Russia re-emerges like Phoenix from ashes as global power
AFTER the end of the Second World War, we saw the emergence of two major power blocs – one led by the US (Western Bloc) and the other led by Russia (Eastern Bloc).
Both powers had established their spheres of influence and made allies (and proxies) and often implemented their agenda through them.
All the needed economic and political assistance was provided to them and some were provided with arms and military support too.
Thus began the era of Cold War which continues till today, albeit with a brief interval after the setback it suffered in the shape of breakup of the Soviet Union and defeat in Afghan war.
But little did the world know that it would re-emerge on the global stage to resume its role as the global superpower, it once was, like Phoenix from ashes.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia looked to the United States to bail it out of its economic crisis and looked to the ideas of liberalism.
Yeltsin’s policy was to convince the West, with the US in particular, that it was within the US interest for Russia to be integrated into the multilateral international framework for managing the global capitalist economy, eventually becoming part of the G-8.
According to Peter Shearman in a book entitled Russian Foreign Policy Since 1990, “Yeltsin made it clear immediately with the collapse of the Soviet Union that Russia did not see the United States as a potential threat, but rather as an ally in developing new methods of collective security.
” Under Yeltsin the push to liberalism and pro-US policy was remarkable, however, it did not last.
This was in part due to the greater complexity of Russian domestic politics as well as the many economic problems that Russia faced that emerged out of the rapid privatization of the economy and the political chaos caused by the shift away from a one party state.
While there are reformers within the Russian Duma, also known as the Russian parliament, the Red-Brown alliance, the alliance of communists and nationalists, is a powerful force that has since captured increasing power, especially with the increased economic stability of Russia.
By the end of 1999 there was a clear shift from the initially strong pro-Western policy in 1992 to one characterized by high nationalism.
This was due to a shift in power within the government where there were three main groups vying for power within the Russian political scene.
The first supported Yeltsin’s pro-Western foreign policy, including such things as positive relations with Israel and the reform and privatization of the Russian economy.
The second group advocated a “Eurasian emphasis in foreign policy” which focused on good relations with the US, Western Europe, China and the Middle East.
While in favour of reform, this group advocated a far slower process of privatization. The last group of the Red-Brown alliance needs to be analyzed extraordinarily carefully, as this group has since become increasingly powerful in Russian policy formation today.
This third group wanted a powerful and confrontational approach toward the United States, seeing it as Russia’s main adversary, strengthening ties with Iraq and Iran, as well as establishing dominance over the former Soviet Republics (CIS states).
To understand the evolution of Russian foreign policy, it is essential to understand this Red-Brown alliance more clearly and the ways in which it influenced the Putin regime.
According to Jennifer Fishkin of Cornell University, the Red-Brown alliance is a political alliance of neo-communists, hoping for the re-institution of Stalin-era regime, of rightwing nationalists, and of whites romanticizing the Czarist period.
These forces were all united in their desire to see Russia rescued from the powers of the West subjugated under Yeltsin’s policies.
They wanted to expand their country to reflect the days of the Russian empire. In fact, a sub-category of this movement, Eurasianism, made most famous by Aleksandra Dugin, (although some within this coalition disagree), affirm “the necessity of maintaining the Russian imperial structure and reject any prospect of a global equilibrium.
” Dugin thus asserts that all anti-globalization tendencies are Eurasianist and proposes an alliance structure based on this conception of the world. (Russian version of the European radical right).
Putin’s and now Medvedev’s policies clearly have undertones of this ideology although both men also have an understanding, however decreasingly so, of their need for the Western powers and of appearing legitimate in the liberal international institutional arena.
Increasingly, with the Russian-Georgian War and Ukraine War as well as Russian policies toward Iran, it is clear that Russia is trying to separate itself and hedge against US/Western powers, although still having a semi-schizophrenic policy of not fully alienating itself from western institutional structures and alliances.
This, especially in the Georgian and Ukraine scenario, becomes obvious because Russia is linked financially to the rest of the world.
Thus, with the current collapse of financial markets in the US and Europe, and the resulting pullout of Russian troops, Russia realizes it still has a lot to lose from a total breakdown of relations with their “western partners”.
Despite this, there is no questioning the nationalist tendencies, such as the re-establishment of the two headed eagle as the national symbol, the reinstatement of the tune of the Soviet Union as the national anthem, and the redefinition of citizens of the Russian Federation as “Rossiyane” implying that the various ethnic groups of the Russian Federation—as in the USSR and Imperial Russia—are now one people.
Though Putin has allegedly ruled with iron hand but at the same time Russia has made a significant mark on the global stage under him and asserted itself as a force to reckon with.
In partnership with China, it has become a major regional player. Its membership of SCO and other regional alliances has boosted and elevated its stature.
No wonder we are seeing a mighty Russia once again which has risen like Phoenix from ashes, ready to resume its role as the major superpower which confronted the US once and now aims at ending its monopoly as the only global superpower.
—The writer is a former Civil Servant & Consultant, ILO and IOM.