Russia seeking to gain ground from lost Soviet influence

Russia in recent years has been trying to gradually restore its influence in the world arena, after its sway waned following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Some experts suggest that Russia, unhampered by the ideological limits of its predecessor, has an advantage in extending its worldwide influence — despite the difficulty of fully reinstating the Soviet capabilities — while others say its foreign policy relies too much on hard power.

The Communist Party was the main entity of the Soviet Union’s interactions with external partners, which made decisions slow, heavy, and highly dependent on the decisions of the party officials, Kirill Koktysh, a political scientist at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, told Anadolu Agency.

“It is obvious that Russia is a successor country to the Soviet Union.

“By some parameters its influence is even greater than that of the USSR, not only because of the size of its state, resources, and other physical characteristics, but also because of differing global conditions,” the expert said.

The USSR built its relations only with “friendly” governments and mostly on the political level, while Russia has bet on the economy and using its political ties to find areas of economic cooperation and to forge bonds through joint long-term commercial projects, said Koktysh.

Despite sanctions and tensions between Russia and the EU, as well as with the U.S., Russia’s economic cooperation with the U.S. and EU far exceeds Soviet-European and Soviet-American trade, he said.

“In the Middle East we can say Russia surpassed the USSR, and has successfully built relations with all regional states.

“In Asia, one of the main partners of Russia is China, [while] in the Soviet era the two countries were on the edge of a military clash, and today Russia’s friendship with China does not harm its good relations with other regional countries,” Koktysh added.

Russian influence in Africa cannot be compared to the Soviet power in the region, and although Moscow has just begunreturning to the continent, developments are very promising, he said.

Russias’ position in former Eastern bloc countries are indisputable, as practice has shown that the West is incapable of making up for losses caused by exiting the Russian market, he added.

“Initially, the connections between Soviet bloc countries were built in a way that their break led to tremendous losses for the country-breaker.

“We see in the examples of Ukraine and Moldova that the West can’t replace the Russian market,” he said.

Different priorities

Vladimir Evseev, a military expert and deputy director of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Institute, stressed that the Soviet Union and Russia have different foreign policy priorities.

While the USSR sought world domination, Russia is bent on defending its national interests and creating a multipolar world system, he said.

“Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia does not fight for world domination, but rather focuses on building responsible partnership, which is an important part of its foreign policy, and this gives impressive results.

“Look at Syria, [where] the Soviet Union would act differently to solve the problem unilaterally,” he said.

“Russia is negotiating with other important players and respects their interests.

“For example, for Russia it is important to liberate Idlib, but it does not take hasty actions, and it respects Turkey’s position,” he said, referring to an area of northwestern Syria where a de-escalation zone pact was reached.

He added that the ability to negotiate is not a sign of weakness, but on the contrary, it is much harder to look for common approaches, as it takes time, patience and respect.

“Look at the [United] States, they are strong, they don’t negotiate with anyone, but they don’t solve anything.

“Look at Russia, Iran, and Turkey, they negotiate, they find a compromise, implement decisions, and have problems resolved and conflicts settled,” he stressed.

“Obviously, this approach to solve problems through talks is much better,” he added.

Russia’s ‘legitimacy based on hard power’

Although Russia’s political and diplomatic power is not as strong as during the Cold War, its participatory collaboration and partnership policy during the formation of the “new international system” make Russia a stronger political actor globally, said Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Ankara Centre for Crisis and Policy Research.

“Russia, currently a regional power, is trying to become a global power again with its ‘smart power policy,’ which relies heavily on hard power,” Erol said.

Starting from its “near abroad,” Russia has sought to achieve this goal mainly through partnerships and cooperation, but also through the use of threats and hard power, he stressed.

Russia, to protect its interests, and eliminate threats to itself and its immediate surroundings, does not hesitate to create a “legitimacy based on hard power,” he said.

Russia seems to have largely achieved its goals so far, said Erol, referring to its moves in Georgia, Eastern Ukraine, Crimea, and Syria.

“Russia is effectively using and will continue to use its hard power in its foreign policy in the coming years,” according to Erol.

Russia’s soft power policy is relatively weak compared to that of the U.S. and the West, so it is trying to balance out this weakness by using coercive means, he added.

“Human rights violations, and anti-democratic actions are among the prominent features of Russian foreign and security policy,” he stressed.

Although it seeks to be becoming a global power again, history shows that Russia has little to offer the world in terms of values such as human rights and democracy, Erol said.

He underlined that today’s Russia faces an identity crisis and an “ideological vacuum” as it suffers from the lack of a “unique system of values” and understanding of civilization.

“The activities of the U.S. — especially after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — which undermine international law and aim to discredit international organizations, form a legitimate basis for Russia’s current policies,” he added.

Global game-changer’ of 21st century

Hasan Ali Karasar, an international relations expert at Cappadocia University in central Turkey, said that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has tried to repair the scars of the Soviet past to restore its power among the family of nations.

Highlighting that Russia is no “ordinary” nation state, Karasar said: “It is the inheritor of two great powers of the last two centuries”.

“The greatness of the Russian Empire in the 19th and the Soviet Union in the 20th centuries is [both] a curse and blessing in its domestic and foreign policies,” he highlighted.

For Russia, the 1990s were years of tremendous chaos and struggle as it has lost its great power status, Karasar said.

“A good part of the first decade of the 21st century can be considered years of recovery,” he added.

Karasar said this recovery led to the “re-emergence of great power politics.”

“The intractable conflicts in the Caucasus (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Crimea became pretexts for using hard power to re-impose Russia’s regional power,” he said.

In the eyes of the Western policy-makers, all these make Russia a “revisionist power” rather than a great power, Karasar added.

But Russia’s direct involvement in the Syrian civil war has transformed it into a “global game changer,” with its strong diplomacy and military, according to Karasar.

“Russia uses its limited economic, social, cultural, and military power more effectively than any other country,” he said.

Stressing that it is too early to talk about success, Karasar said: “Russia plays chess better than many others.”

Since the end of the Cold War, the so-called “new world order” has yet to be established, he said, adding that today there is no order but rather rising disorder, civil wars, and instability.

“What is interesting in this new era is the fact that the illusion of the West as the protector and the source of international law and norms, the supporter of the global drive towards democracy and support for human rights, is no longer there,” he said.

When it comes to human rights and democracy records, “there is not much difference among the so-called ‘great powers,’ if there are any left,” he added.

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