The Personal Role of President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Foreign Policy towards the South Caucasus

by ANKASAM Ekip
Kenan AĞAZADE
Kenan Ağazade received his master’s degree from the University of Malmö in Sweden. In 2019 – 2020, he completed an internship at the Analytical Center for Strategic Studies of Russia and the Caucasus under the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Russian foreign political course towards three South Caucasian states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have altered drastically after the election of Vladimir Putin as a president of the Russian Federation in March 2000. The Russian foreign policy was comparatively stable after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December of 1991. It can be elucidated by the fact that the Russian Federation experienced one of the tremendous social and economic crises in its history. Another ground is that Russia was forced to apply moderate approaches in the foreign policy due to the economic problems and necessity of strategic cooperation with the West.

On the other hand, the current geopolitical situation may not explain completely the core factors behind the Russian foreign policy towards the South Caucasian states as well as the other Post-Soviet states by the geopolitical and geo-economic factors. For that reason, we should take into consideration the essential role of a leader and his perception in the Russian system. The character and charismatic leadership of Vladimir Putin is very significant for the full understanding of the situation. Vladimir Putin is a person who is against the values of the Western system and considers any presence of the West forces around the Russian boundaries not only as a threat for Russia but also as a personal hazard for him. Nevertheless, increasing the influence of the West around the Russian state borders may become the reason for the concern in Kremlin and may add to the additional tensions between the West capitals and Moscow.

The perception and the world vision of Vladimir Putin formulated in the period of the Soviet Union where he served, as a lieutenant colonel in the KGB and the collapse of the Soviet Union became his enormous personal trauma in 1991. He lost his state, and at present, he has a fear about the repetition of that situation with modern Russia. For that reason, he has anxiety feelings about the national security issues and considers all the post-Soviet states as artificial ones without a political future.

Vladimir Putin does not accept the state sovereignty and the independence of former Soviet republics and their attempt to integrate with NATO. He does not consider this integration as an internal issue of these states, but he views it as a threat to the security and prestige of Russia and authority alongside his status. He believes that any other state could act in a similar way towards the former ownership.

The essence of the personal portrait of Vladimir Putin is an important factor because he has enormous power in Russia regardless of check and balance policy. Vladimir Putin could be considered as the main decision-maker in foreign policy. Yet, Vladimir Putin is not an absolute power symbol as Joseph Stalin and modern Russia is not the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin depends on the statements of the various fractions in Russian society.

Vladimir Putin always modifies his foreign policy and he follows extraordinary approaches in any single field. He is eager to establish a strong state, which is similar to the power of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. However, on the other side, he is not interested in the former social-political attitudes of the Soviet Union and the communist society as well. He is rather interested in the Soviet memory and glory than emphasizes not the communist society but the high international status of Russia in the global arena. This means that he does not have an aim to retrieve the Soviet Union, yet he wishes that the global community would accept Russia as an exceptional state with a unique way in the world and would make him the global leader.

The Russian foreign policy may be a little bit different if the Russian president is not Vladimir Putin but the foreign policy of Vladimir Putin towards the Post-Soviet neighbors is understandable for the Russian population due to the Soviet Propaganda of the Cold War. The Russian population does not support the internal actions of President Putin according to surveys, but they support the foreign policy. President Putin may act radically, regardless of the advice from his professional experts since he has his own methodology in policy based on his experience in special intelligence as an officer. The denial of his power by the global powers negatively influences him because he knows that the Russian population may forgive his internal mistakes, but not forgive the loss of the sacral status of Russia in the international arena. Vladimir Putin regularly does the historical comparison especially when Russian people compare him and find analogies with great figures in Russian history such as Ivan Terrible, Great Peter, Alexander 1, who are famous for their expansionist and military policy. By making a comparison of modern Russia with Tsarist Russia and Soviet Russia, Vladimir Putin attempts to demonstrate that Russians have been fortunate to live in such a powerful state.

However, Vladimir Putin does not have absolute power in Russia and his power has a limit in Russia. His presidential status is significant, but his power is restricted by the different groups and this means that the Russian Federation is not a totalitarian state similar to North Korea. The factor of the Russian population, the results of the presidential/ parliament elections, the role of media are not the serious menace for Vladimir Putin, but the reaction of the Russian elite and establishment have serious meaning for him and his chance to preserve his power. Vladimir Putin takes into consideration the consolidated opinion of the Russian elite consisted mainly of the former members of the KGB and the other special services. His predecessor president Boris Yeltsin was more democratic and liberal-oriented, but he also followed the strategic direction of the profound state. For that reason, variation of the president’s power does not alter fundamentally the foreign policy of Russia towards the South Caucasus or Central Asia. The changing of the president for the democratic values causes only the visual difference and this can be called an imitation because, in the reality, the real power belongs to the Russian elite. This approach vividly implies the Russian state interests do not depend on the personality of the president, regardless of the fact if the president is a democratic or non-democratic person. Finally, the election of a president with different ideological background or with liberal views would not fundamentally change the foreign policy of Russia and we should not forget that Vladimir Putin introduced the new law that will help him to stay in power until 2036 but it is quite predictable that Russia will experience turbulent issues and troubles in the foreign policy after the presidency of Vladimir Putin.

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