Friday, April 4, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s New Foreign Policy Doctrine Points to a Hobbesian World, Ryzhkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 4 – Vladimir Putin’s statements and actions concerning Crimea and Ukraine are not adhoc responses but rather represent a new “’Putin doctrine’” for Russian action in foreign affairs, a doctrine that dispenses with many of the most fundamental principles on which the international system has operated, according to Vladimir Ryzhkov.

            In a Ekho Moskvy blogpost yesterday, the liberal historian, politician and commentator identifies seven parts of this new doctrine and discusses the way in which Putin and his regime plan to extend its application from Crimea and Ukraine to Moscow’s relations with the rest of the world (

The first principle of the new Putin doctrine, Ryzhkov says, is that “the Kremlin no longer considers the West as a partner deserving its trust.” The West’s effort to draw Ukraine into NATO and the EU represent at one and the same time a crossing of a line and a return to the “old policy of containment.

Moreover, he continues, “the real policy of the West” in Putin’s view is one based on “deception, the taking of decisions behind Russia’s back, the presentation to it of faits accomplis, and expansion. Russia is not only being surrounded, but it is being robbed – and “from now on, [it] will operate exclusively from that perspective.”

The second principle of the Putin Doctrine is that “Russia no longer considers itself part of European or even more Euro-Atlantic civilization.” It is a democracy but one of “a special type.”  And “if almost 100 percent of the population of Russia supports the re-unification of Crimea, then this means that this decision has firm democratic legitimacy.”

Putin, Ryzhkov says, wants Russians to unite “around a new ideology and policy and become literally a single organism” which excludes those who disagree. Under his rule, “Russia does not believe any longer in the universal values of freedom, human rights and democracy ... or in any other universal models.”

Instead, according to his doctrine, “every strong country is its own system of values and its own model.”

The third principle is that “international law is no longer a system of rules or even a system of coordinates.” Instead, it is “a menu from which every strong country can choose what is useful to itself.” Thus, Moscow is free to choose to defend sovereignty and territorial integrity in the case of Chechnya but the right of self-determination in the case of Crimea.

“A strong Russia has the right to ‘sovereign democracy,’” the doctrine holds, but “a weak Ukraine does not. In this way, Ryzhkov says, the world once again becomes “the free play of force and a balance of their strength, “on the one hand a return to the Westphalian system ... and on the other to Brezhnev’s doctrine of ‘limited sovereignty.’”

The fourth principle is that the Putin Doctrine applies to the post-Soviet space because that is the “historic legacy” of Russia and the basis of “the strategic security of Russia.”  As a result, it holds, “the sovereignty of the post-Soviet states from now on is to be sharply conditioned by an account of the interests of Russia.”

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are an exception – they are already in NATO and the EU – but any efforts by the West to advance further into the region will be met by a prompt and harsh Russian response. Indeed, Moscow’s willingness to move from diplomacy to more forceful means is, Ryzhkov says, “the chief distinction of the new doctrine.”

(Russia’s moves in Georgia in 2008 were a demonstration of this. But “now, anyone who decides to ‘cross the red line’ on the post-Soviet space must be ready for real opposition from Russia, including a military response,” the commentator says.)

At the same time, Putin’s Doctrine is “an invitation to all strong countries to reconsider the rules of the game, to cease to be ashamed of being strong, to define for themselves their ‘zones of influence’ and ‘red lines.’” In 2012, Putin said that Russia “will not only follow but attempt to formulate the rules of the game in the world. That time has come.”

The fifth principle of this doctrine involves a modification of the main principle of the Westphalian world, the inviolability of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Now that principle applies only to those states who are able to “defend with their own army or military political bloc” challenges to it.

“The sovereignty and integrity of weak states (and failed states in the first instance) will become a place of competition among the strong states and their blocs.” In short, Ryhkov says,there will be two “leagues” of states – the strong which will have guarantees and the others which won’t.

The sixth principle of the Putin Doctrine is that “the role of international organizations (the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and others) will be sharply reduced.” Cooperation in them will be possible on some occasions, but when the interests of a strong power are ignored, that power can act independently of their constraints.

And the seventh principle, if one can call it that, is that “the new ‘Putin Doctrine’” is based on the assumption that there is a very different and “new balance of forces in the world.”  The West is declining in importance, while Asia, Latin America and Africa are increasing, and “the major non-Western countries ... will be interested in [Putin’s] new rules of the game” in order to gain what the shift in power justifies their taking.

Such a world will be both “more dangerous and even more explosive,” but in Putin’s view, those are the risks for all when each strong player hopes to win.

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