Putin and Russian Sacred Geography
In both spiritual and geopolitical domain Eastern geography represents a qualitative space in which East is the symbol of ontological plus and West the ontological minus. According to ancient Chinese tradition, the East is Yang or male, bright or solar while and the West is Yin, the female, dark or lunar principle. In the East, the Russian Geography is strategic on the large Eurasian land mass. Moreover, the scared geography of Russia remained geopolitically relevant and important for stability and peace in the East. Since the fall of Soviet communism, the re-emergence of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin has redefined the importance of Russian position in the global politics. The Russian foreign policy transformed under the reign of President Vladimir Putin because under his leadership, Russia transcended its position over the two key foreign policy spheres.
Firstly, Russia re-asserted about its manifest destiny in the periphery both in the frontyard and backyard. Secondly, with revisionism Russia refused to accept the post-cold war Atlantic security order. Moreover, the war with Georgia and the war with Ukraine was aimed at warning the west about the NATO’s expansion which is encircling Russian geography. Likewise, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a clear message to the west to take care of Russia’s security concerns—geographical red line.
On the other hand, more recently Russia has overstretched the horizons of its foreign policy beyond Europe. For instance, in the Middle East because of its military intervention in Syria and its emergence as a powerful peace-broker in other conflicts such as Yemen and Libya, Russia asserted itself as a new king maker in the Middle East. Few weeks ago, on the wake of US withdrawal from Syria, famous American media outlets, Washington post and Foreign Policy magazine declared President Putin as a new King-maker in the Middle East. Indeed, it was a huge success of the Russian foreign policy under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, who should be credited for the revival of Russian position in global politics. Moreover, President Putin also deserves the credit of being the founding father of modern Russia after the fall of Soviet Union, which he once declared as the “greatest geopolitical disaster of the century”.
After winning his third controversial presidential elections in 2012, president Putin announced his new foreign policy approach towards Eurasia with a vision of establishing Eurasian Union and Eurasian economic union to reclaim the strategic post-soviet space for the security of Russia. Hence, with this vision Kremlin planned to establish a new web of relationship with key countries in Africa, Latin America, Middle East and the Far-East. The Russian foreign policy observers and experts called it the expansive phase of Russian Foreign policy since the fall of Soviet Union.
On the contrary, the fact cannot be denied that the current nature of Russian Foreign policy is rooted in the Primakov doctrine of the 1990s, which asserted that Russia must not follow the lead of the United States rather she has to re-advent its strategic position as an important global actor in the post-cold war geopolitical arena dominated by American unipolarity. Basically, the Primakov doctrine re-iterated Russia’s responsibility to be an independent central power playing a key role in the development of the multi-polar world order.
The era of 1990s were chaotic because with Gorbachev’s reforms of glasnost and perestroika, Soviet Union was peacefully disintegrated with democratic plans for Post-Soviet Russia. The period between 1990 and 2000, till the ascension of Vladimir Putin to Russian Presidency can be termed as the ‘times of trouble’, which refers to the period of chaos and disorder in Russian imperial history after the appearance of false ‘Dimitri’ in 1602, during which the Russian monarchy went into severe decline till the ascension of Romanovs to the Russian throne in 1615.
In the latter context, the appearance of Boris Yeltsin as the successor of Mikhail Gorbachev was a kind of false ‘Dimitri’ in the modern Russian history, who succumbed to the dictation of the West to reform Russia by inviting 125 advisors from the west. Instead of reforming Russian economy, these advisors guided the first generation of Russian oligarch’s to stash the vast Russian wealth into foreign banks and off-shore heavens. President Putin himself expressed this western treachery on several occasions because it was these oligarchs who plundered the public assets that caused financial collapse in 1996.
During Boris-Clinton bromance, the American economic experts also flew to Moscow to provide advice on democracy and economics pressing for shock therapy. Moreover, Boris Yeltsin’s acceptance of Clinton’s plans for NATO’s expansion eastwards had fuelled fury among the Russian Military circles, who saw NATO’s expansion as future American strategy to encircle Russia. At that time, the American geopolitical experts thought that the post-soviet Russia is too weak to resist NATO. Hence, they considered the political and economic chaos as an opportunity to secure the American interest in the post-soviet space. Even, when the Primakov doctrine appeared, the western policy experts and observers despised its implication because of Russian political fragility. But with the ascension of Vladimir Putin to Russian presidency, the Russian economy swiftly recovered because of the high oil prices in the energy market.
On the wake of Russian economic recovery, President Putin’s political advisors decided to use the resources to implement the Primakov doctrine as a new Russian foreign policy approach, which rejected the western political initiatives on the geopolitical grounds. On the contrary, Putin robin-hood return to the Russian presidency in 2012, marked the new strategic transcendence of the Russian foreign policy that divulged Russian revisionism in the global arena. The annexation of Crimea, the military intervention in Syria, the war in Eastern Ukraine, Russian military presence in the Baltic and Black sea has reasserted Russian position as a global actor in the international politics. According to Russian specialist Dmitry Trenin, ‘Russia is a rare major power that bounced back after historical defeat’. But Russia is still facing both internal and external challenges such as declining economic growth, low birth rates and NATO.
Among these challenges, structural reforms will remain a major challenge for President Vladimir Putin because of the turbulent hydro-carbon prices in the energy market. But in no way the economic debacle will compel Russia to hold back its presence in the global politics. Moreover, the inner political circle of President Vladimir Putin is confident and committed about the expansive nature of Russian foreign policy. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, President Putin made it clear that he is re-establishing Russia’s place in the global order. Putin said; ‘The world has to accept that Russia is an independent active participant in the international affairs, like other countries, it has its own national interests that need to be take into account and respected’. The same words were expressed during war with Georgia in 2008, by then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, what he called as the Russia’s sphere of privileged interests.
In a nut shell, though Russia under the leadership of president Putin is being mocked and demonized by the west because of revisionism but it is a vivid fact that the Russian revisionism under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin has the paved the way for the multi-polar world order. Moreover, the Russian geography has been sacred on the tip of vast Eurasian landmass that has always shaped the Russian identity and the psychology of its ruler regarding the security of the motherland.