Russian Government and Politics

2nd edition

by Eric Shiraev

Part IV: Russian policies


Regional priorities of Russia's foreign policy

Russia maintains friendly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Russia claims that the necessity of such a policy is based on historical ties, both countries' mutual desire to maintain stability near their borders, and the growing bilateral economic cooperation. One of the most controversial topics is Russia's participation in Iran's nuclear program. In fact, Russia has been participating in the construction of a nuclear power plant in the south of Iran, and received multi-million dollar contracts for building and developing nuclear facilities. One of the key reasons for Russia's active pursuit of friendly relations with Iran is strategic. To reduce America's influence in the Middle East and Central Asia, Russia has to show that it has powerful allies and is capable of influencing policies in that region. Being able to influence Iran, for example, would give Russia a bargaining chip in negotiations on many other foreign-policy issues. A weaker or defeated Iran would probably mean the strengthening of the US role in the region, which is not a desirable outcome for Russia.

Latin America
During the Cold War, Russia maintained close ties with Latin American communist parties (most of these parties were illegal). Moscow secretly provided training, education, and financial support of many radical and left-wing organizations across the continent. These days, Russia tends to maintain a non-ideological policy toward all Latin American countries. It claims this strategy is based on pragmatic goals. However, Russia assigns a special value to its relations with anti-American governments, and in particular with Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela. While rejecting communist ideas at home, Russia embraces communist and socialist leaders. The reasons are geopolitical and economic. For example, Russia has an agreement with Venezuela which means that visas are not necessary for tourists. Russia has also signed deals to sell arms and military equipment to Caracas. Venezuela was among the very few countries supporting Russia's policies in Georgia.

The Soviet Union's policy in Africa was based on ideological and geopolitical considerations: Moscow supported African countries with a pro-communist orientation and tried not to let the United States obtain strategic advantages on the continent. Between the 1960s and 1980s Russia provided military assistance to several countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Congo (Brazzaville). These and many other countries were also recipients of the Soviet economic assistance.

Today Russian polices in this region are, in general, non-ideological. Like in Latin America, the priorities are largely geopolitical and economic. Russia opposed sanctions against Zimbabwe and its dictator, most probably out of the geopolitical calculation that this might give it more support from some other African countries. One of Russia's priorities is not to let other states, China in particular, gain economic and political advantages in Africa at Russia's expense (Margelov, 2006). To boost its reputation, in 2008, Russia sent a small (200 people) peacekeeping contingent to Chad.

The Middle East
Soviet policies in the Middle East were a product of the Cold War calculations. For many years Moscow supported Arab socialist regimes in Iraq, Syria, Algeria, and South Yemen, among others. The Kremlin supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization and conducted an openly anti-Israeli foreign policy. Today Russia maintains relations with both Israel and all Arab countries. It supports a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Russia supports a sovereign Israel and condemns violent acts against it. On the other hand, Russia has ties with Hamas and other anti-Israeli groups. Russia's strategic goal in the Middle East has several major objectives. First, Russia needs a stable and peaceful Middle East, with Jewish and Palestinian states coexisting. Second, Russia is trying to play a larger role in this region's politics, by developing bilateral, non-ideological ties with Middle Eastern countries. Third, Russia wants to see the region free of any foreign power domination (which refers primarily to the United States). By maintaining a fair, non-ideological policy, Russia wants to play the role of a mediator, equally useful to all countries in the region.

The Litvinenko case
On December 1, 2006, one of the eeriest autopsies in the annals of crime was conducted at the Royal London Hospital. Three British pathologists, covered from head to toe in white protective suits, stood around a radioactive corpse that had been sealed in plastic for nearly a week. The victim was Alexander Litvinenko, a 44-year-old ex-KGB officer who had defected from Russia to England in November 2000 and had drawn on his experience to denounce the government of the newly installed President Putin. What the pathologists found is still a state secret.

This paragraph is the opening to a New York Sun news story that provides a good account of the case:

The investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein has taken up the Litvinenko case.

Axis provides some useful background into "The case of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant-Colonel."

Russia's reactions to 9/11
The reaction of the top Russian officials to the violent acts against the United States was quick and unambiguous. On September 11, 2001, Putin made a brief televised statement broadcasted on all networks. He called the acts "barbaric," emphasized that they were directed against innocent people, and referred to the feelings of "indignation and revolt" directed against the perpetrators of the attacks. Later the media reported on a telegram sent by Putin to George W. Bush, in which the Russian president not only expressed sympathy to the American people but also stated that the attacks must not go unpunished (Interfax, 9/11). Putin issued a decree to lower the flags and observe a moment of silence throughout Russia at noon Moscow time on September 13. On that day, Putin held a telephone conversation with Bush, the second in a matter of hours to discuss joint actions. The prime ministers of Russia, China, and four Central Asian states issued to the media a joint declaration on September 14 condemning the brutal terrorist attacks in the United States. Earlier, Russia and NATO had issued an extraordinary joint statement expressing anger at the devastating attacks on the United States and calling for international efforts to combat global terrorism.

Chernyaev, A. (1993) Shest let s Gorbachevym (Six Years With Gorbachev). Moscow: Progress-Kultura.
Dugin, A. (1998) Osnovy Geolopitiki (Foundation of Geopolitics). Moscow: Arktogea
Medvedev V. (1994) V Komande Gorbacheva (In Gorbachev's Team). Moscow: Bylina.
Gorbachev, M. (1992) Moya Pozitsia (My Position). Moscow: Novosti.

Whenever the Kremlin starts a new anti-American campaign, slogans about Russian moral superiority over Americans take a place of honor. Russia, once again, proclaims itself the country of lofty moral ideals, while America is depicted as a society obsessed with money obtained by any means possible.
Chapters 12, 13. Topics: Russia’s foreign policy, Russia anti-western attitude

A question of faith. A new look at religion in post-1991 Russia.
Chapter 11. Topic: Religion in Russia

Web links

Information sites in Russian

Opinion polls

  • The non-governmental organization, Levada Analytical Center (or Levada Center), was established in 2002. Today it is one of the largest full-service agencies carrying out public opinion and market research.
  • Since the launch of the Russian Federation in January, 1992, the CSPP has been conducting Barometer surveys monitoring mass response to transformation across Central and East Europe and the former Soviet Union.
  • The Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) is the oldest and the leading marketing and opinion research company in the post-Soviet space.

Russian news

Political websites in opposition to the current government of the Russian Federation

Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia as an “energy superpower” got closer to reality. State-controlled, London-floated Rosneft has clinched a deal in 2012 to buy out BP’s stake in Russian oil operations.
Chapter: 10. Topic: Russia’s economic strategies

Learn more about Russia’s birth rates:
Chapter: 11. Topic: Russia’s population policies

Foreign policy. Since Vladimir Putin’s third inauguration as Russian president in 2012, U.S.–Russian relations have deteriorated sharply. Officials on both sides have moved past the “reset” honeymoon as disagreements over geopolitics and human rights abound.
Chapter: 12. Topic: US-Russia relations

If America did not exist, Russia would have to invent it. In a sense it already has: first as a dream, then as a nightmare. No other country looms so large in the Russian psyche. To Kremlin ideologists, the very concept of Russia’s sovereignty depends on being free of America’s influence.
Chapters 12, 13. Topics: Russia’s foreign policy, Russia anti-western attitude

Practice questions

Chapter 7 - Political Parties

  • Which party had a monopoly on power in the Soviet Union? p.155
  • Describe the stages of the development of the multi-party system in Russia. p.157-58
  • Describe the differences between the Russian 'left' and 'right' political ideologies. p.159-60
  • Describe the differences between 'liberal' and 'conservative' political ideologies. p.160-61
  • What is the most powerful political party in Russia today? p.162
  • What are the main goals of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia? p.163-65
  • What are the main goals of the Communist Party of Russia? p.166-67
  • What is 'The Other Russia'? p.169
  • What is the authoritarian view of the Russian party system? p.171
  • What is populism? p.172

Chapter 8 - Presidential and Parliamentary Elections

  • When was the first Russian Duma elected? p.175
  • When did the first Duma elections take place after the disappearance
  • of the Soviet Union? p.176
  • Who were two main candidates in the 1996 presidential elections? p.181
  • When did president Yeltsin resign? p.182
  • Who was Putin at the time when Yeltsin resigned? p.182
  • How many presidential elections did Putin win from 1999 to 2010? p.182-83
  • What is the main source of funding of federal elections in Russia? p.185
  • What is the average presidential election turnout in Russia? p.185

Chapter 9 - Political Communications and Mobilization

  • What is political mobilization? p.190
  • What is gatekeeping in political communications? p.191
  • Which institution was in charge of the Soviet media? p.191
  • Who owns the post powerful Russian TV networks? p.194
  • What is agenda setting? p.194
  • What is the official paper of the Russian Communist Party today? p.196
  • Name the Kremlin's main strategies of political mobilization. p.200-02
  • Does the government allow muckraking in the Russian media? p.201
  • Who was Anna Politkovskaya? p.204
  • What is creative authoritarianism related to the media in Russia? p.209