Foreign Policy of Russia: Russian Ideology and Strategic Culture

For full-scale analysis of the foreign policy of any country, exploring the ideology and strategic culture of the state is crucial. Ideology and strategic culture is not static and can be changed through the years and decades. The main factors in this process play external and internal transitions and transformations. In terms of Russia, ideological values and strategic culture has been changing through the centuries.

In the end of 15th century, scholar and monk Philotheus of Pskov (1465–1542) called Moscow the “Third Rome”, which inherited Byzantium’s coat of arms and the two-headed eagle, symbol of preservation of the “true” faith. Moscow was seen as the last Orthodox “Tsardom,” ruled by a wise monarch. This ideology worked well for the institution of Tsarism that was established by Ivan the Terrible.

Courtesy to Varvara Grankova

In 18th century Peter the Great created a new state ideology during his reforms, enacting changes across Russia. His visiting Europe promulgated laws that obliged every nobleman to serve the state, adhere to the Tsar and at the same time obey the civil law.

In the 19th century Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality became motto of Russian Empire. The triad called for:

  1. preservation of the Orthodox faith and protection of the Church;
  2. loyalty to the state in its Autocratic form, where the Tsar was the ultimate ruler and Father of the land and people;
  3. preserving national traditions and equal civil rights for all nations in Russia. ( Manaev, G., 2018)

This triad remained the official ideology until the fall of the empire in 1917.

In the 20th century, Bolsheviks brought entirely new ideology for the Russian people. Orthodoxy has moved in the backstage and Lenin became the eternal leader. Communist Party became the uniting body of all people around the world, instead of the Church(“Workers of the world, unite!”). The “nationality” concept was transformed into the goal of the USSR as an international state. By the end of the 20th century, collapse of the Soviet Union left Russians without any ideology. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, Russians quickly embraced the Western parliamentary system and economic liberalism. Yet, the nation still did not prosper. As Yeltsin rightly observed, Russia’s “democratic path of development” was lacking true ideology. Then, Vladimir Putin took charge and developed contemporary version of the 19th-century triad.

Contemporary Ideology of the Country

The restoration of national identity is part of President Putin’s will. Making Russia again a major player in global affairs is one of the main pillars of the contemporary state, both in internal and external affairs. In this regard, major threat to Russian independence and identity seems to be dangerous influence of the West. In his speech on the Federal Assembly on December 4th, 2014, Putin warned the Russian people against the Western degrading policies:

a serious challenge to Russian identity is linked to events taking place in the world. […] We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual.” (Putin V., Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, December 4, 2014).

Strategic Culture of the Country

The so-called “Western values” were historically regarded by Russians with suspicion. According to some experts current strategy of the country and Kremlin’s new ideology somehow derives from the postulates of Ivan Ilyin, born in 1883 to an aristocratic family in Moscow, studied law at the Imperial Moscow University, and in 1922, was deported by the Bolsheviks to Europe. Ilyin believed in the idea of Eurasianism, a concept that explains Russia’s destiny with its geography. He did not think that Russia belonged to Europe or Asia, for him Russia was a unique civilization. He did not trust the European nations and his main concern was Ukraine, a territory considered historically and culturally Russian. Ilyin warned against the Western propaganda language, words “democratization,” “liberalization,” “freedom” were only means for destroying the unity and Eurasian spirit of the Russian civilization (Tsonchev, T.S., 2017)

All in all, current ideology of the Russian Federation is mostly based on the perception of the country as a unique and messianic. On the way of the implementation this ‘duty’, nationality, Christianity and autocracy play key role.

Negotiation Coach, Analyst of Global Politics.