Staunton, January 12 – Most national leaders pursue foreign policies either to benefit their own population or to strengthen their country’s position in the world, but Vladimir Putin is different, Andrey Liptsky says. His foreign policies are all about preserving his hold on power regardless of how much harm they do to the Russian people and Russia itself.
The deputy chief editor of Novaya gazeta says that Putin’s policies can hardly be called successful in terms of the normal pattern – after all, they have left Russia with few allies, hostile neighbors, and a sanctions regime that has harmed the country – but they may be working for him and that is all he cares about (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/01/12/88660-holodnyy-mir).
Until recently, many had been inclined to see Putin as a geopolitical tactician, but now, “it is ever more difficult to explain” what he is doing by reference to that. Instead, Lipsky says, it is clear that Russian foreign policy is now completely subordinate to the tasks of “preserving” Putin’s own power.
There are two reasons Putin has moved in this direction. On the one hand, he has destroyed all the channels through which the opinions of the population and the expert community might reach him and press for the formulation of a foreign policy more in line with normal countries.
And on the other, the Kremlin leader’s promotion of the idea that the entire world is against Russia and that the country is a besieged fortress works for many Russians and provides a justification for him and those who agree for repression against anyone who disagrees with the powers that be, the editor continues.
Putin shift to this policy began “not in connection with the Ukrainian events of 2013-2014 and the world’s reaction to Russia’s moves in this regard,” Liptsky says. Instead, it reflected Putin’s longstanding vision of power and his reaction to the wave of popular protests in 2011-2012.
The so-called “Crimean consensus” obscured this for a time, but “now, when protest attitudes are again growing in Russian society, when the next elections to the Duma are occurring at a time of falling incomes and when before our eyes are the examples of Khabarovsk and Belarus, it would be strange for the power to change is ‘consolidating’ foreign policy.”
Instead, the Kremlin has stepped up its portrayal of the West as a threat and the opposition as the West’s Trojan horse inside Russia. But this does not mean that Putin wants “an open confrontation with the West.” He and his team fear that. They will thus seek some accords even while maintaining the image of confrontation Putin believes he needs to survive.
That is not entirely good news for Russia because it will alienate still more countries from Russia and it promises to put on hold any chance that with broader cooperation the country might be able to escape its current stagnation and malaise, Lipsky concludes.