The Russian Federation tested by Multipolarism

Tiberio Graziani
An article by Tiberio Graziani, President of IsAG – Institute for Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences, director of Geopolitica, Journal of IsAG

The structuring of the new multipolar system is conditioned primarily by Russia’s ability to play a proactive role in two major quadrants of the plane: Central Asia and the Mediterranean. Moscow, in order to fulfil this function effectively, must strengthen its home front. Putin, recently re-elected president of the Federation will be obliged to simultaneously face major challenges, in particular those related to social peace, the processes of modernizing the economic productivity system and the adjustment of the national defence apparatus.

Twenty years of the Russian Federation

Only two decades have passed since the implosion of the Soviet Union and the simultaneous end of the bipolar system emerged at the end of World War II. Twenty years is generally a very short amount of time for analysis of geopolitical order, but the reassertion of Russia as a global player in just twelve years is worth reflecting on, useful for assessing the future of Moscow’s foreign policy and, especially, its geopolitical practices in particular areas of the planet.

The Russian Federation, which rose from the ashes of the Soviet Union, has, after the first decade of instability, managed to effectively reinforce its role as an international giant. In the delicate and fleeting unipolar environment - characterized by progressive U.S. expansion in Eurasia (implemented moreover with the practice of “humanitarian” wars in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan) - Moscow, having overcome its initial difficulties, has fully recovered its prestige both with ex-Soviet nations, and among emerging global players, notably China, India, South Africa and Brazil.

Its renewed prestige with the newly independent nations has allowed a substantial rebalancing – only just clouded by the crisis in Georgia in 2008 – of the immense post-Soviet space. In this new structure, which we define as “great-regional” and proeurasian, the Russian Federation, far from taking a lead position, has favoured co-operative aspects aimed at socio-economic and collective security of the entire area. The cooperative procedure adopted by Moscow has also characterized its subsequent relationships interwoven with the new emerging countries - Brazil, India, China and South Africa. With these countries, Russia is today known as part of a formidable geo-economic grouping referred to as BRICS, expected to have more profound effects on future global scenarios.

Moscow’s reassertion on the international world plane was then made possible by two main factors: first, through the awareness of the Russian ruling class, led by Putin, about the fundamental role of the relationship that exists between internal cohesion and the country’s strategic assets and, second, by virtue of the re-establishment of new and appropriate international relations with the “near abroad”.

The Uni-multipolar transition and the Military’s obligation

Russia’s return as a major player in international dynamics, and moreover strong in the important partnerships bringing together the greater Asian Nations (CSTO, EURASEC, OCS, the recent Eurasian Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) and Brazil (BRICS), constitutes one of the essential elements marking the current phase of transition from unipolar to multipolar. Today, in the context of structuring the new multipolar order, the Federation finds itself however, facing major challenges at home and, of course, internationally. The challenges of the “home front,” in some ways similar to those that Russia brilliantly overcame, given the difficult boundary conditions, during Putin’s first two presidential terms, mainly regard social peace, the modernization of public facility, the modernization of industrial processes and the adaptation of the apparatus of defence. The international ones, however, concern the consolidation of the status of Russia as a nation-continent, and, in particular, its role in accelerating the multipolar process.

The trials that the new Russian president is going to face are closely related. Overcoming internal challenges, in particular on the modernization of the defensive apparatus is a precondition for structuring the new multipolar system. The West’s geopolitical system, as is known, led by the U.S., is interested in expanding, for obvious geostrategic reasons, in two “sensitive” areas of the planet: the Mediterranean and Central Asia. Regarding the Mediterranean, the U.S. and its major allies (Britain, France, Israel) have implemented this expansion through direct or covert military action, as demonstrated in the recent and still current cases of Libya and Syria. The immediate goal of the Pentagon’s strategists is to weaken, by fragmentation, the “hinge Mediterranean” to ensure access to Central Asian space, programmatically defined by the Euro-Atlantics as “Eurasian Balkans.” The U.S. insistence in trying to resolve international tensions through direct or indirect military pressure gives evidence of both the difficulty of the current administration led by Obama and Clinton in managing through diplomatic channels the current geopolitical dynamics, i.e. the transition to uni-multipolar, and also the ineffectiveness of the solutions adopted so far by Washington to overcome the ongoing economic crisis that has hit the Western system. Washington’s tenacity in using military leverage, however, also reveals another element: the inadequacy of the defence systems of Russia, China and India. This inadequacy is particularly demonstrated in the UN Security Council, where, after the first motivated denials, Moscow and Beijing find themselves essentially forced to sustain the West’s initiative. Specifically, the U.S. seems, in some respects, to try the military determent card as it did in the bipolarism of the past.

That card, however, will not be successful in the medium term, since the new geopolitical scenario, highly dynamic, through the above-mentioned partnerships assumes an increasingly marked multipolar appearance tending to limit U.S. claims, including on a military level.