Unique features of Russia’s perspectives on international politics as practice can be obtained quite clearly through the investigation of the debates on Russian foreign policy orientations. Russian foreign policy has been framed out of identity politics among different political factions under highly politicized conditions. Structural changes in international politics in the 1990s complicated internal reforms in Russia and the aggravation of socio-economic conditions due to the rapid reforms which intensified conflicts between conservatives and progressives in Russian domestic politics. Unfortunately, the aspirations of Russian reformist elites to make Russia strong could not reconcile with the conservative tendency the nation showed during the worsened economy in that period. This led to conflicting evaluations of Russian identity, which caused a fundamental shift in domestic sources for foreign policies. This transformed Russia’s perspectives on international politics, which brought about changes in its foreign policy orientation. Pro-Western Liberalism played a major role in defining Russian foreign policy under the A. Kozyrev doctrine, which defines Russia’s identity as one of the agents in the West-/US-centered system of liberal democracy and the market economy. Significant challenges to this pro-Western foreign policy came not only from outside, but also from internal changes that brought more fundamental changes to Russian foreign policy. This change should be understood within the cultural and institutional context of Russian society, since this framework determines the conceptualization of “national interest” and/or the formulation of diplomatic and security policies.
Andrei P. Tsygankov and Pavel A. Tsygankov
Robert H. Donaldson
Russian foreign policy has both been similar and unique to that of other great powers. As a general rule of statecraft, Russia has pursued balance-of-power policies, which essentially involves the mobilization of power to countervail the power of an enemy or a potential adversary. The enduring goals pursued by Russian foreign policy have placed primary emphasis on ensuring national security, promoting the economic wellbeing of the country, and enhancing national prestige. The dominant theme in the Russian foreign policy under the tsars is that of expansionism. No single motive force can be found to explain tsarist Russian expansionism; rather, the influences of geography, regime type, the international system, and ideology all weigh in, though in different proportions at different times. The ideology known as Marxism–Leninism has also had a significant effect on Soviet and post-Soviet policy. Meanwhile, Russian Federation president Boris Yeltsin’s primary aim in foreign policy, like Mikhail Gorbachev’s before him, was to create a nonthreatening external environment that would be most conducive to his country’s internal economic and political development. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin pursued a pragmatic, cautious, and nuanced policy. The most visible change that Putin brought to Russia’s foreign policy was a heightened level of presidential activism. In his second presidential term, Putin further changed the direction of Russian foreign policy, increasingly demanding that Russia be recognized as a great power and be given commensurate weight in the resolution of global issues.
Mariya Y. Omelicheva
The Cold War was a period of hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union as the two superpowers engaged in a nuclear arms race. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, some scholars perceived that Russia’s military-industrial complex has deteriorated considerably, and that the country has fallen behind the United States and Europe in the area of information technologies and other strategically important sectors of national economy. Others insist that the image of Russia’s political irrelevancy and demotion of the country to a status of a “small” or even “medium” power is mistaken. The new Russia, they argue, has never surrendered its claims as a great power. Discussions about Russia’s global role have been fueled by its continuing nuclear standoff with the United States, along with growing concerns about its plans to develop more robust nuclear deterrents and modernize its nuclear arsenals. There is substantial scholarly literature dealing with Russia’s foreign, security, military, and nuclear policy, as well as the role of nuclear weapons in the Russian security framework. What the studies reveal is that the nuclear option remains an attractive alternative to Russia’s weakened conventional defense. Today, as before, Russia continues to place a high premium on the avoidance of a surprise attack and relies on its nuclear capabilities for strategic deterrence. There are a host of issues that deserve further investigation, such as the safety of Russia’s nuclear sites and the regional dimension of its nuclear policy.
Leah Seppanen Anderson
A review of undergraduate course offerings at top-ranked colleges and universities in the United States and analysis of course syllabi from undergraduate programs in political science have revealed certain trends in the teaching post-communist politics. For instance, majority of schools now offer post-communist politics courses, although a student at a national university is more likely than one at a liberal arts institution to have the opportunity to learn about the region. Regardless of the type of school, students will most commonly study post-communism from a comparative, rather than international relations, perspective. Comparative courses usually focus on Russia and East Central Europe. Undergraduates curious about why a course on Russian politics matters will most often find syllabi that present the course as an examination of one of the most “dramatic political events of the twentieth century.” The examination of political change and continuing instability or chaos in Russian politics is another common theme. A few syllabi structure the course around theoretical concerns of the discipline and practical policy questions, framing the semester as a study of the quality and scope of democracy in Russia since the end of communism. East Central European (ECE) politics courses encompass multiple states, which creates opportunities and challenges not present in teaching Russian politics. Undergraduates are most likely introduced to East Central Europe through a thematic study of the entire region rather than extensive, individual country case studies.
Mariya Y. Omelicheva and John James Kennedy
After years of communism and central planning, Russia and China embarked on broad transformations from planned to market economy and limited political liberalization reforms. Chinese reforms commenced in 1978, while those in the Soviet Union started in 1991. The two countries took contrasting paths to economic reform, and their experiences during economic transition have been viewed as polar opposites. The reform experiences of Russia and China sparked intense academic debates over a variety of issues surrounding transition from communism to market economy. The primary source of scholarly disagreement is whether the pace, the sequence, or country-specific initial conditions determines the success of economic and political reforms. The debates revolved around questions such as whether there is a relationship between economic processes and political reforms in the transitional states, or whether economic liberalization should pave the way for political liberalization. Two dominant approaches to transition from socialism to capitalism advanced in the literature are “shock therapy” and gradualism; the former was adopted by the Russians and the latter by the Chinese. Several lessons can be learned from the Russian and Chinese transition, such as the impact of structural forces on the leadership’s policy preferences and the importance of tenable development policies to ensure the success of economic reforms. Notwithstanding these lessons, there remain a number of questions that deserve further investigation, mainly in terms of the role of China and Russia in world politics.
Jason E. Strakes, Mikhail A. Molchanov, and David J. Galbreath
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the relationships of elite/citizen preferences and strategies—and its consequent impact on the perceived role of their countries in the greater international system—it is necessary to put an emphasis on interactions within and across contrasting areas of the formerly communist world. Until recently, the systematic investigation of foreign policy-making processes has been a relatively neglected dimension within the general domain of post-communist studies. During the mid-to-late 1990s, various scholars addressed ideological redefinition in post-communist states. Other scholars have addressed the foreign policy trajectory of the newly independent states from the perspective of governance, institutional structure, and state capacity. Among the analytic tools that have been adopted to evaluate the international activities of post-communist states in recent years is the burgeoning concept of “multi-vector” foreign policy. However, due to the vast cross-regional scope and complexity of the former Soviet region, it has become more analytically useful to identify this group of countries in terms of their location in separate and respective geographic subregions. Two regional overviews provide a synthesis of the four analytic foci: national identity, political transition, rationality, and regionalism. The first offers an assessment of the foreign policy decisions and strategies of the Baltic republics since 1990–1. The second evaluates the foreign relations between the Russian Federation and the five independent republics of Central Asia.