The Last of the Offended: Russia's First Post-Putin Diplomats

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: The young generation of Russian foreign policy professionals do not see things exclusively in relation to the West. Unlike their predecessors, these "post-Putin diplomats" are more motivated by realpolitik than a grand historical sense.

The most important characteristic of young Russian diplomats is that their thinking isn't Western-centric.

For years, Russia was preoccupied with "the West." Policies were defined as either pro- or anti-Western, and battle lines were drawn accordingly. This is no longer the case. Most importantly, foreign policy professionals in their 20s don't view "the West" as a monolith, that is, they draw a distinction between the U.S. and Europe. Most assume Russia will always be at odds with the U.S., but think Russia can and should work with Europe.

In many ways, this generation is realistic because they're disillusioned -- they grew up around strong propaganda, so they aren't affected by it. "They are wary of ready-made ideologies, and prefer to attend to their own consciences."

Foreign policy professionals in their 30s and 40s are also disillusioned, but for different reasons.

Broadly speaking, these foreign policy types are disillusioned with the United States and the West. Many think the Western media portrays Russia unfairly, while other believe the U.S. holds Russia to higher standards than it holds itself.

But most members of this generation are motivated by "undercurrents" that reach from the 1980s. These people resent what they believe to be an unfair U.S. response to the dissolution of the USSR. Many saw the Russian people as allied with the U.S. in a "joint victory over communism," and these people believe the U.S. was wrong to react instead as victors.

Despite the significant differences between the old and new generations, there's no indication that things will change when Putin leaves office.

The "young guns" are generally uneasy and unhappy with much of what's going on in Russian foreign policy, but they're mostly staying quiet. Their silence is partially due to a desire to lay low and bide their time until things settle, but also because they, as a generation, are largely uncomfortable with the idea of an "official opposition."

Ultimately, it's unclear how much these young foreign policy figures can influence Russian actions.

Only about half of young foreign policy types are seeking careers in the Russian diplomatic service. For financial and other reasons, many are looking to the private sector. And it's unclear how much influence the diplomatic core has within Russian politics. Many think it's become less influential since the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

However, a lot can and will change when a new president takes over, with regard to the influence of the diplomatic core, the direction of Russian foreign policy, and the types of people that choose a career in foreign service and are hired and promoted. Ultimately, whether the "post-Putin diplomats" bring Russia in a more pro- or anti-Western direction depends on what comes next.

Read the full policy brief here.