The Russian foreign policy concept: What’s hindering Russia?

Mohamed Badr El-Din Zayed
Monday 1 May 2023

The concept document, issued by Moscow last March, attracted some attention in the Arab world, which I deemed not enough. However, some sober writings cannot be ignored, the most important of which is the study of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.


In fact, in addition to its significance in understanding and crystallising the foreign policy strategy Moscow is embracing today, the document raises a major issue in thought and in life about what the countries’ foreign policy concept documents represent in attempts to shape international relations or the world.

Historically, we have known some similar models in documents or clear statements, despite the fact that most of the developments took place according to implied movements rather than explicit propositions.

Crystallised vision

It is clear from different sources, including the aforementioned Al-Ahram Centre study, that the Russian vision is not confined to the foreign policy objectives but it transcended them to a comprehensive vision regarding the nature and the shape of the world which Moscow sees best for humanity and its interests.

We will not repeat what others reviewed in detail but will classify the visions of reformulating the world within several dimensions.

The first dimension, which especially concerns us, is related to the crystallised shape of the world which Russia seeks to realise a multipolar international system.

It is a vision that Moscow has presented some time ago then announced it plainly since its war in the Ukraine, which it called the special military operation.

Within its visions, it asserts that the continuition of the United States’ hegemony the world knew after the Soviet Union's collapse is not logical in the light of the current international balance of power.

But Moscow has also crystallised in this document ideas it has raised previously even in the era of the former Soviet Union and has returned to it today such as, accusing the Western economic model of neo-colonialism.

This is achieved through the adoption by big Western countries, headed by the US, of an unbalanced model for the world’s development that enables them to attain advanced economic development via seizing raw materials of other countries.

Regarding this dimension specifically, Moscow discarded the western accusation against Beijing that it monopolises African raw materials, which is a truthful accusation but it also reflects western double standards for the Western countries has the biggest share in this respect.

In spite of this, Moscow has returned here to concepts it has embraced during its former eras along with the Afro-Asian thinkers’ visions and the visions of the South.

Generally within this frame, the document talked about providing equal opportunities in development for all countries and their right in choosing the model of development and the economic, social and political system they see fit and disregard policies of hegemony.

The second dimension in this vision designated clearly and explicitly the US as the chief driver and main source of antagonistic policies against Russia and the biggest threat facing the world and humanity’s development.

Thus, we have two official documents from both Washington and Moscow; each of them considers the other their strategic enemy and the major foe.

Here, we mention that the official Chinese documents, the latest of which was issued few months ago, were being singular in not declaring any enmity towards anybody but rather presenting a vision for reconstructing the world on a peaceful basis and did not imply any confrontation with anybody. 

Among the conceptions of reformulating the world, the document tackled cyberspace, including the development of secure space for information and safeguarding the operation and development of the internet in a secure and stabilised way on bases of fair participation of countries in managing the internet and stopping the western control on its national sectors.

In other words, the shape of the world that Moscow presents – according to its viewpoint – is to be politically, economically, culturally and also digitally more just.

Within this frame, another irony arises: it wants a world in which it would return as a pole in a political multipolar world that is continuing the logic of the big powers in the face of the majority, but it speaks about justice and cultural, economic and digital equality. Thus, this justice concerning us, the countries of the South, is relative and also inadequate.

Cultural fears and feelings of persecution

The document included a significant dimension in that it has assigned Russian politics and diplomacy to the task of combatting animosity towards Russians in various spheres, which it has called Russophobia.

The document talks about a cultural and civilisational heritage that feels threatened and asserts Russia’s cultural merit in being a cultural pole on the world stage in a manner that is rare to find in foreign policy documents.

This takes us back to Russia’s predicament when the Soviet Union collapsed and it ran breathlessly culturally after the West and its streets were adorned with hollow Westernised semblances in which the American fast food restaurants were its most flagrant symbol.

Russia appeared naked, poor and backward. Running breathlessly after the West was not confined to its rich classes but was extended to most of the society’s classes.

A superpower or a rising party

We deemed the Russian intervention in Syria as a sign for the attempt to play an international global role and transcend trials to restrict it in being just a regional power.

It was followed by significant Russian moves in Libya and Africa, albeit via a private company behind which Moscow hid, that is Wagner. It wanted to convey that it moved in the African continent with a certain amount of cautiousness and didn’t want to enter in a direct confrontation with semi-friend countries, such as France.

However, Moscow, now and since its military intervention in the Ukraine is speaking candidly about restoring the balance in the world order and that it is doing this so as to be a pole among active poles and driving towards development of countries.

That is similar to some extent with the former Soviet Union’s pattern. Here, we mention what Putin said openly at the beginning of the war that the Soviet Union’s collapse was a strategic, geo-political and historical mistake and this mistake must be corrected. Some observations come forward:

The first observation, which we mentioned before at the beginning of the war and is confirmed today more clearly that is the return of the logic of empires. In this respect, the history of the Soviet Union itself and many ideas that were raised in the countries of the South and even in Western writings focusing on the Marxist ideological dimension in their analyses should be revised.

Instead, attention should have been given to the continuity of the imperial expansionist idea in the Russian intellect throughout history since the Tsarist Russia through the Soviet Union to the present Russian Federation.

Within this intellect, the vast geographical breadth is a pivotal idea along with the military power as a foundation for renaissance at the expense of other considerations for comprehensive state power whether economic or the civilisational model idea and this will move us to the second observation.     

The concern that the foreign policy document spoke about regarding the protection of the Russian cultural identity and combatting what it called Russophobia deserves pondering.

It is out of objectivity to remember that Russia has a great cultural and civilisational heritage during the Tsarist era, especially in the fields of music and literature.

This continued during the Soviet era, with Russia has witnessing a huge scientific renaissance in specific fields, namely outer space and nuclear technology rather than all scientific fields.

However, the gap between Russia and the West widened in all these fields then the political collapse led to unprecedented cultural decline.

For decades, Russia seemed as if to be running breathlessly after the West and trying to imitate it, as if this society did not possess profound cultural roots.

However, the dilemma is that in all the Russian stages of development, Russian rulers did not ask themselves why malfunctioning consecutive political systems and widespread corruption was the point of weakness that causes collapse?

Why the idea of strength and integrity of the political and civilisational model, which provides protection for the identity, more sustainability and even ensures the survival of the imperial expansionism achievements, is disregarded? 

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