Vladimir Putin again secured the country’s presidency for another six-year term. In the lead up to the elections, the rhetoric from Moscow indicated little reason to expect a change in behavior, but the Kremlin’s post-elections foreign policy direction will have significant implications for the transatlantic partners and the global order as a whole.
Chris Miller is assistant professor of international history at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and author of the recent book Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia. GMF sat down with him to discuss the main priorities and foreign policy challenges facing Vladimir Putin’s Russia in Putin’s fourth term. GMF also asked Chris about the global nature of Russia’s challenge, which is being more frequently discussed with the most recent U.S. National Security Strategy naming Russia, along with China, as a key geopolitical competitor for the United States.
What will be President Putin’s main priorities in his fourth term?
Chris Miller: The big challenge that Putin faces is that he has been in power for almost two decades. His policies have stayed pretty similar for two decades, and they have produced a sense of stagnation inside of Russia. The Russian economy is not going anywhere. Russia is run by largely the same people that have run it for almost 20 years, and Russians themselves, although they tend to appreciate the stability that Putin has provided, are also frustrated with a lack of opportunities. And so, Putin faces the task of trying to revitalize his political system, revitalize the Russian economy, provide for a sense of growth and development without shaking the core of his political system, and there is a lot of risk involved there, because the more things he changes, the more risk he introduces into his ability to keep control.
What do you see as the core foreign policy challenges that Russia will face in the near future?
Chris Miller: The key challenges that they are going to face are the challenges that they already have. Managing the war in Ukraine, which looks no closer to being ended today than it did two years ago. Managing the war in Syria. If you have been following negotiations there, the most recent round of negotiations in Sochi look just like the negotiations over a year ago in Astana, which means no progress is being made. And above all, managing relationships with not only the United States, but also the major European powers, which keep declining ever downward. Russia does not want them to decline downward. It wants U.S. and European powers to give in to its demands on Russia’s terms. That has not happened, and so Russia is out of ideas about what it can do to convince the United States and Europe to give it concessions on the issues that Russia cares the most about.
Today’s Russia is often described as a global actor. Are Russia’s interests global, or are they more limited?
Chris Miller: Russia’s capabilities are, to a certain extent, global. Its actions are increasingly global. We see it in Latin America. We see it in Southeast Asia. We see it all over the world. But its interests, primarily, are regional. I would not describe Russia as a regional power, but every country, its main focus is its own neighborhood, and Russia itself has faced declining influence in its own neighborhood, the former Soviet space. And so, its number one focus is trying to sustain its influence, and even potentially rebuild its influence, and it is using its global agenda to try to force the United States and other Western powers to the negotiating table, to get them to recognize Russia’s sphere of interests in the former Soviet space. It is a global actor, but it is acting on a global level to achieve its interests closer to home.