On the issue of updating the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation – a series of PIR Center blitz interviews by Ksenia Mineeva

April 10, 2023

At the end of March 2023, President Vladimir Putin issued a decree approving the new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of March 31, 2023 No. 229) – a strategic planning document that reflects a system of views on the national interests of our country in relations with other states.

PIR Center conducted a series of quick interviews with a number of Russian and foreign experts. Comments were submitted by Mikhail Lysenko (PhD in Law; Retired Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary; Deputy Head of the Department of International Law at MGIMO MFA of Russia, member of the PIR Center Advisory Board since 2004), Venkatesh Varma (Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to the Russian Federation (2018–2021), Distinguished Fellow at the International Vivekananda Foundation, Visiting Lecturer at the Kautilya School of Public Policy, Member of the PIR Center Advisory Board since 2023) and Dayan Jayatilleka (Sri Lankan diplomat, Senior Foreign Relations Adviser to the Sri Lankan Opposition Leader, business columnist of the Daily FT newspaper, member of the PIR Center Advisory Board since 2022).

The interviews were conducted by PIR Center intern Ksenia Mineeva.

Ms. Ksenia Mineeva: How do you assess the new Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation? Do you think the Concept shapes a new foreign policy course or formalize the changes that have already taken place?

Dr. Mikhail Lysenko: I assess the Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation at a high level. I would underline such its extremely significant features as pragmatism; emphasis on Russia’s global interests, on our sovereignty in everything; conditioning cooperation on the balance of interests and mutual benefit; clarity and realism of formulations about our interests, priorities, tasks on the global arena. For the first time the document gives a political qualification of what, in fact, is the “identity” of Russia, and what is the special position of our State in the world.

Finally, as a lecturer of the Department of International Law I am pleased to refer to the special section of the document – “Rule of Law in International Relations”.

I think it would be important to update the Concept regularly, for example, once every three years, taking into account the emergence of new geostrategic factors and tasks.

The Concept “absorbed” the universally accepted principles tested by life and outlined new priorities.

Dr. Venkatesh Varma: The new Foreign Policy concept of the Russian Federation released in March 2023 is an important state document. It has both elements of continuity with previous documents and some new elements considering the complicated international situation. Russia is seen as a state civilization and a Eurasian and Euro pacific power pursuing an independent and multivectoral foreign policy with an emphasis on multipolarity, international law, UN, strategic stability and indivisibility of security in global and regional affairs. Therefore some elements that were already there in Russia’s actions have now been given formal status in the document.

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka: The new Concept is of vital significance for Russia and the world. On the one hand, it reflects the changes that have already taken place, in the sense of the end of a phase or a stage of the post-Cold War world order.  On the other hand, it provides a roadmap and compass and a shine a torchlight on the way forward in this extremely contentious period. On the whole I find it extremely useful and positive as an effort to formulate a perspectival doctrine. I also have some points which I find contradictory or problematic but these are of secondary importance. I would strongly suggest an international conference with proportional representation from Eurasia and the global south — the world majority – to discuss the Concept and to draw up a version of it which represents the consensus of the various regions other than the collective West, i.e., NATO. That can be the global version of the Russian Concept document.

Ms. Ksenia Mineeva: In the new Concept of its Foreign Policy Russia pays special attention to its status as a Eurasian power and therefore it focuses on shaping the Great Eurasian Partnership. How do you assess Russia’s achievements and prospects in this area?

Dr. Mikhail Lysenko: I am not an expert on these issues. But I think that the processes in the Eurasian space should be assessed not through the criteria of successes/shortcomings, but through the prism of the long-term strategic interests of the countries of this space. These interests in security, economy, energy, ecology, social, migration issues, etc. objectively coincide in many ways.

Dr. Venkatesh Varma: Russian emphasis on the Eurasian space for the last decade now assumes greater salience. There is a welcome emphasis on relations with India, (along with China) which is a positive reference.

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka: Eurasia and the Greater Eurasian Partnership are core concepts and grand strategic guidelines for the future. These ideas have to be “thickened” and given concrete, material form, in terms of new institutions and networks which can develop the idea. For instance, there should be an institutional base for collecting and synthesizing the counter-hegemonic thinking of the past and present in the Eurasian and Greater Eurasian spaces.

Ms. Ksenia Mineeva: The Russian Federation plan to seek strengthening the system of international treaties in the areas of strategic stability and arms control in particular to prevent an arms race and create conditions for further phased reduction of nuclear potentials. In your opinion, what steps could Russia undertake to this end amid exacerbated international tensions and the deep crisis of the arms control regime?

Dr. Mikhail Lysenko: I believe that these are long-term global tasks that, sooner or later, will return to the agenda, taking into account all the factors affecting strategic stability. In the current situation, one can not expect any positive changes in this issue. Modern collective West has fallen into blind confrontation, and is simply not capable of negotiating.

Dr. Venkatesh Varma: Despite the grave international situation, the door has been kept open for international efforts for arms control and non-proliferation treaties not just with respect to WMDs, but also outer space and information space and measures to restrict the proliferation of sensitive technologies through export control regimes. Though relations with the ‘collective west’ have deteriorated recently, the document significantly states that Russia does not consider itself an enemy of the west and is ready for dialogue and cooperation on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect. What is required now is to restore the culture of dialogue in the international sphere that the document has rightly noted has degraded over time. It is important to preserve key international treaties and dialogue mechanisms in the arms control and non-proliferation field to insulate them from geopolitical conflict and to commence discussions and dialogue at the expert level on revitalizing the entire system of arms control and non-proliferation to meet new challenges. The door for dialogue should always be open and the PIR Center can play an important role in facilitating such dialogue.

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka: In my contributions to Russian publications, I have prescribed and implicitly described myself as a “dialectical Realist”. As such, I realize that all efforts at arms control have to come to grips with the fact that such achievements have always been and can only be epiphenomena of an actual correlation of forces. At the present moment, the collective West is using concerted military force to shatter the power of Russia, thereby render China more vulnerable, and thwart the further development of Asia and Eurasia as engines of a multipolar world.  The question “Who will win? Which will prevail?” will be decided by the actual dialectic on the ground; by struggle. The frontline of that struggle is Ukraine. That is where the contest for the Eurasian and Greater Eurasian space and their destiny is being fought out. This is why the world – especially Asia – must not think that the outcome of the battle on Eurasia’s western front does not pose any danger to it. This is also why Russia has to undertake all necessary transformations to ensure that the “grand strategic” offensive of the global hegemon(s) is blunted and turned back.

Key words: Global Security; Russia–USA; blitz