Putin signed a foreign-policy strategy document last month that signals Russia’s troubling return to Soviet-era rhetoric and objectives.
By Maksym Skrypchenko
April 15, 2023
The Wall Street Journal
The document, whose creation was occasioned by Mr. Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, offers insight into the Russian president’s mind-set and strategic goals. In particular, it reveals a persistent fixation on anti-Western sentiment and the establishment of a new geopolitical order.
Vladimir Putin signed a foreign-policy strategy document last month that signals Russia’s troubling return to Soviet-era rhetoric and objectives. The document, whose creation was occasioned by Mr. Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, offers insight into the Russian president’s mind-set and strategic goals. In particular, it reveals a persistent fixation on anti-Western sentiment and the establishment of a new geopolitical order.
One of the most striking aspects of the new document is Russia’s self-positioning as an “original state-civilization,” distinct from the West and forming a unique “Russian world.” Propaganda terms such as “Russophobia,” “neo-Nazism,” and “collective West” appear throughout, casting the West as fundamentally hostile. The term “Anglo-Saxon states”—which had previously been used only by informal patriotic groups—has now officially entered the Russian foreign-policy lexicon and signifies a growing hostility to the U.S. and U.K. This shift suggests that Moscow is more than willing to amplify nationalist sentiments and distance itself further from Western powers.
The document also plays down Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, referring to the fighting indirectly and blaming the U.S. and Europe for initiating a “new type of hybrid war.” This rhetoric contrasts with the previous strategy document, which emphasized cultural and spiritual ties with Ukraine. Additionally, the document expands on Russia’s “right to self-defense,” raising concerns about further military aggression.
Russia’s newfound restraint in its language regarding China and India—despite its previously announced “no limits” partnership with Beijing and warming relations with New Delhi—highlights a cautious approach to these emerging powers. The increased attention to Latin America, the Islamic world and Africa is also new, indicating that Moscow now places greater emphasis on relations with non-Western countries. Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela get special mention, as do Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The United Arab Emirates is notable for its absence.
The document’s vision of a new security order in which European states abandon their “confrontational policies and hegemonic ambitions” reflects a long-held Soviet dream of a Europe free from American influence. It reiterates Russia’s willingness for dialogue and
envisions a future in which Washington seeks more-constructive relations, reminiscent of the Soviet-era policy of “peaceful coexistence” and “détente.”
The strategy’s response to Western sanctions demonstrates Russia’s intention to circumvent economic constraints through the creation of alternative monetary and payment systems. This not only underlines Russia’s determination to resist Western pressure; it also indicates a desire to break free from the U.S.-led global economic system.
The document’s language and focus strongly indicate that it was crafted by senior Russian diplomats seeking to mirror Mr. Putin’s positions. Georgia and Moldova aren’t mentioned. Only Belarus is acknowledged among members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. These omissions reflect the Kremlin’s recalibration of its foreign-policy priorities and its intent to forge new alliances while playing down relations with countries that it perceives as hostile or unsupportive.
That Mr. Putin has given his seal of approval to the document raises concerns about the future trajectory of international politics and the potential for increased tensions. Moscow is signaling a deeply concerning shift in Russia’s foreign policy, revealing a resurgence of Soviet ideologies and a confrontational stance toward the West.
Maksym Skrypchenko is president of the Kyiv-based Transatlantic Dialogue Center.