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The Putin doctrine and Russia’s return to History


A few months ago, I blogged my thoughts on Francis Fukuyama’s classic text The End of History and the last man. Fukuyama suggested that the end point in mankind’s socio-political evolution was liberal market democracy because it represented the system possessing the fewest internal contradictions unlike those systems which preceded it.

Liberal democracy allows for people to be ‘recognised’ as autonomous and worthy of recognition. Written in 1989, the essay which inspired Fukuyama’s later book was penned in the context of the Berlin Wall’s collapse – a symbolic conclusion to communism as an idea. Inside three years, the Soviet Union would be disbanded and new rights respecting liberal democracies with market economies would flourish. At least that was the hope by many democratic observers.

Since former KGB official Vladimir Putin rose to power, there is little doubt Russia has experienced an institutional backslide. Freedom House now ranks Russia as “not free” giving the country a ranking of 6 (1 being the most free and 7 the least) after assessing factors such as the country’s rule of law (includes judicial independence or lack thereof), freedom of expression, political pluralism and participation and treatment of non-governmental organisations.

Fukuyama also discussed the concept of “thymos” (a greek notion of dignity) and the corollary of “megalothymia” or the desire to be recognised as superior to others.

With Russian aggression on the international stage, when baltic states are preparing for the worst how should the west engage Vladimir Putin?

In the End of History, Fukuyama argued there was room for a more “realist” engagement with pre historical states. Put more simply treat with caution.

As a prescriptive doctrine, the realist perspective on international relations continues to be quite relevant despite the gains for democracy of the 1970s and 80s. The Historical half of the world persists in operating according to realist principles, and the post historical half must make use of realist methods when dealing with the part still in history.

Realism is a doctrine which views states as the principal actors in international relations and involved in a struggle for power. In certain contexts, it seems Putin’s desire might be a megalothymic one to reassert Russian prominence in a post cold war world.

Russia under Vladimir Putin shows indications of democratic backsliding and the Putin doctrine is not a liberal democratic rights respecting one so perhaps a dose of realism can help.


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