List of Russia’s unfriendly states: “Is that all?”

On May 13th, 2021, Russia published “the list of unfriendly states of the Russian Federation,” which currently consists of two states – the United States of America and the Czech Republic. The following decree was introduced in accordance with the Executive Order of the President of the Russian Federation from April 23rd, 2021, “On measures (countermeasures) in response to unfriendly actions of foreign states” which will remain in force “until the cancellation of the measures (countermeasures) it has established”. According to this document, the following states will be limited in signing any types of contracts “leading to labour relations with individuals on the territory of the Russian Federation.” After it enters in force, the Czech Republic will be able to sign only 19 contracts, and the USA will be completely restricted from signing any of them. Such a choice didn`t surprise anyone taking into account the preceding events. For the last several weeks mass media is watching closely what is happening in Czechia. The whole situation remains unclear, no responsible found, and no exact investigation had been conducted so far. However, the consequences of this accident influenced Russian diplomats who had to leave the country. As for the USA, the situation is clear enough – Russia and the USA haven`t been friends on the international arena for quite a long time.

Long before releasing the final version of the list, the Russian side repeatedly mentioned its plans on creating it. In April 2021, Maria Zakharova, official Spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mentioned that “the creation is in progress. As we all understand clearly, everything started with another round of unfriendly actions of the USA, <…> so I can confirm that the USA is on the list.” “Unfriendly actions became the reason of taking measures on equalizing conditions in which our diplomatic missions have to work,” – added Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia.

According to the official order, there are only two countries on the list – the USA and Czechia. However, many experts also express opinions that this list can be extended. Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, supports this idea because “what we see in the order is the reflection of the real facts.” Maria Zakharova underlined that this order is a countermeasure on hostile actions of other states: “we have always highlighted completely peaceful character of our foreign policy. But we have also always highlighted that all actions defined by us as “hostile” won`t be left unanswered. And the measures taken now are, indeed, one of such measures.”

The European Union reacted quickly: on May 15th, 2021, it published an official statement that the EU “considers the allegations of unfriendly actions as unfounded” and the order introduced by Russia is “incompatible with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.” In accordance with it, the EU calls on Russia to “review its decision, to avoid a further deterioration of our relationship that is already under strain,” and at the same time expresses full solidarity with the Czechia (the EU Member State), and the USA, who is also on the list.

From the EU perspectives, the situation with the “list of unfriendly states” looks as the act of aggression from Russia who wittingly makes pressure on already tense situation. However, it seems that in such moments the EU intentionally closes eyes on the fact that it keeps introducing various sanctions on Russia for several years now.

Russia perceives this action only as the countermeasures to current political situation. It looks quite logical, remembering the fact that for the last several years it is Russian diplomats who were the target of unfriendly actions of other states. Thus, in 2019-2020 more than ten cases of expelling of Russian diplomats took place, and in 2018 during so-called Skripal`s case more than 25 countries followed Britain and expelled Russian diplomats. Of course, during each case Russia introduced tit-for-tat measures, but at the same time all these cases prove how vulnerable diplomatic workers are. As a result, it is hard to say that Russia groundlessly regards actions of some states as unfriendly, since Russia had reasons for that.

As for claim of incompatibility with the Vienna Convention, the USA has already set the compliance with the Convention`s Articles under the question in 2016 when it arrested the diplomatic property of the Russian Federation. The situation is that since that time and till now (almost five years in total) the Russian side has no access to this property. Russia said that the circumstances of the seizure were the violation of the Vienna Convention and Russia-US bilateral agreements; while the USA claims itself guiltless appealing to the provisions of the same Convention. Despite constant appeals of the Russian side to the UN and the international society, the question on the Russian diplomatic property in the USA is still open and it is unclear when it will be over.

As it is well-known, the opinions of the “powerful ones” and the ordinary citizens don`t always correspond to each other. And since the position of politicians from both sides is now known, it is worth having a look at what ordinary people think about this situation.

Many users of popular Russian media-portal Yandex-Zen robustly reacted on this news: “Finally Russia has woken up – we should know our enemies` faces, and not be shy talking to them the only language they understand – the language of power,” “they live in their propaganda constantly talking about that Russia poisoned Skripal and Navalny, that Russia shot down the plane, etc. Unfortunately, when every TV-channel tells you so, you will start to believe it,” “how the West perceives this list, it`s their problem. What`s important is that we should know our enemies,” “whoever brings the sword will fall by the sword. What they want, so they will get, and they will have to answer for their actions by themselves.” At the same time many net-users were surprised that the final list didn`t contain Baltic States (especially Poland), Japan and etc.: “And where`s Canada?,” “I would add Japan there..,” “Poland and Baltics should be at the first place. Especially Poland,” “Where is Turkey and Israel?”

Reaction of many foreign users can be called “careless”. After the broadcast of Rossiya-1 TV-channel which contained the preliminary version of the list, media-portal Reddit exploded with discussions, which, however, didn`t change much after the final version of the list was released. Some users left quite light-headed and ironical comments like: “What about Romania? This is disappointing… and insulting,” “As a Dutchman, I find this list also deeply offensive,” “Swedes: “Yo! We gotta try harder. We need to be on that list!”” “Georgia is in, hell yeah!” “Proud to be Lithuanian! High five to all countries in this list :)” “I am proud that Poland is on that list 🙂 Although we are guaranteed to be on it,” “As a Czech, I couldn’t be more proud,” “C’mon Canada and Australia. Get your shit together and get back onto that list!” Comments in favor or against of such action, or attempts on trying to understand why Russia did it are in minority.

But what unites all users is just one short “Is that all?” question since everyone understands that this list is just the beginning.

Looking at the situation from several sides, what is the outcome?

Russia started to take more active actions in terms of its foreign policy towards countering actions of other states. If previously Moscow was mostly taking tit-for-tat measures on already made acts, now it is reacting with measures it considers to be important and enough in regard to its political partners. It can be stated that Russia started to react not only on the fact of violation of the state`s rights, but it also started to work on pre-empt. At the same time Russia doesn`t show any unadvisable aggression towards the others. Thus, many people thought that Poland and Ukraine “had to be” on the list. Poland has long been calling itself a victim of the Soviet regime and claiming compensation from Russia for the “years of occupation”. Russia-Ukraine relations worsened because of the Crimea issue and are still at the same level due to situation at Donbass. However, Russia critically evaluates each situation without letting the emotions to have the upper hand, and doesn`t introduce sanctions to every “insult” as its foreign opponents frequently do.

It is worth mentioning one more interesting fact that this list (both preliminary and final versions) has no Asian countries. Of course, some internet-users expressed opinion about including Japan to it, supporting it with the Kuril Islands` issue and still non-signed Peace Treaty from the WWII. Nevertheless, no other Asian country was mentioned neither by government representatives, not by citizens, that once again underlines the fact that Moscow is introducing very rational foreign policy measures without taking thoughtless moves. Asian political direction, that Russia started to follow back in 2000s, still prove itself reliable: for the last years this region hasn`t shown any groundless aggression towards Moscow.

 Taking into account that representatives of Russian political elites mentioned possibilities of “expanding” the list and that possible candidates for it are mostly European states, while Asian partners keep enhancing their potential and improve their relations with Russia, it is worth thinking about long-term perspectives of existence of the “list of unfriendly states.” Despite the position of Russia as the re-emerging state, it still has enough capabilities not only to protect its interests but also to demonstrate its power when it is needed.

Anna Kolotova
Anna Kolotova
PhD in International Relations in Jilin University, China, postdoctoral fellow in Global Engagement Academy, Shandong University (Weihai), China. Contact: kolotov711[at]