Role Of Vladimir Putin In Russia’s Foreign Policy

Individual Levels of Analysis in International Relations

National interests and their evolution are major concerns of international relations (Steinen, 2006). Amongst researchers, some suggest that reconstruction of national interests is dependent on how a country acts in a certain situation. others are of the taking that national interests have gained relative stability but however, considerable variations may arise as a result of external factors which could include, emergence or disappearance of institutions, norms or circumstances (Chafetz, et al., 2012). However, the leaders of a nation are important aspects in determining and defining the national interests with regard to their ideas and identity. Leaders are at the forefront in representation of the country in international affairs and thus their ideas are of great significance. They are the key decision makers in matters of the nation and hence the significance of their ideas.

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The key constituent of understanding the role and influence of a leader towards National Interests and International Relations is the individual levels of analysis (Mesquita, 2013). It is within this level of analysis that there is existence of various perspectives which could include the rational actor perspective which focuses on individual rationality idea most common to power politics tradition and to the realist. It is also common to the cognitive approach which emphasizes on the significance of beliefs and personality. It is the cognitive approach that is used to analyze foreign policy from the various approaches found within this level. This approach mainly focuses on exploring the worldview of a policy maker and changes that arise in the images and beliefs of the policy maker and the impact that such beliefs have on the policymaker’s decisions involving foreign policy and national interest.

There are various theories and concepts that are enforced in cognitive analysis. In this case study, the Operational Code Framework has been applied. Nathan Leites is attributed with the original coining of this framework in the early 1950s. In 1969, Alexander L. George revised and updated the framework. He stated that Operational code refers to “…a small set of master beliefs around which the whole belief system of a person is hierarchically organised.” In International Relations domain, the definition of operational code involves identification of a leader’s core political beliefs that relate to the nature of the world’s conflict and the leaders’ ideas about their own position, power and image in the world. It also involves discovery of some specific means that the leader in question adopts in pursuance of pre-determined goals. Operational code is categorized into instrumental beliefs and philosophical beliefs; the former relating to the instrumental methods applied in pursuit of those goals while the latter is the beliefs and images of the leader towards the nature of political conflicts and politics in general.

The most significant aspect of making policies is the decision making domain which is characterized by the identity of those with the responsibility of carrying it out. In Russia, president Vladimir Putin is responsible for the same alongside other key figures who are; Prime Minister, Presidential Administration Chief of Staff, Secretary of the Security Council of Russia and the CEO of the Russian state oil giant. At the epicenter of the decision making hierarchy is Putin who is also the supreme decision making authority. Other government members hold limited authority due to their positions as subordinates.

Operational Code Framework

It is a universal belief that such political leaders who domestically enjoy a strong authority base have a freer hand in international affairs as well (Drulák & Braun, 2010). When Putin entered into power however, instability and impoverishment from the previous administration had caused dissatisfaction amongst the public and he had to grapple with them. Order and stability within the government was the greatest public desire. When Putin came to the forefront, he had few negative incidents to spoil his reputation and was therefore viewed as a new actor with the greatest potential (Myers, 2015). He seized the opportunity and was able to secure much legitimacy and popularity amongst Russia’s population. It was his belief that dividends could be yielded for diverse groups by embarking on a central control. His visions bore him enomous support from his fellow country-men and, it was through this popular and wide support base that he was able to acquire more space to maneuver in domestic affairs. Strengthening of his legitimacy at home paved way for freer control at the international domain. He was able to strengthen his own command in external affairs one he restored discipline in Russia’s process of foreign policymaking.

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Parliaments capability to influence Kremlins code of conduct materially was emasculated by Putin’s ability to convince from Duma 1999 and 2000 presidential elections. Vladimir has continuously engaged in acts of shifting power from the regional to the federal levels. Though it is not possible to term him as a direct anti-democratic, it is how much he dislikes instability and uncertainty that has led to formation of managed democracy. Putin was on the forefront to see to it that the Federal Assembly (parliament) passed a law that extended the term of the president in power from four to six years. The executive authority has almost been rendered invincible by the increase of federal government’s powers and its control over the law enforcement agencies, courts and the economy of the country. It is through such high powers that Putin acquired legal authority to employ free hand both domestically and as well within his foreign policy.

It is a belief by the Russian government that it possesses the rights to globally protect its citizens. The media trajectories of this nation therefore works to promulgate this idea. Putin has intensified his efforts in improving the field of media and communication as a marketing tool to present to the eyes of the domestic inhabitants as well as the international audience, a favorable view of his country. He is notably sighted fueling a view that is of a confrontational nature towards the west. Eastwards expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the west’s dual and hypocritical role are some of the themes that recurrently manifests themselves in his public statements. It is a general belief that for leaders to obtain maximum impact on foreign policy decisions, it is of great significance that the native public holds the situation’s knowledge either partially, ambiguously or incompletely. Putin is of no exemption to this as his ‘information campaigns’ majorly drives the public opinion almost exclusively on issues that are to his favor. Deficiency of knowledge amongst majority of the public renders it almost completely impossible for them to come forth and challenge decisions he makes on foreign policy.

Russia under Vladimir Putin

The current foreign policy of Russia is greatly and directly associable with Putin’s personality. Putin has been basing his decisive words on issues that are of interest to him within all Russian’s formal institutions of diplomatic decision making and national security machinery. It has been sighted during several instances where he has not hesitated to go against deeply rooted institutional interests and ended up embarking on dramatic moves. One instance is where he was on Americas side on its anti-terrorism war. Despite huge opposition and differences emanating from the elites within Russia’s national security, he allowed her to establish army bases in Central Asia.

Discipline within the Russian government does not only get associated with preferences of Putin’s policy, but it is also a result of his management skills (Streissguth, 2004). He has transferred his clearly evident self-confidence to international grounds during the positioning of his government on particular issues. Though cases of insecurity are still present, Moscow has however improved in bravely facing these fears and disappointments. Russia is currently viewed as solely looking into its interests and not toeing into western lines as was being previously perceived. These changes that have evidenced themselves during Putin’s time have contributed to the reduction in the overall number of complaints about disrespects and attacks on dignity.

Similar to other world leaders, information and advice that Putin absorbs emanates from a variety of sources. Putin is however the ultimate controller and the determiner of the nation’s strategic direction (Sawer & Haussman, 2016). He selectively involves himself in management of high profile issues and is also a great influencer on individual policies. As a matter of facts, certain areas are of great priority to him and he therefore closely scrutinizes such issues which includes Ukraine and Eurasian integration. Concerns on relationships with other key players in Russia’s economy such as the United States of America and china are also of significant interest to him (Isakova, 2004). However, similar to all other good and successful senior managers, he embraces delegation. He secures cards that are related to major policies and related decision making close to his chest but assigns issues of lesser significance and the routine administration to others.

Out of sixteen times that Putin mentions united states of America in his speeches, twelve of these times are referring to USA as having a hostile and negative view against Russia. It is only in four instances that he views actions of US as conciliatory and cooperative. It is therefore notable that the greater part of Vladimir’s political world with relation to USA is based on hostility (McFaul, 2018). It is his larger belief that USA is arrogant, non-cooperative and untrustworthy. Putin therefore portrays Russia to be the friendliest of the two nations acting in US-Russia relations. He only acts in an unfriendly or hostile manner in retaliation or upon provocation.

He is on several occasions captured talking about US disregard for the UN charter and International law, and its hegemonic ambitions (Whisenhunt & Saul, 2015). It is during one occasion that he is quoted saying, “We all know that after the end of the Cold War, the world was left with one center of dominance, and those who found themselves at the top of the pyramid were tempted to think that since they are so powerful and exceptional, they know best what needs to be done and thus, they don’t need to reckon with the UN, which, instead of rubberstamping decisions they need, often stands in their way.” Upon being asked of his confrontation with the US, he brings forth US antagonism by stating clearly of the US plans to create Anti-Ballistic Missile System and the decision it made regarding abandonment of the ABM treaty (Graham, 2008). Once confronted with the view of him being the aggressor, he strongly denies the same “…now, US bases are scattered around the globe – and you’re telling me Russia is behaving aggressively? Do you have any common sense at all? What are US armed forces doing in Europe, also with tactical nuclear weapons? What are
they doing there?”  

Putin’s Management Skills and International Standing

Putin is also sighted severally accusing the US of indulging into Russia’s domestic affairs. He actively condemns the US with regards to its ‘arrogance, exceptionalism and impunity.’ (Stent, 2015) H is also seen portraying a reactionary nature of nation’s actions and position. On a majority of occasions, he is spotted talking of Russia having an accommodative and conciliation stance with it being ready to work and cooperate with its partners from the west with an aim of bringing peace and general stability within the globe. It is not once that he has mentioned that Russia has no kind of interests that will drive it towards becoming a super power but instead, it is only protecting its vital goals and interests. Putin’s overall stance therefore is an evident demonstration that Russia is ready and willing to join hands with USA but, if and only if its security and national priorities are taken into consideration.

Vladimir has again been captured mentioning Ukraine fifteen times. Twelve are the times that he directly associates the Ukrainian authorities and their allies as non-cooperative and full of hostility (Kalb, 2015). It is only thrice that he acknowledges their cooperativeness. When it comes to self-image, he visualizes Russia as a friendly and conciliatory nation thirteen times and only twice does he deem his nation to be a hostile country. Again, he displays his image in relation to the Ukrainian Federation to be more cooperative (Zadorozhnii & Oleksandr, 2016). He therefore views any actions taken by his government towards Ukraine as reactionary or actions of responses taken for self-defense. In majority of his addresses, he views the people of Ukraine as brothers to Russia but they have been fooled and tricked by their leaders and those behind their instigation (Black, 2004).

Vladimir Putin does not spare NATO either. In all the six times that he mentions it in his speeches, he says that its actions towards Russia are of hostility and antagonism and views himself as the protagonist (Diesen, 2015). The major reason why Putin views NATO as hostile is its decision to expand towards the east and its step to include the eastern European states. According to him, “Sooner or later, this logic of confrontation is bound to spark off a major geopolitical crisis.” He further added that the end of the cold war resulted to arrogance in the west. He said, “They decided they were the winners, they were an empire, while all the others were their vassals, and they needed to put the squeeze on them. This is the problem. They never stopped building walls, despite all our attempts at working together without any dividing lines in Europe and the world at large.” (Foundation, 2015).

Putin is however seen to categorize Germany within a friendly domain (Schlogel, 2006). For four notable times that he mentions Germany in his speeches, he acknowledges that actions taken by that country towards Russia are of a friendly nature and therefore deems them as cooperative. He further distinguishes Germany as a nation with inevitable disagreements with Russia but is however working with sincerity to eradicate the barriers between the two nations (Lynch, 2011). His precise view towards the German chancellor, Merkel Angela, is favorable as he sees her as a symbol of hope for positive relations between Germany and Russia (Gower & Timmins, 2009). At one occasion, he said, “I am certain that she is a very sincere person. There is a framework within which she has to work but I have no doubt that she is sincere in her efforts to find solutions, including to the situation in southeast Ukraine.” (Foundation, 2015)


Turkey is another nation in the interest of Vladimir Putin in his views on national interest and foreign policy. He is captured mentioning Turkey nine times five of which he terms it as cooperative. Four are therefore the times that he considers Turkey’s actions as of unfriendliness and hostility (Kurban, 2017). The key compelling factor towards his view on Turkey is the crisis in Syria where he views it as friendly and cooperative before both nations were involved in the Syrian crisis. Quoting his words, “…due to the common efforts we took in recent years, our relations have been developing constructively on the basis of mutual confidence, good neighborliness, equality and mutual respect of interests. Due to such intensive multidimensional ties, Turkish–Russian relations remain stable, not depending on the current situation and maintaining continuity.” (Brannen, 2013) A game changing event however occurred on 24/11/2015 when a Russian plane was downed by the Turkish army following deeper involvement of the two into the Syrian war. Putin thereafter viewed this act not only as unfriendly but also as one of hostility.

Taking into consideration the above discussed key actors of the global political arena, it is clear that underlying beneath Vladimir’s actions, views and policies towards them, there is worldview that is subjugated by nationalistic principles.

Constructivism in international relations is the claim that, rather than being inevitable consequences of mankind nature or any other significant characteristics of the political world, international relations are both socially and historically constructed (Guzzini & Leander, 2005). Use of the term constructivism in description of theories that emphasize on the socially constructed international relations character is attributed to Nicholas Onuf (Zehfuss, 2002). This philosophy which is considered holistic has several tenets that form its spine. To begin with, there is ‘Situated learning and Authentic tasks.’ (Klotz & Lynch, 2014) This is a proposed method of ensuring that students learn to understand all the concepts that are found within the area of study. By following this method, a student would learn about international relations by fully immersing into its culture rather than acquiring irrelevant knowledge that is otherwise deemed to be important in the area of study. The key objective is to produce a student who fully understands how international diplomats would get knowledge relevant to their field and integrate this knowledge to solve prevailing challenges.

Another significant feature of constructivism is the idea of cognitive apprenticeship (Forst, 2011). Here, the teacher models thinking processes that would characterize in a certain field, and in international relations to be precise for our case, and then installs the processes to his students. Apprentice programs mimicking the teachers in the internship are provided for the students. Although simulations would not expose the student to the field as an internship would, the student would however gain understanding on the various ways of identification and know-how of an expert. Another feature is the social construction of shared perspectives-collaborative learning (Barkin, 2010). Here, students involve in active interactions with others for them to develop and learn concepts. Emphases are asserted by collaborative learning on the need of examining an issue from all perspectives for the learner to gain understanding from all points of view.

Constructivists also believe that it is of great significance to nurture Reflexivity (Ngangjoh-Hodu & Qi, 2016). This is the process whereby a student gains awareness of their own thinking processes. In international relations, it is of much importance for individuals to understand how they are arriving at the conclusions that they end up making or, how they go about their decision making processes (Edwards, 2011). This eventually offer more help in formation of more meaningful links between various schools of knowledge and therefore facilitates development of more elaborate schemas.

The human race has been going through extensive and far paced transformations. These transformations are shaping and reshaping the figure of national interest and at the same time bringing both positive and negative impacts on international relations. Emergence of new national interests is the key shaper of international relations. This is because it is through national interests that a nation gets to determine its key associates in attempt to achieve its interests. However, national interests should not be a source of confrontations between nations. There should be peaceful international relations for global stability to be achieved. Currently, most nations are only working towards achieving their national interests and thus portraying acts of selfishness which are lethal to peace.


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