Putin’s world is not multipolar

Recently Putin has been announcing the new “multipolar” world and the end of the Western hegemony:

The situation in the world is changing dynamically and the outlines of a multipolar world order are taking shape. An increasing number of countries and peoples are choosing a path of free and sovereign development based on their own distinct identity, traditions and values.” (V. Putin, August 16 2022)

According to Putin, this “objective” process is opposed by the Western globalist elites, who “provoke chaos, fanning long-standing and new conflicts and pursuing the so-called containment policy, which in fact amounts to the subversion of any alternative, sovereign development options.” Their hegemony means “obscurantism, cancellation of culture, and neoliberal totalitarianism”.

One cannot but envy Putin’s nerve to blame other countries for provoking chaos after he started a full-scale war that has killed thousands and affected millions of innocent people. Apparently, Ukraine has no right to “sovereign development”. In Russian propaganda, it does not possess a distinct identity with their own traditions and values. It’s a part of Russia that was corrupted by the USA (but see some paradoxical findings here).

I have done a distributional semantics analysis (see my previous post) to model the similarity between contexts in which different countries and international organizations are mentioned in Putin’s speeches from May 2012 to August 2022. The corpus is available on Zenodo.

The results of my word2vec analysis are shown below. Despite Putin’s claims, they reveal a bipolar, rather than a multipolar world. On the right, there is Ukraine, NATO, the USA and the EU. On the left we find Russia’s “friends “, including the ex-republics of the USSR. Individual European countries are in-between (perhaps depending on the amount of Russian money invested in them). Syria, Libya and Iraq are close to NATO because they are all mentioned in contexts related to wars.

Note that the sides do not matter here, only the distances do. The closer two labels, the more similar the contexts in which the names occur. Adding more dimensions does not change the result considerably.

Unfortunately, there is not enough data to compare different years of Putin’s presidency. I would expect China and Iran, for example, to shift to the left over the recent months.

It’s notable that Russia is located far away from the others. It would be tempting to say that it is too unique to cluster with any other country. But the explanation is more mundane. Russia is mentioned in more diverse contexts than all other countries because the corpus includes speeches about different domestic issues, not only about international politics.

So, the world order that emerges in Putin’s propaganda is not multipolar. It is a classical case of us-against-them thinking. I already argued for this point in a post about sentiment analysis. The new data support those conclusions. Putin’s worldview was shaped during the cold war, when two empires – the USSR and the USA – were rivals, and the other countries were treated as either Russia’s satellites or America’s puppets. The USSR lost the cold war, and for many Russians, including Putin, it is still a deep trauma. All they want is to have the old word order back.

4 thoughts on “Putin’s world is not multipolar

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s