, it was said that Russia was governed from Spaso House, the U.S. ambassadorial residence in Moscow. Today every Russian and foreigner knows that Moscow may disagree with Washington, or other capitals, on foreign or domestic issues, and uphold its stance without facing negative consequences. Few states can do this now.

3. Resistance to the wave of color revolutions in neighboring states. When manipulations of public opinion during elections brought anti-Russian regimes to power in neighboring states, some people thought that this would provoke the dissolution of the CIS and an economic and political crisis in Russia. They were disappointed.

A failed "tulip revolution" in Kyrgyzstan, accompanied by chaos and pogroms in the capital, frightened the local political elites and population but strengthened Russia's stance in Central Asia. The color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia lost their appeal following subsequent negative events there. Russia's foreign policy emerged as the victor in these crises because it reacted calmly to them, proving that sometimes it is better to do nothing.

4. Preservation of integration mechanisms (CIS, CSTO, etc.) and establishment of new ones (SCO). Russia's policy towards the former Soviet states during the 1990s was unsustainable and bound to change, as became evident at the beginning of Vladimir Putin's first presidential term. The only question was what policy would replace it. It became clear over the last eight years that the majority of post-Soviet states need some CIS functions and mechanisms, and so they are being reformed.

At the same time, the military union of several CIS states - the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) - was preserved, and Russia is changing the post-Soviet policy of supplying cheap energy to political allies. It is developing new relations with Kazakhstan and a new model of international cooperation in Central Asia, which involves not only the former Soviet states in the region but also China (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization).

Foreign policy in the post-Soviet space is being increasingly split into a Western and a Central Asian policy, which are quite separate and, therefore, more realistic.

5. Restoration of lost positions in traditional zones of influence (Vietnam, the Middle East, India, China) and development of ties with new partners (Latin American countries). In the 1990s, Russia's foreign policy lost its global reach. Partner relations established in the Soviet era were broken and foreign trade shrank, while pro-market reforms in Russia put trade in the hands of private business, for the first time in decades.

The Russian authorities in the 1990s did not have a clearly defined view of economic and political goals in different parts of the world. The situation changed under Putin, with state-controlled and private businesses establishing ties in nearly all countries, supported by a special policy of promoting their interests.


1. Inability to become the top partner of close neighbors such as China and India. Russia's economy was not strong enough to become the leading influence even in countries that would have welcomed this. The era of unions formed for political reasons is over, and the ability of business to become a competitive leader in foreign markets is now crucial.

Russian business has neither the experience nor the resources for attaining this goal. Russia is not the top partner for any of its main economic partners (such as Germany and China, as well as the CIS, notably Kazakhstan). At best, it is one of their 10 largest partners. This has weakened Russia's ties, including political ones, with these states.

2. Inability to become a global leader in lifestyle, culture and arts. This is not only a failure of Russian foreign policy. We must admit that Russia today cannot do what the Soviet Union did in the sphere of winning hearts and minds abroad. The territory in which the Russian-language is spoken is shrinking, and the prestige of Russian culture and arts abroad is declining.

In this sphere Russia's foreign policy (or rather, related sectors) is lagging far behind many other countries, which have a multitude of technologies to promote their cultures beyond their national borders.

3. Inability to elaborate an effective policy of relations with the Russian diaspora abroad. New ideas appeared in that sphere in the early 1980s, but to this day the millions of Russians living abroad have not become drivers of Russia's development in economic and other spheres, unlike the Chinese and Indian diasporas.

4. Loss of influence in Georgia and Ukraine. Moscow proved unable to mobilize the seemingly huge resources of goodwill in neighboring states, including those with a large ethnic Russian population. Moreover, it has taken actions that worsened the position of its supporters in those countries, and the situation was further complicated by the successful actions of its opponents. It apparently caught the "American disease" - an over zealous feeling of righteousness and renewed strength. A stark example is sanctions against Georgia, which infuriated Georgians, even those who were dissatisfied with their government's policies.

5. Defeat on the market for military-technical cooperation (Algeria, India). During the 1990s, this sphere of international cooperation kept afloat nearly half of Russia's foreign policy, notably its relations with countries with which trade was lagging, such as China. It was seen as the core of a new model for foreign trade based on the export of technologies rather than raw materials.

The volume of military exports increased in the early 2000s, but other arms suppliers also stepped up competition. However, this cannot be said to be the only reason that buyers of Russian-made weapons and equipment often refuse to take delivery of them and complain of unjustified delays.

The never-ending reforms in the sector have not brought the desired goal of improving the prestige of Russian-made weapons any closer.

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