On May 14, the Russian government finally approved the official list of  ‘unfriendly states’, in response to the new sanctions, harsh rhetoric and diplomatic expulsions.

According to official documents, the list includes foreign states that are committing unfriendly actions against the Russian Federation, citizens of the Russian Federation or Russian legal entities, and includes measures of influence (counteraction) established by the decree of the President of Russia that are applied to them.

A month ago, the Russian media published and widely discussed unofficial lists that were based on the opinions of various political experts. Those lists included about a dozen of states:

• the USA;
• Lithuania;
• Latvia;
• Estonia;
• Georgia;
• Ukraine;
• Poland;
• the Czech Republic;
• the Great Britain.

Some lists also mentioned Canada, Australia, Bulgaria.

However, only two states were included in the official list – the United States and the Czech Republic.

According to the comments by Russian officials, they are considered by the Russian leadership as the most obvious examples of unfriendly countries, but in the future this list may be expanded.

The list turned out to be surprisingly short, and such countries, as Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic States, the Great Britain, Canada, were not included.

Moreover, the publication is unlikely to lead to significant changes in bilateral relations between Russia and the United States or the Czech Republic. On April 23, Vladimir Putin has already signed a decree restricting their diplomatic missions to hire Russian employees. The Czech Republic is now allowed to conclude employment contracts with only 19 individuals for their diplomatic missions in Russia, the United States – with no one.

The United States were considered to be ‘unfriendly’ after having imposed a new package of sanctions, expelling 10 Russian diplomats and other restrictions. The US and Russian ambassadors returned to their countries, and the US announced the termination of the issuance of visas for Russians.

The Czech Republic decided to expel 18 employees of the Russian diplomatic mission after the alleged  involvement of Russian special services in the explosion at an ammunition depot in the village of Vrbetice in 2014. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced the expulsion of 20 Czech diplomats. After that, the Czech Republic demanded the departure of 63 Russian diplomats.

However, the United States and the Czech Republic are not the only countries with damaged diplomatic relations with Russia.

In the context of harsh measures and response actions, the Moscow’s decision to publish a useless list is unclear. Perhaps Moscow was trying to send another diplomatic signal, warning of an acute crisis in bilateral relations, but the way it was done is very awkward, as its publication was not followed by any response sanctions or significant actions.

Historically, it was on the western borders that Russia’s main geopolitical adversaries were located. In recent history, all aggressive actions against the Russian empire and the USSR came from Europe. If Russia lists all the unfriendly states of the so-called ‘collective West’, the list would include dozens of countries.

While Moscow denies this fact and is trying to retain European partners through a soft policy, its opponents stress out every reason for the deterioration of its relations with various countries in the EU and beyond its borders.

As a result, by publishing this list, the Russian Foreign Ministry played along with anti-Russian propaganda. The inclusion of only two states in the list was treated as a fear of the Russian leadership to face the facts. Those who advocated this decision within the Russian government did a disservice to the Russian state, and this mistake is being actively used to reinforce anti-Russian rhetoric.

Today’s Russian foreign policy is marked with a deep ambivalence. On the  one hand, there are extremely harsh statements of President Putin. There were no similar rhetoric neither in 2001, 2008, 2014. On the other hand, no important steps were made to strengthen Russian state sovereignty. There were no symmetric or asymmetric response to the actions by the Euro-Atlantic elites.

Such an ambiguity may be a consequence of the contradictions between the Russian elites. The struggle remains between the supporters of the American version of the new neoliberal world order and those who defend the concept of national sovereignty.