Russia’s New Foreign Policy Concept: What This Means For The West

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis


Russia’s new 2023 Foreign Policy Concept, the first since 2016, has come into immediate effect. The document updates the priorities, goals, and objectives of the foreign policy activities of Russia and is an important read into the overall national development and other strategies. It can be broken down into 14 specific sections, which we outlined here. In this article, I discuss the implications for what this means for relations with the West.

Today’s World In Russia’s Eyes

Within the Concept, Russia’s Foreign Policy officials – and this means President Putin, in addition to the various components making up the Kremlin – describe how they see the current status of global affairs. In section 2, titled “Today’s World: Major Trends” the Concept lays out in direct terms the world view from the Russian perspective. It breaks this down into eight separate sections. I detail these eight sections and provide analysis on each (bold titles are mine for convenience):

On Global Humanity

“Humanity is currently going through revolutionary changes. The formation of a more equitable multipolar world order is underway. The imbalanced model of world development which has for centuries ensured the advanced economic growth of colonial powers through the appropriation of resources of dependent territories and states in Asia, Africa and in the Occident is irrevocably fading into the past. The sovereignty and competitive opportunities of non-Western world powers and regional leading countries are being strengthened. Structural transformation of the world economy, its transfer to a new technological basis (including the introduction of artificial intelligence technologies, the latest information and communication, energy, biological technologies and nanotechnologies), the growth of national consciousness, cultural and civilizational diversity and other objective factors accelerate the process of shifting the development potential to new centres of economic growth and geopolitical influence and promote the democratization of international relations.”


The use of the term ‘revolutionary’ as opposed to ‘evolutionary’ is an interesting one as revolution implies some degree of conflict. It also harks back to Russia’s own history and the turbulence of 1917. The statement also confirms that Russia believes this process is already underway, while the West consistently denies this, a position in which both cannot be correct at the same time and which underlines, to a large degree, the differences between them. Russia also, and correctly mentions the technological developments that are now occurring and suggests that these will drive the multipolarity it mentions to a logical conclusion – meaning that the trends imply the West is, as the Concept states ‘Fading into the past’. It is hardly surprising that the West rejects this – however neither does it appear to possess a unified development strategy either.

On Ideological Differences

“The changes which are now taking place, and which are generally favourable are nonetheless not welcomed by a number of states being used to the logic of global dominance and neo-colonialism. These countries refuse to recognize the realities of a multipolar world and to agree on the parameters and principles of the world order accordingly. Attempts are made to restrain the natural course of history, to eliminate competitors in the politico-military and economic spheres, and to suppress dissent. A wide range of illegal instruments and methods is being used, including the introduction of coercive measures (sanctions) in circumvention of the UN Security Council, provocation of coups d’état and military conflicts, threats, blackmailing, manipulation of the consciousness of certain social groups and entire nations, offensive and subversive actions in the information space. A wide-spread form of interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states has become the imposition of destructive neoliberal ideological attitudes that run counter to traditional spiritual and moral values. As a result, the destructive effect extends to all spheres of international relations.”


It is significant that Russia believes the changes that it states are underway are ‘generally favourable’ towards it, although it recognises that the West refuses to sense that they are occurring at all. Russia has the opinion that the West is unprepared to ‘recognize the realities’ – which is admittedly difficult when the West appears to view nothing is changing. That does appear a somewhat ‘head in sand’ approach – although the truth behind that appears to be contradictory in that Russia has accused the West of various tactics designed to keep the status quo.
Some of these are serious allegations, such as attempts to circumnavigate the UN Security Council, instigate coups and conflicts, and subvert the global information space. In short, Russia is accusing the West of obstructive measures on a global scale in terms of preventing the rise of multipolarity, thus ensuring their dominance.

Global Institutional Pressures

“Serious pressure is being put on the UN and other multilateral institutions the intended purpose of which, as platforms for harmonizing the interests of the leading powers, is artificially devalued. The international legal system is put to the test: a small group of states is trying to replace it with the concept of a rules-based world order (imposition of rules, standards and norms that have been developed without equitable participation of all interested states). It becomes more difficult to develop collective responses to transnational challenges and threats, such as the illicit arms trade, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, dangerous pathogens and infectious diseases, the use of information and communication technologies for illicit purposes, international terrorism, illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors, transnational organized crime and corruption, natural and man-made disasters, illegal migration, environmental degradation. The culture of dialogue in international affairs is degrading, and the effectiveness of diplomacy as a means of peaceful dispute settlement is decreasing. There is an acute lack of trust and predictability in international affairs.”


Interestingly, the Russian position here is not an individual conceit. Western academics are also questioning the suitability of global institutions as being fit of purpose in today’s world. Most were designed – and indeed, divided up into equity stakes amongst certain nations – to cater for the development of a post-World War Two era, now nearly 80 years ago. What Russia is describing as a result of a lack of change within these stakeholders since then is the development of an ‘acute lack of trust.’ That comment will be read by the West to mean a lack of trust on behalf of Russia. However, the implication is that this is a lack of trust developing towards the Western world by countries and regions that were not members of the equity stakeholders in 1945 – but have risen to be so – and want to have their say and economic rewards – today.

Global Economic Crisis

“The crisis of economic globalization is deepening. Current problems, including in the energy market and in the financial sector, are caused by degradation of many previous development models and instruments, irresponsible macroeconomic solutions (including uncontrolled emission and accumulation of unsecured debts), illegal unilateral restrictive measures and unfair competition. The abuse by certain states of their dominant position in some spheres intensifies the processes of fragmentation of the global economy and increases disparity in the development of states. New national and trans-border payment systems are becoming widespread, there is a growing interest in new international reserve currencies, and prerequisites for diversifying international economic cooperation mechanisms are being created.”


Much of what is mentioned here is already well known, and especially the emergence of alternative global financial payment systems. The technology already exists, however the regulatory environment has yet to catch up, while sanctions are perceived as instruments to delay changes and force countries to continue to use SWIFT and remain under the influence of Western trade and economic management. Clearly, attempts to delay this can only exist for a matter of time. Technology will break out.

The West remains somewhat silent on these matters. It is perhaps caught between a denial of any need to change, while perhaps being simultaneously behind some of the technological advances already underway and collectively unsure how to implement them. Russia, in contrast, along with China, India and an increasing number of other countries are pressing ahead with new tech and appear to have concrete opinions about the way forward. In contrast, discussions concerning the Digital Dollar, Euro or Pound, and any references to their development appear to be somewhat lacking.

Power in International Relations

“The role of the power factor in international relations is increasing, conflict areas are expanding in a number of strategically important regions. Destabilizing build-up and modernization of offensive military capabilities and the destruction of the arms control treaty system are undermining strategic stability. The use of military force in violation of international law, the exploration of outer space and information space as new spheres of military action, the blurring of the line between military and non-military means of inter-state confrontation, and the escalation of protracted armed conflicts in a number of regions increase the threat to global security, enhance the risk of collision between major states, including with the participation of nuclear powers, and the probability of such conflicts escalating and growing into a local, regional or global war.”


This contains references to Ukraine, in which new types of ‘hybrid war’ and the emergence of deliberately blurred reasons for conflicts are emerging. The denial that the United States or EU is at war with Russia over Ukraine is an obvious point. The issue with these loose definitions, as opposed to well defined statements and rules of engagement is that, as Russia points out, this increases the risk of escalation.

Trans-Regional Economic Integration

“A logical response to the crisis of the world order is the strengthening of cooperation between the states that are subject to external pressure. The formation of regional and trans-regional mechanisms of economic integration and interaction in various spheres and the creation of multi-format partnerships to solve common problems are being intensified. Other steps (including unilateral ones) are also being taken to protect the vital national interests. High level of interdependences, global reach and transnational nature of challenges and threats limit the ability of individual states, military-political and trade and economic alliances to ensure security, stability and prosperity. Effective solutions to the numerous problems of our time and peaceful progressive development of large and small nations and humanity as a whole can be achieved only through combining the potential of good faith efforts of the entire international community on the basis of the balance of power and interests.”


Here, the Concept becomes more reactive in its approach instead of critical; and is arguably more interesting having made its points concerning global problems, it now begins to identify Russia’s development strategy out of the negative aspects of current affairs. Here, the Concept alludes to the continuing development and expansion of entities such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Eurasian Economic Union. The Concept implies their evolution into a combined entity and of their interaction with similarly minded blocs. I touched upon this subject in some detail as concerns the development of the BRICS Plus grouping in my analysis concerning this yesterday. That can be accessed here.

Dialogue Concerning Ukraine

“Considering the strengthening of Russia as one of the leading centres of development in the modern world and its independent foreign policy as a threat to Western hegemony, the United States of America (USA) and their satellites used the measures taken by the Russian Federation as regards Ukraine to protect its vital interests as a pretext to aggravate the longstanding anti-Russian policy and unleashed a new type of hybrid war. It is aimed at weakening Russia in every possible way, including at undermining its constructive civilizational role, power, economic and technological capabilities, limiting its sovereignty in foreign and domestic policy, violating its territorial integrity. This Western policy has become comprehensive and is now enshrined at the doctrinal level. This was not the choice of the Russian Federation. Russia does not consider itself to be an enemy of the West, is not isolating itself from the West and has no hostile intentions with regard to it; Russia hopes that in future the states belonging to the Western community will realize that their policy of confrontation and hegemonic ambitions lack prospects, will take into account the complex realities of a multipolar world and will resume pragmatic cooperation with Russia being guided by the principles of sovereign equality and respect for each other’s interests. The Russian Federation is ready for dialogue and cooperation on such a basis.”


The Concept indicates a Russia wanting to reach out to the West, and to Europe in particular. However, the EU has a problem with agreeing to any of this, as very publicly and politically it has laid the blame for the Ukraine conflict purely upon Russia’s doorstep and has stated various reasons why it believes this to be the case. Most, in truth, are somewhat flimsy, such as the desire to ‘recreate the Soviet Union’. Russia has stated it is prepared to enter into dialogue, the EU has made specific demands that the map of Ukraine be redrawn back to how it was in 2014. Crucially, the EU has not made any references to the fact that at that time, the situation was already deteriorating fast and has consequently already been proven as unworkable. In failing to understand the underlying causes of the Ukraine conflict, the EU is in fact prolonging it. The Ukraine conflict will therefore almost certainly continue until the current elected crop of EU politicians leave office and newer academic and thought processes can be put towards solving the dilemma.

Freedom Of Development

“In response to unfriendly actions of the West, Russia intends to defend its right to existence and freedom of development using all means available. The Russian Federation will concentrate its creative energy on the geographic vectors of its foreign policy which have obvious prospects in terms of expanding mutually beneficial international cooperation. The majority of humanity is interested in having constructive relations with Russia and in strengthening Russia’s positions on the international scene as an influential global power making a decisive contribution to maintaining global security and ensuring peaceful development of states. This opens up a wide range of opportunities for the successful activity of the Russian Federation on the international scene.”


A disputed phrase here will be ‘the majority of humanity towards Russia’. The West will point to the number of votes given at the UN in early condemnation of the Ukraine conflict and criticizing Russia’s role within this. However, it should be recognised that the vote was purely an opinion and did not carry any weight. Most countries will vote against any conflict occurring, anywhere. However, over the past year the pragmatic reality for many of the countries who condemned Russia at the UN is beginning to sink in. The West is increasingly being questioned over the morality of supplying weapons to Ukraine and being unable to prevent further bloodshed. Countries have seen the EU in particular be greedy when it comes to sharing energy and food, both of which were in short supply.

Prices pushed energy purchases and even consumer staples such as grains out of reach of many nations, and especially in Africa and the Middle East. As a result, although they seem unable to recognise this, the EU lost traction in the emerging world, who suffered as a direct consequence of EU actions against Russia. These countries are now developing a policy of an increasing pro-Russian stance. Votes at the UN in condemnation are one thing. Actual actions on the ground are another, and the non-Western view is that the longer the Ukraine conflict goes on, the longer they must endure high prices and shortages, the more culpable the West is, as opposed to Russia. When placed also in the context of Russia stating it wants dialogue, the more the West is losing ground in being seen to refuse that.

Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept and Europe

The Concept devotes a specific chapter to Europe, in which it states:
“Most European states pursue an aggressive policy toward Russia aimed at creating threats to the security and sovereignty of the Russian Federation, gaining unilateral economic advantages, undermining domestic political stability and eroding traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, and creating obstacles to Russia’s cooperation with allies and partners. In this connection, the Russian Federation intends to consistently defend its national interests by giving priority attention to:

1) Reducing and neutralizing threats to security, territorial integrity, sovereignty, traditional spiritual and moral values, and socio-economic development of Russia, its allies and partners from unfriendly European states, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union and the Council of Europe;

2) Creating conditions for the cessation of unfriendly actions by European states and their associations, for a complete rejection of the anti Russian course (including interference in Russia’s internal affairs) by these states and their associations, and for their transition to a long-term policy of good-neighbourliness and mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia;

3) The formation of a new model of coexistence by European states to ensure the safe, sovereign and progressive development of Russia, its allies and partners, and durable peace in the European part of Eurasia, taking into account the potential of multilateral formats, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

4) The objective prerequisites for the formation of a new model of coexistence with European states are geographical proximity, historically developed deep cultural, humanitarian and economic ties of the peoples and states of the European part of Eurasia. The main factor complicating the normalization of relations between Russia and European states is the strategic course of the United States and their individual allies to draw and deepen dividing lines in the European region in order to weaken and undermine the competitiveness of the economies of Russia and European states, as well as to limit the sovereignty of European states and ensure US global domination.

5) The realization by Europe that there is no alternative to peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial equal cooperation with Russia, an increase in the level of their foreign policy independence and a transition to a policy of good neighbourliness with the Russian Federation will have a positive effect on the security and welfare of the European region and help European states take their proper place in the Greater Eurasian Partnership and in a multipolar world.

Russia Europe Concept Analysis

Here, Russia is stating it is essentially divorcing itself from the EU especially; giving up its membership of the Council of Europe (which it has already actioned), and reducing trade and exposure to the European Union, other ‘unfriendly states’ (aimed primarily at the United Kingdom) and NATO.

Russia also places the blame for this state of affairs squarely with the United States, who it suggests has diminished the EU’s sovereignty. A reaction in Russia’s favor towards this will require a completely different mindset and academic thought about Europe’s relations with Russia than is currently extant. Accordingly, Russia must wait for political and/or economic changes in the EU to see this eventuality, and the Concept is consequently calling for the development of a long term ‘transition’ to better relations and ‘mutual cooperation’.

Much of the latter will be seen as related to Russian energy, and the extent and depth of how EU economies can absorb the higher cost of energy supplies from the United States and alternative sources. There has already been criticism of US profiteering from the EU energy crunch, a situation that in a fairly capitalistic US is unlikely to abate. There is some recognition that the Ukraine conflict has been a windfall for the US, what is unclear from Washington’s perspective is how long they realistically think this can last before sheer economics pushes the EU’s energy requirements back to Russia.

Suspicions about who was really behind the Nordstream 2 destruction remain – and still have the capability to provoke ire amongst certain EU nations, and especially Germany, who feel the US might have taken them for a ride.

On a security basis, the EU cannot have a secure future unless it agrees a pact with Russia, which is why the Concept lays out the rationale for discussions with the European Organization for Security and Cooperation. Given the current mindset of sitting EU politicians that is unlikely to manifest itself anytime soon, however Russia intends to keep the door open.

The only alternative would be for the EU to physically create a barbed wire wall along its borders – something that has already begun in the Baltics and Poland, and instigate a new Cold War in which nothing – or very little – crosses the borders in either direction. With no air, rail or shipping connections between Russia and Europe, the reality is that the new Barbed Wire Wall is de facto already in place. A future European-Russian détente will be years away and probably not take any precedence from the EU side until the 2030’s – unless American energy price gouging and a serious decline in EU manufacturing and GDP as a result of a loss of low energy supplies advance that earlier.

The United States, and other Anglo-Saxon States

In this somewhat curiously worded chapter, meant to define ‘Anglo-Saxon’ as the UK, Australia, Cananda and New Zealand, the Concept has this to say:

“Russia’s course towards the U.S. has a combined character, taking into account the role of this state as one of the influential sovereign centres of world development and at the same time the main inspirer, organizer and executor of the aggressive anti-Russian policy of the collective West, the source of major risks to the security of the Russian Federation, international peace, a balanced, equitable and progressive development of humanity.

The Russian Federation is interested in maintaining strategic parity, peaceful coexistence with the United States, and the establishment of a balance of interests between Russia and the United States, taking into account their status as major nuclear powers and special responsibility for strategic stability and international security in general. The prospects of forming such a model of U.S.-Russian relations depend on the extent to which the United States is ready to abandon its policy of power-domination and revise its anti-Russian course in favour of interaction with Russia on the basis of the principles of sovereign equality, mutual benefit, and respect for each other’s interests.

The Russian Federation intends to build relations with other Anglo-Saxon states depending on the degree of their willingness to abandon their unfriendly course toward Russia and to respect its legitimate interests.”

Russia – US / Anglo-Saxon Analysis

The Russian wording of this chapter actually refers to the US and the British outliers – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, along with the small, but numerous UK islands that remain sovereign British territory but are self governing – such as the Bahamas and other islands. The chapter is short, indicating that the Concept isn’t putting much emphasis on this region, but would be prepared to do so should US and UK foreign policy change in the future. It also suggests that there can be no global nuclear security without some type of rapprochement between them, a rather sobering thought as there currently appears little chance of that arising.


There are other chapters in the Russian Foreign Policy Concept that include references to the West and impact up it in more general terms. This includes Chapter 4, being the “Establishment of an Equitable and Sustainable World Order”, which interested parties should also refer too. This references Russia’s position on the International Rule of Law, Global Security, the World’s Oceans, Airspace and Outer Space in addition to the Arctic, all rather wide if specialist subjects time restraints restrict me from adding analysis. These will be followed up in later articles.

Otherwise, in what amounts to a fairly bleak assessment, the Russian Concept towards the West appears to hold little hope for any form of positive developments between the two sides, and especially with the US and UK. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has stated consistently that diplomatic relations between them are even worse than during the Cold War.

Russia is slightly more positive about relations with Europe – who it sees as an equal. Indeed, they are tied together by a 2,250 km border. Regardless of what happens, that proximity cannot just be wished away. However, given their respective positions and the current entrenched opinions of contemporary Western politicians, any breakthrough seems unlikely. The West has its media well under control, and any downwards economic trajectory can always be blamed today upon Russia, helping keep dubious politics in power.

It will take a new, more questioning breed of European politician brave enough to go against a now-entrenched grain to look into Europe’s economics and suggest Russia might be an answer to energy and productivity problems.

The only spanner in the works here in terms of not maintaining that is curiously the United States itself. With US energy, weapons and manufacturing industries beholden to the American public via American stock exchanges, where quarterly results must be consistently maintained upwards, it remains to be seen just how far US corporates can squeeze European consumers until they start to complain. Until that happens, or a new breed of Euro politician begins to emerge with different ideas, the Russia Foreign Policy Concept as concerns Europe is not especially encouraging to say the least, and implies it is the European Union that needs to adopt changes to its approach rather than the Kremlin.

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. He may be contacted via

The full English version of the Russian Foreign Policy Concept may be viewed at the Kremlin website here.

The upcoming Part Three of this series concerning the 2023 Russian Policy Concept focuses on Russia’s Foreign Policy towards International Trade. To make sure you receive this and related analysis, please complete our complimentary subscription service here. Subscribers receive our weekly updated Russian business e-newsletter.

Part Two focused on Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept towards the BRICS Plus and can be viewed here.


Part One was a General Introduction to the Foreign Policy Concept and can be viewed here.



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