Anum Khan l

There are certain factors that have contributed towards Russia’s resurgence that must be considered in order to understand Moscow’s foreign policy outlook and national interests. These factors are briefly discussed below:


Leadership is vital in deciding the state policy and its strategic orientation. Since 2000, Vladimir Putin has occupied the seat of Presidency and Premiership. Putin has always envisioned Russia as a great power and has made policies that complement its power interests and strategies. Soon after assuming power in Russia, Putin clamped down upon corrupt bureaucrats and businessmen and began reforming the economy, military and bureaucracy of Russia. The continuity of his terms in office as president and prime minister has enabled him to consolidate these reforms which has improved the life style of a common Russian in addition to modernizing its military and economy.[1]

Domestic Factors

Domestic conditions play an important role in defining the foreign policy of a country. Russians still suffer from the “Afghan syndrome” which refers to the Soviet Afghan invasion which led to the disintegration of former USSR. The present day citizens of Russian Federation are largely orthodox Christians and relate more to the glorious days of Russian Empire which considered itself the protector of Orthodox Christians throughout the world. This sense of restoring Russian influence throughout the world is a factor which has helped President Putin to pursue an aggressive foreign policy. Majority of Russians now see Putin as the savior of Russia and support his belligerent foreign policy.[2]

Russia’s security concerns

After the disintegration of former USSR, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has made inroads in the former Soviet states with many joining the defense organization. In addition to that, the US withdrawal from Anti-ballisitc missile treaty, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the US ingress into Central Asia has forced Russia to change its policy of appeasement and adopt a more aggressive stance towards global issues. It is now at the forefront of nations who are now calling for the return of multi-polar global order. The Russo-Georgian war, annexation of Crimea and the Russian intervention in Syria now suggest that Russia has accumulated enough military strength to challenge the United States and NATO.[3]

Economic concerns of Russia

During the Soviet era, all major defense industrial complexes were developed in eastern parts of Ukraine. In addition to that, major Russian gas pipelines pass through Ukraine. Russian economy is hugely dependent on the exports of gas and any hindrance in its transfer from Russian gas fields to mainland Europe is unacceptable for Russian establishment.

This is the reason that as soon as the pro-Russian Ukrainian government was overthrown, Kremlin came into action and quickly annexed Crimea. It also started supporting the pro-Russian rebels in Donbass region. So far, Russia seems to have prevailed in its struggle against NATO backed government.[4]

Decline of US power

Analysts and observers have attributed the waning US influence over the world as a major reason which enabled Russia to ascend to global prominence. Since the dawn of 21st century, USA has been engaged in bloody and expensive campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately for the US, it has not been able to achieve victory in either of the conflicts. Although, USA did withdraw from Iraq, it has been unable to do so from Afghanistan where Taliban control almost half of the territory. While US has been able to curb its casualties, the economic costs of Afghan war are mounting.[5]

Meanwhile, USA is now engaged in a struggle to contain China. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jingpin announced the initiation of Belt and Road initiative which will connect China with all major economic centers of the world. Moreover, South East Asian Nations have also shown tendency to look away from Washington and be more independent in their decision making process.

Domestic pressure within USA is also growing and isolationists there have called for ending US global engagements and spend more money on the US infrastructure. The global commitments of USA coupled with its waning influence in the world hasplayed positively for Moscow.

Russia has successfully capitalized on EU’s differences with USA on multifaceted issues and has exoanded its influence into Europe. US reluctance to commit troops to Syria provided enough space to Russia to begin its own ‘war against terror’ in the war torn country.

Rise of multi-polarity

New powerful states are emerging in the international political system. The traditional power centres are changing and new regional political and economic blocs are being established. A once unipolar world is transforming into a multipolar one. In this context, Russia and many other states such as BRICS that include Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa are emerging on the political stage.USA is now aware of its power after failure in Iraq and the Afghan war. Such atmosphere has created grounds for regional players and former powerful states like Russia to re-assert themselves.[6]

NATO’s reluctance to engage Russia militarily

Russia did not take NATO’s honeymoon with Georgia lightly and invaded it before it could join the multi-national organization. NATO’s inaction encouraged Russia to adopt a belligerent stance and it did not hesitate to annex Crimea when pro-Russian government was overthrown in Ukraine in 2014. NATO’s reluctance was also visible in Turkey’s standoff with Russia when the former shot down latters bomber in 2015. Moreover, NATO’s aggressive stance in contemporary times have also failed to dissuade Russia from changing its aggressive foreign and military policy.[7]

[1]Jonson, Lena. Vladimir Putin and Central Asia: the shaping of Russian foreign policy. Vol. 1.IB Tauris, 2004.

[2]Donaldson, Robert H., and Joseph L. Nogee. The Foreign Policy of Russia: Changing Systems, Enduring Interests, 2014. Routledge, 2014.

[3]McDonald, David MacLaren. United government and foreign policy in Russia, 1900-1914.Harvard University Press, 1992.

[4]Rosser, J. Barkley, Marina V. Rosser, and Ehsan Ahmed.”Income inequality and the informal economy in transition economies.” Journal of Comparative Economics 28, no. 1 (2000): 156-171.

[5]Stokes, Doug. “Achilles’ deal: Dollar decline and US grand strategy after the crisis.” Review of International Political Economy 21, no. 5 (2014): 1071-1094.

[6]Turner, Susan. “Russia, China and a multipolar world order: The danger in the undefined.” Asian Perspective (2009): 159-184.

[7]Smith, Julianne. The NATO-Russia relationship: defining moment or déjà vu?.CSIS, 2008.

Anum Khan is a graduate of NDU. Her areas of interest include Middle East and South Asia. 


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