Putin speaks about framework terms and general wishes
In his article “Russia and the Changing World,” published by the Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper on February 27, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin writes about Russia’s foreign policy and its role in the world arena. Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, shares his views on some of Putin’s ideas and proposals in an interview for the site of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
Why did Putin speak so little about the project of the Eurasian Union and the integration of post-Soviet republics in general?
Putin paid little attention to the Eurasian Union – in fact, he barely mentioned it and this conspicuous omission in striking, considering that before this issue was a top priority. There are two reasons for this. First, the author primarily expressed his conceptual view of the world and focused on the principles of the world order and some of its practical aspects for Russia. In other words, the article is of a more general character albeit with some specific moments. Second, a special article was devoted to the Eurasian Union in October, before the campaign. The main provisions have already been made public and nothing new has been added since then. Yet, the absence of this subject is perplexing.
Do you think Russia’s foreign policy concept will be updated if Putin wins the elections on March 4?
Every new president updates a foreign policy concept and there is no doubt that this will be done. However, I don’t think there will be any major changes because Putin’s line has been practically the same, with just a few fluctuations, since the mid 2000s. It was not revised under President Dmitry Medvedev.
What do you think about the Union of Europe that, to quote Putin, will consolidate Russia’s opportunities and positions in its economic pivot to the new Asia? Won’t this pivot mean the reorientation of Russian foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region?
The idea of the Union of Europe as a new foundation of the Old World’s organization reflects the need for a major consolidation of the positions of both the current European Union and Russia in the face of growing global competition, primarily, from Asia. Europe is going through a severe crisis in the EU, while Russia has to confirm and develop its European identity. The need to turn toward the new Asia is obvious – it will be the focus of the main events of world politics and the economy in the 21st century. But Russia will not completely reorient its policy toward the Asia-Pacific region because it has inseparable links with Europe. However, higher attention to Asia and a partial reorientation toward it are absolutely essential.
Can strong criticism of NGOs further curtail their operation in Russia?
Yes, it can. Putin reaffirmed his markedly critical attitude to NGOs. It has not changed since his tenure as president. His return to the presidency may lead to even tougher rules and laws on NGOs. This is bound to evoke an international response and become an aggravating factor for Russian foreign policy.
In his article Putin pointed to the growing role of the information factor in foreign policy, in particular, the increasing importance of the Internet. Do you think Russia will create agencies to defend its interests on the web? Will this be linked to a critical attitude to the information coverage of Russian foreign policy?
The need to intensify work on the web has been expressed for a long time, in particular, in the context of the political role of the new media. However, no interesting and feasible proposals have been made so far. Any attempts to restrict the Internet are dubious in terms of democracy and very complicated technically – users have proved many times their ability to bypass all kinds of bans. This issue will continue to be discussed but we are still far from the adoption of effective measures, if these are possible at all. Restrictions are the wrong way. It makes more sense to speak about political and ideological counter activities.
What new proposals have you seen in the article?
This article is more a general, conceptual interpretation of the processes involved in the transformation – mostly negative – of the world order. This is why the author’s description of these processes is much striking than his recommendations. This attitude reflects the international reality – it is almost useless to draft strategies and make plans because another abrupt turn in world events renders all existing scenarios obsolete and requires rapid adaptation to new realities. The ability to respond is more important than planning. Putin describes framework terms and expresses general wishes, so it would be difficult to predict how this will be translated into reality.