Putin’s new term will be shaped by a combination of internal priorities and external challenges

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Vladimir Putin, Ukraine, President of Russia

As Vladimir Putin begins another six-year term as the President of Russia, the focus on his foreign policy strategy is more critical than ever. With over two decades of leadership under his belt, Putin’s approach to foreign affairs has evolved significantly. Initially marked by attempts to integrate Russia with the Western world, his strategy has shifted dramatically, especially in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the changing dynamics of global power. This article explores the likely contours of Putin’s foreign policy during his new term, considering both historical context and future challenges.

When Putin first assumed the presidency, Russia was emerging from the chaotic post-Soviet 1990s. The primary focus was on stabilizing the economy, restoring governance, and reintegrating into the global system, predominantly dominated by the West. This period saw significant economic growth and increased foreign investment, as Russia positioned itself as a reliable partner within the Western-centric international order. This strategy brought tangible benefits, improving living standards and enhancing Russia’s international standing.

The annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent conflict in Eastern Ukraine marked a significant shift in Russia’s foreign policy. The West’s response, including sanctions and diplomatic isolation, forced Russia to reevaluate its strategy. The military campaign in Ukraine, which intensified in 2022, has since defined Russia’s foreign relations, leading to a deep and enduring rift with the West. This conflict symbolizes the end of Russia’s post-Soviet “rebound” and its pivot towards a more assertive and independent geopolitical stance.

With the traditional Western alliance fractured, Russia has turned its attention to fostering a multipolar world. This shift involves building relationships with non-Western powers and enhancing its influence in regions like Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The global order is increasingly characterized by a dispersion of power rather than domination by a single bloc. This multipolarity provides Russia with opportunities to expand its influence and forge new alliances, though it also presents challenges in navigating a more fragmented international system.

A cornerstone of Putin’s new term is the concept of ‘state-civilisation.’ This framework emphasizes Russia’s unique cultural and historical identity, positioning it as a self-sufficient and inclusive entity capable of integrating diverse elements without succumbing to isolationism. The ‘state-civilisation’ concept is designed to bolster national pride and cohesion while promoting Russia as a stabilizing force in a volatile global environment.

Key Elements of Russia’s Future Foreign Policy

The cornerstone of Russia’s foreign policy under Putin’s new term will be the prioritization of internal development. Economic stability, social cohesion, and technological advancement are seen as essential for maintaining Russia’s global standing. Without robust internal development, foreign policy ambitions are unlikely to succeed. This approach reflects a broader understanding that domestic strength is crucial for international influence.

Russia’s strategic location and vast natural resources make it a vital player in the global system. Enhancing global connectivity through infrastructure projects, energy partnerships, and logistical networks will be a key focus. This strategy aims to make Russia indispensable to the global economy, thereby enhancing its influence and ensuring its integration into the evolving multipolar world.

In a world moving towards multipolarity, Russia will seek to build coalitions based on shared interests rather than ideological alignment. Organizations like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will be pivotal in this strategy. These groups offer platforms for cooperation on economic development, security, and technological innovation, helping to counterbalance Western influence and create a more balanced global order.

Russia’s immediate neighborhood remains of paramount importance. Maintaining influence in former Soviet republics and other neighboring countries will require new strategies that go beyond historical dominance. Effective migration policies, economic partnerships, and security agreements will be crucial. A transparent and fair system for attracting skilled workers and promoting regional stability will enhance Russia’s influence and integration with its neighbors.

The concept of borders is evolving in the context of globalization. Russia will need to balance the benefits of openness with the necessity of security. Flexible regulation of the movement of people, goods, money, and information will be critical. This approach aims to maximize the benefits of global interconnectedness while protecting national interests and maintaining social stability.

In the current global environment, traditional ‘soft power’ strategies are giving way to what can be termed ‘firm power.’ This concept emphasizes resilience, stability, and the capacity to withstand external pressures. For Russia, this means projecting strength through a combination of military capabilities, economic resilience, and cultural cohesion. The ‘state-civilisation’ framework supports this approach by promoting a self-sufficient and inclusive national identity.

In today’s world, the appeal of transnational ideologies is waning. Countries are increasingly focusing on pragmatic cooperation based on shared interests rather than ideological alignment. This trend aligns with Russia’s approach of forming coalitions around specific goals, such as economic development and technological innovation, rather than broader ideological missions.

Internal cohesion will be crucial for Russia’s ability to navigate the complexities of the modern world. This involves addressing domestic challenges such as economic inequality, corruption, and social unrest. A stable and prosperous Russia will be better positioned to exert influence on the global stage and to respond effectively to external challenges.

Russia’s vast natural resources and technological capabilities offer significant advantages in the global arena. By investing in technological innovation and sustainable resource management, Russia can enhance its economic resilience and global influence. Initiatives in areas such as renewable energy, space exploration, and artificial intelligence will be critical for maintaining a competitive edge.

Russia’s foreign policy will also focus on addressing global challenges that require international cooperation. Issues such as climate change, space exploration, and the regulation of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence will be areas where Russia seeks to play a leading role. By contributing to global solutions, Russia can enhance its international standing and build strategic partnerships.

As Vladimir Putin embarks on his new term, Russia’s foreign policy will be shaped by a combination of internal priorities and external challenges. The emphasis on internal development, global connectivity, and regional influence reflects a pragmatic approach to navigating a rapidly changing world. The concept of ‘firm power’ underscores the importance of resilience and stability in maintaining Russia’s global standing.

In this complex and multipolar world, Russia will seek to balance its unique identity with the demands of global engagement. By leveraging its strategic assets and building coalitions around shared interests, Russia aims to secure its place as a major player on the global stage. Putin’s new term promises to be a period of strategic adaptation and resilience, as Russia charts a course through the uncertainties of the modern world.

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