The Putin Doctrine

Russia's Quest to Rebuild the Soviet State

After his election as president in 2000, Putin added to this agenda an overarching goal: the recovery of economic, political, and geostrategic assets lost by the Soviet state in 1991. Although he has never spelled it out formally, Putin has pursued this objective with such determination, coherence, and consistency that it merits being called the Putin Doctrine. Domestically, the doctrine has guided the regime to reclaim the commanding heights of the economy (first and foremost, the oil and natural gas industries) and reassert its control over national politics, the judicial system, and the national television networks, from which an overwhelming majority of Russians get their news. In foreign and security policy, the doctrine has amounted to a reinterpretation of Russia's geostrategic triad, making its implementation and maintenance considerably more assertive than originally intended. Although U.S. President Barack Obama has signaled lately that he will attempt to revive the "reset" with Russia, Washington's best option may well be a strategic pause: a much-scaled-down mode of interaction that reflects the growing disparity in values and objectives between the two countries yet preserves frank dialogue and even cooperation in a few select areas.


The first imperative of Russia's foreign policy consensus is maintaining the country's position as a nuclear superpower. The centrality of preserving Russia's parity with the only other nuclear superpower, the United States, explains Moscow's eagerness to engage in strategic arms control negotiations with Washington. At the same time, Putin's assertive pursuit of this goal accounts for the vehemence with which Moscow has opposed anything that could weaken this strategic parity, such as NATO's missile defense system in Europe. It is hardly surprising, then, that the claims of top U.S. and NATO officials that the system poses no threat to Russia's nuclear deterrence have fallen on deaf ears. As Putin declared in his speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry last July, the missile shield allegedly "upsets the strategic balance" -- that is, it weakens Russia's status as a nuclear superpower.

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