Russia and the European Security System
Geo-Political Thinking in Russia and New Foreign Policy Concept
After the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia has undergone a significant change in the foreign policy. Starting from the second half of the 1990s Russian foreign policy began to reflect more and more on the concept of geopolitics. In spite of the fact that Russia as a successor of the USSR was facing many economic and political problems, Russian foreign policy was and is based on geopolitical thinking.
This paper shows how geopolitical thinking is embodied in Russian foreign policy. First of all, I identify the concept of geopolitics. I will show how scientists identify geopolitics, and that they regard geopolitics as an important concept of foreign policy.
Secondly, I analyze Russian geopolitical thinking. I identify three main schools of geopolitical thinking in Russia based on Eurasianism: New Right, Eurasian Communism, and Democratic Statists.1 In addition I compare these schools with the Russian schools of foreign policy thought analyzed by Tsygankov.2
Finally, I analyze Russian foreign policy, touching on its new concept of foreign policy, leadership tendency, and influence in the world. I argue that Russian foreign policy-making is influenced by geopolitical thinking. Analyses, examples and explanations referred to this work support my argument and lead to the conclusion that Russia, being still a weak power, tends to regain, preserve and explore its geopolitical influence in the world.
Notion of Geopolitics
The notion of geopolitics is rather broad and was mainly used at the end of the nineteenth century. It was due to the tendency of thinking globally and acting globally, but actual practices of geopolitics started even earlier with Europeans’ clash with the rest of the world.3 According to John Agnew, geopolitics is about visualizing the world in terms of advanced geographical areas, natural resources, and sea access by the state as a supreme form of organization in competition with the other states for these areas and resources.4
Brian W. Blouet in his book “Geopolitics and Globalization in the Twentieth Century” talks about geopolitical policies which “seek to establish national or imperial control over space and the resources, routeways, industrial capacity and population the territory contains”.5 He explains geopolitics giving the examples of “tightly controlled geopolitical states” from history such as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and North Korea.6 These states wanted to take over the strategic territories, and their resources.
Another notion of geopolitics is given by Aleksandr Dugin, who states that geopolitics is a “reconsideration of the history of international relations”.7 He bases his understanding of geopolitics on the law of dualism which is reflected in the geographical construction of the planet and historical typology of civilizations. That is the continental power (tellurokratiya) is standing against maritime power (talassokratiya).8
Thus, we have a rather broad understanding of geopolitics among scientists. Based on different understandings of geopolitics, there are different ways of geopolitical thinking in Russia.
Geopolitical Thinking in Russia
Geopolitical thinking in Russia is based on the concept of Eurasianism. This concept means that Russia, being a Eurasian state and encompassing different nationalities, should follow its own social and geopolitical path separately from the West.9 Thus, the Eurasianist idea is supported by the three prominent geopolitical schools of thought: New Right, Eurasian Communists, and Democratic Statists described by Graham Smith.10
New Right geopolitical thinking has emerged since the early 1990 based on Russian nationalism. This division of Russian geopolitical thinking is associated with the political geographer Aleksandr Dugin and geopolitical novelist Aleksandr Prokhanov. They are mostly inspired by the geopoliticians of the beginning of the nineteenth century Peter Savitski and Nikolai Trubetskoi. Thus, continuing the ideas of the early geopolitical thinkers, the New Rightists see “Russia’s position as a part of a distinctive Eurasian civilization”.11
According to the new geopolitical theory of Dugin, there is a geopolitical struggle between two civilizations, those who are living in the heartland (Eurasia) and those who inhabit rimland (Western Europe and Middle East) and World Island (Americas). Dugin claims that Eurasia is the mother of civilization and Russia has a duty to protect the uniqueness of this civilization. However, there is a constant takeover of the heartland by the rimland. He argues that it is expressed by the NATO enlargement and the increased influence of USA in the world.
Dugin proposes a new way in Russian geopolitics. He states that Russia should be a new Eurasian Empire, with significant imperial, geopolitical, and ideological principles.12 Thus, the “New Empire” should not be materialist, it should have a sea line or allies with access to the sea, have a soft, differential and ethno-religious system of political-administrative organization.13 The New Russian Empire needs to be strategically and geopolitically wider than USSR, and it has to acquire world status.
Dugin also elaborates the theories of cooperation and special integration with other states. The so-called West axis implies the cooperation with Berlin in order to establish a higher influence in Europe. Moreover, the axis of the Eurasian strategic bloc includes Berlin, Moscow, Teheran, and Tokyo. Thus, Dugin says that for the sake of control of the heartland over the rimland and the World Island the cooperation with the Middle East and Japan can be a variant. This is going to be a triple union of three big spaces against the USA.
I will not go deep into the theory of New Eurasian Empire, but it is necessary to mention that Dugin supports the priority of nuclear power and intercontinental potential. He states that the New Empire should improve and enlarge its nuclear potential, and not to place stress on local forms of armament.14 Thus, the integration of the states and large spaces around the pivot area (Russia) is possible only if Moscow has high strategic nuclear potential, which makes Dugin’s plans serious and practically achievable.
Prokhanov supports Dugin and adds that the New Eurasian Empire should contain a multi-ethnic society, rather than mono-ethnic.15 High cooperation with the South is a key. In order to concentrate its power and increase its influence, Russia has to have good ties with Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. He sees Russia as the only country which can provide stability in the South region.
Leonid Ivashov, the vice-president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problem, can also be considered one of the camp of New Right Eurasianists geopolitical school of thought.16 He states that Russia, by occupying the Eurasian continent, plays a high geopolitical role and can influence global processes. Russia by Ivashov is a core of Eurasia and it should seek for alliances with the states which share the values of Eurasian civilization and which want to counterbalance the USA.17
A similar view is expressed by Viktor Sokolov in Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier in June 2005, who argues that “Russia could become (indeed, is becoming) the center of an anti-American axis, taking under her wing powers disaffected by the USA, and by Washington’s tendency to interfere in the internal affairs of various states”.18 He points out that in addition to old Soviet allies such as Cuba, North Korea, Libya, close cooperation with Iran, Syria and Venezuela should also be done. Moreover, Sokolov, in his article, calls upon the exploitation of anti-US attitudes in Latin America, plus the formation of an anti-American axis from among the countries that are against US.19
The same Eurasian geopolitical view is claimed by Sergey Brezkun of the Academy of Military Studies. He support Dugin in the idea of creation of a Berlin-Moscow-Tokyo axis, where Russia will become “a nuclear umbrella” for Japan and Europe united under the aegis of Germany.20 This axis will counterbalance the US hegemony with further possible inclusion of China, the Islamic World, and Latin America. Moreover, Brezkun has a vision of the Russian Geopolitical Space, as the borders of the former USSR, which he regards as “Russia’s natural borders”.21 Russian control over this space will make Russia the great power on the account of predominantly internal resources such as civilisational, natural, economic, human, and technological.
A rather similar position is expressed by Tikhomirov, who states that Russia has to create a Eurasian bloc in order to counterbalance the US influence in the world.22 He argues that Russia, as a leader of the Eurasian bloc containing continental military power, can develop an alliance system with anti-American countries. He talks about nuclear cover for the allies, which can be compared with the “nuclear umbrella” of Brezkun.
This group of the New Right geopolitical thinkers can be related to one of the Russian foreign policy schools of thought identified by Andrei Tsygankov.23 That is the Revolutionary Expansionism school of thought which foresees principles of New Right thinkers. Expansionists (Kurginian, Panarin, Dugin, Shtepa) promote a radical doctrine of foreign policy in order to assure security and dominance.24
Tsygankov elaborated the table of Images of Russia where the image of Russia is seen by Revolutionary Expansionists as:
Russia is a Eurasian, anti-American country (cultural image),
Superpower one of two (international status),
Constantly expanding empire (type of state),
Permanent geopolitical expansion (method of maintaining internal stability),
Much beyond the former Soviet Union (geopolitical borders).25
Thus, Revolutionary Expansionist School is based on the New Right geopolitical thinking, which is rather ambitious and hard to achieve. Eurasian Communists express their nostalgic ideas of geopolitical thinking in a less ambitious fashion.
The second school of geopolitical thought is represented by neo-Soviet or communist vision of Russia in the frames of USSR. The Eurasian communists support the idea of Eurasianism and recall the time when Russians had international respect and pride under the Soviet Union.26 The main supporter of this geopolitical thinking is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and its leader Genadi Zyuganov. Zyuganov sees the future of Russia only as the return to the Soviet Union and becoming a Eurasian and then global superpower. This can be done by nationalizing the economy, increasing nuclear potential, return to socialism, and reunification with the Near Abroad. The Communists’ leader denies market economy and directs his animosity towards liberal intellectuals and oligarchs. He perceives the Eurasian geopolitical future of the country only with the return to communism, restoration of USSR borders, and counterbalance to US.27 Thus, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation represents one of the influencing geopolitical schools which has only a slight influence in the State Duma.
On the basis of the neo-Soviet vision, Zyuganov introduces the concept of “new geopolitics”. It is a soft version of Dugin’s theory of New Empire and heartland civilization. Zyuganov argues that according to history Russia has to “secure its natural hegemonic position as a Eurasian continent power”.28 Moreover, he states that in order to secure its geopolitical dominance in Eurasia, Russia should fight globalization and capitalism by returning to communism, social welfarism, and military strength.
The idea of pan-Slavinism is peculiar to Russian Communists. The geopolitical mission can be reached by uniting all Slavic people on the post-Soviet area on the voluntary basis. The socialist Eurasian union thus needs to be established which will secure the geopolitical power of Russia, unite all Slavic people, and communist co-thinkers.
Communists’ geopolitical ideas have some legitimacy basis according to Zyuganov. There are three main aspects of it. Firstly, there is a relation of Eurasian Communism to homeland patriotism.29 It implies the patriotic praising of the country’s move after the 1917 October Revolution, fast industrialization, defeat of Germany, taming Siberia, social and economic growth, power hegemony. These are all the main aspects of Russian homeland patriotism with its qualities and social values which support Zyuganov’s policy and geopolitical thinking. Moreover, he blames liberals, Jews, and oligarchs for “selling” the homeland to the West predators, who facilitated the collapse of the USSR and weakened Russia.30
Secondly, Zyuganov perceives the Russian nation as a nation constructed primarily during the communist rule. However, he states that Russian communist values stretch 2000 years back to the times of Russian community and collectivism, and the preservation of the “Fatherland” (Russian land).31 According to Eurasian Communists, the Russian nation is unique and communist oriented with its spirit of collectivism and community. Its mentality is different from the individualist West and ownership. Thus, he legitimizes the Eurasian civilization embodied in the Russian nation which is impregnated with the communist spirit.
Thirdly, Zyuganov sees the new geopolitical revision in “re-establishing a communist Eurasia through voluntary reincorporation.”32 Russia is deemed to be a country which would absorb all Russians and communists in order to strengthen its statehood, power, and soviet hegemony. Thus, according to Zyuganov, reconstituted Eurasian communism will triumph and bring a ground for further geopolitical policy.
According to Tsygankov, we can cohere Eurasian Communists with the Aggressive Realists School of Russian foreign policy Thought.33 He states that aggressive realists blame Gorbachev’s New Thinking policy, Gorbachev himself and his team for the collapse of the Soviet Union.34 Aggressive realists consider the doctrine of deterrence as the best way of dealing with and counterbalancing the USA and the West in protecting Russian security interests. In comparison with the Revolutionary Expansionists, the Aggressive realists’ image of Russia is limited by former Soviet Union geopolitical borders and has a high degree of centralization, economic and military modernization, and prudent leadership.35
Another school of geopolitical thinking is represented by Democratic Statists. Being the softest Eurasinists, they advocate the idea of a strong state based on Western style democracy and Russian neo-nationalism and its unique identity.36 Democratic statists see Russia as a distinctive civilization, which has its own geopolitical way of uniting Europe and Asia, stabilizing Eurasia, and increasing geopolitical influence. Russian cultural values, interests, and policy are incompatible with the West. The goal of Russia is to follow its own cultural way by the development of national traditions and cooperation among nationalities of Eurasia. Statists support Russian economic development in the framework of market economy, and consider cooperation with the West and its international organization. In stead of being geopolitically emotional, they think that Russia should balance between US and its rivals. Thus, they perceive Russian geopolitical power and Eurasian dominance in cooperation with or influence on Near Abroad, the West, and Asia in order to increase its geopolitical might.37
Vladimir Ostankov has the same view, head of the Center for Military Strategic Studies of the General Staff, who considers that in the system of changing international relations Russia should rethink its existing priorities and new geopolitical potential.38 He sees Russia, which is in the center of Eurasia, as a link, and one geopolitical space in the triangle of the Atlantic-Pacific Ocean-Indian Ocean.39 The Russian Federation has to use its geopolitical territory, economic potential, and transport network, oil and gas pipelines in order to ensure its own economic development and interaction with different cultures and civilizations. Interaction with former Soviet space, cooperation with European Union, and USA is seen as necessary steps of Russian foreign policy. However, Ostakov argues that long cooperation with the USA is dangerous, as both powers have interests over Eurasia. He opposes NATO enlargement and supports close political and economic cooperation with the Middle East.40
Democratic statists can be compared with the third Russian School of foreign policy Thought, International Institutionalism to some extent.41 Institutionalists are associated with Gorbachev’s New Thinking, which implies international cooperation and acquirement of democratic values. Russia has to become an active participant in international political and economic organizations, should interact with the West, and pursue the notion of “mutual security”.42 After the end of the Cold War and the change of international system, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev supported International Institutionalism vision and claimed that Russia would cooperate with the West based on democracy, human rights, and a free market. However, after 1994 International Institutionalism was abandoned, Kozyrev as a main promoter of the Western ideology was dismissed, and the official foreign policy of Russia was changed.43 It was mainly caused by domestic political and economic problems, and NATO enlargement. Thus, the strategy of close cooperation became shaky and International Institutionalism was challenged by other schools of thoughts.
Russian Foreign Policy Concept
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia lost its geopolitical hegemony, but it retained the tendency towards regaining its influence in the world. This tendency is supported by the geopolitical thinking which underlies Russian foreign policy, and which contains elements of all three geopolitical schools of thought.
The opinions and theories expressed by the New Right School of geopolitical thinking are widely held in the Russian foreign policy establishment. However, these visions are futuristic and assumed to be achievable under much more powerful Russia than it is now. The Russian leaders have to deal with and accommodate to the world and try to use vision based on rational thinking.
Moscow can not control the heartland anymore. Russia has started to lose its influence over post-Soviet space at the beginning of the twenty first century. The range of “orange revolutions” and the tense relations with Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova show that Russia is giving up its geopolitical influence. I consider that this is mainly caused by the strong orientation on domestic development as a priority, rather than geopolitics. However, in analyzing Russian foreign policy, geopolitics still plays an important role.
Geopolitical thinking determines many aspects in General Principles of The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation.44 According to the new concept of Russian Foreign Policy, Russia is required to reevaluate the overall situation around itself, to strengthen its international positions, and to cope with negative tendencies.45 Its main objectives are to insure security of the country, achieve the prestigious positions in the world as a “great power” and “most influential centers of the world.46 Here we can see the manifestation of some visions of New Right thinkers. Russian leaders still consider Russia as a main power and the heartland.
The General Principles of the Russian foreign policy concept also contain visions of other geopolitical thinking schools. The intentions to uphold the rights and interests of Russian speaking minorities can be seen in the pan-Slavinism vision of Zyuganov. Cooperation with UN, development of economy, and further cooperation with other states all underlies the Democratic statists’ vision of geopolitics.
At the same time Russia sees new threats and challenges in the international arena. It contradicts the tendency to establish a “unipolar structure of the world with economic and power domination of the United States”.47 Moreover, Russia argues that its foreign policy is a balanced one, and it supports multipolarity.48 Being the largest Eurasian power according to its geopolitical position, the Russian Federation is claiming to use geopolitical efforts in all directions. It supports the vision of the Eurasian concept of superpower, which unites Europe and Asia, and links other spaces.
If we analyze Russian foreign policy by areas, one may see that geopolitical thinking underlies this policy. Let us start from the Near Abroad, that is mainly CIS countries. The establishment of CIS, and now the Eurasian Economic Community and Collective Security Treaty Organization represents attempts to recreate the Eurasian heartland.49 Russia has a high influence in these organizations, but the fact that CIS countries have created their own spheres of influence and cooperation (GUAM) makes it difficult for Russia to save its geopolitical influence.50 Moreover, “color revolutions” in some post-Soviet countries have made it harder to reestablish the heartland. However, Russia is not going to give up and lose its geopolitical influence in the post-Soviet area. The recent tensions with the gas supply to Ukraine according to European prices have showed that by economic levers Russia can make Ukraine and even Europe vulnerable. Russia claimed that it was only an economic issue which did not have any political basis, but it is obvious that after the “orange revolution” in Ukraine, Russia demonstrates that it has not lost its geopolitical influence in the region. The Russian Federation challenged the whole Europe and showed to the other CIS states that it would not give up its geopolitical positions.
However, at the same time Russia continues to speak about a“geopolitical vacuum” and fears of “geopolitical isolation” within “Eurasian political space”, and about the necessity to reassert Russia’s influence over the Near Abroad.51 Russia interferes in the affairs of the Near Abroad countries claiming that it should insure the security on its southern rim from Islamic fundamentalists. Hence, such policy can be explained by mere geopolitical expansion.
Relations with European states and European Union are a priority of traditional Russian foreign policy.52 Russia pays attention on the security issue, by supporting the importance of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and willingness to adapt the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.53 This policy shows that Russia wants to cooperate with EU as a potential counterbalance to US hegemony. This fact again shows that Russian geopolitical vision underlies its foreign policy. Moreover, there is a high tendency for geopolitical thinking penetration into Russian leadership. Vladimir Putin’s speech in the German Bundestag in September 2001 depicts it. He states that Europe will “reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent center of world politics” if it unites its own potential with Russian one.54 This is a refined version of Moscow-Berlin axis theory made by Dugin and other New Rightists, which is adapted to contemporary realities, and which discloses the influence of geopolitical vision of New Right School.
Still, in promoting its interests Russia has a barrier embodied in NATO.55 Russian security and geopolitical vision contradicts NATO which is a lever of US geopolitical influence. In response, still weak Russia warns Europeans with the possibility of Cold War Peace.56 This growing contradiction with Western geopolitical intentions enforces Russia to play a more assertive role in the relations with US and try to defuse its influence in Asia and the Middle East.
Russian foreign policy with Asia is wrapped up with Eurasianist geopolitical thinking. The Russian government understands that necessary cooperation should be established with its Pacific neighbors. In this sense, Japan seems to be of a great potential for economic and geopolitical interaction. With the beginning of the twenty first century Russo-Japanese relations have improved, which shows the influence of the soft version of the Moscow-Japan axis theory by Dugin and others.
Russia finds crucial the cooperation with China and India, by fostering the world stability and security.57 It considers China and India as key economic and political partners, which shows the reestablishment of the relations with its former Soviet Union allies from a geopolitical point of view. Moreover, the arms trade with these countries supports the idea of the attraction of countries which are unfriendly towards US hegemony.
Russia also continues to have close relations and cooperation with the Middle East and mainly Iran, as a one of the main players there, as reflected by economic and political cooperation, arms trade, and technology support. Russia, by support of Iran, in its geopolitical view tends to counterbalance US, which claims that Iran is a threat to global security. Iran’s assertive policy and attempts to pursue nuclear research are not criticized by Russia. Russia even supports Iran’s nuclear research, which once again reflects its geopolitical thinking vision, and attempts to uphold its influence in the Middle East.
Russia is still weak but its economic development and good leadership shows the tendency towards regaining its geopolitical positions. Geopolitical thinking penetrates more and more into Russian foreign policy and masks itself by economic or political cooperation. Analyses of Russian schools of geopolitical thought disclose that there is no full use of the concepts, visions and theories of one separate school. Instead, Russian foreign policy is based on some aspects of all schools of geopolitical thought, which reflects on the realistic evaluation of Russian resources, abilities, and capacities.
Thus, Russia, led by Eurasianism, considers itself as a pivot area, heartland, global power, which unites a unique civilization with its own identity, culture, history. Geopolitical thinking was and remains a key stone in Russian foreign policy. Realities suppress emotions, but at the same time give a push towards fast development, economic growth, and regaining of power. Hence, with Russia’s growth, geopolitical thinking will be playing an even higher role in the foreign policy of Russia, the country which has faced many declines and wars, and which has always managed to regain and even explore its geopolitical influence on the global arena.
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Smith, Graham. “The masks of Proteus: Russia, geopolitical shift and the new Eurasianism,“ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, vol. 24. no. 4, (1999): 481-494.
Smith, Mark A. “Russian Nationalist Movements and Geopolitical Thinking,” Defence Academy of the United Kingdom: Conflict Studies Research Center, Russian Series, September 2005.
The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (28 June 200), http://www.mid.ru/mid/eng/econcept.html