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What’s New in Russia’s Latest Foreign Policy Concept?

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What’s New in Russia’s Latest Foreign Policy Concept?

On 30 November 2016, President Vladimir Putin approved a new version of the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. This is the second one since his re-election in 2012. By contrast only one was issued under Putin during the entirety of his first two terms as president. Here are five changes to note in the latest version compared to the 2013 Foreign Policy Concept.

The 2016 Foreign Policy Concept is structured very much like its predecessors in 2013, 2008 and 2000. There are general provisions, an overview of the modern world and Russian foreign policy, an outline of Russian priorities in addressing global problems, and a list of regional priorities worldwide. Much of the content in the latest Foreign Policy Concept (FPC) remains the same as earlier iterations, however there are some interesting points of divergence. 

1. There is a new world order, and the West is in decline

Throughout the 2016 FPC, there are new references to the failings or decline in power of the US and the EU. The Euro-Atlantic region is described as having systemic problems and posing a threat to regional and global stability (para. 61). Rather than making the case that deep-rooted civilisation ties with Europe inform Russia’s relations with the EU as seen in the 2013 FPC, the new version underlines that separate European and Eurasia integration processes need to better harmonise with each other (para. 63). If the 2013 FPC suggested that the West’s ability to dominate the world economy and politics was diminishing and a new polycentric system was emerging, the 2016 FPC suggests this transition is almost complete. Now according to this version the desire of Western countries to try and gain back their dominant position by imposing their views on other centres of power is only leading to turbulence (para. 5).          

2. Continuity in the priorities of Russia for solving global problems

The 2016 FPC and 2013 FPC are almost identical in terms of these priorities: a stable world order, rule of law in international relations, strengthening international security, cooperation in the international economy and the environment, international humanitarian cooperation and human rights. References to the G7/8 have been removed, no doubt due to the fact that Russia is no longer a member of it. The biggest change is the expanded section on international security, which goes into a lot more detail than earlier concepts, particularly in terms of international terrorism (para. 33).      

3. Adjustments to regional priorities in post-Soviet space

While the first regional priority mentioned is still bilateral and multilateral cooperation with members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and strengthening the CIS itself (para. 49), in reality the CIS is rather less prominent in the 2016 FPC. The deepening and widening of the Eurasian Economic Union (para. 51) and the development of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (para. 52) are now featured before any more detailed mentions of the CIS. Belarus is now explicitly mentioned second under the regional priorities and earns a paragraph in its own right (para. 50), unlike the 2013 FPC when the Union State with Belarus was relegated to a sub-section of a paragraph. Unsurprisingly, the coverage of Ukraine has also changed. In the 2013 FPC there was a call for Ukraine to be a priority partner in extended integration processes. Now a much longer entry (para. 56) calls for the development of a variety of political, economic, cultural and spiritual ties with Ukraine on the basis of mutual respect and their national interests. The 2016 FPC promises that Russia will make the necessary efforts for a political and diplomatic settlement of what it terms the internal Ukrainian conflict.

4. New priorities for mutually beneficial bilateral relations in Europe

As in previous years, Germany, France and Italy are highlighted as important resources for forwarding Russia’s national interests (para. 66). In the 2016 FPC, the Netherlands is no longer mentioned by name and its place appears to have been taken by Spain. The United Kingdom, which earned a name check in the 2013 FPC as a country with which Russia saw the potential for interaction, has also been dropped in the new version.    

5. Equal partnership with the United States on Russia’s terms

The number of paragraphs dedicated to building relations with the USA have been reduced and the emphasis is on arms control. Earlier references in the 2013 FPC to visa liberalization and preventing the imposition of sanctions have been removed. What is clearly new in the 2016 FPC in the explicit statement that relations can only be built on a basis of equality, mutual respect of interests and non-interference in the internal affairs of each other (para. 72). It is made clear that while Russia is interested in good relations it reserves the right to respond harshly to what it perceives as any attempts by the USA to exert military, political, economic or other pressure. 

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