• Anima Singh

Is Gorbachev still alive? Assessing Russian diplomacy

Much against typical comprehension, history is not the dead past and all the personalities on archived records are not departed souls. Mikhail Gorbachev, the veteran Soviet Union leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient is one among those names from the Cold War Chapter whom schoolkids and many freshmen assume to be six feet under. Nevertheless, he is a nonagenarian and the progenitor of much-debated 1980s era policies like Perestroika and Glasnost which were aimed at overhauling the maladies afflicting the Soviet system.


Has not the titular question been answered prematurely? Well, I agree that the answer is, “Yes, Gorbachev is still alive ". However, the question in the title is itself an analogy between Gorbachev's veiled actuality and Russia's disappearance from popular mentions. The answer that follows interrogates the very existence of the Soviet Union's largest child Russia which is under the rule of Vladimir Putin, the adversary of Mikhail Gorbachev. The disguised and relatively subdued mentions of Russia in the international power and polar dynamics today are enough to make one inquisitive about the Russian Federation's whereabouts and its prowess. Is Russian foreign policy deceased, or are we misconstruing its existence just as Gorbachev's reality is overlooked?



A Derailed Russia


Due to past doping offences, Russia was banned from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, a total of 335 Russian athletes participated under the name of the Russian Olympic Committee( ROC ) and bagged a total of 71 medals. The Olympics marquee is not just a mere gala sports event. Rather, it sets the stage to evince diplomatic manoeuvres through the most non-contentious channels of diplomacy, namely culture and sports. Although the Russians mockingly called the ban as English-speaking propaganda, it cannot be denied that this incident among many others tainted the nation's image at the international level.


The projections and proclamations of prominent States on the global podium not only reflect their national interests, but also open grounds for assessing the locus of other states in the international order. In this light, the annual Intelligence Report of the United States of America accords a higher threat from China vis a vis Russia.



U.S. President Donald Trump with Vladimir Putin. (Photo- Getty Images)


While the cyber activities and information warfare heralded by Russia are seen as notorious attempts, its geopolitical stance is projected to deteriorate owing to multiple factors. Time and again, the regime of sanctions on Russia, whether imposed by its leading trading partner European Union or its nemesis, the USA, has rubbed salt on its economic wounds. With all certainty, the circumstances for this state armed with a nuclear arsenal and veto power have become awkward and inopportune. The quagmire of Russia's position in Eurasia is attributable to deflecting political ideologies and are insurmountable. Russian fangs in Latin America, Africa and Middle East are simultaneously explicit and implicit; however, its grip is wobbling enough to nullify every attempt of holistically devouring the regions.


While states like the USA, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have come to table regarding talks on the bloodbath in Afghanistan , Moscow is of the opinion that Kabul seems safer under Taliban than it was under Ashraf Ghani. Surprisingly, and ironically, there was a time when Moscow was in a desperate situation due to the Taliban and now, notwithstanding the fact that Taliban is still an officially banned terrorist organisation, Moscow considers it to be a safe haven. Such a stand adopted by Russia is enough to invite displeasure from the international community and ensure its exclusion from amicable settlements.


A plausible mirage


There is a complete possibility that the demeanour of Russia is misinterpreted and perhaps the Russian derailment is nothing but an optical illusion. Moscow may not be in the spotlight all the time but remains a formidable force in disguise moving stealthily to pursue its national interest. At least some experts like Stanford political scientist Kathyrn Stoner endorses the idea that Russia is being underestimated on its capabilities to quiver the global order.


The only real challenge faced by the Kremlin today is the internal resistance by its populace. As far as the economy is concerned, modernization has provided some succour to it. Russia is one of the biggest exporters of oil and controls the world's major oil pipeline infrastructure. It would be fallacious to underrate the aforementioned leverage Russia has. The superiority of Russia in the Arctic region and its state of art ammunition are daunting, though these remain veiled under the garb of highlighted conflicts worldwide.


Russia's military and economic backup to its allies prove its role as a living powerhouse. A state which has not forgotten the humiliation of being ousted from the bipolar order in favour of a world which exchanges hands between unipolarity and multipolarity cannot be expected to settle in a state of irrelevance. The Kremlin's political and economic involvements are far from being in perpetual ebb.


The reminiscences of Russian history are still fresh and relevant. Russian statecraft today is certainly an antithesis to what was envisioned by Gorbachev. He had criticized Vladimir Putin for killing democracy and freedom, but here lies the contradiction. While the people hail Gorbachev's democratic ideals, he is blamed by a large section for USSR disintegration and the subsequent political and economic turmoil. At least the popular narrative considers Russia by all means as a reliable friend of many states including India.

Admittedly, the global order does function on the basis of ideologies of states, but doesn't operate on the extent of appropriateness or justification awarded to the doctrines because no parameter is universal and unreservedly veracious. That is the reason why I want to view Russian strategy not from the angle of democratic ideals, but purely on the basis of pragmatic grounds which are invincible in geopolitics. It is true that economic supremacy is an overarching principle behind the strength of states and this explicates the unmistakable pertinence of the USA and People's Republic of China. Nevertheless, the largest country in the world has missed only headlines lately and nothing much.


By Anima Singh

animaksingh3@gmail.com