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Potemkin Village Foreign Policy

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore over the weekend, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that Russia will take part of a joint naval exercise in May 2016 in the South China Sea with its Asian allies focusing on counter-terrorism and naval security. Russia Today relayed the context of the announcement:

Antonov also said he was concerned about stability in the region, naming the US as the main destabilizing factor. He said that Washington’s policies have been aimed against Russia and China: “We are concerned by US policies in the region, especially since every day it becomes increasingly focused on a systemic containment of Russia and China.”

“Despite our concerns about the US global missile defense architecture, they continue a policy of disrupting strategic stability, adding a regional segment of an anti-missile ‘shield’ in the Asia-Pacific,”he added.

He also blamed the US for interfering with the affairs of other countries and said Russia is worried by the trend: “An epidemic of ‘color revolutions’ swept the Middle East and, like a hurricane, wiped out several states in the region. This disease went across several European countries, where events are freely controlled from the outside.”

There’s much less than meets the eye to this announcement—it’s a fairly typical performance for Putin’s Kremlin when it comes to Russia-China cooperation: find something that reads big in the press but that does not really imply anything substantial about their relations. It demonstrates a general political alignment—something like a  resentful mood affiliation between revisionist powers—but doesn’t require the kind of deep and institutionalized cooperation that a true alliance would involve.

This is a basic element of Putinist foreign policy. He is short on real power resources but had developed a skilled team of “politologists” (read: propagandists of the 21st century) who are world class in creating the appearance of power and fact. The Potemkin village remains, all these years after Catherine the Great, a key element of Russian statecraft.


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  • Ellen

    Thanks for the nice analysis and historical reference. What does TAI think of Putin’s latest chess move in the ruins of Syria? Apparently, he is now – finally – beginning to pull the rug out from under Bashar Assad and his murderous regime. Not, mind you, because he has murdered too many people. That would be the positive outcome of the last 4 years, from Putin’s vantage point. The negative point is that, frankly, he is losing the war and NO Potemkin village can cover that up anymore.

    The problem as I see it is that they want Assad to negotiate with the rebels, rather than go down to defeat. Why the heck should the rebels negotiate when they are on the verge of defeating not only the Alawites, but the Persian Empire and its Russian former superpower patron. This will be an incredible victory for a ragtag group of semiliterate peasants. Putin is cutting his losses so he can get credit for the downfall of this horrid regime and trade it in for appeasement chips regarding his Ukrainian gambit.

    All of this makes the Obamoids – once again – look like they are totally out of their depth. They have been snookered in Ukraine, in Syria and in the Iran deal, and on the issue of Israeli settlements. Their well has run dry across the entire region.

  • Anthony

    TAI has focused on China and Russia quite a bit lately. Is purpose informative, propagandistic, partisan, policy influencing, or elevating? On the other side (in early May), The Atlantic has published an essay titled “China and Russia Grow Even Closer” (deepening a relationship based on a common adversary). “We are strong if united but weak if isolated, Xi Jingping told Xinhua.” So, is it all Potemkin or some other component of strategic assessment?

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