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Energy in Russian Foreign Policy: Soft Power, Hard Power, or Smart Power?
The Glasnost and Perestroika policy of Michael Gorbachov played a crucial role in demolition of Eastern block and Berlin Wall and this policy resulted with the collapse of Soviet Union in December of 1991. The biggest heir of the USSR was Russia. Following the collapse of USSR, the main goal of Russia was to gain its lost reputation and global player role. His best assistants in the implementation of these goals were the Kremlin and Gazprom, including his vast amount of energy resources. [5, Beniamin & Cosmin, pg.44]
Even, after the dissolution of USSR, Russia continued to control the post-Soviet pipeline network. Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that “Russia will never give up control over pipeline system of the post-Soviet states”. In fact, Russia still considers post-Soviet space as its area of interest, because Russia has also dependence over its neighbours in terms of transit. However, Russia tries to open new energy routes (energy markets of China and Japan) and following diversification policy. [2, pg.256-258] Some post-Soviet countries are still dependent on Russian gas, while Russia also needs these countries in order to transport his energy resources. However, Nord and South Stream, as well as Blue Stream will decrease the transit dependence of Russia bypassing transit states.
Russia is the biggest natural gas supplier of the world, while is the second country (following USA) for its coal reserves. The main oil and natural gas fields in Europe and Eurasia located in Russia. The natural gas reserves of Russian Federation are more than the combined reserves of all the countries in North, Central and South America and Europe. [9, Liuhto, pg.8]
Those reserves are not only economic dividend, but also political pressure tools and are very well used by Russia in foreign policy. Notwithstanding Russia considers itself as energy super power, his energy resources cannot be sufficient for a long-run. Therefore, Russia needs another (energy) sources. [3, Akgun, pg.2-4] Albeit, Russia doesn’t exports only his energy resources, but also energy resources (on its self-set prices) of the Central Asian states. Even if natural gas reserves will be depleted, Russia owns huge coal reserves for electricity production for 500 years. 
However, probably Turkmenistan will not sell its natural gas to Russia for a long-time on cheap prices. Because, Turkmenistan also follows the diversification policy, as Turkmen gas is also exported to China and Iran. Nevertheless, Turkmenistan tries to maintain political balance in its relations with Russia and China. But, it will be hard to feed both Russian and Chinese natural gas pipelines. [9, Liuhto, pg.11-13] From the other hand, according to the agreement between Gazprom and SOCAR dated 2009, Russia also imports Azeri natural gas. In 2010 and 2012, amendments made to current agreement in order to enhance the amount of imported gas to Russia. 
Although Russia is eager for being an energy super power, country needs huge amount of natural gas reserves in order to maintain its energy status for a long-run. Russia counts on its huge energy fields (Shtokman and Sakhalin) and enlarges its pipeline network rather than investing in improvement of its domestic energy infrastructure. However, because of lack of investment and reactions by environmentalists and Greenpeace activists, Russia temporarily suspended oil and natural gas exploration in Shtokman field. [7, Gurbanov]
Russian foreign policy concept also emphasizes the significance of energy and considers it as a main element of foreign policy and power of Russia in the international system. Therefore, Putin highlights the significance of the management of energy sector by government. One can notice at least eight or ten words of energy in the Foreign Policy Conception of the Russian Federation (dated June 28, 2000; July 15, 2008; February 12, 2013). This is indicating importance of energy in Russian foreign policy. As the energy security problem getting globalized State is pursuing to take relevant measures. Hence, Russia tries to strengthen its relations with Islamic states (Middle East and North Africa), and continues its activeness in G8, Troika (Russia, India, China), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and OIC (as an observer state) in order to reinforce its energy-related relations. Another region which strategically important for Russia are the Latin American States, such as Brazil, Argentine, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela and Caribbean States. [1, pg.1-17]
When Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, he stated that “the collapse of USSR was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe and this made international position of Russia to be shifted to third place”. This statement was the pure evidence of Putin’s future plans toward post-Soviet region. Because, Russia had lost vast territories and his global power, therefore, Putin tried to raise Russia on global arena as a global player by rationalizing foreign policy. So far, Putin can achieve these goals by centralizing energy sector and gaining control over energy infrastructures and economies of the post-Soviet countries. Hence, Putin considers energy resources as a main guarantor of the international position of Russia. 
Following his first presidency, Putin tried to create new Russian identity in the international system. This identity envisaged of being a strong state and a main energy player in the energy market. After he came to power, Putin removed Yeltsin team and replaced most of the government officers with its former KGB colleague and established his so-called “Saint Petersburg Team”. During his first presidency, Putin warned Russian oligarchs not to interfere in politics and keep away from Kremlin. However some oligarchs (Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky) tried withstand the Kremlin’s new leader and endured of its results. 
One can notice importance of energy in the foreign policy of Russia by following Russia’s relations with post-Soviet and EU countries. The second term of Putin’s foreign policy has been very ambitious and keen. Particularly, following colour revolutions (Ukraine in 2004 and Georgia in 2003), NATO and EU membership attempts of Ukraine and Georgia, US and NATO’s initiatives to deploy ABM and MDS system in Poland and Czech Republic, Russia started to use energy resources as a political tool (suspension of natural gas, increasing of natural gas prices etc.). However, usage of energy is not only limited by that. Russia managed to control the pipeline networks by buying the significant stakes in the foreign energy companies and energy infrastructures of other countries under the flag of Gazprom. [14, Smith, pg.8-10]
Usage of Gazprom as a foreign policy tool in energy policy of Russia by Dmitry Medvedev was the continuation of Putin’s foreign policy. This was obvious proof that Putin still stays behind steering wheel of Russian foreign policy. [4, Buchanan, pg.1-6] “Natural Gas Wars” with neighbour countries proved it. For some scholars, energy embargos and increases in energy prices are the element of the hard power of Russia. But, for others, energy is just source of benefit in order to fill state budget and therefore, it is still uncertain whether Russia is an energy super power or not. [9, Liuhto, pg.41]
During second presidency of Putin, Russian energy policy became tougher and tougher. For instance, 2006/2009 Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis; 2007/2010 Russian-Belarusian oil and gas crisis; Kremlin’s fingerprint in Ukrainian presidential elections; prices disputes with Azerbaijan Government (2007); control over Armenian pipeline system; political skirmishes with Georgia; explosion in Turkmenistan pipeline; suspension of natural gas running to EU in the mid of winter; attempts of Russia to keep China away from Central Asia (from energy resources), etc. 
Therefore, Ukraine allowed Russia to maintain Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Sevastopol port of Crimea peninsula till 2042 in order to balance energy war and to provide continuous transportation of natural gas to Ukraine. Ukrainian leadership prefers to construct new port in Odessa in order to transport Caspian gas through Georgia to reduce its dependence upon Russia, while Europe prefers to construct North-South pipeline through Turkey in order to transport the Gulf’s oil resources. [10, Rutland, pg.27] Furthermore, the extension of Odessa-Brody pipeline till the Polish city of Gdansk (where oil refineries are located) in order to export Caspian oil were also considered by Ukrainian and Azerbaijani governments in the Kiev Summit on Energy Security took place in 2008. Odessa-Brody pipeline currently is used to transport Russian oil in reverse direction to Black Sea. [8, Ibrahimov, pg.27]
The new and current regional pipeline projects also pose a great threat for Russian energy policy and emerge as an alternative to Russia’s foreign pipeline projects. For instance, energy agreements between Kazakhstan and China; between Turkmenistan and Iran/China; Nabucco-West, TAP, TANAP and Trans-Caspian gas pipeline projects and etc. There are also a numerous energy deals of Russia which intended for military purposes. Russia sells weapons to some developing countries (India, African countries etc.) in order to strengthen its relations for further energy deals. The potential threat for Russian energy policy might be possible establishment of “Energy NATO” by NATO member states. [11, Saivetz]
However, Third presidency term of Putin examined by new integration attempts (Eurasian Union) in the post-Soviet regions. Following third presidency, Vladimir Putin enforced integration process by different means. European Union’s integration summons for countries are voluntary, while post-Soviet countries are getting forced by different policy tools to be involved in Eurasian Union’s formulation process. As above-mentioned, Russia tries to gather former Soviet states in one block. However, reaction of external power rose immediately. Then U.S.’s State Secretary, Hilary Clinton stated that, “U.S. authorities intend to prevent the creation of a new version of the Soviet Union. Let’s not make mistakes. We know what the goal is, and we will find an effective way to prevent this process. Sovietisation poses a threat for former Soviet states.” The United States is very well aware that it will be “EuRussian Union” rather than being “Eurasian Union”. Putin wasn’t late to respond western accusations, as he says: “The one, who does not regret for the collapse of the Soviet Union, has not heart, and the one, who wants to re-create it in previous form, has not brain”. 
However, Russia must take foreign policy priorities of post-Soviet states into consideration as well and those priorities are arising from the internal and foreign policy problems. The main problem may be distrust to Russia which drawn from historical disputes, or territorial conflicts, such as Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts. It is not secret that, Russia might be crucial actor in the solution of these conflicts. As long as Moscow provides military support to Armenia (which occupied 20% territories of Azerbaijan) and while Russia has problems with Georgia (over South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and Moldova (because of Transnistria) his integration initiatives will remain without response. [6, Gurbanov]
To sum up, I would like to give a brief commentary about the elements of Soft, Hard and Smart Power of Russia. In my humble opinion, today energy resources constitutes only economic power of Russia, neither soft, nor hard, and nor smart power. Because, Russia currently needs huge amount of financial resources in order to modernize its military sector, as it leads to the militarization of energy. The usage of energy resources for foreign policy purposes is not much popular as it was during his second presidency term. Even during Medvedev’s and then following Putin’s third presidency, Russia just tries to own more stakes in the energy infrastructures of European and post-Soviet countries in order to balance his energy policy. Russia just can manage his energy resources rationally. 
Regarding to the smart power, I would call “Vladimir Putin” as a smart power of Russia. Since the first presidency of Putin, Russia could find it previous place (even not in the first) in the international system. 
Russia’s hard power understanding still remains unchanged, as it is still “Russia’s Military Capacity”. Russian-Georgian War in August 2008, enhancement of Russia’s military presence in Armenia, strengthening of Russian Navy Fleets in Caspian Sea and Arctic Ocean is the pure evidence of Russia’s “hard power-thinking”.
However, recently Russia does not exclude “soft power” direction in his foreign policy. According to Zaur Shiriyev, (Editor-in-Chief
for Caucasus International Journal), “The building of Russian soft power capacity began during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency but was institutionalized as a foreign policy tool in Vladimir Putin’s third term. The Russian version of soft power is additional tool for achieving foreign policy goals, namely the development of the so-called Eurasian Union, which is being promoted via public diplomacy tools in post-Soviet countries.” [13, Shiriyev] In order to restore and strengthen its reputation and Russian language in post-Soviet states, Russia uses some public and the Kremlin-backed institutes, social-networks (Vkontakte, Odnaklassniki, etc.) NGOs and movements such as “Russkiy Mir” (Russian World), “Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Support Fund”, “Fatherland-Eurasian Union” [12, Secrieru, pg.82] and pursues to create positive international image toward Russia. 
No doubt, what Kremlin means by “soft power” is not a real “soft power” at all and this “soft power” can be also understood as a “softened hard power of Russia”. However, current reality and some “black mistakes” of Russia during history prevent the implementation of soft power in post-Soviet space.  
1. “The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation”, 2008, pg. 1-17,
2. “Russia as Regional Superpower”, pg.256-258,
3. AKGUN, Suat, “The Russian Federation as an Energy Supplier”, Turkish Policy Quarterly Journal, pg.2-4,
4. BUCHANAN, Elizabeth, “Pipeline Politicis: Russian Gas Diplomacy under Putin”, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, pg.1-6,
5. CIPRIAN-BENIAMIN, Benea, COSMIN, Fodor, “Russia and Its Pipeline Weapon”,, pg.44. 
6. GURBANOV, Ilgar “Zapad skoree stolknetsya s interesami Evrazisykogo Soyuza, chem Rossii”, Center for International Strategy and Security Studies, Turkey, 16.01.2013,
7. GURBANOV, Ilgar, “The Arctic: Venue of Geopolitical Wars?”, The Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis, UK, 03.10.2012,
8. IBRAHIMOV, Rovshan, “Azerbaijan’s Energy Strategy and The Importance of the Diversification of Exported Transport Routes”, Journal of Qafqaz University, November, 2010, pg.27, 
9. LIUHTO, Kari, “Energy in Russia’s foreign policy”, Electronic Publications of Pan-European Institute, 2010, pg.8, 
10. RUTLAND, Peter, “Lost Opportunities: Energy and Politics in Russia”, The National Bureau of Asian Research, Vol.8, N.5, pg.27.
11. SAIVETZ, Carol R., “Russia: an Energy Superpower?”, MIT Center for International Studies, February 2008,
12. SECRIERU, Stanislav, “Russia’s Soft Power and Identity Entrepreneurship in the ‘Shared Neighborhood’: The Case of Moldova”, “Debating Eurasia: The Search for New Paradigms” issue of Caucasus International Journal, Vol.2, No.3, Autumn, 2012, pg.82.
13. SHIRIYEV, Zaur, “Does Russia need ‘soft power'?”, Today’s Zaman, 19 Feb. 2013,
14. SMITH, Mark, “A Review of Russian Foreign Policy”, Conflict Studies Research Centre, 2007, pg.8-10.
Ilgar GURBANOV - Analyst, Strategic Outlook
9.03.2013 - Hit : 3743

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