Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov explains Russia’s World View
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Like other great powers, Russia is keenly watching the global developments and how they impact it. It is seeking a place for itself in the rapidly changing world order. The Americans are talking about a rule-based order. The Chinese are expanding their influence through the Belt and Road Initiative and a new type of relationship between the great powers. How does Russia view such concepts?

Russia is deeply worried how the world is changing. Concerned about Western unilateralism which either leaves out Russia or undermines its interests, the Russians have been actively promoting new concepts such as that of Eurasia. After 30 years of Soviet Union’s demise, there is a lot of debate in the Russian strategic circles about Russia’s place in the world. Russians are clear about one thing; that they will never compromise on their sovereignty and independence. This is the leitmotif that runs through all Russian pronouncements. At the same time Russians have been at the forefront of promoting a multipolar world. In recent years they have added polycentric world to the geostrategic vocabulary.

Writing in the Russian magazine Russia In Global Affairs, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov expounds on how Russia sees the structural changes taking place in the world and what would be their approach to a new world order. The article is important as it lays down clearly the basic elements of Russia’s approach to the changing world.1

Foreign Minister Lavrov harshly criticises the West for employing interventionist doctrines which have created instability and chaos in the world. He points out that while the West talks of liberal order based on democracy and the rights of the individual, it does at the same time hesitate to impose sanctions, deny freedoms to those whom it doesn’t like and bomb indiscriminately innocent civilians.2 Commenting on the demise of the INF treaty, Lavrov, warns that the entire edifice of non-proliferation regime is in danger of falling apart. This would ignite a dangerous arms race.

Lavrov is particularly harsh on the Western concept of “rule-based” order. He writes, “The West’s unwillingness to accept today's realities, when after centuries of economic, political and military domination it is losing the prerogative of being the only one to shape the global agenda, gave rise to the concept of a “rules-based order.” These “rules” are being invented and selectively”3 applied. Further, he writes, “The concept is by no means abstract and is actively being implemented. Its purpose is to replace the universally agreed international legal instruments and mechanisms with narrow formats, where alternative, non-consensual methods for resolving various international problems are developed in circumvention of a legitimate multilateral framework. In other words, the expectation is to usurp the decision-making process on key issues.”4

Lavrov points out that the western doctrines such as of “rule-based” order, “responsibility to protect” and “countering violent extremism” are being used to target political regimes which do not toe the Western line. This undermines global stability. He gives several examples: US withdrawal from multilateral agreement JCPOA; imposition of sanctions on arbitrary considerations; misuse of the status of US dollar as the pre-eminent international currency; et cetera. Russia completely rejects the West dominated world order. Lavrov writes, “The West-promoted “order” does not meet the needs of humankind’s harmonious development. This “order” is non-inclusive, aims to revise the key international legal mechanisms, rejects the principle of collective action in the relations between states, and by definition cannot generate solutions to global problems that would be viable and stable in the long term rather than seek a propaganda effect within an electoral cycle in this or that country.”

Recognising that “the emergence of a polycentric world architecture is an irreversible process”, he contrasts the West’s non-inclusive approach with the Russia’s inclusive approach. He writes, “It is our common interest to ensure that multi-polarity is not based on a stark balance of power like … in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, but rather bears a just, democratic and unifying nature, takes into account the approaches and concerns of all those taking part in the international relations without an exception, and ensures a stable and secure future.”5 He rejects the western accusation that Russia is a revisionist power. In turn, he accuses the US of containing both Russia and China. In Russian scheme, “the emergence of a polycentric world architecture is an irreversible process”. He mentions G 20, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as multilateral institutions which can strengthen inclusive multilateralism in the world. Russia is going to chair the SCO in 2020. One can expect a thrust from the Russian side to expand the scope of SCO.

Russia is a large country with 60,000 km of land borders and shorelines. It is also a deeply insecure country. It is greatly concerned about “equal and indivisible security in the Euro Atlantic and Eurasia.” Lavrov mentions that the “Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) have repeatedly expressed their readiness to contribute to such efforts.”6 These are the two organisations where Russia plays a lead role.

The Russians have been of late been laying emphasis on the concept of “common Eurasian region”. They have long given up the idea of a “common European home” which was very popular in the 1980s and also in the 90s. The concept of Eurasia is supposedly inclusive as Lavrov explains. He says, “Our unconditional priority is to continue providing assistance to the unhindered formation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, a broad integration framework stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific that involves the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the SCO, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and all other countries of the Eurasian continent, including the European Union (EU) countries.”

India has talked about an inclusive Indo-Pacific concept. Russians are suspicious of the Indo-Pacific concept which is promoted by the West but are satisfied that in Prime Minister Modi is view the concept of Indo-Pacific is inclusive. The recent visit of Prime Minister Modi to Vladivostok during which he launched what he described as “act far east policy” is a major Indian move towards linking Indo-Pacific concept with Russia’s Eurasia concept.

India, like Russia, is also trying to define and find its place in the new world order. India Russia and China have been promoting a non-Western multi-polar world although the three countries may not fully converge on its meaning. India is developing close strategic ties with the United States in its own national interests. In a few years’ time, India will become the third largest economy in the world while Russia’s position is sliding. Nevertheless, Russia remains an important partner for India. India cannot be oblivious to the Russian world view. Lavrov’s article should be studied for understanding Russia’s worldview, its concerns and its future plans.

  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.

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