عنوان مقاله [English]
Putin had a more modest foreign policy rhetoric and seemed to be far more pragmatic than Primakov during his first term of presidency. However, such conditions did not last long and Russian government chose a more assertive stance once political stability was ensured and economic growth showed signs of improvement. In the following article we have assumed that similar patterns of thinking and acting which have not been necessarily subject to considerable changes as a result of vibrant conditions can be found in Russian foreign policy. It seems as if guiding principles of foreign policy are deeply embedded in political culture of the country. Despite some tactical changes to compensate for country’s backwardness and economic difficulties as a historical tradition, Russians have never retreated from claiming the status of a globally recognized great power and international rule maker. In this article using descriptive-analytical method we have examined the following: “Despite domestic and international ups and downs, how can continuity in the rhetoric and action of Russian foreign policy since 2004 be explained?” Our hypothetical answer to this question is that: “Russian foreign policy has very deep ideational roots influencing the nature and identity of the state, which have been shaped through centuries by natural-geographical characteristics of the land, and historical and intellectual developments.”
In 21st century, Russia still recognizes itself by standards and norms which are different from Western ones. In addition, Russian official discourse perceives this country as a geopolitical pole and guarantor of conservative values. Therefore, it looks down on post-sovereignty stage and supranationalism of the European type and even welcomes schism in European Union and the rise of far right parties in European Union member states.
During long periods of history, economic modernization of Russia seemed to be only second to preserving security which has faced constant threats especially through Russian leaders' eyes. Russia's high profile as a great power, a nuclear power, a permanent member of United Nations Security Council and one of the pillars of international system besides Europe and United States is absolutely vital to Russian political elites. Russia's interaction with international system and its relations with adjacent regions take place in such a context.
Constructivist approach can help us explain reasons for continuity in Russia's foreign policy. Constructivists claim that foreign policy decisions are formed by culture, because shared ideas and meanings shape identities and interests of states. According to this approach, social identity of political actors is formed by normative and ideational structures. When we understand that identities are made by non-material structures, we can more easily comprehend and explain a wide range of political phenomena which do not necessarily seem rational at first sight.
Although Putin is not the first proponent of the idea of a Russia which is doomed to act as a great power, he has turned this idea into reality much more successfully in comparison with his predecessor. His success is partially beholden to external factors such as energy price and partially beholden to internal factors like drawing a clear perspective of Russia's future and mobilizing resources to realize that goal. Putin abides by a consensus among Russian elites on the international status of Russia. In other words, Russia's foreign policy roadmap cannot be described as a personal decision made by Putin. Instead it has been agreed upon by majority of political and the intellectual elite.
Various factors have contributed to the formation of a great power discourse which is now deeply embedded in the Russian elite’s mindset. Over the centuries, several factors which will be discussed in this article have influenced Russian elite’s perceptions and brought about continuity in foreign policy to a great extent. We have divided reasons for such continuity into three categories: Natural features of Russian territory, historical developments and intellectual developments represented by different schools of thought.
Unique geography of Russia has always affected the tools of ensuring security and threat-perceptions. Coping with limitations caused by geography and nature had been a big concern for foreign policymakers. Historical developments over more than a dozen centuries since the establishment of the first Russian state have paved the way for endurability of Russian exceptionalism. As mentioned above, besides natural features and historical developments, we investigate intellectual developments and their impact on Russian foreign policy. Westernism, civilizationalism and statism represent major trends influencing Russian foreign policy over at least the last two centuries.
From all this, we conclude that historical and geopolitical context in which the identity of Russian state has been raised, have led to the creation of a persistent system of meanings and ideas that is still influencing long-term foreign policy strategy of Russia. Russia is usually discussed and investigated as an exceptional country; an outsider among Western nations and a European among non-Western nations. Russia has been exempt from most of the historical changes and transformations of Europe or have experienced them partially and decades after other Europeans. Geography, climate and natural features have influenced historical events and shaped unique geopolitical traits of Russia. Political culture and identity formed by these factors always affect foreign policy choices of Russian policymakers. Consensus on the necessity of ensuring Russia's great power status and its privileged and determining role in former Soviet states is categorically shared by almost all Russian officials. Since 2004 such an idea has been expressed much more evidently and challenging it seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. Although Russian state is not inclined to be stuck in a full-fledged confrontation with other great powers, it does not give up on its plan to restore the balance of power system of the 19th century type. Russian foreign policy cannot be explained by a cost-benefit analysis and material calculations. Self-concept of Russian state as a great power determines possible choices and justifies material losses caused by some policies which are instigated by identity discourse. Political elite’s interpretation of Russia's national interests is to a great extent shaped by the enumerated geographical, historical and intellectual factors and does not necessarily reflect immediate material and economic interests of the country.