A century has passed since the fall of the Russian Empire that had lasted 300 years, and only a few decades have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 21st century, the Russian re-imperialization project is underway. Russia’s Strategy for the 21st century is to foster influence in neighboring countries, reinforce natural resource trade, expand its borders while increasing military proliferation and presence abroad.
The Russian Federation operates under the assumption that if expansion and population growth are necessary, it would be quicker and easier to assimilate culturally related ethnicities with historic ties to Russia. The compatriot policy is the manifestation of the will to repatriate the Russian diaspora. Countries that fall under compatriot policy include Belarus, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Ukraine. By the Russian government definition, a compatriot refers to ethnic Russians, Russian speakers, and even extends to ethnicities with the most tenuous connections to the historic Russian and Soviet empires.
The Russian Influence
There are several means by which Russia influences its compatriots, such as appealing to interest in the Russian language and history. Dissemination of Russian culture is the responsibility of the government-sponsored foundation Russkiy Mir (Russian World). If Russkiy Mir meets its goals, Russia will see an influx of resettled compatriots.
While any means of population increase will benefit Russia’s economy, an economy based on natural resources needs more than people to sustain, it needs land. There are limited routes to export these natural resources to global markets. Historically, Russia has sorely lacked warm-water ports for year-round shipping. As a result, it must rely on neighboring countries’ pipelines and ports. Countries near the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea are absolutely essential for Russia to get its resources to market and it cannot cease to secure access to warm-water ports. Natural resource acquisition further motivates foreign policy toward African countries. For all its natural resource abundance, Russia lacks manganese, bauxite, and chromium which Africa has in abundance.
Economic Common Interests
In addition to economic common interests, Russia has close military ties with many African countries through defense partnerships and supplying arms. Such military ties will continue to grow as Russia has plans to build military bases in the Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Sudan. It is likely that Russia will also expand its military presence in places where they already have troops stationed permanently, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Despite its comparatively limited population, Russia ranks 4th in military spending worldwide. Military spending has steadily increased since the turn of the century and will continue to rise as economic prosperity will allow. Regardless of how much Russia devotes to military spending, it will not be able to keep pace with the U.S. and China, therefore it will avoid direct military collision with the other superpowers.
The former Soviet republics served as a buffer against Western Europe, but the NATO membership of some of these countries has Russia scrambling to establish its own coalition of Central Asian nations. While Russia bolsters the buffer zone around its borders, it is also proactive in destabilizing NATO countries in the European Union and the United States. Russian expansion efforts like Crimea are typically met with economic sanctions. In retaliation to the sanctions, the Russian government utilizes counterintelligence consisting of disinformation campaigns, election interference, and promoting right-wing anti-liberal politics abroad.
Repatriation and annexation represent Russia’s hard and soft approaches to foreign policy in the 21st century. Aggressive coercion is one approach that resulted in the 2008 Georgian war and 2014 annexation of Crimea, which only strengthened Russian citizen support for the government. But this support is tenuous and requires regular demonstrations of power, stability, and economic growth to maintain.