Valeri Chechelashvili*: What Should We Expect from «New» Internal Political Course of the Kremlin (View form Georgia)


Dear participants! Ladies and gentlemen!

To start with, we have to identify once again, what are priorities of contemporary Russian internal policy, as well as foreign policy priorities both regionally and globally. What Russia is fighting for?

The Kremlin's internal agenda is to cultivate the non-alternative nature of the existing government and the ruling political elite. Part of this task is total control over political processes, the economy and the mass media, including social networks.

In a sense, Soviet Union is reconstructed in contemporary Russia; one can observe a lot of similarities: total internal control, opposition to almost whole world and ambition to present itself as a center of true spirituality, offering better and brighter future to the world. Difference is that Russia possesses much limited resources. It doesn’t include 14 former Soviet republics, some of them, like Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Azerbaijan, having resources of world scale. Geopolitical influence diminished with shrinked territory, and there is no Warsaw Pact any more, as well as countries of so called “socialist orientation”;

Kremlin cannot tolerate something less then absolute domestic control. Like monarch had in Russian Empire and Communist Party Secretary General had in the Soviet Union; As recent presidential elections demonstrated, this goal is achieved. There is no political force in Russia capable to oppose Putin;

In international relations main goal is to return to the world stage as a great power, regionally – to dominate in neighborhood with guaranteed unquestionable influence. These two goals are perceived by Kremlin in composition, one impossible to be implemented without another.

This approach taken by Russia does not depend on what kind of foreign and security policies its neighbors are exercising. Hence, even during the constructive policies of the Georgian or Ukrainian government towards Moscow, the dangers coming from Russia remain strong, as the maximum result of the policies conducted by our governments can be that Russia changes its tactics, whilst its strategic goals will remain the same.

Will Russia continue same policy in the years to come, or will Kremlin modify it? Modify is right word to use, as everybody in this hall, I guess, agrees to the assumption, that radical changes of Russia’s policy will not take place neither internally, nor regionally or globally.

How under these circumstances will Russia proceed? The answer to this difficult question, or at least hint is President Putin’s address to State Duma on 1 March, which was actually stating of his pre-election program.

What happens in Russia has direct influence on Georgia and Ukraine. Of course, in determining our foreign policy priorities, we should take the events unfolding in Russia and the Russian factor in general, into account. Hence the immediate interest of Georgia is how the Russian leadership sees and assesses its perspectives, its place in the international relations systems, regional policy, trends of economic development and goals – on which factors Russia bases its faith of boosting influence on the international arena.

Everyone has already seen that the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, will not be leaving the Kremlin through elections. Rather, this could be caused by several factors:  a) biological factors, b) domestic coup, c) root geopolitical fluctuations, popular uprising and so on. The first is god’s will, second is less likely, due to the nature of the Russian regime, which is based upon the unlimited power of the law enforcement structures, especially the Federal Security Service. However, the situations were similar in the Soviet Union and Romania as well, yet they were unable to avoid the third option.

Making forecasts in this field is difficult; however, one thing can already be said today:  the second six-year Presidential tenure of Vladimir Putin will be much more complicated and full of challenges.

In order to overcome existing challenges, Putin offers the following conclusion to the audience:  the space of freedom must be expanded, democratic institutions, self-governments, civil society institutions and courts strengthened – we must be a country which is open to the world. One would expect to hear this from the opposition politician Grigory Yavlinski. Putin spoke from the stage as if somebody else had been governing the country for the past 18 years and it was that somebody who formed the faulty economic model based on mining resources, restricted civil liberties, abolished the rule for electing the governors, implemented the practice of murdering political opponents and general terror within and outside the country, pitting Russia against the whole civilized world.

Backwardness is the main challenge and the biggest enemy – pointed out Putin, presenting his own view of how to overcome backwardness. Here starts the most interesting part. It must be quoted fully: “Russia not only needs to firmly assume its place among top five world economies, it must also double its GDP per capita in the middle of the next decade”.

Such self-confidence is groundless and surprising. Russia is currently the 12th largest economy in the world, between South Korea and Australia.

For more clarity, let us look at the table, which will give us a general image of the dynamics of the world’s leading economies.


Size of Leading World Economies and their Growth Rate (2017)


GDP (USD Trillion)

GDP Growth (%)































South Korea






















Several important factors stand in the way of the implementation of Putin’s plans. It cannot be done without profound structural reform of the economy. The main problem is the contradiction between the philosophy of the Russian government and the existing development opportunities. The issue is that as a result of reforming and de-monopolizing the economy of the country, as well as the thorough implementation of competition principles and the formation of independent economic entities, the growth of the demand by the public on democratizing the political system will become irreversible.

Eventually it will become impossible for a single group of individuals to retain dominance on the political arena. Economically independent electorate will be free to vote as they please and political competition in elections will become a must, without any guarantees of gaining success in the process. This is unimaginable under the current Russian elite.

Russia’s economic resources are dwindling. The prices of oil and gas have reached their peak and will only show a strong trend of reduction in the future. This is also caused by the unprecedented growth in the production of shale oil and gas, as well as the development of alternative energy sources ensured by technological progress.

The structure of the Russian economy is rigid, degree of freedom low. If Russia does not take active compromise measures to avoid international isolation, Putin’s pre-election promises will not be fulfilled. Even if it manages to do that, it is difficult to imagine Russia entering the top five largest economies in the world. If the current trends continue, Russia will not even be able to retain the 12th place it now holds.

In addition to many other problems, there is another one which is rarely mentioned. This is the established inadequate governance system of a huge country from a single center. One cannot issue instructions for the regions stretching over a dozen time zones. Particularly, with such an attitude to the national republics, an ignoring of the basic principles of federalism is taking place. This is inefficient and undermines the competitive capacity of the country. Namely, it is these two factors: a low competitiveness and an inefficient management system and decision-making process, together with other causes, which led to the disintegration of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union and not the interference of external enemies.

Today, under the circumstances of global competition this is even more relevant. It was impossible to rule Estonia and Far East with the same instructions issued in Moscow. Together with other reasons, it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nowadays in Russia we observe same pyramid of power, based on the concentration of all political resources and 90% of financial capacity in Moscow. Respectively, Kaliningrad and Kamchatka are ruled from Moscow with the same instruments and methods. History repeats itself.

Therefore, a large field for maneuver is not available for the current authorities in Russia. For that reason as well, Russia should not let itself be involved in all sorts of foreign policy adventures in opposition to almost the whole world. Even the most powerful players cannot allow themselves to confront everyone all the time. This is a group to which Russia definitely does not belong. Its position in the world economy continues to shrink.

Russia has several options ahead.

First. Isolation from the world market economy with a progressive strengthening of the role of the state. It will be worse than the USSR, which had more own resources (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc.) and control over Warsaw Treaty.

Second. Russia returns to the network of international relations as a full-fledged political and economic player. Looks less realistic.

The third, the most dangerous for its neighbors, is an option of half measures. In other words, correction of the course of Russia meeting basic concerns of major international players. Under this scenario important is not to be trapped, normalizing relations and accepting concessions at the expense of values and principles of cooperation. Here an immense field of activity for Ukrainian and Georgian diplomacy.

I think Kremlin is aware of the fact, that unless some concessions made on international arena, Russia will face more and more problems, further diminishing international influence and damaging international reputation. So some tactical corrections of foreign policy are expected, but not strategy.

Despite all efforts Kremlin failed to split the West. It was miscalculation, this stage is over. Therefore Putin has to offer something. May be after inauguration ceremony, may be in the inaugural speech. And here the main thing is not to take offers, even important ones, at the expense of values and principles. Because otherwise we are doomed to a new spiral of problems that Russia will spin in the neighborhood, and not only.

What should we, Georgia and Ukraine, do, under existing circumstances?

It is already clear that Georgia and Ukraine cannot normalize its relations with Russia without making concessions on principal issues. The cost of these concessions is either forgetting the issue of territorial integrity altogether, or accepting the principle of limited sovereignty. We have failed to prove a simple truth to Russia – that European and democratic Ukraine or Georgia is not a threat to its interests. Perhaps, this is even impossible. Otherwise we would have seen some kind of positive changes in this regard after many years of consistent attempts to do so.

We cannot forcefully place the glasses on Russia’s nose in order to make it see the objective reality; however, we can do what we consider needs to be done. Together with reforms, making our countries more competitive and attractive, it is absolutely necessary to elaborate and advance common agenda. Strong and consolidated position of two countries, based on shared values is needed. Much remains to be done in this respect. I hope, we will better utilize potential available in the years to come.

Thank you.


*Information about the author:

Amb. Valeri Chechelashvili is a Senior Fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies since 2016. Mr. Valeri Chechelashvili has been a career diplomat since October 1989. He held various positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia from Second Secretary to Deputy Foreign Minister (1998 - 2000). He was Minister of Finance in 2005 and First Deputy Foreign Minister (2005 - 2007). He has served as an Ambassador to Ukraine (1994 - 1998), Ambassador to Russian Federation (2004 - 2005), Secretary General of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (2000 - 2004) and Secretary General of the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development – GUAM (2007 - 2016).

The article is prepared on the basis of address at the International Conference «Presidential Elections in Russia: Conclusions and Forecasts».

18.05.2018 22:00:00