A number of attempts have been made to discern and describe a 'Putin doctrine' during the years of his influence on Russian and world affairs, including some recently as a consequence of his reaction to the Syria chemical weapons crisis. Most suggest a doctrine of 'reasserting Russia's power' or 'building Russia up by tearing the US down,' an aspiration and strategy which, while arguably correct, seem to miss Putin's underlying and unmistakeable political philosophy.
Here we propose an argument for a 'Putin doctrine' as follows:
No nation, group of nations or international organisation has the right to interfere or intervene without consent in the internal affairs of any sovereign state under any circumstances short of the proven violation of existing conventions governing the use of weapons of mass destruction.In other words a sovereign state has the right to deal with dissent, insurgency and secession by whatever means it otherwise sees fit. That this might include conventional warfare against civilians, mass arrests and detentions, summary executions, massacres, genocide and authoritarian terrorism is left to the discretion of the state's leadership. And if the state is an ally, Russia will actively disable the Security Council from taking action against it on behalf of any majority of the larger international community whom might find such activity objectionable. As Russian 'hard power' inevitably increases we need to think this through carefully.
This has been his argument against the West since Kosovo, this formalises what Russia is doing in Syria, this has been the mutually respectful framework, beyond Caspian resource sharing and a mutual distrust of the West, for which the autocracies of Iran and China have already signed up and this is the offer now being placed demonstrably on the world geopolitical table for any neighbouring republic or regime on the fringes of the former Soviet sphere of influence.
Ironically this is almost an inversion of the Truman doctrine of 1947, where "totalitarian regimes" coerced "free peoples", and which some claim heralded the formal Cold War. Putin is now standing against free peoples coercing totalitarian regimes and his principal means will be by wielding the Security Council; the Russian veto on the one hand along with an intractable insistence that multilateral or unilateral end runs are illegal and unacceptable; with Russian military force ready to back the 'legal' claims of authoritarian legitimacy.
So the law-abiding Russians want to constrain the US to acting within the UN, which probably matches the view of many progressives and internationalists, but only to smother possible future sanctions and interventions with vetoes. And the tragic examples of Grozny and Syria should be sufficient to see what is at stake. We need to consider the kind of rule such naked internal power inspires and the impact it would have on Russia's, and China's, clients and immediate neighbours.
Here's Ariel Cohen's analysis of the Russian Foreign Ministry's updated Foreign Policy Concept of February, 2013:
The Putin Doctrine proclaims that the United Nations is the principal international institution through which Russia implements its foreign policy, because Russia has a veto in the U.N. Security Council. Further, the document states that there is a threat for “world peace and stability” from “unilateral sanctions and other coercive measures, including armed aggression,” outside the framework of the Security Council.While Cohen sees the 'doctrine' as broader this observation speaks to our point. And it is exactly the pressure to "overthrow legitimate governments in sovereign states" that raised Russian outrage over NATO action in Kosovo; an area very much within former Tsarist and Soviet spheres of influence. It is no accident that Putin's rise to power was engineered on the back of a brutal and merciless war prosecuted against Chechens in Grozny, perpetrating the worst tactics of shelling, bombing, mass execution and intimidation among civilians apparent in the former Yugoslavia while blatantly thumbing his nose at international objection and protest. He even used ballistic missiles to attack the city, hitting a maternity hospital and a mosque, in a symbolic act of defiance.
The Concept warns that “some concepts that are being implemented are aimed at overthrowing legitimate governments in sovereign states under the pretext of protecting civilian population.” This is a clear reference to the NATO action in Libya. At the time, Putin said the Security Council resolution was “reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade.”
Ariel Cohen - The Kremlin's World NYT 5 Apr 13
Remember, when Putin says "terrorist" he means anyone who opposes him or the leadership of his allies, human rights issues notwithstanding. Our language of asymmetrical conflict has become his justification for aggression, oppression and authoritarianism:
Nothing angers the Chechens so much as to hear that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president-elect, who yesterday met Tony Blair and the Queen in London, claim that the war, of which he is the architect and beneficiary, is directed against "terrorists" and not the Chechen people as a whole. From the moment the Russian army invaded Chechnya at the beginning of last October, it relied on the firepower of its artillery, rocket launchers and aircraft to devastate towns and villages.That this same logic has been applied to the opponents of Bashar al-Assad's regime seems perfectly obvious. It should be noted that the contagious spread of the narrative of "terrorism" to encompass legitimate dissent, civil disobedience and even armed criminality is a trend we need to quickly reverse among our own organs of state security. It plays into the hands of our adversary whom in this respect has already anticipated us by over a decade.
When several long-range, ground-to-ground missiles plummeted into a Grozny marketplace last October, killing some 200 people, Mr Putin simply denied that it had happened. He showed no signs of embarrassment when the official Russian military spokesman blithely confirmed the attack a few hours later.
Welcome to Mr Putin's Grozny Independent 18 Apr 00
Cross-posted at The Motley Moose