Are the Kremlin’s attempts to project influence around the world a fundamentally new element of Russian foreign policy? Yes and no. The Putin regime’s ambitions have deep roots: Russian foreign policy since 2012 fits comfortably in the long-standing historical and intellectual traditions of Soviet and imperial Russian foreign policy. Indeed, continuity with the Soviet era and earlier periods of Russian history is a hallmark of the Kremlin’s current foreign policy. Alluding to this history, the Kremlin legitimizes its pursuits by presenting them as an integral part of Russian identity.
Along with this legacy, Russian foreign policy also inherited a rich toolkit to advance the country’s goals.
Key elements of this toolkit have been perfected and refined over many decades.
They have performed reliably for the Russian state at home and abroad.
Since the Russian Revolution, the Kremlin has used its ideology of the moment to expand its global reach. In the pre-1991 period, this effort entailed both overt Marxist-Leninist propaganda as well as ideological subversion.
From the beginning, the Soviet state weaponized information and ideology in its struggle for survival at home and influence abroad.
The Soviet Union also leveraged economic assistance to leftist and other friendly governments to expand its web of influence and promote an alternative to the capitalist system. Soviet economic assistance relied on a range of instruments, from economic and technical advisors to loans and sponsorship of industrial development projects.
Military assistance, as well as the use of proxy agents and covert military operations, have been a mainstay of Moscow’s foreign policy—well before the appearance of “little green men” in Ukraine.
Following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Russia largely retreated from the world stage. Once Russia recovered a measure of its economic strength, political stability, and military muscle a decade later, it did not take long for it to reclaim a significant part of its foreign policy legacy. Russian foreign policy today lacks the rigid ideological guidelines and vast resources of the Soviet period, but it reflects greater flexibility, adaptability, and opportunism. There is every indication that both Moscow’s ambitions and its toolkit will endure, even in a post-Putin era.Go deeperRead the report