Despite their seeming shock, though, and despite the predictions of people like Robert Kagan that authoritarian and pseudo-authoritarian countries like Russia would follow a broadly “anti-democratic” foreign policy, it’s long been clear that the Russian government doesn’t particularly care whether a country is democratic but rather if that country is friendly towards Russia. ~Mark Adomanis

This is right. As Mark mentions later in the post, Russian opposition to Bakiyev and tacit support for the Kyrgyz opposition in 2010 was one example of how Moscow was willing to ignore the type of regime in a country and align itself with those forces that were more cooperative with Russia. It also marked the end of the so-called “freedom agenda” in post-Soviet space.

Kagan’s democracy vs. “autocracy” model of international relations is wrong in many ways, but it is particularly misguided in believing that Russia (or China) automatically prefers to support other authoritarian governments out of some feeling of solidarity with other authoritarians. Kagan looks back to an earlier world of Great Power rivalry and maps it onto the modern world, and he then assumes that the struggle between autocratic and absolute monarchies and liberal and constitutional movements in the 19th century has some relevance for what is happening now.

There hasn’t been much meaningful political solidarity among “autocrats” since 1853, and outside of the Gulf states we are unlikely to see coordinated international action by absolute or authoritarian rulers. How Russia relates to these states depends on what the authoritarian governments want to do, and whether that conflicts with their interests. What they prefer are governments that are not fiercely anti-Russian (or anti-Chinese).

Russia has viewed many of the so-called “color” revolutions with such suspicion because they were obviously anti-Russian nationalist movements aimed at aligning neighboring countries with the U.S. Their supposed or real democratic character was not all that relevant. The willingness of Moscow and Beijing to lend support to authoritarian or quasi-authoritarian regimes that are potentially in danger of being targeted for Western intervention is partly a negative response to U.S. democracy promotion, and it is also their way of defending the international status quo to limit the ability of Western governments to intervene in the internal affairs of other states. In that sense, their foreign policy will only appear “anti-democratic” in those regions where the “democrats” are Western clients or allies.