Who can be a friend of Putin?

Putin and his friend?
Reuters

Welcome to today’s Motherland Russia blog! It is time to analyze Putin’s relationships with other states and their leaders. If we try to study the causes for cooperation or clashes among countries, the line between two main factors becomes blurry: on the one hand, we have the historical friendship said states have had and on the other hand, we have the animosity their current leaders show. It is obvious that Putin’s relationship with different world leaders has an important impact on Russia’s foreign policy. What might not be so clear are the causes leading to the actions that Putin takes towards another state or vice versa. We will blame it on Ideology.

First, it is necessary to have some basic knowledge of Russian politics.

United Russia is the biggest party, and has constituted the majority of the Duma since 2007. Their de facto leader is, of course, Vladimir Putin, who rules following what it is known as Russian Conservatism.

As part of this conservative ideology, strong and well-established institutions become a key factor for the success of the state. Consequently, it is not surprising that United Russia preaches for the Government’s intervention in the economy and opposes in all ways possible to the effects of globalization and economic liberalism (although there is a maximum to which this ideal can be pushed, since Russia’s economy is highly dependent on its natural resources’ trade, among other assets).

Nevertheless, today, the Russian system does incorporate elements of free trade and privatization, which did not happen under the old Communist system. Thus, even though many elements of a past ideology and a past era are present, Russia has undergone severe changes in its system after the Cold War

Is Russia more compatible with liberal capitalist Western states and their leaders?

Now that we know Russia is not a communist system per se, is the country more compatible with liberal capitalist Western states and their leaders? Again, the answer is: not really.

If we examine this point from a foreign policy perspective, it is not truly difficult to realize that relations between the West and Russia are still pretty tense. We could attribute this situation to the leftovers of centuries of fighting with Europe, or to the culmination of Russia’s deviation from the West through the Cold War. But the truth is that everything comes back to ideology and to Putin’s nationalist discourse, which attempts to convince the citizenship that the Russian Federation can be as influential as its Empire once was. 

Comparing it to the US, not even the most Republican of all Republicans will have the impact, population-wise, that the conservative ideology of the post-Communist era has had. America will still be the cradle for capitalism, liberalism and political freedoms; meanwhile, the Kremlin is more than happy to portray the opposite image. Territorial disputes, with Georgia or Ukraine as the best examples, are a consequence of Russia’s nationalism. And nationalism is a core characteristic of the government’s ideology so… antagonism between Europe or NATO and Russia is not likely to disappear anytime soon.

In any case, why would Putin need any of the Western countries as allies?

Putin has found plenty of friends in the emerging world. It is true, while Putin and his government ought to remain respectful towards the West in order to preserve their trade agreements, the main goal is to gain influence in the rest of the globe. Great examples of these friendships are mostly seen on how supportive the Russian Federation is towards authoritarian regimes. Some of the most recent examples? Venezuela or Syria make it to the top. In these cases, we see how Putin has openly supported the legitimacy of both Maduro and Assad, basing his claims on International Law.

The Pew Research Center has gathered international public opinion data on Russia, and the findings coincide with the above information. Among the most favourable countries, we can find Vietnam or South Korea, but also some African states.

China? The information is mixed. While there has been an increase of friendly relations between both countries, especially in the form of trade and military ties, in the end, they are competing for the position as the new world’s hegemon. The Sino-Russian relationship, while still threatening to the West, has a lot of issues to overcome, especially the struggle for power in Asia.

As you can see, Russia’s foreign policy is anything but simple. Putin’s opinions on other leaders have a lot of influence in the decisions the Russian government will take (visible when analyzing the ties he has built with the countries previously mentioned), but the way the system has been built has a big role to play. Nonetheless, the system is, indeed, a reflection of Putin’s personal ideology. As a result, drawing the line between history and current ideological reasons becomes almost impossible (particularly in countries with controlled citizen freedoms… hey there Russia).

Elvira Bermúdez Fernández

General Coordination-Internal