Re-Evaluate Russia's Status As A Major Power

Russia's sense of itself as a great power, according to several observers, is one of the most important aspects of its identity (Adomeit 1995; Neumann 2008; Thorun 2009). 

One story has been common among Russia's leadership among several conceivable narratives: discourse on great power status. 

Despite the fact that the roots of greatness and its consequences have shifted from civil and historical to geopolitical and economic, the rhetoric has remained mostly similar. 

Hopf (2002) highlights the persistence of the great power narrative, which has endured not just the country's historical history but also its ideological transformation from the USSR to Russia. 

While the former Soviet Union regarded itself a great power during the Cold War in 1955, it appeared to feel the need to reassure other countries that, while being a big power, it was not an ideologically traditional one. 

"Egypt can be confident that the Soviet Union isn't a crocodile that may suddenly release its jaws and devour up Egypt," said Soviet Foreign Minister Semenov in response to Egypt's fears about its tight ties with the USSR (cited in Hopf 2002, 200). 

This distinction from other great nations was not at the top of the country's agenda in 1999, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. 

Despite the country's ideological transition, the great power narrative persisted, preserving its dominating position (Hopf 2002, 157). 

Despite economic and political hardships after the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia maintained its great power status. 

Evgeny Primakov, Russia's new Minister of Foreign Affairs, considered his major responsibility as intensifying the endeavor "to preserve Russia's national interest" as a great power and establishing a strategy that matched this position in 1996, when the government's support ratings were in the single digits (Primakov 1996). 

Despite their public disputes on what it meant to be great, they agreed that Russia was "doomed to be a great power" simply because it was Russia (Kozyrev 1994, p. 62). 

While both Russia and the West value great power status, it seems that they have distinct perspectives on it. 

Some Russian academics place a premium on Western governments' assessments. 

Krashennikova (2007), for example, claims that status misunderstandings and disparities between Russia and the West come mostly from the West's systematic misperception of Russian situations. 

She goes on to say that Western portrayals of Russia are so twisted that Russians don't recognize their own nation in Western descriptions. 

Other researchers base their arguments on both actors' perceptional discrepancies. 

According to Forsberg (2014), both parties have distinct conceptual understandings of what it means to be a great power. 

He blames disagreements between Russia and the West on misperceptions of the variables that influence Russia's standing. 

As a result, whereas Russians see some parts of their country's character as status-enhancing, Western scholars see them as status-depleting. 

The position of Russia as a great power is determined by a number of objective elements, with a focus on its geographic location (Leichtova 2014). 

Russia is the world's biggest nation, stretching over two continents. 

Security concerns exist in border regions, as well as to Russia's political and economic interests, it is known. 

As a result, Russia's status as a great power is geographically and geopolitically linked to the Russian state. 

Richard Pipes (1995)3, like Leichtova, believes that geography is one of the most important aspects in the formation of Russia's perspective of itself and the world around it, and that it is an integral component of the country's ontological consciousness. 

He connects this ontological knowledge to the economic and geopolitical character of Russia's spatially structured physical security. 

Great power status is directly tied to a state's capacity to endure threats and project power, according to the Realist School of international relations. 

Because of the nature of physical challenges, Russia has always needed to consolidate power into a strong centralized state headed by a strong leader capable of withstanding attacks and projecting authority. 

In addition, geopolitical influences from Asia, which were geographically dictated, aided in the creation of a strong patrimonial state in Russia. 

While physical security issues generated the ontological need for a strong leader, Russian society's communal structure enabled this notion to become more embedded and routineized. 

As a result, Russia's requirement for a strong leader necessitates a guarantee of a strong state and great power status. 

The leader guarantees the population' physical protection from the outside while wielding unrestricted internal control. 

Throughout Russian history, this notion has remained consistent. 

The political system developed in Russia between the 12th and 17th centuries has remained to the current day, with some adjustments (Pipes 1995; Trenin 2002; Mankoff 2009; Tsygankov 2014). 

As a result, this system, which is defined by a strong, consolidated state, is ingrained in the concept of Russian nationality. 

In Russia's pre-revolutionary era, the powerful state took the form of an authoritarian monarchy. 

It was succeeded by an equally powerful Single Party state with a strong monopoly of power during Soviet times. 

According to Andrei Tsygankov (2014), this concept has been transformed into a unique definition of sovereign democracy in modern Russia, which represents the distinctive character of Russia's biographical continuity. 

Another historically ingrained feature of Russian power is the state's network nature. 

Networks, in general, are defined as a kind of less formal interaction that connects people and organizations with similar interests and allegiances. 

Members of the networks in Russia do not operate from the outside, as they would in other countries, but instead occupy high-ranking positions inside the state and are fundamental to it (Kononenko 2011, p. 6). 

Historically, Russian politics was pervaded by networks in almost every aspect. 

They now have a say in how the federal government interacts with the states, as well as foreign policy and the military. 

As a consequence, these allegiances pierced through bureaucratic systems and defunct organizations to define the country's contemporary condition (Kononenko 2011). 

As a result, the policy-making language of a "strong state" and "national interest" is imbued with the public-private players' "special interests." With its complicated practice of decision-making and power management, the "sistema," as recognized Russian political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky (2016) refers to the existing political system, represents one of the main parts of the country's ontological security. 

According to Pavlovsky, the "sistema" combines the ideas that the state has unrestricted access to all national resources, whether public and private, and that it abuses people's rights by turning them into operational resources. 

It is a "deeply rooted feature of Russian society that transcends politics and ideology," and it may endure long after Putin's reign ends (Pavlovsky 2016, 14). 

Its origins may be traced back to Russia's reaction to economic security concerns. 

Because of its geographical position, Russians were forced to work within a relatively limited range of alternatives. 

The hard environment and inconsistent rainfall distribution are the main reasons why Russia has had one disastrous harvest out of every three, resulting in very low yields. 

Furthermore, the very inefficient and wasteful character of Russian agriculture forced the government to continue expanding its agricultural fields in pursuit of new ones. 

Russia aimed to pursue vast rather than intensive agriculture by putting more territory under cultivation. 

Because the rich, attractive land was under the hands of Turkic and Mongol tribes on the steppes, Russian colonists' urge to guarantee physical existence frequently ended in constant battles with these groups. 

As a result, colonization became a basic characteristic of the Russian state, and some Russian philosophers and historians believe it to constitute its very core. 

Russian history, as highlighted by Kliuchevskii (1937) in The History of Russia, is the chronicle of a nation that "colonized itself." This process lasted 400 years, leading the Russian population to spread away from the forest zone, mostly to the east and south, and into regions populated by people of different races and civilizations. 

A structured military organization became necessary for carrying out expansionist goals critical to Russia's economic existence (Pipes 1995, 20). 

A well-known Russian populist, Alexander Herzen, believed that a strong state was necessary to overcome Russia's economic issues. 

Russia, on the other hand, had a conundrum: although its economic security necessitated highly efficient organization, its economic capabilities made this difficult. 

Pipes claims that the consolidation of power and the formation of a patrimonial system symbolized by a strong authoritarian leader was the answer for the rising Russian state (Pipes 1995, 21). 

While Russia's economic fragility may explain its dependence on autocracy, the nature of the country's geopolitical dangers makes this reliance totally justified (Tsygankov 2014). 

The geographical region of Russia is another aspect that contributes to the ontological need for a strong state, represented by a strong leader. 

In terms of geography, Russia lacks distinct borders that would divide it from its neighbors, leaving it vulnerable to its adversaries (Trenin 2002). 

In the east, the rising Russian state was confronted by the Golden Horde, a sophisticated Asian kingdom that had ruled the Slavic tribes' territory for for two centuries. 

In contemporary times, the majority of the country's invasions have come from the West, such as Poland and Sweden. 

This had significant ramifications for a nation that was very vulnerable when it was weak and unstoppable when it was strong (Trenin 2002). 

To counteract these geopolitical dangers, an authority capable of concentrating power and mobilizing resources was necessary. 

In other words, physical security risks generated an ontological need in Russia for a strong, mobilization-capable leader. 

This ontological imperative has endured over the ages and is the ultimate driving force behind Russia's present foreign policy. 

According to Stephen Kotkin (2016), a powerful state that is ready and capable of acting forcefully in its own interests is still the sole guarantee of Russia's security. 

This ability to mobilize became a distinguishing element of Russian authoritarian authority, however it came at a cost. 

According to Veljko Vujai (2015), Russian monarchs built and enshrined a close link between exterior protection and expansion and domestic enslavement. 

To put it another way, external threats to physical security originally necessitated personal sacrifice, which was then used as a pretext to submit all strata of society to the patrimonial monarch over time. 

Beginning with the leadership of Ivan the Great and his grandson Ivan IV, recognized as the founders of the Russian state, the notion of connecting external dangers to domestic subjection became ingrained in the developmental phases of Russian ontological security. 

Russian monarchs used their unrestricted political authority to not only destroy the weaker Mongol empire that had governed the area for centuries, but also to gain control over neighboring Slavic tribes (Tsygankov 2014). 

Because of the ruler's unrestricted political power and "divinity" after gaining independence from the church, such consolidation was conceivable. 

Many rulers, including Peter the Great and Joseph Stalin, have routinized and ingrained the mobilization of power in the face of physical attack in Russian ontological security over the centuries. 

Despite reigning at drastically different eras, they both embraced state consolidation as a means of progressing while dealing with actual or imagined external challenges. 

Stalin's tenure may be described as a reign of terror against those seen to be traitors to the state, and it compelled a modernisation that cost millions of lives. 

Despite their radical nature, his techniques followed Russia's ontologically approved norm. 

This paradigm, which was defined by a strong state and symbolized by a strong leader capable of mobilization in the face of foreign challenges, often received civilian support. 

This support is still going strong today. 

Despite his historical record, according to a recent study performed by the Levada Center (2015) towards the end of 2015, there are twice as many individuals in Russia who regard Stalin in a favourable light as in a negative light. 

The country's Eastern heritage is another reason why Russians consider a strong leader to be a vital component of great power status. 

Many Russian observers emphasize the significant role that Eastern influence had in Russia's handling of authority throughout history (Vernadsky 1963; Gumilv 1990). 

They point out, for example, that Mongol dominance during the formation of the Russian state in the 13th century may be considered a "shattering external event" (Pipes 1995, 54). 

As a result, the Mongol Khans became Russia's first indisputable rulers. 

The formative Russian state was exposed to an Asian style of government, which had a significant impact on the country's ontological security. 

Mongol khans were undisputed controllers of Russia's destiny for more than two centuries, and Russia recognized their effective administration of their large empire by merging its political and administrative institutions under Mongol (Turkic) titles, such as kazna, or treasury. 

Russian princes learnt the workings of absolute monarchy during Mongol domination, of "power with whom one cannot enter into agreements but must unconditionally follow" (Sergeevich 1909, 34). 

However, it was under Mongol rule that Russians learned a political philosophy that limited the state's functions to the collection of tribute (taxes), the maintenance of order, and the preservation of security, but was "completely devoid of any sense of responsibility for the well-being of the people" (Pipes 1995, 75). 

The independence of Moscow's rulers from Mongol tutelage, according to Cherniavsky (1959), was not the freedom of Russia, but rather "a change of dynasty." In this aspect, the khan was most important in the notion of the Russian monarch "as a conqueror of Russia and its people, answerable to no one" (Cherniavsky 1959, 65–74). 

As a consequence of Mongol domination, Russia developed a unique sort of governmental authority known as the patrimonial state, which became stronger after the Golden Horde lost its grasp (Pipes 1995, 57). 

As we have seen, Richard Pipes' arguments aid in understanding the Russian state's distinctiveness. 

He attributes Russia's political regime's uniqueness to the country's historical link between property and political power. 

This, according to Pipes, is the most important divergence between Western and non-Western systems. 

Private property is a domain over which state authorities generally has no control under Western democracies. 

This emotion arose as a consequence of a legal and institutional process that started in ancient Rome. 

The process of authority exerted as sovereignty and authority exercised as ownership divided throughout that period. 

Pipes' major point is that Russia's independence came late in the country's history and was flawed (Pipes 1974, xxii). 

Pipes goes on to say that Russia is a patrimonial state, which is described as a kind of personal authority that is primarily founded on tradition but simultaneously emphasizing personal power (Weber, Henderson, and Parsons 1947). 

The fact that the economic aspect absorbs the political is one of the features of a patrimonial state. 

As a result, the rights of sovereignty and ownership converge and become almost indistinguishable. 

This encourages the sovereign to wield political power in the same way that economic power is used. 

In other words, the "proprietary" aspect of Russian politics is its defining feature; that is, people in power utilize their political authority in the same way that economic ownership is exercised. 

A patrimonial state, such as "sultanism," is one in which those in power retain entire ownership of the land and control over the people who live on it. 

Political power in patrimonial nations is therefore an extension of the sovereign's right of ownership, which extends to both the realm and its proprietors. 

There are no institutional limitations on governmental power, no individual rights, and no rule of law. 

The communal aspect of Russian society has created excellent circumstances for the ontological need for a strong leader to be further embedded. 

Peasants were more reliant on one another as a result of the harsh environment, which discouraged independent cultivation. 

The structure of the peasant family and the hamlet were impacted by the communal character of Russian work (Pipes 1995). 

As a consequence, the ancient Slavs' main social unit was a tribal group, which was linked by blood and worked together as a team. 

With the passage of time, this community disintegrated, giving place to a mir or obshchina, an organization based on cooperative property ownership. 

This peasant commune was a representation of the Russian people historically lacking the individualistic "bourgeois" inclinations that are typical of the West, according to Russian romantic nationalists known as "Slavophiles." In Russia, an individual's pride has historically been drawn from the pride of the group to which he or she belonged (Leichtova 2014, 28). 

As a result, the importance of individual rights in attaining self-fulfillment was long overlooked (Prizel 1998). 

Furthermore, both the founders of Russian anarchism, Konstantin Aksakov and Mikhail Bakunin, agreed that the Russian people were inherently apolitical (Vujai 2015). 

Their intense religious convictions enabled them to embrace Christian precepts such as "give unto Caesar the goods that were Caesar's" (Aksakov 1966, 230–252). 

As a result, the people delegated politics and problems of foreign security to the government. 

These ideas in the primacy of community needs above individual needs have been institutionalized and established in Russia's ontological security throughout history. 

This claim was supported by a November 2014 poll conducted by Russia's independent polling agency, Levada Center (2014). 

The vast majority of Russians (61 percent vs. 36 percent) picked the first option in response to the question "in which nation would you rather live: a country with social equality or a place where you have the chance to prove yourself and achieve a more successful life?" Surprisingly, these responses were similar in the most recent survey in April 2020, when "a majority (65 percent) stated they do not comprehend the substance of the planned changes" ostensibly aimed at reorganizing Russia's political structure in a more centralized direction (Levada Center 2020). 

Throughout the ages, Russian ideas of authority have been routinized by community inclinations and entrustment of political life to the state and its leader. 

The perception of a strong state as a guarantee of physical security and political stability has been historically rooted in ontological security. 

As a result, many Russians are hesitant to leave autocracy in favor of the Western competitive system. 

This dependency is completely rational, given Russia's historical anxieties and economic deficits (Tsygankov 2016, 6). 

According to some observers, the core of Russian history has been the subjection of society to an ever-mightier state, embodied by its leader – one of Russia's ontological security pillars (Vujai 2015, 257). 

Finally, the contemporary style of leadership under President Putin demonstrates the continuance of the ontological story of Russia as a powerful state. 

By "rescuing" an ontologically entrenched concept of Russia as a powerful state, the Russian president earned public support. 

This is the "highest value" concept that has been repeated throughout the country's history (Kotkin 2016, 8). 

Given Yeltsin's presidency's "weakness of the state," the resuscitation of this ontological continuity was particularly vital. 

One of the reasons Boris Yeltsin's popularity ratings fell to single digits in 1999 was because of this break in biographical continuity (Lipman 2016, 39). 

Despite its ontological significance, however, the "strong state" narrative simultaneously empowers and constrains the existing administration. 

According to analysts, there is dread and uncertainty about the country's future when Putin leaves. 

The Kremlin has "no idea" what they'll do without its leader (Pavlovsky 2016, 17).

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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