October 29, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9616

Russian Valdai Program Director Bordachev Seeks To Flesh Out Putin's Conservative Foreign Policy

October 29, 2021
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9616

On October 21, 2021, Vladimir Putin addressed the Valdai Discussion Club think tank and then responded to questions from the audience. The address and the responses to the questions ranged over many areas, but Putin described his overarching approach as conservatism that he defined as follows: "This conservative approach is not about an ignorant traditionalism, a fear of change or a restraining game, much less about withdrawing into our own shell. It is primarily about reliance on a time-tested tradition, the preservation and growth of the population, a realistic assessment of oneself and others, a precise alignment of priorities, a correlation of necessity and possibility, a prudent formulation of goals, and a fundamental rejection of extremism as a method. And frankly, in the impending period of global reconstruction, which may take quite long, with its final design being uncertain, moderate conservatism is the most reasonable line of conduct, as far as I see it. It will inevitably change at some point, but so far, do no harm – the guiding principle in medicine – seems to be the most rational one. Noli nocere, as they say." [1]

On the international level this conservatism represented a rejection of globalism and a defense of the sovereign state as the critical actor in the international system. "In recent decades, many have tossed around fancy concepts claiming that the role of the state was outdated and outgoing. Globalization supposedly made national borders an anachronism, and sovereignty an obstacle to prosperity. You know, I said it before and I will say it again. This is also what was said by those who attempted to open up other countries’ borders for the benefit of their own competitive advantages. This is what actually happened. And as soon as it transpired that someone somewhere is achieving great results, they immediately returned to closing borders in general and, first of all, their own customs borders and what have you, and started building walls. Well, were we supposed to not notice, or what? Everyone sees everything and everyone understands everything perfectly well. Of course, they do."

"Only sovereign states can effectively respond to the challenges of the times and the demands of the citizens. Accordingly, any effective international order should consider the interests and capabilities of the state and proceed on that basis, and not try to prove that they should not exist. Furthermore, it is impossible to impose anything on anyone, be it the principles underlying the sociopolitical structure or values that someone, for their own reasons, has called universal. After all, it is clear that when a real crisis strikes, there is only one universal value left and that is human life, which each state decides for itself how best to protect based on its abilities, culture and traditions."[2]

What struck Western observers in Putin's appearance was his intervention into the West's culture wars. Despite Putin's pledge to maintain a hands-off approach, the Russian president left no doubt where he stood on the issue. He claimed that what was transpiring in the West exceeded the worst excesses of the Soviet Union: "We look in amazement at the processes underway in the countries which have been traditionally looked at as the standard-bearers of progress. Of course, the social and cultural shocks that are taking place in the United States and Western Europe are none of our business; we are keeping out of this. Some people in the West believe that an aggressive elimination of entire pages from their own history, 'reverse discrimination' against the majority in the interests of a minority, and the demand to give up the traditional notions of mother, father, family and even gender, they believe that all of these are the mileposts on the path towards social renewal.

"The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past – such as Shakespeare – are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what color or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

"In a number of Western countries, the debate over men’s and women’s rights has turned into a perfect phantasmagoria. Look, beware of going where the Bolsheviks once planned to go – not only communalizing chickens, but also communalizing women. One more step and you will be there...

"Zealots of these new approaches even go so far as to want to abolish these concepts altogether. Anyone who dares mention that men and women actually exist, which is a biological fact, risk being ostracized. “Parent number one” and “parent number two,” “'birthing parent” instead of “mother,” and “human milk” replacing “breastmilk” because it might upset the people who are unsure about their own gender. I repeat, this is nothing new; in the 1920s, the so-called Soviet Kulturtraegers also invented some newspeak believing they were creating a new consciousness and changing values that way. And, as I have already said, they made such a mess it still makes one shudder at times."[3]

Timofey Bordachev, Valdai's Program Director, sought to expand on Putin's address and explain how conservatism operated on the foreign policy level. Russia that long considered itself a revisionist power was more a status quo power. While seeking stable and amicable relations with other nations, this stopped short of alliances. Correspondingly, Russia did not consider any country a permanent adversary.  Instead of imposing order from without by meddling, Russian foreign policy counted on countries acting in their own interest to maintain a balance. For that reason, Russia could find a modus vivendi with Turkey's Erdogan, despite his occasional excesses. Bordachev, like Putin, took note of the values debate in the West and ascribed it to the desire by Western elites to distract the public from the unfairness of the Western economic system by shifting the agenda to cultural issues and identity politics.

Bordachev's article titled "Flexible Conservatism" follows below: [4]

Putin addresses the Valdai Discussion Club (Source:

"The central thesis of the Russian president's address to the participants in the Valdai Discussion Club's annual conference was the idea that under present conditions conservatism is becoming the basis of Moscow's foreign policy doctrine. This is a very powerful statement coming at a time that practically all great and even middle powers are beginning to behave in a revolutionary way. The United States and its allies are smashing the existing world order because they can no longer rule it. China and, to a lesser extent, other growing economies are seeking to rebuild it in line with their perceptions and capabilities. Russia was also not completely content with its post-Cold War position. But now its military-political capabilities have been restored, and Moscow is becoming, more of a defender of the international order and its institutions, the pivotal of them being the United Nations and its Security Council.

"The conservative strategy is at the same time most delicate. It demands constant flexibility and the ability to react to situations not according to pattern, but based on an assessment of a concrete course of events and the balance of power. In such a strategy, there can be no permanent opponents, although relatively sustained friendly relations are allowed. Such as now connect Russia and China, where the main criterion of mutual understanding is the mutual recognition the legitimacy of each other's internal order, that is, precisely what is absent from relations between Russia and the West.

"Relations with the most important neighbor in the East are currently robustly stable - Moscow and Beijing are not seeking to create a formal alliance, it would tie their hands and turn Asia's small and medium-sized countries against them.  Russia and China have absolutely no need to assist American foreign policy and create against themselves coalitions of Asian countries, which will inevitably have misgivings about the combined power of Eurasia's two most important countries. But Russia and China work together on the most fundamental issues of the international agenda and constrain the West's ability to revise existing rules and customs.

"The United States' flight from Afghanistan in August and the Taliban movement's rise to power in Kabul created a new security situation in the central part of Eurasia. For the first time since 1991, Western countries lack the ability to influence the regional environment directly, they find it difficult even logistically, particularly after Pakistan began to pursue an independent agenda based on economic cooperation with China. India is not straining to join the US banner, although it has serious conflicts with China. There is a real opportunity to stabilize Afghanistan and its surroundings. But here, as Vladimir Putin stressed, a lot of work lies ahead.

"Afghanistan's neighbors and Russia, that bears responsibility for its Central Asian allies' security, are now seriously discussing the possibility of providing humanitarian assistance to this country. On the eve of the president's speech, a multilateral conference was held in Moscow, the results of which appeared promising. Apparently, the main reason why the Taliban and regional players can reach agreement is the absence of the United States, which inevitably plays the spoiler, in the negotiation process. The reason is quite simple: for Russia, China, Pakistan and the countries of Central Asia, the Afghan issue is the security issue on their borders. For the United States and Europe, this is but another means of diplomatic pressure on Moscow and Beijing, and attempts to manipulate the weaker countries of the Middle East. However, now the possibilities for such manipulation are diminishing. The countries of post-Soviet Central Asia saw very well in the example of Afghanistan what could happen to those who entrust their security to the West.

"A separate factor of regional security around Russia is Turkey's dynamic and often adventurous policy. After several decades of waiting in the European Union "reception room", this country is increasingly arousing not only irritation, but fury in the West. Last year, the head of the Russian state called President Erdogan a partner with whom "one could work with not only agreeably, but also reliably." Turkey is independently responsible for its actions and in contrast to the Eastern European countries, is not merely a conduit of foreign interests. Ankara sometimes gets carried away - for example, a few days ago, President Erdogan announced the need to reform the permanent composition of the UN Security Council. But at the same time, Turkey for Russia is a power with whom Moscow can conduct a diplomatic dialogue, realizing that a partner represents an independent value in international politics.

"Europe now occupies the least important place on the Russian foreign policy agenda. This is only natural: the EU is engulfed in a series of internal crises, the government is changing in its most important country - Germany, and France is living in anticipation of the next presidential election. EU foreign policy is paralyzed and, at best, reflects the views of Russia in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. It is now impossible to say that outside the functioning of the market economy there are reasons for serious negotiations. This, of course, is the biggest disappointment for the moment, since Russia, as a conservative power, needs as many diplomatic partners as possible. As a result of Europe's weakness, it no longer represents an independent value for the Russian Federation. It becomes superfluous, even if not dangerous.

"A separate issue that Vladimir Putin also dwelled on was the West's promotion of a new value agenda and the need for a response to it from the world community. The internal crisis in the United States and European socio-economic model provokes the search for solutions that would allow putting off changes and leaving the distribution of benefits unaffected. The destruction of the norms of morality, family and gender relations is an example of just such a policy. Rejection of the traditional family and gender identity is, of course, much safer for the elite in the West than correcting distortions in the market economy. For Russia, in turn, managing a multinational society requires the most traditional approaches. Conflict becomes inevitable, and it is this conflict that forms the basis of value differences in the modern world."

Timofey Bordachev (Source:


[1], October 21, 2021.

[2], October 21, 2021.

[3], October 21, 2021.

[4], October 25, 2021.

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