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Cold War

Russia has shed its superpower status as well as the accompanying foreign policy attributes that shaped the course of the Cold War era. These attributes, which formed the superpower syndrome included, as the commentator Aleksander Gol’ts noted, messianistic pretensions, imperial ambitions, and global confrontation of the West based on a universal ideology (Buszynski 1996). The universalism of Soviet foreign policy and everything it entailed in terms of the march of socialism and the promotion of the national liberation movement in the Third World gave certainty and predictability to Soviet behavior, and to Cold War relations in general.

The loss of superpower status, however, has entailed a lapse into uncertainty for Russia and a painful effort to identify a new role in world affairs. Conceptions of Russia’s new role vary considerably and have become the subject of a fundamental value conflict. This work starts with the premise that Russian foreign policy has been the subject of a clash of values. The theme of this work is the foreign policy of a disoriented state. Disorientation has been an unfortunate characteristic of Russian society since its painful emergence from the Soviet cocoon in 1992.

Few other societies have faced the traumatic shock of being relocated in new borders with the old institutions destroyed as suddenly as Russia has. As the Council of Foreign and Defence Policy has noted in a study of foreign policy options. Russia has been reduced to four-fifths of the size of the Soviet Union, with less than half of the population (Jackson 2003). Russia’s neighbours in the Baltic, the west, and the south were previously constituent republics of the Soviet Union subordinate to Moscow.

What were once domestic borders have become international frontiers that demand an adjustment of the behavioural patterns of the past centuries. Devising a foreign policy to match the requirements of a new geopolitical predicament would be a protracted and agonizing process even in the best of times. These, however, are not the best of times for Russia. The process of formulating foreign policy has been made all the more difficult by the difficult economic and social transformation to which Russia has been exposed.

Russia, indeed, has been subjected to the dislocatory effects of economic and political reform which have compounded the sense of bewilderment and disorientation. Russian society has been thrown into what could be the most profound crisis in its history. The Russian state has been traditionally authoritarian and paternalistic, promising a social stability underpinned by the Orthodox Church. The different social strata were bound by the obligation of service either to the landlord or the state on the basis of serfdom or the pomest’e (estate) system.

The Soviet era may have destroyed the institutions inherited from the past but it enforced a similar collectivism and service to a political party. Russia’s past made little allowance for the freedom of the individual, legality, and basic property rights as they are understood in the West. For the first time in history, Russian society at large has been exposed to the ideas of individual freedom, the rule of law, and democracy and has witnessed the crumbling of those social institutions that upheld the security of collectivism.

The break with the past has been too sudden for Russian society to absorb and it is no wonder that frightened and vulnerable groups seek solace in resuscitating the collectivism of the past in the form of nationalism or communism (Suny 1993). What kind of foreign policy can be expected where the future collides with the past? Main editor of Nezavisimaya gazeta V. Tret’yakov has observed that the search for a foreign policy in the post-Soviet era is linked with the establishment of a stable authority structure.

He has claimed that unless the domestic political system is stabilized there can be no understanding of foreign policy in Russia. What passes as foreign policy, he says, has been simply the result of lobbying by interest groups and institutions (Jackson 15). To a certain extent competitive views of foreign policy can be expected of a pluralist system and an ongoing debate can be considered a healthy sign. The phenomenon noted by Tret’yakov is familiar to citizens of democratic countries and is not considered unusual.

The Russian demand for clarity and coherence in foreign policy, insofar as it represents the desire to revive the certainty of the past, is somewhat misplaced under these new conditions. Nonetheless, instability and uncertainty have been more marked in Russia than elsewhere, and since her reconstitution in December 1991 there has been a merciless clash of values that may be characterized as the first stage of foreign policy formulation.

Russia, indeed, has not moved beyond that first stage as government-sponsored moves into the foreign policy arena have been constantly disputed and lacking in a sound domestic foundation. It may be that as a result of this conflict a basis for long-term foreign policy may arise through confirmation of the previous ventures, their denial, or their modification. There are two opposing approaches toward foreign policy in Russia today. First, there are the traditionalists who emphasize the importance of power and military strength in foreign policy.

Traditionalists vary from those who stress crude military power to the proponents of the more sophisticated balance of power strategies that can be found in the Foreign Ministry as well as in academia and journalism. A particularly popular version of the balance of power strategy has been based on the geopolitical conception of competing centers of power. Vladimir Lukin’s work on this topic has strongly influenced debate on this issue. According to this approach, new centers of power have emerged in the multipolar world – Germany, China, and Japan–that compete for influence with Russia.

Russia seeks to maintain relevant balances in Europe, Central Asia, and the Far East to contain potential rivals and to prevent the revival of threats along its peripheries. The second approach is integrationism, which implies a break with Russia’s past and traditional ways of conducting foreign policy. Integrationism is a recent phenomenon in Russia and can be traced to the Gorbachevian period of foreign policy that affirmed new thinking and promoted integration with the international system.

In economic and security terms, integrationism is an effort to overcome the historical rivalries and conflicts that constitute Russia’s legacy by developing harmonious relations with major regional and global actors. Proponents of integrationism decry military power and the balance of power, the pursuit of which would create tensions and conflicts with neighbours (Lukin 1994). The weakly institutionalized basis of Gorbachev-era new thinking and fundamental changes in the international and domestic environments of postSoviet Russian policy making have stacked the deck against a continuation of a liberal foreign policy.

While political leadership, domestic politics, and bureaucratic maneuvering clearly matter as well, their changing role and influence cannot be understood in isolation from these broader structural and institutional contexts. Foreign policy became a battleground and the above institutions and individuals participated in a way that closely mirrored the development of domestic politics. The Foreign Ministry had the initial advantage of articulating a clear policy of identification with the West while other institutions were disoriented or in a state of complete disarray.

The Foreign Ministry was later attacked by the Supreme Soviet over the implications of its pro-Western policy for two reasons. First, it was criticized for failing to address the issue of Russia’s relations with the CIS, and for an inability to define clearly a guiding concept of foreign policy. Secondly, it was accused of selling out Russia’s interests to the U. S. or other states over issues that affected Russia directly. Such issues included the Bosnian conflict, the territorial dispute with Japan, and the proposal to sell rocket engines to India from 1992-1993.

The consequence was the undermining of the Foreign Ministry as the body responsible for the articulation of foreign policy and the dilution of proWesternism as initially formulated (Gorodetsky 2003). The international and domestic variables are in fact interacting, and it is thus quite difficult (and perhaps not very useful) to discern their independent effect. Russia’s new international environment has provided important opportunities for domestic actors wishing to steer foreign policy in a more conservative direction.

This dynamic has been most evident in the case of the large Russian ethnic minority populations (totaling over 25 million) in the states of the former USSR. Nationalist political groupings, centrist-conservative foreign policy elites (Karaganov, Stankevich, and Migranian, for example), and, most importantly, elements in the Russian Defense Ministry have seized on this “problem” to promote a more assertive foreign policy in the former Soviet region and vis-a-vis the West more generally (Adomeit 1995). Russia’s foreign policy has been aimed first of all at creating favorable conditions for domestic economic and political transformation.

In the case of the former Yugoslavia, this entailed adhering to the positions of the world community in terms of imposing sanctions on Serbia for its role in the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The intent, for Russian reformers, was to demonstrate that Russia was a responsible member of the world community; in other words, a state that would uphold its international obligations, would adhere to international standards of conduct, and was therefore worthy of participation in international organizations and worthy of investment in its attempts to reform its economy.

In a word, promoting a Western identity should here be seen as an attempt to promote modernization. At the same time, it was also a means of developing a sense of individual worth, in this case by being seen as part of a wider community that was in turn seen as worthy. Despite this consensus, the motivations for such involvement vary immensely. Westernists are most likely to see peacekeeping in the near abroad as a means of protecting Russians and Russian-speakers, thereby preempting criticism from the far right. It is also a means of maintaining stability in Russia itself by preventing the spillover of local conflicts.

Foreign policy in the near abroad is thus a function of domestic goals: creating favorable conditions for economic and political reform along Western lines. Part and parcel of successful reform is the promotion of a Western-oriented national identity, which is facilitated by making the issue of Russians abroad less salient. Adherents of this view include the leaders of Russia’s Choice, Foreign Minister Kozyrev, and most likely the First Deputy Foreign Minister Adamishin. In essence, then, Russian foreign policy seems likely to continue or even increase its emphasis on the “near abroad” for a variety of reasons.

A Russophone foreign policy stressing the interests of ethnic Russians and Russified non-Russians in the “near abroad’ is likely to be less onerous than many of the more ethnically oriented alternatives (Arbatov 1993). Within the foreign policy community in Russia two views have developed in relation to the West. First, which Russia’s primary relationship is with the United States as the foremost representative of the West, and that only through the United States is Russia able to maintain or elevate its status.

Second, that Russia’s future lies in closer integration with Europe and that the United States may be excluded. It would be a misrepresentation to portray the situation in terms of two well-defined groups in the pro-Western camp as individuals have been known to stress both views at different times. There are, however, tendencies, that may crystallize over time into something more definable. Debate and discussion between proponents of these views has been conducted within the Foreign Ministry.

Since 1992, however, Russian foreign policy toward the West has been dominated by the United States as first priority largely based on the assumption of Russia’s role as a global partner. Policy toward Europe was in many respects undifferentiated from the relationship with the United States and it was assumed that partnership relations could be extended toward Europe as well as to the United States. Russia’s long-term strategic interest in the Far East consists, apparently, in maintaining well-balanced relations with all the nations of the region, without encouraging any claims by them to dominate the relations.

Yet, above all, it is relations with China that are particularly important, politically as well as economically, and they must ideally be brought in line with American and European dimensions in Russia’s set of priorities. In the long term, it is hoped the foreign policy swing will be stopped and the long-sought-for balance achieved. But in today’s actual political context it is Russia’s relations with Europe that are coming to the fore at the expense of relations with the United States and Russia’s Far Eastern neighbours (Rogov 1994).

This reality, incidentally, is reflected in the Russian Federation’s official foreign policy doctrine. Of the various factors conducive to such a shift, economic relations with Europe stand out, particularly in regard to the scope of potential trade. The bid to shift Russia’s policy toward greater self-determination is a necessary and natural readjustment that must not be seen as an ill-intentioned departure from the reformist democratic policy of forging a closer relationship with the West.

It is important for the West and above all the United States to make clear their own strategy with respect to Russia. Much has been done spontaneously of late and not always after proper consideration because of the pressure of time. Support for the reforms in Russia has by no means lost its relevance for Western policy, but it is important also to establish the proper methods for this support, which must imply not so much the backing up of certain personalities within the power structures as helping to shape up sociopolitical institutions that will subsequently assume these relations.

Such support should help bring Russia closer to democracy (Bluth 1994). Conclusion Russia, indeed, came to focus on the “near abroad” as the basis for foreign policy. As Russia adjusts to its new geopolitical predicament and overcomes the shock of its painful birth from the Soviet Union, a broad consensus is being formed to the effect that Russia may cooperate with the West but can never be part of it while other foreign policy priorities claim its attention. The conflict between past and future runs through this work as a main theme to which other issues may be subsumed.

The past represents collectivism, the suppression of alternative views, the imposition of orthodoxy, and in terms of foreign policy the defense of state interests by traditional methods – the use of military force, the quest for power, and the resort to balance-of-power strategies (Lieven 2000). Traditionalism represents a hostile external environment that has to be subdued by the manipulation of power or by conquest. The future represents pluralism, democracy, and individual responsibility and in foreign policy it entails the pursuit of economic and political integrationist strategies.

For Russia, the relationship with the West can be regarded as crucial in determining the general direction of foreign policy. In turn, how Russia relates to the former Soviet Union or the “near abroad” can influence relations with the West. Ultimately, this study of foreign policy reflects a deeper and more complex process of adjustment to modernity and to the integrated world that is being formed with startling rapidity today. Russia is not the only country that has embarked on this troubling path, not the only country that has spawned a tradition of uniqueness for which war and conflict have been invoked.


Adomeit, Hannes. (1995) “Russia As a ‘Great Power’ in World Affairs: Images and Reality,” International Affairs (UK), 71, 1. Arbatov, Alexei. (1993). “Russia’s Foreign Policy Alternatives,” International Security, fall. Bluth, Christoph. (1994). “Russia and European Stability,” World Today, Apr. Buszynski, Leszek. (1996). Russian Foreign Policy after the Cold War. Praeger. Westport, CT. Gorodetsky, Gabriel. (2003). Russia between East and West: Russian Foreign Policy on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century. Frank Cass: London.

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