Foreign Policy of Russia: Great Power Features

Gvantsa Kakauridze
5 min readMar 21, 2019


A great power is a sovereign state that is recognized as having the ability and expertise to exert an influence on a global scale. According to Leopold von Ranke countries can be considered as Great Powers if they have proper spatial, power and status dimensions. As he asserts in his essay “The Great Powers”, power still retains a vital place.

“If one could establish as a definition of a Great power that it must be able to maintain itself against all others, even when they are united.” (Ranke L., 1833)

Professor Tatiana Shakleina differentiates material and non-material features of the Great Powers. Material features contain territory, natural resources, population, intellectual resources, economic, military, technological, educational potential, and non-material characteristics, which entail mostly soft power tools, international strategy, behaviour of a country and international recognition. (Shakleina T., 2016.)

Talking about modern Great Powers in the book “Challenge and Change”, Shakleina points out an evident difference between the 21st and the 20th century’s influential states and maintains that in the current century, the group of influential countries is larger. Namely, the G20 emerged in 2008, though, even within this larger group, one could identify a new Group of eight most influential countries: the USA, Germany, Great Britain, France, Russia, China, India, and Japan.(Shakleina T. in Noonan N. C. & Nadkarni V., 2016.)

Despite the fact that “official list” of Great Powers does not exist, sometimes the status of great powers is formally recognized in conferences such as the Congress of Vienna (1814 Treaty of Chaumont) or the United Nations Security Council. Respectively, Russia is generally considered to be agreat power due to its economic, military or strategic importance, it status as recognized nuclear power and permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In the presented paper, we will deeply analyze all the features and characteristics that justify the status of Great Power.


Territory is one of the most essential features of the great power. Territories often come as a prerequisite for a state’s influence. Apparently, Russia is among such countries, it covers significant parts of two continents, with land area of 17,098,242 Federal system of government plays key role in managing such an immense scope of territory. According to the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation, country is divided into 83 different federal subjects, including the contested Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. These federal subjects are 46 provinces (Oblast’), where governor is elected locally; 21 republics, by the responsibility to adopt their own constitutions in compliance to the federal; 9 territories (Kraj), quite similar to the provinces in terms of autonomy; 4 autonomous Okrugs, inhabited mainly by ethnic minorities; 2 federal cities, Moscow and Saint-Petersburg; and one autonomous province, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast’. (Official Portal of the Government of the Russian Federation: )

Large territory also brings advantages in terms of natural resources. Russia possesses an incredible amount of different raw materials: not only oil and gas, but also timber, copper, diamonds, lead, zinc, bauxite, nickel, tin, mercury, uranium, gold and silver. Those reserves are located mostly in the Far East and in Siberia, often in inaccessible areas. Not by chance, Russia is namely in the top 10 of countries holding the largest reserves of both oil and natural gas. ( ENI’s World Oil and Gas Outlook 2015. )


According to CIA World Factbook statistics, in July, 2018 the population of the Russian Federation counted overall 142,122,776. However, for such scope of the territory Russia appears as an underpopulated country, with a very low density. Low population can be one of the most important challenges for Russia in the future. Moreover, in the conditions when the mortality is still very high. The most common causes of death are circulatory diseases and neoplasm, related to the high consumption of alcohol, tobacco and to the unhealthy lifestyle that many citizens conduct. (Rosstat, 2017).

Military potential

In terms of military strength Russian Federation holds second place in the world. According to Global FirePower Russia possesses 1,013,628 active and 2,572,500 reserve personnel. Total aircraft strength is 4,078. It possesses 21,932 combat tanks and 352 naval assets. Defense budget is $44, 000,000,000. (Global Firepower, 2019).


Economy also plays important role in constructing the country’s power. However, this field of life is quite weak in Russia. The Ukrainian crisis triggered the well-known chain of sanctions and countersanctions. European sanctions are obviously quite an obstacle for the Russian Federation and they seem to be semi-permanent in many aspects, as Russia depends on European countries and their decisions. Despite the fact that Russia tries to attract foreign investors in order not to experience a complete disappearance of European know-how, it is still difficult to replace so easily a lot of high-tech machinery. Without technologies and machinery, economic development will be a more difficult challenge for the Russian government.

Technological development and innovation

Technological development and innovation is also cornerstone for great powers, as it provides the clear vision in the future and follows the trends around the world. Thanks to the great scientific potential inherited from the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation still possesses good research and development capabilities. However, Russia is still far behind the United States, the European Union and China in terms of expenditures for R&D. (OECD, 2017).


Education represents one of the country’s strongest points. Thanks to the educational system framed during the Soviet Union, Russian population is among the most alphabetized of the world. However, collapse of the USSR brought serious decrease in governmental expenditure in this field and a fall in educational budget. It brought a change in the academic sphere as well, as private entities and institutions started growing around Russia, which somehow dropped high academic standards. Nevertheless, starting from the first Putin administration, Russia began again to raise relatively its national expenditure for education, forming highly specialized profiles. (World Bank, 2017).

Non-material characteristics

In addition to the material capabilities, there are also qualitative features that are linked with the history of a nation and can be summarized as the tradition of a state to act globally as a Great Power. Apparently, such tradition to act globally needs long periods of time to be developed. Russia is among these states. It has been playing globally since the very beginning of its history, at least, starting from the end of the Mongol-Tatar occupation in the 15th century.

As Igor Zevelev maintains, Putin often gives voice to the elite consensus on Russia’s role in the world.

“This consensus holds that the special place of Russia on the global stage is predetermined by unique Russian identity based on its history, size, necessity to protect long borders, and the sense of being a great power and centre of a distinct civilization.” (Zevelev I., 2016.)

Concept of Great Powers did not emerge only under the rule of Putin, this trend was popular during the former President of the Federation, to some extent, also to Russian Tsars starting from Peter the Great. However, return of a nationalistic rhetoric in the Russian political discourse has became more assertive for last decade.

To sum up, as material, as well as non-material capabilities of the Russian Federation reveal the possibility of the country to act as a Great Power. In this regard, the behavioural strategy and historical traditions play also vital role. All these aspirations is incorporated in the National Interests of the country, which will be analyzed in the following paper.