On March, 31, 2023, Vladimir Putin approved an updated concept for Russia’s foreign policy. He declared that it resulted in a "weighted document to be a basis for our mid-term and long-term practical steps." 

The previous concept was in effect for almost six and a half years. The Kremlin’s updated strategy is now more belligerent; it more often mentions the protection of interests and the sovereignty of Russia from the "collective West" as the European states and the USA allegedly conduct an aggressive anti-Russian policy. 

Russian Federation is also supposed to protect the “Russian world", which core they are.

Ukraine has been mentioned in the document only as a vector of "critical interests." However, this does not mean that the concept is not targeting against us. Russia is fighting the NATO only as a lip service but the real hostilities are taking place in Ukraine, unfortunately. After all, the enemy shall be known closely, also on the level of doctrines and strategies.

What was the concept that the Kremlin used when entering the war?

Before we get to analyze Russia’s new foreign policy concept, let us recapitulate the previous version of the document that Vladimir Putin approved in November, 2016.

Oddly enough but back then, Russia declared democratic values. In beginning, the concept mentioned the “empowerment of a legal state and democratic institutions.” The authors claimed: “Russia is devoted to universal democratic values, such as the guarantees of human rights and freedoms.” 

The most ridiculous thing is that the Kremlin was writing about their willingness to support the development of the countries non recognized by anyone, such as the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia, as modern democratic states. The same plans were related to Syria, too.

Russia declared the “unconditional respect for international law” and the “non-interference into other countries’ domestic affairs.” They claimed that their foreign policy is “predictable.” 

The leading coordinating role in international development had to be assigned to the UN. The organization was supposed to be a “center for regulating international relations and for the coordination of global policy in the 21st century.” 

Russian Federation reminded they were the permanent member of the UN Security Council and said that the “conclusions of the Second World War” cannot be reviewed.

Another interest the Russian Federation declared was to counteract terrorism. In Moscow, they viewed the “fight with the international terrorism as the most important national task and a key priority in international security.”

Much was mentioned about the economic development. Russia tried to deepen and expand integration within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Kremlin emphasized they would counteract discrimination of domestic investors and exporters. They also spoke of the intensification of cooperation with the leading energy carrier manufacturers.

The concept authors also wrote about the dissemination of Russian culture and language. Russia had to “bolster the study and dissemination of the Russian language as an integral part of world culture and a tool for international and interstate communication.” They also said that the Russian federation was “actively cooperating with the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Russia planned to deepen strategic cooperation with the Republic of Belarus. Whatever cynical it may sound but developing “partnership” with Ukraine was also there, although with certain reservations: “Russian Federation is interested in developing the entire diversity of political, economic, cultural, and spiritual relations with Ukraine based on mutual respect, enhancement of partnership, with account for their national interests. In cooperation with all interested states and international entities, Russia will invest every effort for political and diplomatic settlement of the internal Ukrainian conflict.”

The authors were writing that Russia was negative about NATO enlargement, objecting to the Alliance’s infrastructure getting closer to Russian borders and intensifying its military capacity in border areas. However, they also underscored that “Russia would build relations with NATO with account for the Alliance’s readiness to equal partnership, strict adherence to the principles and provisions of international law.”

The concept outlined that the USA and the allies “hold a course to deter Russia, exert political, economic, informational and other pressure on Russia.” However, at the same time, “Russia is interested in building mutually beneficial relations with the USA” given the special responsibility of both states for strategic stability and the status of international security in general.”

Whereas the new concept does not speak of democracy any longer, the ideas of promoting Russian culture have not been deleted.

Key Russian Idea

In the first place, the updated foreign policy concept of the Kremlin introduces a notion of cultural and civilizational community of the “Russian world.” 

According to the authors, the Russian Federation is a core of this civilization. That is why they must focus on supporting their compatriots living abroad, and protect their rights, especially in non-friendly states, to encourage them to relocate back to Russia. 

The document speaks of the importance of links for such people “with Homeland” so that they could preserve the “general Russian cultural and linguistic identity and Russian spiritual and moral values.” As a matter of fact, the so called “spiritual and moral values” are mentioned in every other section in the document.

It is equally important to see that the document only mentions Ukraine one time, and also in passing: “The USA and their satellites used the measures taken by the Russian Federation when we protected are critical interests on the Ukrainian axis as a reason to aggravate the many years of anti-Russian policy, and unleashed a hybrid war of a new kind.” It is probable that in the propaganda paradigm of the “war with NATO” and at the backdrop of “no fast ending of the SMO,” mentioning Ukraine is not desirable.

In the beginning of the decree, it says that the place of Russia in the world is defined by its status as one of the two major nuclear states, large resources, and permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Another asset is allegedly the Russia’s “decisive contribution into the victory in the Second World war.” 

Further on, the authors imply that Russia is one of the centers of power in the world, therefore, it must be taken into account.

The document mentions many things about the “reality of the bipolar world.” Because of those new circumstances, Russia will pay attention to the “elimination of dominant elements of the US and other non-friendly states in global affairs” and support the resumed role of the UN in international politics. Furthermore, the Russian Federation plans to develop the CIS, the Eurasian Economic Union, CSTO, BRICS, RIC (Russia, India, China), Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a.o. 

The concept claims that “some countries are accustomed to thinking in the line of global domination and neocolonialism.” That is why they “refuse to admit the realia of the multipolar world.” Such countries provoke coups d’état, armed conflicts, threats, blackmail, and “illegal sanctions.” Generally, Russian posits that sanctions can only be introduced by the Security Council, whereas this entity, as we know, the Kremlin still has the “veto” power. Crafty but, fortunately, the unrealistic plan.

Russian needs to be safeguarded from the non-friendly actions

The new concept of the Russian foreign policy is rather belligerent. Russia is directly declaring that “in response to the West’s non-friendly actions,” they would protect the right for their existence and free development with all possible means. At the same time, the allegedly “major part of mankind are interested in constructive relations with Russia and in the strengthening of its positions on international arena as a powerful country in the world.”

According to Russia, the system of international relations shall follow the principles of unacceptability of hegemony in international affairs, non-interference into internal affairs, cooperation based on the balance of interests and mutual benefit. At the same time, the Kremlin does not follow those principles.

To maintain and strengthen international peace and security, the Russian Federation “intends to use peaceful means to resolve disputes and conflicts, such as diplomacy, negotiations, consultations, mediation, and good favours.”

However, unlike the previous concept, the new strategy mentions the use of Russia’s Armed Forces, such as to “regulate crises.”

In this regard, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that the document “states the level of international tension unprecedented in the past decade.” He added that the “concept foresees the possibility of taking symmetric and asymmetric measures in response to non-friendly actions against Russia.”

In the end, Lavrov also mentioned the need to protect Russia: “It introduces a statement on the use of the Armed Forces to fight back or prevent any armed aggression at Russia and our allies. This is to decisively declare that we will defend the right of the Russian people for existence and free development.”

Continuing to adhere to the nuclear blackmail in their policies, in this document Russia declares their further gradual reduction of nuclear capacity. However, since Russian propaganda has been actively pushing the narrative about biolabs in Ukraine, the line on biological threats is also present in the foreign policy concept. In particular, Russia plans to assign more priority to the “investigation of cases of possible development, placement, and use of biological weapons, primarily on the territories of the bordering countries.”

Moreover, the document declares the combat of international terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. Russia has not decreased its interests for the Arctic region and the Antarctic. They plan to ensure Russia’s interests in the World Ocean, outer space, and airspace but the details have not been provided.

As far as economic interests, the Kremlin plans to decrease Russia’s dependence from the “non-friendly foreign states,” such as through the development of independent international payment infrastructure and broader use of national currencies in payment settlements. Russians wish to rechannel their relations to countries that “run constructive and neutral policy towards RF.” They plan to increase the non-resource-based non-energy exports but with no explanations about the substitution. Another vague spot is about how the RF, while under strict sanctions, plans to facilitate the attraction of international investments, advanced knowledge, technologies, and highly qualified experts.

To ensure its more positive image in the world, Russia wants to support international development, and focus on such countries as the Republic of Abkhazia, Republic of South Ossetia, the EAEU member states, and the CIS members who “maintain good neighbourly relations with Russia.”

Kremlin is also trying to counteract the Russophobia campaigns, to support the dissemination of the Russian language and “consolidate its position as a language of international communication.” However, a key priority for the expansion of the Russian language and culture is on the CIS states. Kremlin declared their “many centuries of civilizational and spiritual relations of the Russian people with the CIS nations.”

Additionally, Russians openly declare the “protection from discrimination of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, also to serve the interests of unity of the Orthodox religion.”

Friend or Foe?

The document is rather pompous about the “decisive contribution” of the Soviet Union into the victory over the Nazi Germany; the UN foundation, and the decolonization of the peoples in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The Russian propaganda would probably have to pursue the mission “to share truthful information out of country about the role and place of Russia in world history.”

Kremlin wants to impede the incitement to hatred against Russia, the spread of neo-Nazi ideology, of racial and national exceptionality, and aggressive nationalism. Besides, authors also claim that the crimes cannot be cushioned, while German Nazis, Japanese militarists, and their enablers cannot be rehabilitated or heroized. Whereas in the previous concept, Russia wanted to develop mutually beneficial relations with Germany and Japan, the new document does not have anything about it. Except for the Nazis and militarists, of course.

Key priorities for Russia include, among other things, the focus on ‘near abroad’ where they plan to ensure stability, also through disallowing the “inspiration of color revolutions.”

China and India are now key strategic partners for the Russian Federation. Altogether, Kremlin is now actively talking about the Eurasian integration processes and development referring to several infrastructure projects, such as Baikal-Amur Mainline Railway, Trans-Siberian railroad, transport corridors “North-South” and “Europe-West China,” etc.

Unlike the previous version, the current concept speaks about partnerships with Türkiye, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. With Iran, RF plans to “develop the comprehensive and trusting interaction.”

A separate focus goes for the cooperation with the African states. Russia is allegedly solidary with the continent’s countries in their “aspirations to establish a more just multipolar world and eliminate social and economic inequality.”

Key allies on the African continent have not been specified, unlike the Latin America region and the Caribbean, where Russians want to deepen partnerships with Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

On the contrary, most European states, according to the concept, run an aggressive policy against Russia, pose threats to its security and sovereignty, and blur traditional Russian spiritual and moral values. At the same time, Kremlin considers the future prospect of good neighbourly relations with the European states since peaceful co-existence with Russia does not have alternatives.

According to Kremlin, the USA is the major impediment for the normalization of their relations with Europe. Official Washington is a “key inspirer and executor of the aggressive anti-Russian policy of the collective West.” Russia is allegedly ready to peacefully co-exist and set a balance of interests between Russia and the USA. However, Americans will have to reject the power domination policy and review their anti-Russian focus.

Thus, the updated Russia’s foreign policy concept fully fits the reality of the war unleashed against Ukraine. with his decree, Vladimir Putin adopted propaganda concepts that the Kremlin shall protect. It does not come as a surprise since foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy. The words about the “Russian world” and “traditional spiritual and moral values” hardly ever intended to target Europeans or Americans, who, the same as Ukrainians, are treated as enemies by Russians. 

Enemy concepts must be explored. In our case, we also need to remember that Russian foreign policy measures “may be funded within the public-private partnership format.”

Andrii Savchuk for Ukrainian Pravda