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Home > Publications > PISM Spotlights > PISM Spotlight: Between East and West? Russia’s Third Way

PISM Spotlight: Between East and West? Russia’s Third Way

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11 April 2018
Anna Maria Dyner
no. 27/2018

On 9 April, on the website of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, Vladislav Surkov writes in “The loneliness of the half-blood” (“Odinochestvo polukrovki”) that “geopolitical loneliness” will be a factor conditioning Russia’s foreign policy in the future.

Who is Surkov?

Vladislav Surkov is a long-time acquaintance of Vladimir Putin and a personal adviser to the president on Russia’s relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He is a representative to Ukraine and has represented Russia during part of the Normandy-format talks. He is considered one of the Kremlin’s main ideologues, and his rare publications on political topics are carefully analysed. In 2006, he propagated the concept of “sovereign democracy” as the basis for shaping the Russian political system. According to it, the authorities are elected only by the Russian nation and make decisions only in its interests, while the main aim of elections is to present the unity of the nation and its authorities. The concept’s implementation meant that Russia rejects the liberal democracy adopted by most Central European countries in their transformation process.

What are the most important theses of the text?

Through historical analysis, Surkov points to Russia’s attempts to become a member of the Western world and concludes they have proved ineffective: in the 19th and 20th centuries, the attempt resulted in high losses in war, and at the turn of the 20th to 21st century, meant a significant reduction in Russia’s potential. At the same time, he states that Russia’s historical concept of itself as the leader of the Eastern world have also failed, which may indirectly mean he considers contemporary ideas about Eurasian integration are misguided.

Surkov considers 2014 the starting point for Russia’s own foreign policy path and abandonment of the idea of westernisation. However, he didn’t mention in his piece that 2014 was when Russia began its military aggression against Ukraine, which caused a sudden deterioration of relations with Western countries. Instead, he simply emphasises that the era of Russia’s “geopolitical loneliness” started in that moment.

Who is Surkov’s audience?

The article is addressed both to readers in Russia and abroad. Surkov emphasises that Russia’s geographical location and culture connecting Europe and Asia means its policy should be both eastern and western. He points out, however, that Russia does not belong to any of these worlds and will be only tolerated by them, which is a reference to the old Eurasian concepts of Russian foreign policy.

The text’s publication in the country’s most important journal on international affairs is a clear signal of possible changes in Russia’s concept of its role in the world and attempts to implement the idea of “sovereign democracy” in foreign policy. It can also be treated as a test of how other countries will react to possible changes in Russian foreign policy.

What will be the likely practical significance of Surkov’s ideas?

The ideas Surkov propagates significantly shape Russian politics. Therefore, it can be expected that this idea of “geopolitical loneliness” will become a determinant of Russian foreign policy given the new international circumstances. However, Surkov stresses that if Russia cannot play the role of leader, its “geopolitical loneliness” will only be that of an outsider.

The need to search for its own, third path indicates that Russia will not seek allies among other countries, instead it will base its decisions only on its own resources. It will try to conduct policy without considering the reactions of other players, especially Western countries and issues like sanctions. Therefore, it means that the foreign policy of the Russian authorities may become even less predictable.


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