Work on the new Russian Foreign Policy Concept was started in 2021, while its broad features were discussed and approved at a session of the Security Council in January 2022, before the invasion of Ukraine. It was finally published on March 31, 2023.
The man who announced
the Concept in December 2022 and who was presumably responsible for its ideological content is Alexei Drobinin, a relatively young functionary (born in 1974) in the Russian diplomatic corps. In 2021, he assumed a leading position in the strategically important international planning department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and hitherto had been keeping a low profile. As side products of his work on the Concept, he authored two analytical papers, one for the journal Mezhdunarodnaya zhizn’
(2022) and another for Rossiia v global’nom politike
/Russia in Global Affairs
(2023), which provide valuable insight into the ideological atmosphere at the ministry and in the Russian political mainstream in general.
The first paper, entitled “Lessons of History and Visions of the Future
,” features a rather distinct list of literature. It refers first of all to a group of the foreign policy analysts from pro-government think tanks, such as the Valdai Club, Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP) and the journal Russia in Foreign Affairs
, namely Sergei Karaganov (two times), Dmitri Trenin, Timofei Bordachev and Fyodor Lukyanov. Natalya Narochnitskaya, a member of the Izborsky Club
, is mentioned twice. Finally, there is a group of thinkers from the past: the monarchist emigree Ivan Solonevich, the theorist of isolationist geopolitics Vadim Tsymbursky and the idiosyncratic anti-Western philosopher Alexander Zinoviev
. The second article, “Vision of a Multipolar World
” (2023), again has, as its sources of inspiration, Karaganov, Lukyanov and Tsymbursky, as well as 19th-century conservative Nikolai Danilevsky, the usual suspect Ivan Ilyin,
and more specific studies on the civilizational approach in international relations by Alexander Neklessa and Vitaly Naumkin.
With this ideological panopticon in mind, we can now approach the final product
, whose central ideological component is the interpretation of Russia as a “distinctive (samobytnaia
) state-civilization” (article 4). In the same breath, the article calls Russia a “vast Eurasian and Euro-Pacific power,” which is an almost verbatim rendering of how Drobinin identifies Russia is his paper: “a distinctive (samobytnaia)
civilization, the largest Eurasian and Euro-Pacific power.” None of these three elements – civilization, Eurasia, Euro-Pacific – is new for the mental horizon of Putin’s Russia, though their combination in a strategic document is unusual. The Concept, indeed, lays out the ideology of Putinism in the most unambiguous way.Russia as a civilization
The idea of Russia as a separate civilization stems from post-Soviet academic discussions seeking to supplant the Marxist teleological and universalistic vision of history with the idea of unique historical trajectories for each “civilization.” This approach was inspired by Samuel Huntington’s famous “clash of civilizations
” concept and the dusted-off magnum opus Russia and Europe
(1869) by Nikolai Danilevsky. By the time Putin was toying with the idea of Russia as a “state-civilization” in his article
of 2012, it had crystallized as a powerful criticism of Western-led globalization and an assertion that each “civilization” has its unique grid of basic values.
Drobinin’s paper of 2023 clarifies three aspects of the civilizational qualities of Russian identity and statehood, as they are understood today: 1) absolute sovereignty; 2) self-sufficiency in economic and geographic terms; and 3) the existence of “our own philosophy of development.” He later on elaborates that a civilization always has a core and “peripheries.”
In this context, the term “near abroad” to the Concept (article 49) makes a conspicuous return: “the CIS and other neighboring countries, linked with Russia by centuries of common statehood, profound interdependency in various spheres, shared language and proximate cultures” are, according to this vision, part of the “cultural-civilizational unity” of the “Russian world,” and cannot be fully sovereign. The “near abroad” tops the list of strategic priorities in the Concept, followed by the Arctic and Eurasia (articles 50-53), underpinning an introverted geopolitical optic that is centered on Russia as a “state-civilization,” which is surrounded by concentric circles: the “Russian world,” the Eurasian continent and the belt of friendly and allied Asian “civilizations.”
While Russia’s ruler and his clique keep on pontificating about their openness to the world and integration, it is hard not to feel a tinge of paradoxical isolationism in this program: a high level of integration with territorially adjacent and culturally compatible regions is a means to an ultimate end of civilizational autonomy. Each “civilization” looks like an abridged version of the entire humanity, be it the “Russian world” or the “Chinese world.” They can befriend each other, but the most fundamental principles of this proposed “more stable and more just, multipolar world order” are self-sufficiency and noninterference. Russia as a Eurasian Euro-Pacific power
Another central idea of the Concept is Russia’s Eurasian identity, which has an impressive intellectual pedigree and level of institutionalization in Putin’s Russia (for example, the Eurasian Economic Union launched in 2015). Compared with the previous Concept from 2016
, in which Eurasia is mentioned twice, the new document aligns Russian foreign policy with Eurasia in the most direct way, referring to this geopolitical construct 24 (!) times.
Even more consequential is the introduction of the term “Euro-Pacific power,” which, again, is not something completely new, having been discussed at the Valdai Club and affiliated think tanks since at least 2014. The “Euro-Pacific” identity of Russia implies its continental character as a “large space” (Groβraum
). Ideas about a qualitatively different nature of “large spaces,” originating in the works of Carl Schmitt and Karl Haushofer and mediated by Alexander Dugin and his disciples, have trickled down to the political mainstream
and to the publications of some key propagandists (e.g. Dmitri Kulikov