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vladimir putin
Vladimir Putin

As the title suggests, we will try to examine to preeminent aspects of Russian President Vladimir Putin's agenda: the recovery of the sovereignty over its territory and the "imperial" goals of a policy that looks at the past, at the Tzar's Empire on whose ashes the Soviet Union was built on December 22, 1922 at the end of World War I.

From the Soviet Union to the Russian Federation

Following the Belaveža agreement, the 15 republics of the Soviet Union formed the Community of Independent States to then become the Russian Federation. Here is a brief chronology of events:

  • On December 30, 1922 the Soviet Socialist Republics merged to form the Soviet Union. They were the FSSR of Russia and the SSRs of Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia.

The Soviet Union, whose acronym was USSR, lasted 69 years and survived World War II and the Cold War. It dissolved, or rather imploded, following the Belaveža agreement (December 8, 1991) signed by Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union, and by the presidents of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, and Belarus, Stanislav Šuškevič.

The deal imposed:

      • the disaggregation of the Soviet Union

      • the formation of the "Community of Independent States" (CIS), whose ties were not comparable to those of the Soviet Union and largely insufficient to create a new "common home".

Among the causes of the USSR's dissolution were Gorbachev and his political reforms enacted since the half of the 1980s. They were based on the criteria of glasnost (transparency) and on the perestrojka (renewal) and were probably ahead of their times. In that precise historical moment:

  • the central government had abdicated several of its core functions;

  • the country's economy had fallen in the hands of a limited number of individuals, the so-called "oligarchs";

In short, the USSR was not capable of controlling a vast territory, infiltrated by criminal and terrorist organizations and as such had fallen into chaos.

  • The 15 republics of the Soviet Union then formed the CIS with the exception of the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, that opted out for historical, cultural and ethnic reasons. The move from the CIS to the Russian Federation was instead considered a natural and logical outcome because:

  • it was the largest of the independent republics of the CIS;

  • its population (145 million people) represented more than half of the people of the former Soviet Union;

  • Russians represented the majority of the members of the Armed Forces and of the members of the now dissolved Communist Party;

dmitry medvedev
Dmitry Medvedev
The Putin-Medvedev relay

Since the year 2000 until today, the Russian Federation has been systematically ruled by a relay and handover of power between the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister. The two men at the helm are Vladimir Putin and Dmitrij Medvedev.
















The presidential mandate is of four years as written in the Constitution approved in 1993 and can be confirmed only once. But after a four year leap, a candidate can run for president again and therefore a handover is to all effects possible.

The Russian policies have gone along the following guidelines:

  • the recovery of the sovereignty of the State over the entire territory of the Federation, as the campaigns waged since 1999 against the independentist and terrorist movements in Chechnya prove. At the time Vladimir Putin was only the Prime Minister;

  • the improvement of the economy and the de-privatization of resources: previously they had been under the control of the oligarchs.

To this effect, both Russian rulers have each contributed with their specific background and knowledge:

  • Putin (61 years old) was formerly a director of an important branch of the Russian Secret Services, the KGB, with responsibility over military policies; he is a "conservative" as far as traditional values are concerned with a propensity towards the past Tzarist Empire;

  • Medvedev (48 years old) has a considerable experience in the management of energy resources and of the technologies employed in this specific sector; ideologically he is definitely more "liberal" than Putin is.

When the two switched posts at the presidency for the first time in 2008, several commentators wondered whether the handover was truly effective, or whether Putin still pulled the reins. The latter seems to be the most reasonable answer, as Medvedev has on more than once occasion publicly stated he would "consult with Putin" with regard to key decisions.

Putin's imperial goals

  1. In December 2013 during a speech to the country on the anniversary of the first post-Soviet Russian Constitution unveiled his aspirations and stated:

    • Russia is ready to become a super-power once again, as it did during the Cold War;

    • there is no pressure on Ukraine with regard to its intention to join the European Union and regardless of the fact that it was invited to adhere to the Customs Union (a project that saw the light in 1994 between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan); the aim of the invitation, said Putin, was rather to help the Ukrainians avoid the mounting influence of China and the United States. In that context, Putin labelled the EU as the "graveyard of human rights".

    • Vladimir Putin has also claimed the successes of his renewed "Great Power", including:

      • The Russian mediation to block the bombing of Syria (when the US military was already deployed to strike);

      • The Russian stance in favor or Iran's role during the Syrian negotiations and the failure of the "Geneva 2" rounds proved Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's remarks on the "hypocrisy" of talks without the Iranians;

      • The Snowden case, whereby the Datagate scandal's whistle-blower has been granted asylum for a year on Russian soil to spare him from persecution in the United States (where treason and espionage are handed the capital punishment). Putin has underlined at the same time how this act of clemency is not one of weakness as he went about to harshen the laws against homosexuals and has acted heavy handed against the Pussy Riots and Greenpeace activists.

  1. With regard to Putin's imperialist dream, we should also note:

    • The choice of Sochi as host of the Winter Olympics in a locality close to the Caucasus and on the Eastern shores of the Black Sea is there to remind Russia's success against Chechen independentism (Second Chechen War), whose place has been taken by Islamic extremism lead by Emir Doku Umarov and his war on the Olympics that resulted in two terrorist attacks in Volgograd prior to the games that caused 36 deaths;

    • President Putin thus aims at rebuilding the Soviet-era sphere of influence with the following goals and methods:

  • the goals are the safeguard of the strategic areas on the Black Sea, with Crimea and the naval base in Sevastopol in the forefront, in the Caucasus menaced by terrorism and in the so-called Stan Countries (the former Soviet republics who are trying to manage their energy resources without external interferences and who look to China as a privileged trade partner);

  • with regard to the "methods", Russia has put in place a series of alliances with the above mentioned countries spanning from security deals, to the fight on terrorism, to military cooperation (joint military exercises and so forth). These agreements should, at least in Russia's intentions, pave the way for an increased commercial collaboration (and specifically with regard to energy resources);

    • The above mentioned alliances, who often date back to the post-Soviet period, have taken the following form:

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), between Russia, China and the Stan Countries (with the exception of Uzbekistan);

  • The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) involving Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan;

  • The Eurasian Union, launched by Kazakh President Nazarbayev in 1994 and initially comprising Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Similar to the EU, it will commence operations in 2015 and aims at re-uniting all former Soviet countries. It's first step will be the Customs Union, that received a new push following Ukraine's decision to suspend its negotiations to join the European Union in November 2013. This has lead several countries interested in the Eurasian Union (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine) to take the following steps:

          • Armenia, Tajikistan and Kirghizistan will join the new union starting off from the Customs Union;

          • Georgia will wait for Ukraine's next steps with regard to energy supplies, the issues of Ukraine's Russian speaking population and Russia's trade policies.

Vladimir M. Gundyaev
The Patriarch of Moscow
Vladimir M. Gundyaev

The Russian Orthodox Church and Russia's foreign policy

On a last note, it is important to underline the role played by the Russian Orthodox Church, whose main role should be to help the cohabitation of different people, religions and cultures. To this effect, the Russian Orthodox Church has created in 1998 an Inter-religious Council of the Russian Federation and a similar organism for the CIS.

The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has played a key role in the dialogue among the Christian orthodox and is well aware that his aims have to take into account the process of integration going on in Europe, the Muslim's search for international recognition and hence the geopolitics of the orthodox church necessarily have to go hand in hand with Putin's foreign policy.

Who are and how many are the Christian orthodox? According to the Patriarchate in Moscow, they are overall 230 million (70% of whom belong to the Russian church) and can be divided into three main groups:

  1. The traditional orthodox countries: Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine (with its own national orthodox church in contrast with the Patriarchate in Moscow);

  2. The orthodox minorities in the following countries: Albania, Czech Republic, Finland, Poland, Slovakia, in the Middle East and in the Americas;

  3. the Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe;

It is important to underline how the recent persecutions of the Christian Orthodox in the Middle East have also brought upon the support and solidarity of the Vatican and of Pope Francis, who recently stated:

  • There is no Middle East without the Christians;

  • The Muslims have the obligation to respect the Christians of the East in the same way the West respects the Muslims;