Russia has consistently described itself as a great power. At a minimum, this vision includes Russia’s desire to participate in deciding global issues and to have a sphere of influence in its region. In addition to consistently referring to Russia as a great power, Russian officials have advocated a “multipolar” vision of the world, apparently indicating that they think Russia is and should remain one of several major powers. In 2008, then–Russian President Dmitry Medvedev included multipolarity as one of five key principles of Russian foreign policy, saying, “The world should be multipolar. Unipolarity is unacceptable; domination is impermissible. We cannot accept a world order in which all decisions are taken by one country, even such a serious and authoritative country as the United States of America.” This principle is stated in several official documents. For example, the Russian National Security Strategy of 2009 stated Russia’s intention to actively participate “in the development of the multipolar model of the international system,” while the 2013 Foreign Policy Concept identified the goal of “securing [Russia’s] high standing in the international community as one of the influential and competitive poles of the modern world.”

This implies that Russia should not be treated as just any other member of an international institution, but rather as a higher status member with rights equal to other great powers, including the United States.

Russia’s great-power status, from its perspective, implies particular rights within its immediate region, a special role in deciding international disputes, cooperation with other great powers, and a greater degree of autonomy or sovereignty. Medvedev justified Russia’s sphere of influence based on its great-power status, arguing, “Russia, just like other countries in the world, has regions where it has its privileged interests. In these regions, there are countries with which we have traditionally had friendly cordial relations, historically special relations.” Russia also seeks to be a leading participant in resolving ongoing international conflicts.

In Ukraine, Russia has preferred that negotiations take place under the Normandy Format, including France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine, which may be desirable, in part, because it signifies Russia’s status as a leading great power in Europe and excludes the United States. Russia has also sought to strengthen its position as a great power through its support for the UN; Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) association; and other forums that emphasize the role and authority of regional great powers. Russia’s cooperation with China is also significant, as both countries seek a greater say in the world as great powers. For example, both have conducted joint naval exercises in such areas as the South China Sea, have worked together through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to limit U.S. military presence in Central Asia, and are pursuing an international convention on information security. Russia’s view of its great-power status also may be connected with a concept of its own desired autonomy and sovereignty. Some analysts write that Russia seeks full or absolute sovereignty or autonomy and sees itself in a small category of great powers that have such sovereignty, including China and the United States. Other countries, including the European powers, are less sovereign, especially because they need to consult with the United States or other countries to develop or execute their policy. Russia may seek and be able to continue its greater autonomy by avoiding alliances or binding agreements with other powers, as well as by maintaining economic strength and military power.


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