Is there “Putin’s Doctrine” in Russia’s foreign policy?

Russia’s policy is patently free of ideologies. It’s highly transactional, seeks tactical wins wherever possible and aims at disrupting the policies of the US and other “hostile” Western powers across the world.

When it comes for Russia’s foreign policy, unlike the former Soviet Union, it’s not based on a coherent ideology. What makes it distinct, it’s shaped by our President and has Putin’s fingerprints all over it.

President Putin is known as an accomplished tactician, with a visceral distaste for ideologies. His line is best described by the word disruption. He reads into the strategic intent of his opponents—for the time being, the US and NATO—and takes measures to disrupt their actions. Its initial objective has been to enforce a sort of a New Yalta deal on the US and NATO.

Deploying the instruments of disruptive power, Putin and his aides often call it “asymmetrical response”. The idea is to annoy and weaken the enemy to the point when he gives up and decides it makes more sense to sit down and negotiate than to continue the confrontation.

You can see it in the stuff produced by RT and Sputnik, in the heightened activity of the radical left and far right in Europe and USA, in the consequent Russian obstruction of Western global agenda, the hacker attacks. This is all ways to compensate for our economic weakness and lack of international allies.

The Germans showed considerable disruptive power in their submarine war in the Atlantic during WWII. Submarines can’t win wars, but they hugely facilitate strategic wins, as they did for the US in the grand Pacific battle of WWII. You may want to read more about disruptive power if you google the name of researcher Frances Fox Piven.

Where the rivalry between Russia and Poland comes from?

Historically, Poland long occupied the central position in Eastern Europe that made it in the eyes of Russia a rival as the “main Slav nation”.

The relationship between Russia/Soviet and Poland changed several times. “Rivalry” would be the most fitting word to describe it.

The fundamental reason for the rivalry is geography. After the demise of the Bysantine empire, the main connection with Europe for us was Poland. Further south, sit the Carpathian mountains that separate us from the rest of Slavs. Poles occupy the plains between us and Germany.

This central position gave Poland a unique role as the “main” Slav nation in Europe for many centuries. What is now Ukraine and Belarus, was long a part of the Polish-Lithuanian state. Much of the German influence came to us through Poland, before the Russian empire began a wholesale import of German officers and engineers from the Baltics and Prussia in the XVIII century.

In other words, the role of the great Slav empire required of Russia to get rid of Poland. Poles, on their part, in the XVI and XVII got an appetite for the lucrative Russian fur exports. This resulted in several wars, and the funny situation when Poles for a short period of time became nominal Czars of Russia.

The rivalry twice culminated in a destruction of the Polish state, with Russia and the Soviet Union annexing the eastern part of their country. Many Poles were included in our ruling elites, but many more actively fought for independence. Uprisings in the XIX century, the revolutionary war of 1919–1920, Stalin’s ethnic cleansings during the Great Terror, and the partition of Poland between Hitler and Stalin created a lot of bad blood.

Now, with the creation of independent Belarus and Ukraine as a buffer between us in 1991, much of this tension has faded. In the mind of many nationalistic Russians, the place of Poland as the “evil Slav” is taken over by Ukraine.

Poland, along with Austria and Hungary, is also considered the place in the Central Europe with the most powerful Russian agents of influence. In addition to that, many among the Polish elite share Putin’s views on the EU as a liberal bureaucratic project, and the Anglo-Saxon globalism as a threat to the national identity. If the current tensions between the illiberal Polish leadership and the EU continue to gain strength, we may expect an emerging accord between Russia and Poland, in line with the existing one between Hungary and Russia.

Did Communism have a chance to win over Western powers?

There were two forks in history when Communist powers had at least a theoretical possibility to prevail over their Capitalist foes. America, however, would stay safe anyway, thanks to their remoteness from Eurasian hotspots.

Communism as the ultimate phase of Real Socialism requires that Capitalism be eliminated worldwide. Then, the production inefficiencies of Socialism, the lagging innovation and the resulting military disadvantage would no longer be a factor.

In the 20th century, we had two forks leading that at least in theory could give the USSR a chance to establish its control over the entire European continent:

  • In 1937–1941, the USSR had the largest army and the most able military-industrial complex in the world. During that time, sympathies for the Communist cause also were at the zenith across the continent. Of course, it remain unclear how the Soviet Union would handle America on the other end of the Atlantic, and Great Britain with their wealth of fallback strategies in the overseas territories.
  • In the mid-1970s, the USSR reached the nuclear parity with the US, with the potential for Mutual Assured Destruction as a consequence. In the case of a full-blown nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Block, the Communist China, staying out of the fray, would have a chance of enforcing their version of Communist rule on the surviving humanity.

Beria as a possible leader of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death

Possibly, the dreaded Stalin’s executioners Beria could have initiated China-style reforms in the USSR if he had lasted longer

Right after the death of Stalin, there was a interesting fork in the history of the USSR. At the time, the boss of Soviet secret services Lavrenty Beria was a front-runner for the position of next Soviet ruler.

He didn’t last long and was murdered shortly afterwards. But during the few months of his tenure, he pushed hard for a series of reforms. These reminded of the Deng’s 1978 reforms that laid the foundations of the Chinese success we are witnessing now.

  • Re-introduction of private farming
  • End to ideologically motivated repressions and a wide amnesty
  • Economic cooperation with the West

Beria’s ideas included also some foreign policy initiatives unthinkable before Gorbachev, like re-unification of Germany and a peace treaty with Japan.

Unlike the time of Gorbachev, in the early the Chinese option would have stood good chances of success. The USSR after WW2 resembled China of the late 1970s in several ways:

  • We had a large pool of population in the countryside that could be released to man the expansion of low-cost manufacturing in the cities
  • Countryside population still remembered how to run business as private farmers
  • National elites in the ethnic republics were still compliant and hamstrung after the bloodletting of the Great Purge

Moscow as the “Third Rome”

Third Rome as an imperial idea never got the traction is could expect given the Russian obsession with territorial expansion. Only the Communists truly rose up to the task

Muscovy as Third Rome was an early example of a great brand name. Sadly, we had no product to back it up.

When the brand idea first surfaced in the 15th century, the idea was to mark the passing of torch of the Greek Orthodoxy from Constantinople to Moscow. It was born out of the frustration of the ethnic Slav clergy. They felt fed up by incessant patronizing on the part of Bulgarian and Greek emigré theologians and monks who used to overwhelm the locals by their superior knowledge of the Orthodox cannon.

When the “Rome 3.0” claim was endorsed by Great Dukes of Muscovy, it gave the Russian Romans an equal footing with other Europeans both in spiritual and political matters.

However, the Third Rome idea never made it into a full-blown political concept, or a tool for Russian foreign policy. Even under the competent guidance of German spin masters in the 18th century didn’t inspire the House of Romanov to make more of it. Neither Peter the Great, or Catherine the Great, or Russian opponents of the Polish/Swedish push in the early XVII century tried the “Roman” ideological banner for their imperial cause.

  • No one managed to reconcile the concept with the existence of the Holy Roman Empire, who used the same symbols and claimed the same legacy.
  • The idea of liberation of Slav ethnicities in the Ottoman Balkans was not explained in the terms of Roman imperial narrative. It was the Slav Brotherhood narrative.
  • No ideas of the global Christian reunion under the tutelage of Russian monarchy whatsoever.
  • The only exterritorial “Roman” ambition of the Christian orthodoxy in Europe was Constantinople, and the part of Balkans adjoining it. No Orthodoxy supplanting Papism in Poland, or Protestantism in the Baltics or Finland. No conversion of pagans, Buddhists and Muslims south and east of Muscovy.

It took the Communist takeover in 1917 to give the idea of Third Rome the needed political flesh and instrumentality. This time it happened on a totally Western ideological platform. It was backed by the Soviet military-industrial complex. This time is possessed an internationalist appeal, far exceeding the original Christian footprint. Stalinism truly transformed our country into the high fortress of world revolution, the shining beacon of radical Marxism.

A Soviet poster from 1919. The text says: “Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. May 1: The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”