India is more developed than Russia

International security policy

Margarete Klein

Dr. Margarete Klein is a researcher in the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Group at the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) in Berlin. She is one of the leading German experts on Russian politics. Her research areas are the foreign, security and military policy of Russia, especially Russia's Middle East and Asia policy as well as Moscow's relationship to NATO and the Russian military reform.
Contact: [email protected]

China and the rest of the world are inextricably linked. After more than three decades of rapid economic growth, the question increasingly arises as to what role the People's Republic will play in the global power structure of the 21st century.

Russia is increasingly turning away from Europe and the USA and is looking for new partners. The heads of state and government of the BRICS countries Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa (from left to right) in 2013 in Strelna, near Petersburg (& copy ullstein bild - Reuters / SERGEI KARPUKHIN)

In the self-image of its political leadership and population, Russia is a great power. This goes hand in hand with the claim to have a say in all central (security) political issues on a global level and to have its own sphere of influence in the post-Soviet area. After Moscow went through a period of political, economic and military weakness in the 1990s, President Putin has been trying since the turn of the millennium to expand the foundations of Russia's claim to be a great power and to help shape international security policy more actively. This represents a challenge for the European states, as Russia's leadership is increasingly turning away from the West. With the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine, Moscow is also undermining the foundations of the Euro-Atlantic security order.

Russia's vision of the world order: multipolarity

Since the end of the Cold War, Moscow has been striving for a multipolar system to be established on a global level rather than a unipolar order under the leadership of the USA - with Russia as one of the leading poles. This is understood to mean an order in which the responsibility for international security lies primarily with the great powers, which collectively make binding decisions and ensure that they are implemented.

The UN Security Council plays a key role in Russia's vision of the world order. The permanent seat guarantees Moscow the right to have a say and veto on all key issues of international security policy. As a result, it can not only defend its interests in specific cases of conflict, but also have a say in how the legal foundations of the international order - the norms and principles of international law - are interpreted.

At the global level, Moscow is pressing for military operations to be carried out only with a UN mandate and for the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of a state to be broadly interpreted as its humanitarian responsibility to protect. Behind this is the experience of the Kosovo and Iraq wars, when Moscow was unable to prevent unilateral NATO and US operations. The Russian stance was hardened by the war in Libya. In March 2011, Moscow abstained from the UN Security Council, thereby enabling a military operation to protect the Libyan civilian population. Moscow accuses the western states involved of having used the humanitarian responsibility to protect as a cover for an economically and geopolitically motivated change of power.

Although Moscow likes to present itself as the defender of international law, its relationship with it is less normative than instrumental. At the global level, where Russia is too weak to emphasize its interests on its own, it is vehemently pressing for compliance with international principles and the prerogative of the UN Security Council. In the post-Soviet area, where Moscow has a strong position, it breaks norms such as the non-interference requirement or respect for territorial integrity and takes the right to unilateral military operations without a UN mandate. This is shown by the war in Georgia and the annexation of Crimea.

Source text

How influential are the Russian nationalists?

[...] War cannot be planned, not even by such a powerful man as the Russian President. […] In Russia the barricades are growing against the world. A tremendous storm of patriotism has been blowing since the annexation of Crimea. Putin sparked it and intended to control it. But now the radicals are coming up. Years ago a newspaper like Sawtra was marginal, unimportant. Opinions of the editors are now common knowledge. That puts Putin under pressure and restricts him [...]. Now others are taking the lead in the national movement, with increasingly radical demands.

In the Sawtra newspaper office there is a half-height cupboard set up like an altar. On it, Soviet stars shine next to orthodox crosses, tank models and in the middle a large, Byzantine double-headed eagle made of porcelain. Two ornate spouts for the vodka in his stomach grow out of his throat. A red banderole with "J. W. Stalin" hangs around the wings. The altar shows the worldview of Russian nationalists: Christian-Orthodox Stalinism. What does not go together for the inexperienced Western eye is a flourishing symbiosis in today's Moscow. Red and white Russia, Stalinism and tsarist glory, socialism and orthodoxy. Everything that makes Russia look great fits together - or is made to fit.

What fascinates him about the Soviet Union is the ascetic modesty of life, explains Andrei Fefelow, deputy editor-in-chief of the Sawtra newspaper. "It had that in common with Orthodoxy." That too is against the "pomp" that unfortunately prevails in Russia today. His country is far too dependent on international capitalism - and thus on the USA, which dictates the conditions everywhere. But under Putin, Russia is making itself independent again. The only thing missing now is a party that is fighting corruption as hard as Stalin once did.

Russians who think this way [...] went to universities together and trudged across battlefields. [...] In the nineties they warmed themselves up with friends of theirs, writers, directors, and philosophers by re-enacting historical battles and real wars. Some of them fought in Bosnia, Serbia, Chechnya. In Russia, many of them were on the side of the opposition to President Yeltsin in the bloody battle for parliament in 1993. Many write themselves in Sawtra or on websites with a similar focus. They used to be considered weird and extreme. But then, under Putin, Soviet nostalgia and longing for world greatness returned. That is why today the Russian radicals are playing the main role in the war against Ukraine - and fighting for a country they call "Novorossija" (New Russia).

In doing so, they are challenging Vladimir Putin. The president first conquered the Crimea and had the separatists in eastern Ukraine rearm. But then came the bill: sanctions from the West and high subsidies for the Crimea. […] Putin's dilemma: on the one hand, he wants to weaken Ukraine so as not to lose it to the EU. On the other hand, he wants to avoid Russia being isolated internationally and the EU also tightening sanctions against Moscow. That would deepen the economic crisis. That is why Putin is reluctant to invade eastern Ukraine. He still has approval ratings of 80 percent. In the patriotic race, however, he gradually falls behind the New Russia fighters.

Its main philosopher, Alexander Dugin, [...] is the pioneer of the "eternal" contrast between East and West. Russia against America, Eurasia against the Atlantic world, the procession of the cross of the Orthodox parish against the gay parades in the west. Dugin describes the opposition as a "conflict of values." He thinks Moscow is not helping the beleaguered brothers in New Russia enough. But it is not Putin's fault. "That's because of the sixth column in the Kremlin," he says. Dugin means the businessmen in Putin's orbit, the economic liberals and political technologists. [...] Such attacks are dangerous for Putin. [...]

The sympathies of the Russians are certain to the New Russia fighters. According to surveys by the independent Levada Institute, 64 percent of Russians like the role of Russian volunteers in Ukraine. The majority still rejects an invasion of the Russian army, but the number of those who want it has grown to 24 percent in the last few weeks [summer 2014]. [...] After months of brain massage on the evening news, almost 60 percent of Russians support the course against Kiev. [...]

The New Russia patriots, on the other hand, have a clear message. […] [T] he writer Sergej Shargunov […] speaks of the "Russian Spring": It is an uprising against Ukraine, the West, Russian officials and their bribe payers at the same time. The Russian Spring unites left and right, Stalinists, Orthodox Christians, Russians and allied Ukrainians. A radical opposition that rebels against two governments: directly against the one in Kiev and indirectly against Kremlin officials. [...]

This Russian spring threatens Vladimir Putin's reputation. He has to support the nationalists in order to maintain his own image as a general. And he has to fight the nationalists because they want to dictate politics to him. [...] Inwardly, he has to give the hero, outwardly appease them. A change in policy is hardly to be expected. [...]

Michael Thumann, "The breath in Putin's neck", in: DIE ZEIT No. 31 of July 24, 2014



Blockade or creative power?

Moscow's role in international conflicts varies considerably - depending on its own interests and skills as well as its institutional involvement in conflict resolution formats. For example, Russia is part of the multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian and North Korean nuclear disputes (5 + 1 talks, 6-party talks) and, due to its close ties to the leadership in Damascus, plays a key role in the Syrian conflict. In contrast, Moscow hardly appears in the conflicts in Central Africa or in the South China Sea.

Moscow's position in international conflicts is determined on the one hand by its immediate self-interest. On the other hand, the overriding question of the relationship with the USA always plays a role. This is shown by the Russian policy on Iran and Syria.

Although Russia is concerned about the Iranian nuclear program and the escalation of the civil war in Syria solely because of its geographical proximity, it has so far resisted harsh punitive measures or the threat of military force against the leaders there in the UN Security Council. This can only partly be explained by the very close economic, political and military relations that Moscow has with Tehran and Damascus. It is even more interested in Syria and Iran remaining as counterweights to Washington's claim to leadership in the region. Moscow fears that the criticism of the human rights violations in Syria and the Iranian nuclear program are only a pretext for a regime change that would strengthen the US position in the region, but weaken that of Russia.

In international conflicts such as the Syria, Iran and North Korea conflicts, Moscow primarily uses its blocking power in the UN Security Council. It is true that the Russian initiative to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons stocks shows that Moscow is also acting as a creative power. However, it is more difficult for him to formulate constructive proposals for solutions and to gain the necessary international support. Firstly, this has to do with the fact that Russia lacks real strategic partners or allies. Second, Moscow often lacks the financial or military resources to underpin its initiatives. The fact that Russia hardly (or no longer) plays a role in some regional conflicts - for example in Africa, Southeast Asia or the Balkans - is also due to the fact that it has considerably reduced the participation of its soldiers in UN-mandated peace operations since the 1990s . Thirdly, it is questionable to what extent Russia is interested in a final solution to some of the conflicts - as in the cases of Syria, North Korea and Iran. From the unsolved situation, Moscow finally draws influence. However, such a strategy also harbors incalculable security risks for Russia.