Sergey Markedonov

There had been differences between Moscow, on the one part, and Washington and Brussels, on the other, before the crisis. Their most striking manifestation was the “five-day war” of August 2008 in the Trans-Caucasian region, when attempts by the Georgian authorities, which had opted for NATO and the European Union as a strategic goal, to crush the infrastructure of the breakaway republic of South Ossetia and minimize the role of Russia in the region resulted in an open intervention by Russian forces. However, the current confrontation, unlike the previous manifestation of antagonism, is taking place against the backdrop of the coming understanding of the failure of post-Soviet Russia’s plans to integrate into the Western world while preserving its “special position” with respect to a number of issues (first and foremost, the security of its “close neighborhood”).

In this context, certain ideas have been formed in the Western expert literature and the media. As a rule, five narratives are in the focus:

- The identification of Russia as a revisionist state that violates international law and European order, while questioning the sovereignty and independence of neighboring countries;

- The absolutization of the Crimean case, treatment of Crimea as a possible example case for breaking the status quo not only in the post-Soviet space, but also in Central and Eastern Europe;

- The treatment of the confrontation between the Russian Federation and the West as a second edition or “remake” of the Cold War;

- The identification of the Russian foreign policy with the personality of President Vladimir Putin, this approach de facto implying that it is about responding to the personal “Putin’s course”;

- The idea of Russia as the main source of European instability, as an unpredictable country, whose actions cannot be assessed rationally; but at the same time as a “giant with feet of clay” overloaded with internal issues (primarily in the republics of the North Caucasus).

Meanwhile, these approaches tend to oversimplify the situation and fail to ensure a complete picture to properly shed light on the evolution of Russia’s foreign policy approaches throughout the entire post-Soviet period. They also fail to articulate reasons for changes in Moscow’s approaches to both Western countries and the newly independent states of Eurasia. Most importantly, they do not clarify the motives and logic of the Kremlin. It should also be understood that in many cases Russia’s activities were not manifestations of any proactive policy, but a response to actions undertaken by various partners of the Russian Federation, as well as their implementation of various projects.

In this regard, we believe it to be urgently important to consider the fundamentals of Russia’s foreign policy in the post-Soviet period, analyze the changes that occurred in the period from 1991 to 2018, as well as the main triggers of those changes. It is deemed fundamentally important to identify general and special trends in Moscow’s actions internationally under Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin. This will make it possible to correctly perceive the available alternatives and opportunities for Russian foreign policy maneuvering and, ultimately, the prospects of reducing or increasing confrontation with the West.


Read the full report in the attached PDF file.