This essay was originally published in Small Wars Journal under a Creative Commons license. This excerpt is reprinted with the permission of the author. To read the full article, click here.
As the 10th Century came to a close, Prince Vladimir I of the Rus faced the critical questions that all rulers face—how would he ensure his personal power, and the security and stability of his lands? He had just emerged from a bloody fratricidal conflict and he looked to foreign policy to answer these questions. After exploring alliances with other nations and faiths, notably Islam, it was clear that a reorientation towards mighty Byzantium was the answer. Adoption of Christianity would allow Vladimir to control his people through the influence and authority of the Church. And a military alliance with the Byzantines would protect the Rus’ southern flank while securing trading rights through Constantinople. Thus, Vladimir ordered the citizens of Kiev into the Dnieper to partake in the waters of baptism—this act fostered great changes in domestic and foreign policy for the Rus, changes that greatly strengthened Vladimir’s state.As the 20th Century came to a close another Vladimir, Vladimir Putin, faced similar challenges. Would he orient Russia towards the East or the West? Would he continue the Great Power Balancing foreign policy strategy of his predecessors, or would he adopt a new one? How would he modernize Russia’s economy while dealing with the expansion of NATO?
Putin chose to transition from the foreign policy strategy that had been advocated by his predecessors. He replaced this strategy—which (among other things) had emphasized counterbalancing Western power and promoting a multipolar world—with a strategy of Pragmatism. Pragmatism, for Putin, meant 1) fully ending Russian isolation and making Russia a full member of the international community, 2) ensuring internal stability as well as security from existential threats, and 3) pursuing economic modernization.
In this essay, I will describe and evaluate Putin’s pragmatism, explain that this pragmatism grew increasingly assertive over time due to Western encroachments in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), and conclude that the crisis in Ukraine shows this strategy has provided significant payoffs for Russia.
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