B. Bazylevskyi. The System of Foreign Policy Approval in Putin’s Russia (Characteristics of the Putin Regime)

Articles Borys Bazylevskyi

Events in Ukraine have become a clear indicator that the change in the political significance of active Kremlin clans, has serious implications for the developmental processes of Russian domestic and foreign policy. The so called "hybrid" aggression, which in fact is open Russian aggression against Ukraine, suggests that at the moment, Putin’s "collective" rule is largely influenced by the representatives of "the Great Russia” militants. We could say that during 2013 to the beginning of 2014, the leading Kremlin group underwent a significant realignment, moving it further away from a multipolar, branched form of "influence" to the consolidation of power structures around Putin, with a concentration of absolute autocratic power in the hands of Putin. That is why an analysis of how foreign policy decisions are made can foster a better understanding of the vertical nature of Putin’s power and thus, allow a more accurate prediction of the Kremlin’s future actions.

The end of the global confrontation of superpowers, the collapse of the bi-polar world, the development of processes of globalization, did not result, according to the Russian elite, in the termination of interstate conflicts and rivalries. Nor did it lead to the “solution" of national interests into those of mankind in general. Kremlin leaders believe that the traditionally narrow understanding of national interests, and in a series of cases national egotism, comes to the fore. So the Kremlin makes a serious bid to increase the role of the military factor in international affairs, increase the degree of regional instability and uncertainty, and provoke military and political surroundings in the areas adjacent to Russia in Europe and in the whole world in order to establish a New World Order according to their own understanding.


As noted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov:  "The international community is experiencing a difficult period in the formation of a new system of international relations. It is already clear that this will be a long process filled with uncertainty and difficulty predicting the future ... In fact, we have to constantly improvise and use makeshift means to ensure stability in the world." (C. Лавров, Россия сделала для себя суровые выводы // Международная жизнь. - 2004 . - No 10. - c. 9.)


Russia's aggression against Georgia, and now against Ukraine has broken the contemporary system of International Law and International Relations that was developed in the second half of the last century after the Second World War, and has destroyed the entire structure of International Security in the entire world, and not only in the region of Eastern Europe.


By the 21st century, according to Putin's entourage, Russian foreign policy had reached a deadlock. The new foreign policy philosophy which was formulated by the ruler of Russia in his first presidential address to the Federal Assembly in July 2000, had as its main thesis that the Russian policy in the international arena should be pragmatic, focused on economic efficiency, and tasks of national priority. (А. Торкунов. От «холодной войны» к «коалиции победы»// Космополис. - 2004/05. - No 4. - S. 25)


According to experts, the following objectives were hiding behind these words.


- Preservation of the maximum possible volume of Russian sovereignty and constant and steady build-up of this sovereignty.


- Establishing and maintaining relationships with all the major actors in world politics without falling into dependence on any of them.


- Preservation of maximum control over the so-called post-Soviet space.


- Control over "expansion" of the major global players such as the US, EU, China, united Islamic countries, so that the potential conflict of these players would not compel or force the still weakened Russia to make a choice in anyone's favor.


- Renewal or restoration of Russia’s political influence and presence in the outside world to a level once possessed by Great Russia, i.e. the USSR. ( http://www.sapanet.ru/kafedra/gogs/pppr1.pdf , p. 90).


A main tool of achieving its goals, Putin’s regime adopted a primarily military-political force, including methods of terror that Putin and his closest circle of advisers learned during their enlistment in the Soviet Secret Service and were trained to use. Long-term Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR of the Stalin and Brezhnev era, A. Gromyko, privately loved to teach his subordinates, "those are not right who are right but those are right who have more rights." This line is strictly adhered to by both Putin and his Minister Sergei Lavrov.


To realize the motives of the ruling elite of modern Russia, two important features of this regime should be highlighted: 1) their ideological and moral weakness, and 2) the desire to stay in power at any cost. Absent among the Kremlin rulers are ideological orientations both at possessing a system of moral values, as well as a social political doctrine of a long-term program of reform. A major risk factor for the surrounding world is a very low level of general, political and legal culture on the part of modern Russia's ruling elite, which contributes to the violation of democratic norms, corruption, and a nihilistic attitude towards the needs and demands of society


Formally, the Russian state has developed a Concept of National Security until the year 2020. (http://stra.teg.ru/library/strategy/4/0 ), Russian Foreign Policy Concept ( http://www.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/0/6D84DDEDEDBF7DA644257B160051BF7F ), the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation (http://www.rg.ru/2014/12/30/doktrina-dok.html ), etc., as a basis for foreign policy decisions.


The President of the Russian Federation, in accordance with the Constitution, takes on the main function of Foreign Policy, having the primary authority in making strategic foreign policy decisions. According to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the president defines the main directions of domestic and foreign policy and guides the foreign policy of Russia.


Executive power is exercised by the government of the Russian Federation, headed by the Chairman. According to the Constitution of the Russian Federation the Chairman is called to implement measures that ensure the defense of the country, the State Security, and the implementation of Russian foreign policy. The structure of the government itself is composed of all executive agencies in the sphere of foreign policy, which, in addition to the Foreign Ministry, includes the Foreign Intelligence Service, Ministry of Defense, the Federal Security Service, the Federal Border Service and the Interior Ministry, the General Staff and some other agencies in certain aspects of their work. The National Center of Defense Management has been established only recently. (http://ria.ru/defense_safety/20141201/1035889061.html ). It should be the Center of army management and information and it will not duplicate the functions of the General Staff which is engaged in military planning.


In reality and in practice, the system operates differently. Neither the Federal Assembly nor any other branches of the authorities that are competent in the field of foreign policy are able to adjust or correct the decisions of the Head of State significantly, let alone to secure their abolition. Political parties, NGOs and public opinion are powerless to come up with alternatives as well.


How the system operates is equally true of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has traditionally been one of the divisions of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). On the occasion of his enthronement, in a solemn speech, Patriarch Kirill called himself a "defender of the canonical external frontiers of the Church." (Http://newsland.com/news/detail/id/336834/ ).


Between the president and the executive bodies of the Foreign Policy System there is a link in the form of the Russian Presidential Administration and the Security Council of the Russian Federation associated closely with the Administration. Both are subsidiary bodies under the President, without detailed constitutional regulations, but have ‘de facto’ considerable authority. Moreover, since the first years of the Putin rule, the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, which has about two thousand employees, according to experts, has "actually turned into a public body, which interferes in the internal as well as in international affairs." (Рудницкий А.Ю. Контуры новой политики // Внешняя политика современной России. - M., 2000. - c. 15.).


Since the beginning of Putin’s third presidency, there has been a significant increase in the role of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. Coordination of a wide range of security issues and related diplomatic activities has grown significantly. All major decisions regarding aggression against Ukraine were discussed and adopted within a narrow circle of individuals who are members of the Security Council.


At this time, in addition to President Putin, the Security Council of the Russian Federation is now composed of 12 permanent and 17 non-permanent members. Notable is the fact that among the permanent members, 6 had previously served in the KGB / FSB, 6 are associated in the past with Leningrad, and in general, 10 members belong to enforcement bodies. Of the 5 heads of staff (Deputy Secretaries) 3 are from KGB structures and 2 are hiding their curriculum vitaes.


The Putin era has also brought in changes in the relations between the Kremlin and Russia “think tanks”.


The Kremlin began to limit itself mainly to the resources of the Presidential Administration. As academician G. Arbatov, a well-known expert in American studies, once noted, that: "Russian rulers have lost interest in consultations with the scientific community and hold the opinions of authoritative experts in contempt... It seems that at the present time nobody is in any way interested in anything. I have no idea who provides the governing elite with information or the source from which they derive their ideas” ... "The presidential administration is by far the largest "think tank" (brain centers) in the country.” (Россия в глобальной политике. - 2008. - T. 6. - No 1. - c. 135-136.)


According to the Foreign Policy Research Institute based in Philadelphia, Russia with its 104 think tanks holds a high, sixth place in the general world list of think tanks. That is how these think tanks flourish, or how Russia, more or less, operates those think tanks that favor the ruling elite, a result of which they receive public funding and support.


Among the most privileged think tank centers is the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS). It is particularly notable because it is the main source of "thought" for the Presidential Administration. In 2009, RISS was placed under the wing of the Russian Presidential Administration. Prior to that, the Institute was subordinate to the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). RISS assumes a leading role, as it prepares reports for the Kremlin, the Security Council, the State Duma, the General Staff and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Analysis of the materials of RISS demonstrates that the origin of ideological assumptions of Putin’s foreign policy towards Ukraine and in general toward the entire world have their roots there.


In a Deutsche Welle interview with A. Sytin, D.Sc., an academic doctor of historical sciences and former Deputy Chairman of the RISS Center for Studies of Neighboring Countries, informs that at the RISS scientific conferences it was strange to listen to such presentations such as: "Was there a blessing by Sergius of Radonezh for Dmitry Donskoy before the battle of Kulikovo" or "The White movement " (http://www.dw.de/эксперт-российские-аналитики-придумали-искаженную-картину-мира/a-18224889 ).


 According to Dr. Sytin, there is much slacking off in expert opinions. For example, the economic potential of Russia is exaggerated. It is argued that a country with only a small percent of the world GDP is ready to confront the United States and the EU, it is suggested that we, i.e. Russia, shall gain victory without considerable effort and that the end of the capitalist economy is coming, and the triumph of Russia is approaching. "Russia was plunged into an ideology characteristic of the period encompassing the years 1945-53. Russia perceives itself as a country that will establish a certain order in Eastern Europe, notwithstanding the fact that Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Central Asian countries are Sovereign States.” (http://www.dw.de/эксперт-российские-аналитики-придумали-искаженную-картину-мира/a-18224889 ) .


In his article, "Anatomy of a failure. On the mechanism of foreign policy decision of the Kremlin," which this year has received broad international coverage, A. Sytin writes that during the reign of Yanukovych in Kiev, RISS recommended that "by way of developing an alternative expert public opinion and support of secret services of Ukraine and Belarus, a strong pro-Russian movement, capable not only to influence public opinion but to change the policies and leadership of these countries in the direction necessary for Russia, can be created.» (https://www.facebook.com/alexander.sytin/posts/772,114,072,866,973). (Https://www.facebook.com/alexander.sytin/posts/783480425063671 )


According to the RISS staff, Russia shall allegedly head a kind of new Axis of power in the world, in alliance with Arab countries or with China, India and Iran. (http://www.dw.de/эксперт-российские-аналитики-придумали-искаженную-картину-мира/a-18224889 ).


It has also become traditional to search for historical analogs in making policy decisions. At one time, the Chief of the Historical and Diplomatic Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, V.M. Khvostov, was asked why the materials of Tsarist diplomacy of the second half of the 19th century were concealed? He answered, - "Because according to a certain analogy of foreign policy issues of Russian diplomacy of that time, in some cases used solutions analogous to modern ones. We do not need to disclose them." (Восленский М.С., Номенклатура. Господствующий класс Советского Союза. - M., 1991. - P. 448.)


The level of analysis of political scientists of the RISS corresponds to the level of their education. Many of them were educated in the Chairs of scientific communism, or taught scientific communism.


Thus, today in that manner, Putin alone makes the final policy decisions on foreign policy based on available alternatives, even though taking into account the results of consultations with the heads of relevant bodies. Such meetings are regularly held on a weekly schedule. Regarding the opinion of individuals close to Putin, he usually takes notes of convincing arguments or dialog. He promises to think about some of them, and disagrees with others. Sometimes, he says: "Yes, we will do it." Other times, he just says, "Let’s change the subject", especially when it comes to foreign policy.


All key documents prepared for the president by various branches and departments of the Administration, including recurrent analytical notes, are sent through to the Head of the Administration. Every Monday Putin holds a meeting with his deputies. They develop common strategies and tactics in solving problems which a Deputy Head of the Administration brings to the attention of the heads of various departments.


Only a close circle of Russian leaders enjoy the right to make all the most important foreign policy decisions independently. However, they do not always exercise this right as they do not have the required sufficient time to study relevant problems. The vast majority of decisions are actually passed on to their executive assistants (one out of four assistants of the staff management of the Security Council of the Russian Federation has come from the KGB while biographies of others are sealed and not available).


Putin has created a clear pyramid in which autocratic, sole control belongs to him alone, while his throne rests on a narrow circle of persons that belong to the security forces, mainly of KGB / FSB origin. Reducing foreign policy to the competence of one individual, who is trying together with his close companions to substitute himself for the entire nation, (not to mention physical limitations) results in a sharp decline in the quality of solutions, not only in one but in all other spheres as well. Weighty decisions are not made on the basis of any rational considerations but on personal tastes or random promises.


The following are some of the features of the decision making process in the Putin regime:


- Strengthening the role of the executive branch;


- Increasing the importance of informal networks;


- Intensification of internal rivalry;


-Secrecy and the use of techniques inherent to Secret Services, up to terrorism;


- Expansion of the shadow / secret zone in making and implementing decisions;


- Monopolization of power and decision-making power by a few individuals,


- Voluntarism;


- Ideological, moral weakness of Regime leaders;


- The desire to stay in power at all costs;


- Extremely low level of general political and legal culture.


Possessing the experience, education and training of an average mediocre officer of the KGB, Putin agreed to run the Nation State without having any idea about the challenges this position entailed. However, he did possess a maniacal passion to use this power without any reservations or limits. He included similar kinds of "colleagues" in the narrow circle of those placed at the apex of the regime’s pyramid.


Particularly disturbing for the rest of the world is the fact that the Regime has adopted as its main tool in achieving their goals the use of military and political force, including the use of terrorist acts, in which Putin and his entourage of "colleagues" of the joint services of the KGB are well trained. Therefore, other techniques besides the use of power of force are not expected of Russia until the Putin regime is changed.


Already in the first period of Putin's rule, the Head of the Legal Department in the Presidential Administration was directed in the shortest period of time to place a "stamp" (of authorization) to a law in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, giving Putin a sole right to organize terrorist activities abroad. . (Http://www.ruscomment.com/view.php?filename=constant/2.php ).


On July 5, 2006, the State Duma amended the law "On the Federal Security Service," (http://base.garant.ru/10104197/) and "On Combating Terrorism" (http://www.rg.ru/2006/03/ 10 / borba-terrorizm.html), which gave the President the right not to notify the Council of Federation on the timing, number, and type of units, used in special operations.



Other amendments to the legislation on combating "terrorism" provide:


- The right of the President of Russia alone to decide on the use of Special Forces of the FSB abroad;


- The possibility of trial in absentia and passing judgment in absentia for persons accused of grave and especially grave crimes who are inaccessible to Russian law enforcement agencies;


- Permit intelligence agencies to disregard the secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations and inviolability of the home;



- Prohibit the media to disclose information about tools, techniques and other details of special operations.


At the same time on July 7 the Council of Federation voted unanimously to grant Putin this right indefinitely and without any preconditions (http://www.newsru.com/russia/07jul2006/senat.html).


According to one Russian expert, taking into consideration the real existence of a nuclear button in the Kremlin, though today Islamic terrorism is "of course somewhat more dangerous than the infamous “Solntsevo” criminal group near Moscow, but significantly less of a danger than the Putin regime." (http://www.ruscomment.com/view.php?filename=constant/2.php ).


04.03.2015 22:07:00