Following Russia’s official confirmation as the successor state to the USSR in 1991 many in the new republic found it easy to specify whether they were or were not Russian but at the same time proved to be utterly incapable of defining what is to be Russian. This is the dilemma that still bothers Russia to this day- beyond its purely formal status as the preceding country to the Soviet Union what is the Russian `idea’ that lends esteem and purpose to Russians in the post-soviet world order.
Whatever the mindset of Russian’s at the time there was one pivotal concept that was to prove crucial with regard to Russia’s relations with the new world- `spetsifika’ or `uniqueness’. Russians had and still have a profound sense of being separate and distinct in a way that makes them exempt from the moral and ideological rules and laws that have dominated the post-soviet world. To accept American international law would be to sacrifice Russia’s moral superiority and lead Russia astray from its unique political and economic destiny. Russia is at once European and Asian, it is the cradle of the Orthodox Christian civilisation and it is beholden to the idea of loyalty to the state as being of the highest virtue in society.
Russia’s state has developed an almost revered status over the country’s history. Beginning in the imperial Tsarist period the state grew fat owing to the administrative demands of maintaining Russia’s colossal hinterland. Under Stalin the USSR soon abandoned Lenin’s idealism and instead developed the presence of the state in quite literally all matters of civilian life. After the collapse of the Soviet Union many Russians felt bereft and missed the definite nature of Stalinist government. Faced with the concept of accepting the alien, liberal values of the West and plunging Russia into a period of flux and chaos, Russians looked inwards for the certainty they had grown so used to. Now the Russian state is a focus of its nationalism and has come to express everything that Russians believe is intrinsically and innately Russian. The belief that a good government is a good administration and that obedience, propriety and order are of profound importance in society are enough to make Russia an exception to the inexorable rise of democracy.
Russia has its own moral order and its unique history as an `empire-state’ makes it attached to the values of autocracy, orthodoxy and obedience. Crucially Russia shares an affinity with a number of Eastern European countries with which it shares an orthodox heritage and so if we are to explain why the Kremlin directs such an aggressive foreign policy it is to protect Russia’s unique ideology and its system of patronage from the American values of liberty and popular government . Wherever autocracy resides, Mr Putin seeks to ensure its longevity and reverse the seemingly blind global acceptance of American power. The Slavic and orthodox link to countries such as Ukraine and Belarus makes the need for political similarity with Russia all the more urgent in Mr Putin’s eyes as Eastern Europe is an area over which Russia has always had traditional hegemony in place of America-Russia entered world war one for example because of its belief in its historic role as defender of the Slavic peoples.
Importantly because to be a nationalist in Russia is to revere the state Russians have become obsessed with the extent and limits of their former empires,the collapse of which left a number of autocratic satellite countries around the motherland’s borders run in conjunction with the Kremlin. To Russians the former soviet states are administered according to the values and traditions Russia conferred upon them – Russia’s ideological gift to the world is to Mr Putin something far greater than the American conceptions of democracy and something to which former soviet states have fundamentally and irreversibly subscribed to. It is this ideological factor that galvanises Russian ambitions and sets them apart from the usual allegations of a nostalgic people attempting to shore up their power in a region looking increasingly westwards. Dangerously Mr Putin can place his foreign policy in the context of a war for survival against an American system that is steadily eroding everything uniquely Russian and he can portray Russia’s liberal politicians as American sponsored spies and criminals bent on subverting the foundations of the Russian state. Russia and America therefore have fundamentally opposite conceptions of the relationship between the state and the individual. It is their endorsement of two opposing political theories and their respective global outlooks that sadly make Russia and America impossible friends and necessary enemies.