Kremlin releases a new foreign policy concept outlining its plans for a “multipolar” world

Kremlin releases a new foreign policy concept outlining its plans for a “multipolar” world
Putin has laid out his vision of Russia's place in a "multipolar" world and doesn't see the West as an enemy, but he says Russia will defend its interests. Russia has many friends amongst the G20 that agree with him. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin March 31, 2023

The Kremlin has released a new foreign policy document that lays out its plans for its post-war relations. The main points are based on a “multipolar world” and that Russia doesn’t see itself as an enemy of the West but does see itself as one of the centres of this new shared world, President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with permanent members of the Russian Security Council on March 31.

"The system of international relations should be multipolar and based on the following principles: … indivisibility of security in global and regional aspects; diversity of cultures, civilisations and models of social organisation, non-imposition on other countries by all states of their models of development, ideology and values, and reliance on a spiritual and moral guideline that is common for all world traditional religious and secular ethical systems," the document stated.

Putin pointed out that expanding ties with co-operative partners and creating conditions for unfriendly states to abandon their hostile policy towards Russia require “special attention.”

Putin called for strengthening Russia's sovereignty and enhancing its role in shaping a more just, multipolar world order.

"In our long-term plans, it is important to take into account the full range of factors and trends in the development of international relations, work to strengthen Russia's sovereignty, increase the role of our country in solving world problems and shaping a more just, multipolar world order," he stressed.

Putin and his allies, in particular China, seek to build an alternative non-Western alliance in the Global South. Moscow aims to “support its allies and partners in ensuring their security and sustainable development regardless of their international recognition,” the concept says.

Russia will “give priority attention to suppressing attempts by unfriendly countries to hinder Russia's co-operation with its allies,” the concept stresses.

The document says that "in order to help adapt the world order to the realities of a multipolar world, the Russian Federation intends to make it a priority to intensify co-operation in all areas with Russia's allies and partners, and suppress the attempts by unfriendly states to obstruct such co-operation."

The war in Ukraine has driven a wedge between the West and East as these institutions are increasingly being forced to take sides, and could lead to a fractured world, as described in a feature by bne IntelliNews. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon raised exactly this concern on March 27, warning that the conflict could create separate trade blocks delineated by "geopolitical borders" due to the increasingly acronymous disputes.

"The globalised world economy risks fragmenting into separate trade blocks delineated along geopolitical borders," Ban noted at the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia also this week. 

Russkiy Mir

The new concept made no mention of Ukraine at all. However, the foreign policy concept does call for developing "ties with compatriots living abroad" and rendering "them full support in exercising their rights, ensuring protection of their interests and preserving all-Russian cultural identity."

Russia has handed out hundreds of thousands of passports to residents of occupied territories in Donbas, the four regions annexed in Ukraine last year, as well as two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that used to belong to Georgia until Moscow encouraged them to declare independence in 2008.

While the concept doesn’t make specific mention of Ukraine, the attitude of Russia to those countries that the Kremlin deems to lie in its sphere of influence and the so-called Russkiy Mir (Russian World, a concept of social totality associated with Russian culture) was spelled out in the concept, where Moscow views itself as a bulwark of these Russian values.

"More than a thousand years of independent statehood, the cultural heritage of the preceding era, deep historical ties with the traditional European culture and other Eurasian cultures, and the ability to ensure harmonious co-existence of different peoples, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups on one common territory, which has been developed over many centuries, determine Russia's special position as a unique country-civilisation and a vast Eurasian and Euro-Pacific power that brings together the Russian people and other peoples belonging to the cultural and civilisational community of the Russian world," the concept reads.

As bne IntelliNews has argued previously, Russia rejects the Western values as enshrined in the so-called Washington consensus and has long ago adopted what has been dubbed the Moscow consensus, that does not have “the pursuit of individual happiness” at its core, but more emphasis on the wellbeing and security of the state, where citizens are expected to sacrifice some of their freedoms and prosperity for the sake of the state.

China has adopted a very similar outlook and Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang echoed many of Putin’s foreign policy points during the Boao forum this week, dubbed “the Asian Davos”, where he also called for a multipolar world based on mutually beneficial relations based on equality.

China has become the biggest trade partner for every country in Asian but does not seek to use this economic power to its advantage but for the mutual benefit for all Asian countries. China has also become by far Russia’s single biggest trade partner with trade turnover set to top $200bn this year and then on to $300bn thereafter, Putin said earlier this month.

“Besides strengthening their ties with China, countries in Asia also need to deepen co-operation with one another. We should build a dense mesh of co-operation and interdependence, rather than a hub and spokes model, because this will result in a stronger and more resilient region,” the Chinese PM said.

“In this uncertain world, the certainty China offers is an anchor for world peace and development,” he added underscoring Beijing’s new assertiveness in international diplomacy. “This is the case in the past and will remain so in the future.”

Global war threat mounting

Moscow sees the risks of conflicts with the participation of large countries escalating and growing into a local or global war, according to the updated concept.

"The use of military force in violation of international law, the exploration of outer space and information space as new spheres of military action, the blurring of the line between military and non-military means of inter-state confrontation, and the escalation of protracted armed conflicts in a number of regions increase the threat to global security, enhance the risk of collision between major states, including with the participation of nuclear powers, and the probability of such conflicts escalating and growing into a local, regional or global war," the document reads.

Tensions in a number of regions are growing, threatening to destabilise the world further.

"Destabilising build-up and modernisation of offensive military capabilities and the destruction of the arms control treaty system are undermining strategic stability," according to the concept.

Eurasia to be transformed in a peace space

According to the foreign policy concept, ensuring peace and stability in Eurasia also requires a "comprehensive settlement in Afghanistan, assistance in building it as a sovereign, peaceful and neutral state with stable economy and political system, which meets the interests of all the ethnic groups living there and opens up prospects for integrating Afghanistan into the Eurasian space for co-operation."

"Russia seeks to transform Eurasia into a continental common space of peace, stability, mutual trust, development and prosperity," the document reads.

Achieving this goal implies the "comprehensive strengthening of the SCO's [Shanghai Cooperation Organization] potential and role in ensuring security in Eurasia and promoting its sustainable development by enhancing the organisation's activities in the light of current geopolitical realities," the concept said.

As bne IntelliNews reported, now that Russia has definitively broken with the West following its invasion of Ukraine a year ago, its hunt for new markets means uncorking the southern route out of Eurasia and into the massive markets of Pakistan and India has become a top priority. Afghanistan is the key to the region, as instability there has blocked the southern exit from the region into South Asia.

The end of Russia’s trade relations with Europe and the need to build new markets have given new impetus to remaking the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as both a market in its own right and as a collective vehicle to build new trade relations with the Global South, a goal that Russia shares with China, which has also focused on the importance of developing Eurasia and its ties with the broader region.

Putin highlighted the role EAEU will play in this process as well as the SCO as two of the key organisations in the region. China has also focused on the SCO as playing a leading role in developing Eurasia. Both Moscow and Beijing are keen to build up the international non-Western political and economic co-operation institutions to rival the Western lead organisations such as the World Bank, IMF and EBRD.

Moscow is calling for the "strengthening of the economic and transport interconnectivity in Eurasia, including through the modernisation and increased capacity of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and the Trans-Siberian railway; the rapid launch of the International North-South Transport Corridor; improvement of infrastructure of the Western Europe-Western China International Transit Corridor, the Caspian and the Black Sea regions, and the Northern Sea Route; creation of development zones and economic corridors in Eurasia, including the China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor, as well as increased regional co-operation in digital development and establishment of an energy partnership."

Developing relations with China and India is especially important for Russia, the concept says, and mirrors Beijing’s desire to develop land-based connectivity between Asia and Europe both to bind Eurasia more closely together and also to get away from maritime trade routes due to the US navy’s dominance of the sea.

"Russia aims at further strengthening the comprehensive partnership and the strategic co-operation with the People's Republic of China and focuses on the development of a mutually beneficial co-operation in all areas, provision of mutual assistance and enhancement of co-ordination in the international arena to ensure security, stability and sustainable development at the global and regional levels, both in Eurasia and in other parts of the world," the document said.

The Chinese leader Xi Jinping was in Moscow for a three-day visit between March 20-22 in an ostentatious display of support for Putin. India has also clearly come out in support of Russia and trade between the two countries has soared in the last year.

According to its policy, Russia "will continue to build up a particularly privileged strategic partnership with the Republic of India with a view to enhance and expand co-operation in all areas on a mutually beneficial basis and place special emphasis on increasing the volume of bilateral trade, strengthening investment and technological ties, and ensuring their resistance to destructive actions of unfriendly states and their alliances."

In related news, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said in his state of the nation speech on the same day that Minsk will make a “pivot to the East” amid the United States’ attempts to counter Russia, China and Iran.

"The so-called policy pivot to the East is the most reasonable step, which is in line with the spirit of the times. After all, the sun sets in the West and rises in the East," he pointed out in an address to the country’s people and parliament. Lukashenko has also been travelling recently to shore up his ties in Asia and was in Beijing earlier this month to meet Xi and also join the SCO. He followed that with a trip to Tehran and signed co-operation agreements.

Lukashenko pointed out in his speech on March 31 that in terms of foreign trade, Belarus gave priority to its strategic partners and allies, namely Russia and China. "Our exports to Russia increased by half last year, exceeding $23bn, while overall trade passed the $50bn mark," he specified.

Trade and FX

The concept says that Russia will focus on increasing non-energy exports to states pursuing a neutral policy. The document says that Russia will pay attention to enhancing its presence on world markets and increasing non-resource-based, non-energy exports.

It also aims to diversify economic ties geographically to redirect them to states that pursue a constructive and neutral policy towards Russia while remaining open to pragmatic co-operation with business circles of unfriendly states.

The statement also says that Russia will contribute to adapting the global trade and monetary and financial systems to the realities of the multipolar world and the consequences of the economic globalisation crisis.

Russia has already abandoned the dollar and the yuanisation of the economy is proceeding at full steam as Russia adopts the Chinese currency as its foreign exchange of choice. During Xi’s visit to Moscow Putin said that half the mutual trade between the two countries was already settled in yuan and called on the other Eurasian countries to make use of the Chinese currency in international trade deals.

According to the statement, Russia is going to accommodate the world trade and monetary and financial systems, “taking into account the realities of the multipolar world and consequences of the crisis of economic globalisation.” This is aimed at narrowing the possibilities for unfriendly states to “excessively use their monopolistic or dominant stand in certain spheres of the world economy, while enhancing the participation of developing countries in global economic management.” In other words, Putin wants to denude the US of its ability to weaponise the dollar.

Lack of trust

The concept went on to say that diplomacy has been undermined by the growing lack of trust amongst the international community.

Russia itself started that process off with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “new rules of the game” speech in February 2020 that said the Kremlin would no longer tolerate the dual policy towards Russia of doing business with one hand, but applying sanctions with the other.

Lavrov humiliated EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at the same time and threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Europe if the EU didn’t respond to this new demand. Ironically, Borrell was in Moscow to suggest rolling back tensions with Russia and building more constructive relations based on pragmatic trade development. But as far as the Kremlin was concerned the European offer was too little, too late.

"The culture of dialogue in international affairs is degrading, and the effectiveness of diplomacy as a means of peaceful dispute settlement is decreasing. There is an acute lack of trust and predictability in international affairs," the foreign policy concept says.

In comments following the release of the concept, Lavrov highlighted the new relations that Russia wants to build, emphasising that Russia is willing to co-operate with any country that treats it as an equal – an echo of his new rules of the game speech – but will “oppose” any country that tries to force its will on Russia.

"In the concept we have explained our vision of the principles of a more balanced and fair world order. They include polycentricity, the sovereign equality of states, their right to choose models of development, and the world’s cultural and civilisational diversity. The promotion of a multipolar world order is defined as a framework task on all foreign policy tacks," Lavrov said.

Ominously, Lavrov went on to explain that the right to resist impingements on Russia’s sovereignty includes the right to use force, which is a scaling up of potential Russian aggression from Lavrov’s February 2020 speech.

"A provision has been introduced that armed forces can be used to repel or prevent an armed attack on Russia or its allies. This is how we unequivocally state that we will defend the right of the Russian people to exist and develop freely," the minister said at the meeting of the permanent members of the Russian Security Council. "Important modifications have been enshrined in terms of the conditions for the use of force for self-defence within the framework of unconditional compliance under Article 51 of the UN Charter."

In a sign of things to come, Putin signed decrees dismissing Russian Ambassador to Latvia Mikhail Vanin and Russian Ambassador to Estonia Vladimir Lipaev on March 31, as they are no longer needed.

Estonia has reduced bilateral relations with Russia to an absolute minimum since the start of the Russian special military mission. The Estonian Foreign Ministry stated in January 2023 that Russia, in order to achieve parity in the number of employees in embassies, should reduce the number of its employees to 8 diplomatic posts and up to 15 administrative, technical and service staff positions by February 1.

Putin’s long-preferred platform to run his concept of a multipolar world has been the United Nations. He has in the past appealed to the international community to put aside its post-Cold War rivalries and unite against the global challenges of terrorism, pandemics and climate change, but to little avail.

In 2015 Putin travelled to New York to call for the international community to form an international coalition against terrorism at his speech during the United Nations annual assembly on September 28.

"We need a genuinely broad alliance against terrorism, just like the one against Hitler," Putin told the delegates assembled in New York, bar the Ukrainian delegation, several of whom walked out of the Security Council chamber as the president walked in.

However, as the speech came only a year after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and a military separatist movement in the Donbas well underway, even if Putin was sincere, Russian credibility was already in shreds at that time. In a stark admission of Russia’s powerlessness within the UN, the new concept says this platform has been degraded and “artificially devalued.”

"Serious pressure is being put on the UN and other multilateral institutions, the intended purpose of which, as platforms for harmonising the interests of the leading powers, is artificially devalued," the concept reads.

The upshot is that Russia now intends to go it alone, with whatever help it can muster from the likes of China, India and its friends in Africa.

"The Russian Federation proceeds from the indivisibility of international security (in global and regional aspects) and seeks to ensure it equally for all states on the basis of the principle of reciprocity. On this basis, Russia is open to joint actions together with all interested states and interstate associations to shape a renewed, more stable international security architecture," the document said.