ACCORDING to many of our international relations experts, a presidential decree to approve a new edition of the Foreign Policy Concept of Russia will become one of the most important novelties of 2022. It will be the sixth doctrinal document in our country’s recent history: Previous versions of the key diplomatic “manifesto” were issued in 1993, 2000, 2008, 2013, and 2016. The media treat them as everyday occurrences when in fact they provide us with a unique opportunity to trace all transformations in the foreign policy thinking of the country’s leaders and to analyze the events and trends of the last 30 years, the response to which has determined the nature and substance of the conceptual foundations of Russia’s foreign policy. More than 30 years have passed since the Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1991. A new generation that grew up, studied at, and graduated from institutions of higher education knows next to nothing about the Soviet superpower, bipolar confrontation, socialist internationalism, and games with “inter-imperialist” contradictions. The system of Russia’s foreign policy priorities has been broken, reestablished, and altered several times. This and the country’s revival inspired us to reassess an article published in 2007 [1] and to correct assessments made then of global processes.

1993 Foreign Policy Concept

THE ADOPTION and publication of the Foreign Policy Concept (FPC), the most significant diplomatic document, is a product of the collective efforts of the entire state apparatus that is subordinate to the head of state. The Foreign Ministry plays a central and coordinating role in those efforts. It is more than just an attempt to present the key approaches of the country’s leadership to the main global and regional problems in a specific historical period in order to construct an image of the desired future; it is a factual reflection of the changes taking place in international relations in general and in Russia’s domestic policy in particular that determine its foreign policy activity.

The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation of April 21, 1993 [2], was formulated by President Boris Yeltsin, Secretary of State Gennady Burbulis, Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev, and many others amid the most significant events of the end of the Cold War: the unification of Germany, the “velvet revolutions” in East European countries, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and COMECON, the disintegration of the Soviet Union (on the ruins of which the CIS emerged and numerous ethnic conflicts flared up), painful democratic changes inside the country (the so-called “shock therapy,” President Yeltsin’s confrontation with the Supreme Soviet, centrifugal trends that were growing increasingly obvious, etc.). As if that was not enough, new Russia was to become integrated into the postbipolar system of international relations, which implied not only membership in multilateral organizations of various sorts but also the signing of standardized treaties on the foundations of relations with foreign states.

Conceptualizing Russia’s approaches was not an easy task considering that in the early 1990s, the new Russian diplomacy had no foreign policy doctrine of its own and no experience formulating one, so the first conceptualized foreign policy constructs were products of the Soviet theoretical basis that existed in the late 1980s. Terminology and ideology were of course immediately adjusted, but adjusting the logic of professionals and politically active citizens educated under the Soviet system proved harder. It is no wonder that the first generation of Russia’s foreign policy doctrines, two of them in in particular, relied on revised Soviet ideas.

The first foreign policy doctrine was deeply rooted in “Leninist-Trotskyite-Stalinist” times and the second in Gorbachev’s “perestroika.” The first premise adopted by the new authorities in Russia and willingly accepted by society was “create favorable external conditions for strengthening the foundations of democratic institutions” [2]. It was, in fact, very similar to the main aim of Soviet Russia’s foreign policy – creating external conditions for socialist construction – formulated in the 1920s by Vladimir Lenin (Ulyanov) and Leon Trotsky (Bronstein).

The second premise developed the logic of “new political thinking” of the latter half of the 1980s and its idea of common humanitarian values. The survival of humankind and its protection from the threat of nuclear war was its main aim. In the early 1990s, under President Yeltsin, democratization of the world became an element of new political thinking. It was expected that democratization could be achieved through the concerted efforts of all democratic countries, which Russia joined after 1991.

That led to the idea of “democratic solidarity,” accepted as a more or less revised idea of “socialist internationalism,” very familiar to all Russians. In the Soviet Union, it was interpreted as a doctrine about common historical fates and common basic interests of the socialist countries. “Democratic solidarity,” in turn, was presented as an attractive hypothesis; it was expected that all democratic countries of the world together with Russia would show solidarity, considering other’s interests and helping each other as befits countries with common interests. 

The idea of a favorable environment for democracy was more pragmatic and more concrete, while the idea of solidarity was more abstract. The hypothesis of solidarity was heavily infused with ideology; at the practical level, however, these ideas intertwined. Russian leaders in the 1990s overstated the role of solidarity with the West as a tool for securing a favorable international environment, dismantling the Soviet order, and creating a democratic one in its place.

Diplomats of the early 1990s faced the daunting political and psychological challenge of integrating Russia into the dramatically changed international milieu with minimal losses. The Soviet Union had been the main force opposing “world capitalism” on the global scale. New Russia had to get used to the ordinary role of a democratic country on par with others.

The Soviet people had been taught to think that they lived in “the world’s first state of triumphant socialism.” This was an important component of self-assessment, the basis of the foreign policy ideology and ideas of the “worldwide historic mission” of the Soviet Union as the leader of world communism.

Citizens of new Russia had no reasons to think the same of their country. In fact, in the new international community that Russia was striving to join, the place of leader and “messiah” was already held by the US. It, very much as the Soviet Union, believed itself to be a unique country – “the world’s first state of triumphant freedom” and the “leader of world democracy.” The US claimed to be carrying out a “historic mission” to support democracy all over the world.

After the Soviet Union’s disintegration, the US strengthened its claims to global leadership. Given the balance of forces between Moscow and Washington in the 1990s, the issue of their rivalry could not be discussed. Russian diplomacy had to balance Russia’s positions on international issues with the positions of the US as well as the West European countries that together with unified Germany declared themselves the European Union in 1992. Russia simply sided with the US and the EU on the main international issues.

In 1992-1993, Russian leaders avoided making any clear statements about specific national interests in the realm of foreign policy. Its interests were identified as the interests of all democratic countries, the interests of the “community of world democracies” as a whole. Russian leaders persistently sought to persuade their skeptical foreign partners that the Russian Federation merely wanted to support Western initiatives. Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev was a typical figure in that respect.

His “democratic solidarity” line was especially manifest during the initial period of Yugoslavia’s disintegration. In the early 1990s, Russia unreservedly supported the emergence of new independent states on the territory of Yugoslavia – Slovenia, Croatia, and, later, Bosnia and Macedonia. Moscow, together with the EU countries and ever before the US, fully recognized the new governments. Washington dragged its feet, expecting certain problems in the event of expected objections from Moscow and a potential war in the Balkans. Russia’s refusal to support the central government in Belgrade, which opposed the separatists of Slovenia and Croatia, surprised many Western diplomats.

Russian leaders had their reasons. President Yeltsin came to power under the slogan of “Russia’s self-determination and separation from the USSR.” So in the early 1990s in the Balkans, Russia had to demonstrate that Moscow supported the “self-determination of nations” principle in all international contexts. In fact, Russia’s leaders supported the same principle inside their country – a dangerous and risky course.

In this respect, Russia’s foreign policy was a reflection and continuation of its domestic policy. By dismantling the Soviet order inside the country, the Russian government helped destroy what remained of the old international order seen as part of the Soviet legacy that could be done away with. Moscow thus wanted to demonstrate its solidarity with the West. Meanwhile, the US and the EU were discussing a new world order and global democratic society.

In the first half of the 1990s, Russia, which had enough problems at home to cope with, could not pursue an active foreign policy. The growing American presence in Central and Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet countries stirred no protest or opposition. In 1993, Russia showed no concern over America’s concept of expanding democracy. In fact, it even approved of it in futile expectation of material gains.

That concept proclaimed America’s most important foreign policy task to be supporting democratic reforms and building democracy in the former socialist countries of Europe. Theoretically, Russia was one of those countries, but in reality, America’s democratization was limited to former members of the Warsaw Pact “minus Russia.”

The implementation of the “expanding democracy” concept ruptured all economic, cultural, and other ties between these countries and Russia. They reoriented themselves toward economic engagement with the EU and political and military cooperation with the US.

At the same time, Russia’s tolerance of American activities in Eastern Europe brought certain benefits. The US and the EU countries supported Moscow’s requests to international financial institutes – the IMF and World Bank. Large loans from those organizations helped Russia survive: For several years starting in 1992, the country verged on economic collapse due to the “shock therapy” of Yegor Gaidar’s government.

It is telling that while the West extended preferential assistance to the East European countries, it never did the same for Russia. Financial and economic aid was extended to Russia on regular terms. The West had its own reasons: First, it was very important to implement the reforms in smaller and medium-sized former socialist countries as quickly as possible.

Second, it was in the interests of international creditors to burden Russia with big financial obligations, the interest on which together with the principal debt would be higher than the initial sum of the loans. Western organizations were willing to lend: They knew that Russia would pay them back sooner or later with the money earned from energy exports.

Third, Russia’s loan commitments gave international institutions leverage to influence the Russian government’s economic policy. The IMF and the World Bank lent money on tough conditions that allowed them to control the debtor country.

In the first half of the 1990s, Russia scaled back its ties not only with former socialist countries, but also with the countries of the Arab East, South Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Russia “withdrew” from regions where it had maintained military and political cooperation or had geopolitical plans when the Soviet Union was aspiring to global leadership.

Inside Russia, this diplomatic retreat was attributed to the need to rationalize the use of limited foreign policy resources. Outside Russia, this was presented as deliberate avoidance of unnecessary rivalry with the West in places of little significance for Russia’s interests and great significance for the US and the EU (Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa). Back then, few expected that the West would soon start to consider the belt of post-Soviet states (Transcaucasia, Ukraine, and, to a lesser extent, Central Asia) a zone of its special interests.

Russia’s domestic policy became the subject of official bilateral discussion at the international level for the first time in the mid-1990s. This was a substantial new development, because the Soviet Union had consistently refused to discuss its domestic policy at the international level. All Soviet concepts of peaceful coexistence invariably confirmed the right of each country to choose its own political order. That was confirmed by the Helsinki Pact of 1975 and many other international documents.

In June 1992, Moscow moved away from that principle. The preamble and several articles of the Charter for American-Russian Partnership and Friendship, signed in Washington during Boris Yeltsin’s visit to the US, specified principles that Russian leaders were ready to follow in its domestic policy, which the US was ready to support. The sides declared “their determination to observe strictly democratic principles and practices, including the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities” [3]. For the first time in its long history, Russia signed a document with a foreign state that regulated certain provisions related to its domestic policy. Russian and foreign political analysts began to use the expression “Russia’s homework” to refer to the moral and political obligations that Russia had assumed and promised to implement in order to prepare for full-fledged partnership with the West.

The same document spoke of “indivisible security for nations from Vancouver to Vladivostok.” Having signed the Charter, Russia, for the first time in its history officially tied its national security to the national security of NATO members. Russia’s leaders at that time associated their country’s security with cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance.

The period of shaping “quasi-allied” relations with the US began. American politicians talked about cooperation in democratic changes in Russia as the cornerstone of the two countries’ rapprochement.

Two years of economic disasters (1992-1993), an economic crisis, wage arrears on a massive scale, inflation, rising prices, and strikes were associated with radical liberal reforms. The left-leaning opposition accused the president of disregarding national interests and pursuing a policy in the interests of the West. The events of October 1993, when Yeltsin suppressed the opposition of deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation, fueled negative attitudes toward the government.

The first elections to the Russian State Duma in December 1993, which took place simultaneously with the adoption of the new Constitution and the only vote in history on the composition of the Federation Council, demonstrated a sharp drop in the popularity of pro-Yeltsin forces and an increase in nationalist sentiments. The large “opposition” movements on the right (the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia [LDPR] with 22%) and on the left (the Communist Party of the Russian Federation [CPRF] with 21% and the Agrarian Party with 8%) outstripped the main “pro-Yeltsin” parties – Yegor Gaidar’s Choice of Russia (15.5%), Alevtina Fedulova’s Women of Russia (8%), and Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko (7.8%). The victors appointed Ivan Rybkin, a member of the Agrarian Party, chairman of the Duma. Enthusiasm fanned by expectations of considerable profits from cooperation with the West, from which the liberal part of Russian society had expected real assistance in the name of “democratic solidarity,” was gradually weakening. Doubts about the West’s true aims with respect to Russia were mounting. Americans were accused of seeking to profit from Russia’s disastrous situation.

Unwilling to alter the foreign policy course, the leaders tried to adjust official parlance. Early in 1994, Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev, in his first remarks after the Duma elections, started talking about Russia’s “special interests” in the former Soviet republics. No steps to increase activity in the CIS followed, yet his words symbolized a new trend: Under the pressure of public sentiment, the leaders finally realized that the ideological and theoretical components of Russia’s foreign policy needed to be modified.

The Russian authorities tried to combine the logic of “democratic solidarity” and elements of liberal nationalism, with the unquestioned supremacy of the former. In practice, the course toward political coordination with the US and the EU countries continued, albeit with certain reservations and attempts by Russian diplomats to formulate demands.

In these conditions, either Russia had to become an effective, including military-political, instrument of solidarity with the West or it needed to clearly delineate the limits of rapprochement with it. In the first case, Russia was probably expected to be involved with NATO in the Balkans or peacekeeping operations in Africa. In the second, it should have formulated certain rules of interaction to keep the actions of NATO and Russia within certain limits.

The realities of the mid-1990s were growing increasingly contradictory. In 1995, the war in Bosnia reached its peak; NATO’s invasion stirred up criticism in Russia of Western powers and, closer to home, of Yeltsin and Kozyrev, who proved unable to prevent the intervention.

In 1995, the election of the second convocation of the State Duma carried out under the new Constitution revealed that the president was losing popularity while anti-Western forces in Russia were gaining popularity: the CPRF won the elections and appointed Gennady Seleznev chairman of the Duma. The LDPR and the Agrarian Party and the newly formed People’s Power faction gained over half of the seats. The pro-Yeltsin parties (Victor Chernomyrdin’s Our Home is Russia and Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko) captured less than one-fourth of the seats, clearly showing their inability to alter the strategic alignment of forces in their favor even if they were to join forces with small blocs or independent deputies who together controlled the remaining quarter of the seats.

The West took those trends into account in its own way and, in 1995, began openly discussing NATO’s eastward expansion. Moscow assessed that as an attempt to pressure Russia and even as a latent threat. Yeltsin won the spring 1996 presidential election in the second round after unprecedented pressure on CPRF candidate Gennady Zyuganov and thanks to the financial support of the most influential businessmen (the so-called “seven bankers”) and the votes of those who in the first round had voted for General Alexander Lebed.

In this situation, the authorities made an intentionally symbolic replacement. The “too pro-Western” Kozyrev was replaced in early 1996 with Yevgeny Primakov, who had a reputation as a strong politician and moderate etatist. The new Russian foreign minister spoke a lot about Russia’s national interests, making them a constant refrain in his speeches and in his subordinates’ remarks.

Foreign journalists and some of their Russian colleagues began calling him an anti-Western politician who preferred an Asian or “pro-Chinese” orientation. In fact, he was an avowed etatist who considered the continuation of the decentralization course that was being carried out in Russia under slogans of democratization disastrous. Because economic and political decentralization was being carried out by Western experts according to Western patterns, Primakov, who knew better than many the real state of affairs in the Russian provinces, was wary of the influence of the West on Russian policy. He condemned not cooperation with the US and EU but the policy of “unconditional acceptance” of Western initiatives.

Primakov started talking more about Russia’s relations with its Eastern neighbors – Japan, China, India, and the Arab countries [4]. He considered the scaling back of relations with Latin America and Africa unjustified. To help balance out the unconditional loyalty to the US and the EU, the new foreign minister tried to formulate a trend toward multipolarity as a tool for limiting the absolute power of the US.

As a realist, he was fully aware of the comparative potentials of the world powers and never questioned the course of [pursuing] partnership with the mightiest of them. He did not want opposition with the West: He merely viewed his task as getting the West to coordinate with Moscow on all important decisions than might infringe on its interests. In 1991-1995, Russian diplomacy did not dare do that.

In the latter half of the 1990s, Russian diplomacy sought to minimize the losses caused by the main international processes in which Russia was involved but had no voice. That had been the new pragmatic and, in a way, rational logic – the foreign policy resources of Russia remained very limited.

Primakov continued to talk about multipolarity as a world without a clear leader, yet the concepts of Russia maintaining equal “distance from” or “closeness to” the East and the West were not supported let alone officially discussed [5]. He never questioned the orientation toward partnership with the West. Moscow merely started to protect its interests more actively, especially when they were infringed upon or threatened due to the natural course of history or disregarded by influential powers that could influence world processes more effectively than Russia.

The US was determined to impose its national interest as the global interest. Russia, for its part, believed that it should resist the US while doing its best to retain its partnership with Washington in this “tug of war.” The level of partnership periodically wavered, yet the extent of the ups and downs remained within certain limits.

In the latter half of the 1990s, Russia’s foreign policy no longer relied on “democratic solidarity.” The West did not demonstrate “solidarity” with Russia’s requirements. Russia, having already lost some of its great power status under the burden of domestic problems, lost many of its spheres of influence in the area of its natural economic attractions at its borders. In the minds of ordinary Russians, democratization was associated with decentralization, separatism, and the threat of continued disintegration. The foreign policy doctrine needed revision and readjustment.

Conceptually, Russia’s foreign policy in the second half of the 1990s could best be described as “selective partnership.” The concept was focused on preferential cooperation with the US and EU but emphasized persistent negotiations with the West in which Russia would defend its opinion and stand up for the right to decide for itself when it should side with its Western partners and when it should move away from them. The new approach was maintained under Igor Ivanov, who replaced Primakov in the fall of 1998 when the latter was appointed prime minister.

Foreign policy events of that period reflect the duality of the “selective partnership” logic: emotional protests against NATO expansion plans on one hand and, on the other, the signing in 1997 in Paris of the NATO-Russia Founding Act to adapt Russia to that expansion; sharp diplomatic tension over NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1998-1999 on one hand and, on the other, a refusal to transfer diplomatic differences over the Balkans to other spheres of Russia’s relationships with the West; talk about the need to promote multipolarity on one hand and, on the other, movement toward full membership in the G8 in which the US was and remains the most influential member.

A foreign policy formula based on pragmatism and principles was finally found. It was principled in that it never doubted partnership with the West and pragmatic in that it relied on the logic of “selectivity” (resistance or partnership), which added much needed flexibility to Russia’s policy. Russia supported the US and the EU in some cases and declined to support them in others.

Selectivity was determined by national interests, yet the range of possibilities was limited by Russia’s orientation on cooperation with America and the EU. Under Foreign Minister Ivanov, Russian diplomacy did not claim any ambitious ideological and philosophical novelties. It balanced between its growing irritation with America’s self-confidence and its awareness that no country in the world was prepared to moderate America’s ambitions.

The summer 1998 financial crisis, which public opinion blamed on the shady dealings of Russian bureaucrats and transnational financial networks, increased public rejection of Yeltsin’s policies. The West, having assessed Russia’s weaknesses, decided that Russia could be further disregarded. While operations in Bosnia could be passed off as the result of a coordinated agreement between Russia, NATO, and the EU, the 1999 intervention by Western countries in the Kosovo conflict clearly ignored Moscow’s position.

Russia responded particularly strongly to the ideological reasons for NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia (in fact, Serbia). Officially, NATO intervened to halt human rights violations in Kosovo. In fact, the use of military force against Belgrade was the first use of the “regime change” doctrine that Washington officially formulated several years later. Slobodan Milošević’s government was neither democratic nor liberal. But the fight that Belgrade was waging with the Albanian separatists was to preserve the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and security. NATO and its members ignored that fact and ideologized the conflict as the “struggle of the Albanian population of Kosovo against the authoritarian regime of former communist Milošević.”

In fact, former communists were at the helm of many East European countries, including Russia. In Moscow, much was said about how it was Russia’s nuclear arsenal that prevented the West from using force against the Russian government for the same official reasons it was being used against Milošević. It would have been easy to find a pretext: Fighting was taking place in the Chechen Republic, were a hotbed of terrorism had appeared in the early 1990s. Terrorists were killing and plundering locals (mainly non-Chechens), throwing them out of their homes, occupying villages and towns, and causing a lot of civilian deaths.

In spring 1999, at the height of the “Kosovo crisis,” President Yeltsin decided to revise the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation. Its new version, officially adopted in 2000, established the right of first nuclear strike, which the Soviet Union had voluntarily abandoned in the late 1970s. This made the Military Doctrine of Russia identical to the NATO Strategic Concept adopted at the 1999 Washington session of the NATO Council, which confirmed the “first nuclear strike” provision.

The experience of the 1990s not only liberated Russia and the West from mutual illusions but prevented a confrontation. In 2000, the experience of Russian-NATO cooperation in the latter half of the 1990s was summed up in the second generation of Russia’s foreign policy doctrine that was formulated in the spirit of “selective partnership” [6]. Russia rejected its earlier liberal course of state building in favor of moderate etatism (“selective patriotism.”) The term was not specified, yet it became obvious that there was a more or less equal number of “liberals” and “etatists” in the political elite of Russia.

The 2000 Foreign Policy Concept

THE SITUATION in Russia and all over the world was changing. Having survived the default of August 1998, the ministerial chaos of 1998-1999 when six prime ministers followed one another (Viktor Chernomyrdin, Sergey Kiriyenko, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yegor Primakov, Sergey Stepashin, Vladimir Putin), a series of terrorist acts that started the second Chechen war (the first Chechen war of 1994-1996 ended with the signing of the Khasavyurt Accord), and other no less shocking events, Russia entered the new millennium with a new president. On December 31, 1999, Yeltsin, in his New Year’s address, presented Vladimir Putin as his successor.

A new edition of the Foreign Policy Concept, published on June 28, 2000 [6], can be described as the foreign policy manifesto of the new president. The changes in Russia’s foreign policy, however, were not immediately obvious. Igor Ivanov remained Russia’s foreign minister, while the country followed its old line of “selective partnership” with the West that presupposed more determination when defending national interests, on which there was no consent with the West; development of the multipolar world concept as a response to the faults of the “unipolar moment” of the 1990s; consolidation of the various integration processes unfolding in the post-Soviet space built up around Moscow (the Russia-Belarus Union State, EAEC, CSTO, etc.); as well as the continued diversification of Russia’s foreign policy, which meant, in particular, developing relations with the Asia-Pacific countries, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa.

The change of power in Moscow was accompanied by publications about its “unstable” relations with the West. Western experts pointed to changes in Russia’s policies that they associated with the new president and his team. In fact, a worsening of relations with the US and Europe was not immediately apparent, but the pace of their improvement did slow markedly. At that stage, it merely corrected the “running ahead” that characterized NATO-Russia relations in 1991-1997.

In fact, many problems in their relations had been resolved. Russia and the West no longer regarded each other as a military threat; they no longer aimed strategic missiles at each other and no longer inflicted damage on each other “out of principle.” Moscow accepted (but did not agree with) NATO expansion, growing competition with the West in the CIS countries, and the loss of interest in it as the main partner in arms control talks.

There were no real reasons for major quarrels, but there also were no real reasons for significant cooperation. The Russian-American agenda had lost its previous depth. Talks were important but no longer extraordinary; they had become routine. Russian-American summits remained a regular feature indispensable for the vitality of bilateral relations. Journalists, for their part, wanted sensations, hence their disappointment with the “mundane” nature of decisions.

By the time Putin became president, the “negative” and “positive” elements in Russian-American bilateral relations had balanced out; this meant that relations were just as likely to grow stronger as they were to weaken. The 9/11 events of 2001 were a turning point: Russian-American relations started to grow markedly stronger. After terrorists attacked American cities, Russia sided with the US and helped it carry out an operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Bilateral relations reached their highest point when Russia joined the antiterrorist coalition and President Putin attended a NATO session in Rome where the decision was made to form the NATO-Russia Council (“Council of 20”) as a platform for consultations, cooperation, and consensus building – a major step that might have raised Russia-NATO relations to a higher level and the prospect of Russia’s possible involvement as a full member of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Rapprochement did not come without disagreements, however. In summer 2001, several months before 9/11, Russia and China signed the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, which generated a lot of suspicion in the US. Practically at the same time, the US informed Russia of its intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and promised “consolation” in the form of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty to be signed in 2002. Moscow had no choice but to accept. There were no grounds to rely solely on Washington’s good will. The US eagerly accepted Russia’s support yet preserved maximum freedom of action and did not show any desire to heed Moscow’s opinion. That policy, typical of America’s behavior throughout the 2000s, came to be known as unilateralism. Many countries, including West European countries, Russia, and Latin American and African countries, objected to that policy.

In 2002-2003, Moscow declined to support America’s invasion of Iraq. Although Russia’s position on the Iraq issue was similar to France’s and Germany’s, its platform appeared to be less critical of the American one. In 2003, as soon as the war began, the US made France the main target of its criticism.

The war made it much harder to deal with the US, since its foreign policy became tougher and its positions on international issues even firmer. In this context, in spring 2004, Sergey Lavrov replaced Igor Ivanov as foreign minister as part of a reorganization of the government after the Russian presidential election. By that time, as Russia’s permanent representative at the UN and the UNSC (1994-2004), Lavrov had earned a reputation as a tough negotiator with the West.

After accusing Iraq of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, the US started talking about a worldwide “axis of evil” – Iraq, Iran, Libya, and North Korea – and threatened to use force against them. While the US war against Iraq, far from Russia’s borders, did not directly affect Russia’s interests, the threat of an American attack on Iran or North Korea, neighbors of the Russian Federation, could directly affect its security. Moscow was much firmer when it came to the use of force against North Korea and Iran. From time to time, EU countries unofficially or even openly followed a more or less similar course as Russia.

In some cases, Washington’s Asian allies acted “together” with Russia. South Korea, for example, semi-officially agreed with Russian diplomats during the six-way talks on North Korea that neutralized the most aggressive moves of the American side that could have started a war on the Korean Peninsula.

After the 2004 US presidential election, the American administration became more aware of the risks of waging two wars – in Afghanistan and Iraq – at once. By that time, Washington had lost some of its willingness to be drawn into armed conflicts beyond its borders. While in 2002-2003, for example, Washington’s foreign policy had relied on the concept of “regime change” complemented with the “preventive strikes” military doctrine, in 2004-2008, those theories were rarely mentioned.

By the mid-2000s, a very diverse and loose group of countries dissatisfied with America’s foreign policy had formed consisting of some old EU members (except Great Britain), Russia, China, and many Middle Eastern and Latin American countries (Cuba and Venezuela in the first place) with left-wing governments at the helm. The members of this informal opposition had no intention of actively opposing American domination. They rejected the policy of unilateralism and were frustrated by Washington’s refusal to consider the opinions of other countries.

In 2001, against the backdrop of critical assessments of the US, the countries with the fastest growing economies in the 2000s formed a group that included Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC). In 2011, when the South African Republic joined, the group changed its name to BRICS. It was a very specific coalition – not a coalition of action but a rather loose construct that appeared practically spontaneously and, therefore, was ideologically fragile. It has no army and did not plan to change the world by force.

At the same time, it was an interstate formation with considerable economic, political, and psychological significance. This was especially clear when the image of new, powerful centers of world production and consumption was gaining a lot of popularity in the global information space. It was a predominantly virtual image, but it coordinated with the reality of the multipolar world that at that time remained a largely abstract proposition. BRICS became a symbol of a potential alternative to the domination that the US and the EU were seeking to preserve. Meanwhile, Russia and the other BRICS members continued their cooperation with the US and EU while avoiding confrontation with them.

In the 2000s, high oil prices brought a lot of money to Russia’s coffers. The Russian government channeled more money to selectively raise the living standards of ordinary people without encroaching on the riches of the new Russian elite. These successes, the most important of them being the repayment of debts to the Paris and London Clubs, the IMF, the World Bank, etc. changed the opinion of Russia and its role in the world. The foreign policy doctrine started to be revised.

On June 27, 2006, at a meeting with Russian ambassadors at the Russian Foreign Ministry, President Putin formulated Russia’s new priorities: “Overall, Russia should take responsibility for socioeconomic and general global development in keeping with its place and its possibilities” [7]. This was a new approach. For the first time, the head of state referred to the country’s much stronger economic position to suggest that its political influence in the world should be commensurate with its new economic potential.

Russia’s foreign policy guidelines were tied not to relations with the West but to global issues. In this sense, the doctrine of bringing political influence in line with economic possibilities can be considered the first global doctrine of the Russian Federation.

The new interpretation of Russia’s international role was offered in the first official Foreign Policy Review of the Russian Federation published by the Russian Foreign Ministry on March 28, 2007 [8]. It was a doctrine in the full sense of the word – not a vast report but a compact text limited to the highest priorities.

The provisions of the president’s June speech were supplemented by a press conference of the president on February 1, 2007, and the President’s Address to the Federal Assembly of April 26, 2007. The novelties can be divided into three main groups. First, Russia’s leaders no longer perceived democratization as the main driver of foreign policy. The events in Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo and the war in Iraq dispelled the illusion that commitment to democracy alone would ensure the automatic coincidence of Russian and NATO interests. Moscow did not need “solidarity coalitions.” In June, the president did not mince words: “We will not take part in any kind of ‘holy alliance’ ” [7].

The diversification of Russia’s international contacts was another novelty [9]. In its concrete form, diversification was understood as a mechanism of decreasing dependence on transit countries (Ukraine and Belarus) by organizing the export of energy fuels across the Baltic Sea and through northern ports.

Moreover, diversification was to be achieved in part by reducing the role of the EU countries as consumers of Russian gas and oil. The EU and the US announced that they were contemplating a shift to alternative energy sources to reduce their dependence on Russia, which, for its part, announced that it planned to export its energy fuels to China and build pipelines to the Pacific [9].

Diversification as a term was also used to signify that in addition to drawing closer to the West, Russia might accelerate its partnership with non-Western countries. One example was relations with BRICS partners.

Third, Russian leaders concluded that globalization pushed the world toward not just unification but also a more balanced distribution of resources of influence and economic growth, thus creating objective foundations for a multipolar construct of international relations [8].

Fourth, the sources of threats to international security acquired new interpretations. In the 1990s, they related to unfinished reforms in Russia. In the 2000s, the widening of the conflict space in world politics was defined as a threat along with the fact that disarmament had fallen off the global agenda and attempts were being made to build a “unipolar world” and impose political systems and development models on other countries [8].

In the latter half of the 2000s, Moscow became even more exasperated by Washington’s activity in fields directly related to Russia’s security. Two areas of disagreements appeared. The first was related to the desire of the American elite to spread “regime change” to the CIS countries.

American leaders decided that since the transition period in Russia and other post-Soviet republics had ended, caution for the sake of stability was no longer needed and they were thus free in their relationships with the young states. The temptation to “encourage” changes in this group of states was too strong.

Russian leaders’ attempts to express disagreement with US and NATO policies were perceived in Washington as signs of Russia’s rejection of the principles of freedom and democracy. Western journalists started to call Russia an “authoritarian” state. Certain Western and Russian journalists and experts started discussing the idea of regime change in the post-Soviet space – granted, not by force, as in Iraq, but by fanning antigovernment sentiments and inspiring antigovernment actions.

The forces that intended to “support democracy” through regime change focused primarily on the least stable countries: Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. In 2003-2005, those countries experienced “color revolutions” in which the key role was played by the local opposition that owed their survival to Western money and Western organizational, information, and political support. “Regime change” in Georgia and Ukraine brought to power nationalists with a fairly negative attitude toward Russia. Pro-NATO rhetoric in those countries grew louder.

The second area of disagreement was associated with America’s intention to deploy certain elements of a missile defense system in Central and Eastern Europe (Poland and the Czech Republic) allegedly to protect the NATO countries from Iran.

Recognizing that this system would partially devalue Russia’s defense potential, Moscow opposed America’s plans and invited the US and NATO to start discussing possible alternatives. The Americans brushed Russia’s proposals aside and suggested that it be content with unilateral assurances from NATO that the missile defense plans were not directed against Russia.

“Regime changes” in some of the CIS countries, possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, and the missile defense project all increased the potential for disagreements between Russia and NATO. The Russian leadership changed the tone: It was obviously frustrated that the West refused to consider Russia’s interests and overstated the Iranian threat. This was clearly discernible in the foreign policy documents that Russia issued in the late 2000s.

On February 10, 2007, President Putin was invited to the Munich Security Conference, where he openly raised objections to Western partners about their plans to expand certain elements of the missile defense system to Europe, saying it would negatively impact Russia’s security. He warned that lack of compromise on this issue could devalue many positive results achieved in relations between Russia and NATO since 1991.

Putin made a fundamentally important statement: “The unipolar world that had been proposed after the Cold War did not take place either.… And, just like any war, the Cold War left us with live ammunition, figuratively speaking. I am referring to ideological stereotypes, double standards, and other typical aspects of Cold War bloc thinking” that should be abandoned. A unipolar world was unreal and impossible. It presupposed that one center dealt with all problems as it saw fit. This contradicts democracy, when the majority is supposed to take into consideration the interests of the minority.

“I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. And this is not only because if there was individual leadership in today’s – and precisely in today’s – world, then the military, political, and economic resources would not suffice. What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization.… [There are] Brazil, Russia, India, and China. There is no reason to doubt that the economic potential of the new centers of global economic growth will inevitably be converted into political influence and will strengthen multipolarity” [10].

The West regarded Putin’s objections as an “ultimatum” of sorts, but this was in fact an attempt by the president to draw NATO into serious discussions and negotiations with Russia. NATO, which obviously underestimated the fairly real danger of a break with Moscow, refused. In 2008, Putin’s worst expectations were realized in the form of Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia.


1. Bogaturov A.D. “Tri pokoleniya vneshnepoliticheskikh doctrin Rossii,” Mezhdunarodnye protsessy, No. 1 (2007), pp. 54-69.

2. “Kontseptsiya vneshney politiki Rossiyskoy Federatsii 1993 goda,” Vneshnyaya politika i bezopasnost sovremennoy Rossii (1991-1998). Vol. 2. Documents, Compiled by Shakleina T.A., Мoscow: MONF, 1999.

3. Charter for American-Russian Partnership and Friendship,

4. Primakov Ye.M. “Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya nakanune XXI veka,” Vneshnyaya politika i bezopasnost sovremennoy Rossii (1991-1998). Vol. 1, Compiled by Shakleina T.A., Мoscow: MONF, 1999, pp. 179-195.

5. Strategiya dlya Rossii. 10 let SVOP. Мoscow: Vagrius, 2002.

6. The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. Approved by the President of the Russian Federation V. Putin, June 28, 2000,

7. Speech at Meeting with the Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of the Russian Federation, June 27, 2006, Moscow,

8. Obzor vneshney politiki Rossiyskoy Federatsii. 28 marta 2007 g., Moscow,

9. Transcript of Press Conference with Russian and Foreign Media. February 2007, Moscow,

10. Speech and Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, February 10, 2007,