Excerpt: The New Russian Foreign Policy

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Introduction: Russian Foreign Policy in Historical Perspective

by Michael Mandelbaum

Andrei Gromyko, foreign minister of the Soviet Union from 1959 to 1987, once asserted that no international question of any consequence could be decided "without the Soviet Union or in opposition to it."[1] The thrust of Soviet foreign policy, during the years when Gromyko presided over it, was clear: an unyielding opposition to the West. As for its scope, Gromyko's assertion was smug but not wrong: Moscow may not have had the power of veto over any and all international issues, but its conflict with the West was certainly felt in every corner of the world.  

In the wake of the collapse of communism in Europe, the foreign policy of the Soviet Union's successor state, Russia, is neither clear nor pervasive. Russian foreign policy is difficult to define. It is difficult, even, to detect. What are the international purposes of the new Russian state? Where and how will it seek to achieve them? Those questions are the subject of this book.  

Russian foreign policy differs dramatically from Soviet foreign policy because the new Russia differs radically from the old Soviet Union. Russia's geography is different: It is smaller; what had been the western and southern provinces of the Soviet Union before 1992 are now independent countries. The Soviet Union was a multinational empire, with half its population non-Russian. The new Russia, by contrast, is a nation-state: 85 percent of its people are ethnic Russians. The Soviet Union was committed to implementing the precepts of an ambitious, elaborate ideology. In the new Russia, Marxism-Leninism in its Soviet form (and probably in any form) is dead. Last but, from the Western point of view, certainly not least, the Soviet Union possessed a huge military-industrial complex: a sizable fraction of its economy--perhaps as large as one-third--was devoted to military purposes. The new Russia's armed forces are less numerous and weaker, and its military industries much smaller, than their Soviet predecessors.  

Because everything else has changed, it is hardly surprising that foreign policy has changed as well. To inform what are necessarily guesses about the future of Russian foreign policy, those making the guesses, including the authors of the chapters that follow, make use of historical analogies. The world in which post-Soviet Russian foreign policy will unfold may be new, but it is not unfamiliar. While extraordinary, the developments that produced this new world were not unprecedented, and the relevant precedents are useful in thinking about what will come next for Russia.  

An obvious precedent for the end of the Soviet Union and its aftermath, a broad historical category into which these momentous events fit, is imperial collapse.[2] The Soviet Union was the last great multinational empire, the sole surviving member of the family of empires that once held sway over much of the planet and that, in the twentieth century, were weakened, then destroyed, by war.[3] The Habsburg and Ottoman empires were vanquished and perished in World War I. Britain and France were victors in World War II but were so enfeebled that they were not able to retain their imperial possessions, although they tried, fitfully, to do so: France fought substantial but losing wars in Indochina and Algeria.  

The fate of the British and French empires is of limited value in predicting the future of Russian foreign policy because of two cardinal differences between them, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union on the other. Britain and France were nation-states that acquired empires. By contrast, the Soviet Union, and tsarist Russia before it, had no preimperial history as an ethnically homogeneous state. Russia did not acquire an empire: From at least the seventeenth century, it was an empire.[4] So the end of empire, traumatic as it was in many ways for the two Western European countries, could not have as large a psychological or political meaning for them as it has had for Russia. Nor did the end of the British and French empires coincide with a great political revolution and an economic depression, as was the case with Russia.  

Moreover, Britain and France were separated from their imperial possessions by great distances, as in the case of Britain and India, or by bodies of water, like France and North Africa, or both. The two Western European powers could, in effect, resume life as nation-states without being obliged by geography to play a large ongoing role in the affairs of their former possessions. This was not possible for Russia, which expanded over land, not across water. After 1991 the option of disengaging and distancing itself from its former imperial possessions was not available; what were once Soviet provinces became Russia's nearest neighbors.  

Like the Soviet Union, Habsburg Austria and Ottoman Turkey were land empires that lacked preimperial histories as nation-states. Their post­World War I experiences are thus of some relevance to Russia's post­Cold War future. But here a further distinction is in order. In two important ways the Soviet Union was like the Ottoman but unlike the Habsburg empire. Although they were multinational empires, the Soviet Union and the Ottoman state were dominated by one nation: the first by Russians, the second by Turks. This was not true of Austria-Hungary, where Germans were the leading nation but were a smaller percentage of the empire's population than the Russians and the Turks were in theirs. Moreover, by the twentieth century there was another German state that was more powerful, and was home to more Germans, than Austria-Hungary; there was no Russian state other than the Soviet Union and no significant Turkish state other than the Ottoman empire. Thus the independent Austria that emerged from the ruins of the Habsburg empire was tiny and in no position to be a significant force in European politics. By contrast, Turkey after 1919 and Russia after 1991 were and are large enough to play major roles in the international relations of the European continent.  

One feature of post-Ottoman Turkey is not an encouraging precedent for post-Soviet Russia. Turkey's new borders were set, and its new national identity forged, in a bloody war with Greece between 1921 and 1922, a war that led, among other results, to a large-scale exchange of populations between the two countries in the first of what would be a dismal series of twentieth-century "ethnic cleansings." Happily, post-Soviet Russia has experienced nothing comparable--thus far. But two features of Europe after communism make for a potentially explosive combination: The Russian political elite is not yet fully reconciled to the sovereign independence of what were, for centuries, Russian and then Soviet provinces; and ethnic Russians in large numbers now live outside Russia not by choice but by the accident of history--what had been arbitrary and insignificant internal borders suddenly became international frontiers.[5] Comparisons with the multinational empires of the past thus suggest one of the central questions for the Russian foreign policy of the future: Will Russia try to re-create, in some form, the imperial domination over non-Russians that lasted so long and then disintegrated so rapidly?  

If one feature of Turkey's postimperial history--war--highlights the worst case for post-Soviet Russia, however, another aspect of Turkish history points to the best of all possible outcomes. From what Turks call their war of independence emerged a new state with a new and decidedly nonimperial national ethos. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, sought to make his country a European-style nation-state, indeed to make it part of Europe--a partially successful effort that continues to the present day.[6] This led Turkey to forswear reconquering the Christians to the west, or the Arab regions to the east, that had been part of the empire ruled for centuries from Istanbul. As it happens, Russia too emerged from the Soviet period with a foreign policy doctrine that not only forswore empire but that, like Turkey's, made becoming part of the West the highest priority of its approach to the rest of the world. But this initial foreign policy did not, at least in its original form, survive the first years of the post-Soviet era.  

A New Foreign Policy

The first postcommunist Russian foreign policy actually began in the Soviet period. It was an innovation of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, the product of his "new thinking." It was developed in contrast--indeed in opposition--to the precepts that had guided relations between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world from the time of the Bolshevik revolution, precepts that Andrei Gromyko devoted his life to trying to achieve. Lenin and his successors considered the "international class struggle" between the communist and noncommunist camps to be the defining feature of international politics; Gorbachev rejected this staple of communist thinking and replaced it with the common interests that unite all peoples, foremost among them peace. He thereby changed the fundamental presumption of Soviet foreign policy from conflict to solidarity.  

Where Soviet leaders had insisted that all countries once under communist rule had to remain communist--and launched armed interventions in Eastern Europe regularly after 1945 to keep communists in power there--Gorbachev asserted that every country had the right to choose its own international orientation and domestic political system. He thereby abandoned the rationale for the communist empire in Europe and, ultimately, for the Soviet Union itself. Not coincidentally, between 1989 and 1992, both disappeared.  

Gorbachev concluded, finally, that in the nuclear age, national security had to be mutual: Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union, he said, could hope to gain a decisive military advantage over the other. This central conclusion, which Western leaders had publicly embraced earlier in the nuclear age, paved the way for agreements that dramatically reduced the arms that the United States and the Soviet Union had accumulated over four decades.[7] 

The end of the arms race, of the Soviet empire, and of communism in Europe laid the foundation for a Russian foreign policy based on Gorbachev's first doctrinal innovation: cooperation with, and integration into, the West. This was the guiding principle first of Soviet, then of Russian foreign policy from 1987, when the reforms begun two years previously took a radical turn, to the end of 1993, when communists and nationalist xenophobes made strong showings in the December Russian parliamentary election.  

After the end of the Soviet Union the new Russia began to steer, in economic, political, and cultural terms, a westward course.[8] The Western democracies proclaimed their enthusiasm for this goal. After 1991 the new Russia began to install a democratic political system and to create a market economy. Indeed, the threats the Russian leaders saw to their country were remarkably similar to those that concerned American officials: terrorism, religious fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation.  

The Gorbachev-Yeltsin policy of unreserved cooperation with and integration into the West was not sustained. It was partly a victim of Russia's difficulties in the post-Soviet period: economic collapse, social disorder, and political confusion. Although these difficulties were mainly the consequence of the poisonous 70-year legacy of communism, many Russians blamed them on the West. The large sums of economic assistance promised by some Western governments, including the United States, were not delivered--although they would not have eliminated the postcommunist misery even if they had been. Western economic advisors made conspicuous contributions to the early economic policies of the Yeltsin government--although the postcommunist distress may well have been aggravated by the extent to which the Russian government failed to carry out their recommendations rather than by Moscow's having heeded their advice at all.[9]  

Moreover, a neoimperial strain in Russian public opinion surfaced in the 1993 parliamentary election. It is not necessarily destined to guide Russia's relations with its neighbors; the countervailing forces, not the least of them Russia's continuing post-Soviet weakness, are formidable. But these sentiments are incompatible with what can be called the foreign policy of perestroika that Gorbachev and Yeltsin sought to conduct; and these sentiments came to carry enough political weight after 1993 to encumber Yeltsin's efforts to keep to the course that he and Gorbachev had charted.  

The Gorbachev-Yeltsin foreign policy fell victim, as well, to the circumstances across Russia's new borders. Formal independence brought instability to the new countries to the south. Wars erupted in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia was drawn into several of them. Most spectacularly and disastrously, the Yeltsin government launched a military campaign to bring to heel rebels seeking independence for Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in the North Caucasus inside the borders of the new Russia. The Russian interventions in Georgia, in Armenia, in Tajikistan, and the bloody campaign the Russian army waged in Chechnya were not in keeping with the spirit of the new foreign policy.  

They were certainly seen as incompatible with the foreign policy of perestroika in the countries of the West, notably the United States, in which Gorbachev and Yeltsin had placed such high hopes and where a welcome for Russia was central to their foreign policies. Russian military activities came in for considerable Western criticism. Western governments went beyond criticism: They announced plans to expand their Cold War military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to Central European countries that had once been part of the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact. The Russian political elite took this as a sign of indifference to Russian sensitivities at best and the beginning of a campaign to exclude, isolate, and humiliate the new Russia at worst.  

Western governments asserted that NATO expansion was not directed against Russia, a claim made less convincing by the fact that the Central Europeans sought to join the Atlantic Alliance precisely because of their fears of the largest post-Soviet successor state.[10] For their part, the Russians believed that the war in Chechnya was an internal matter, that their military interventions to the south were exercises in legitimate self-defense, and that neither should affect their relations with the West. The result was a version--albeit a modest one--of the cycle of reciprocal misunderstandings known to students of international politics as "the spiral model,"[11] in which each side believes that what it is doing is legitimate, defensive, and altogether benign, but which is perceived by the other as improper, aggressive, and dangerous.  

The political climate created by this cycle was not remotely as dangerous as the one in which the two nuclear superpowers had conducted their policies toward one another during the Cold War. Neither, however, was it hospitable to the strategic partnership with the West, and above all with the United States, on which Gorbachev and Yeltsin had counted. The deterioration in relations was not the consequence of ill-will or deliberate provocation. Nor was it exclusively the fault of one side or the other. Rather, the foreign policy of perestroika was overtaken, or at least temporarily submerged, by events. Five years after the end of the Soviet Union, cooperation and integration with the West ceased to be the unchallenged centerpiece of Russian foreign policy. What replaced it?  

The Chapters

According to Leon Aron, the foreign policy of perestroika was replaced by a three-part doctrine that achieved surprisingly broad support, at least among that small fraction of Russians, most of them living in Moscow, who concern themselves with the world outside their country's borders. Russia must, they believe, be the dominant presence on the territory of the former Soviet Union, an influential participant in international affairs elsewhere, and the nuclear equal of the United States. It must, that is, be a regional superpower, an international great power, and a nuclear superpower.[12]  

Aron suggests an historical analogy for the mood underlying this post-perestroika Russian foreign policy doctrine: Gaullism. As with France under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, it has become a matter of principle for Russia to assert itself in international affairs wherever possible and to distinguish its own policies from those of the most powerful member of the international community--in both cases the United States. As with France, this Russian approach has psychological roots. It is a response, among other things, to wounded pride occasioned by a sudden, sharp loss of international status.[13] As in the case of France, Russia is seeking to lodge a protest against, although not to overturn, the international dominance of the United States. As Aron notes, Russian foreign policy could move from protest to outright opposition; but this would require a combination of developments that, from the perspective of the first six post-Soviet years, do not seem likely.[14]  

Of the three arenas of post-perestroika Russian foreign policy, the third is the most important. Like most other countries most of the time, Russia's most intense relations are with the countries nearest to it. Moreover, post-Soviet Russia is weak. Like the Soviet Union, which was a one-dimensional international power, formidable in military terms only, it lacks the economic strength to pay a significant role in the world trading system. The new Russia may one day be, as China has become, an international economic force with which the world must reckon. But it is not one now and, unlike the Soviet Union, it lacks the military power that made Andrei Gromyko's boast about the pervasive Soviet role in international affairs a plausible one. Russia has inherited the Soviet nuclear arsenal, which is, of course, a source of influence. In other ways, however, Russia's presence is scarcely felt beyond its immediate neighborhood.  

In that neighborhood, however--on the territory of the former Soviet Union--Russia's influence is considerable. Russia's neighborhood, moreover, is a large one. For the purposes of assessing post-Soviet Russian foreign policy, it is useful to divide it into two parts: the west, where Russia's neighbors are Ukraine, the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and Moldova; and the south, where Russia borders on the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia.  

For all their considerable difficulties, the newly independent states to Russia's west are stronger, more coherent, and more stable than those to its south. The sense of political community and the capacity for effective governance are higher in Ukraine, and even more so in the Baltic countries, than in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The civil wars that erupted along the southern frontiers of the new Russia are not part of the political life of the new states to its west. In no small part for that reason, six years after the end of the Soviet Union, Russian troops were deployed throughout the south; they were not present to the west.  

While Russia is far stronger than any of the other former Soviet republics that are now sovereign states, its margin of economic, political, and military superiority is greater over the new countries of the south than over those to the west. This is so for yet another reason: The newly independent states to the west feel a powerful attraction to the countries to their west, the countries of Western Europe. The southern newly independent states are not comparably attracted to their southern neighbors--Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. Russia's far west is Europe, which is one of the richest, most dynamic, and most powerful parts of the international system.[15] Its far south is the Middle East and southwest Asia, which carry less geopolitical weight.  

Russians' attitudes differ toward the two parts of what they call their "Near Abroad"--a term that denotes their presumption of a special relationship with the newly independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. The countries to the west, especially Ukraine, are closer to Russia in cultural terms. Their languages are similar. Ukraine was part of a greater Russian state for three centuries, and it is difficult for most Russians to conceive of Kiev as the capital of a foreign country. The Russian sense of loss at Ukrainian independence is palpable.  

By contrast, it is not at all difficult for Russians to see themselves as distinct even from the Christian (although not Slavic) peoples of the Caucasus--the Georgians and Armenians--let alone from the Muslims of Central Asia. No comparable sense of kinship draws Russia to the south. Rather, beyond a determination to gain a share of the the energy resources of the Caspian basin and a concern about the ethnic Russian population in the part of Kazakhstan that shares a border with Russia, the main Russian interest in the south is to keep the disorders there from spreading northward. The southern Near Abroad evokes in most Russians not a sense of loss but a feeling of threat.  

Because the western Near Abroad is situated between Russia and Europe, Russia's relations with its western neighbors will go a long way to defining its relations with Europe and the United States. This has the potential to make it, as Sherman Garnett notes in Chapter 2, contested terrain. Particularly important will be relations between Russia and Ukraine, the bridge between Russia and Europe, relations that are bound to be difficult and delicate under the best of circumstances.[16]  

Russia and Ukraine are the two largest and most powerful successor states to the Soviet Union. What is more, Ukraine was part of Russia longer than any of the others and has more ethnic Russians within its borders. For these reasons, of all the non-Russian successor states, Ukraine is the one whose independence has perhaps the least legitimacy in Russian eyes; Ukraine is therefore the likeliest object of a Russian effort to regain control of territories that were once part of the Soviet Union. As such, it is the test case of whether Russia will remain a nation-state or seek to become again a multinational empire. Relations with Ukraine will thus do much to define not only Russia's relations with the West but Russian national identity as well.  

Its location between Russia and the West and the powerful, conflicting currents of politics, culture, and economics that are at play there make the western Near Abroad potentially contested terrain. An unhappy historical analogy suggests itself here: Central Europe between the two world wars. Like the Baltic countries and Ukraine after the Cold War, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia attained independence with the collapse of multinational empires in the wake of a great European and global conflict--in their case, World War I. The three found themselves caught between, squeezed by, and ultimately the victims of two powerful flanking neighbors: Germany and the Soviet Union. The Nazi-Soviet collusion and then conflict over the territory of the three countries touched off World War II. 

Less is at stake for the United States and Western Europe in Russian policy to the south than in Russia's policies to the west. Russian military intervention to the west would trigger a new Cold War, or worse. This is not true of the south; and that is fortunate because to the south, as noted, Russia is already a military presence and plays a far more intrusive role than it does to the west. The Russian role to the south, as Rajan Menon observes in Chapter 3, is the product of two basic, timeless features of relations between sovereign states: proximity and asymmetry.  

Because the two regions are close, Russia cannot ignore the Caucasus and Central Asia. Because the countries to its south are weak, Russia is almost bound to exert a degree of influence over them. This fact, however, gives rise to a wide range of possibilities. Historically, the strong have involved themselves in the affairs of the weak for a variety of reasons and have exercised the influence that their strength gives them in a number of different ways. The full spectrum of both motives and consequences is evident in post-Soviet Russia's role in the southern Near Abroad.  

Russia was drawn there (or in some cases remained there after the collapse of the Soviet Union) partly out of an imperial reflex. But the Russian presence to its south also had the goal of staking out a share of the riches expected to flow from the exploitation of the local energy resources. Perhaps most important, Russian was present to its south in order to keep political turbulence--initially provoked almost nowhere by Russia itself but the product in some places, in the Russian view at least, of Islamic fundamentalism--from infecting Russia proper.  

Once there, post-Soviet Russia sometimes has behaved in a heavy-handed manner, insisting on military bases in Georgia as the price of helping the Georgian government regain control of its territory and contributing, in Azerbaijan, to the ouster of leaders disliked by Moscow. But Russia has also, arguably, exercised a restraining influence to its south, stopping wars that otherwise would have continued.[17]  

Because Russia has pursued a variety of policies, which have been animated by an array of motives, as Menon notes, a number of historical precedents are relevant to Russian policy to the south: the way Britain, by being constantly drawn into unstable locales, acquired its African empire at the end of the nineteenth century, according to historians Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher[18]; the sphere of influence France maintained in sub-Saharan Africa after the countries there attained formal independence in the 1960s; and even the role of the United States in Central America, with its recurrent military interventions, from the latter part of the nineteenth century onward.  

The Russian government has, however, shown no sign of seeking to govern the countries to the south directly, as it did during the tsarist period, let alone of attempting to impose a particular kind of regime there, which was the pattern in the communist period. How then will Russia exercise its influence to the south? Historically, there is a tendency for the domestic political beliefs and institutions of the powerful to tend to shape their policies toward the weak. So Russia's relations with its southern neighbors will depend in part on what kind of country Russia itself becomes. And what Russia turns out to be will affect, and be affected by, its relations with the countries beyond the former Soviet Union, among which the Russian elite aspires to function as a great power. What Russia does to the south as well as what it does to the west will shape the terms on which it is part of the larger world.  

For most Russians, "the world" still means, first and foremost, the West. That is the point of departure of Chapter 4, by Coit Blacker. His argument is that political and economic integration with the West, the aim of the original foreign policy of perestroika, is not only the most desirable goal for post-Soviet foreign policy, it is also the only feasible one.  

The Gaullism of the post-1993 period, in this view, is to be understood, not only as a politically necessary but largely rhetorical response to domestic pressures, but also as a tactic designed to improve the terms under which Russia is integrated into the West. The relevant precedents for the new Russia are Germany and Japan after World War II, which were defeated, democratized, and integrated into the Western security and economic order, of which the United States was the chief architect and most powerful member.  

The resumption of a foreign policy of integration would be, from many points of view, the best possible future course for Russia. And it may be the only viable course in the sense that any other would prove prohibitively expensive and thus impossible to sustain. But it is not the only conceivable course. The range of possibilities for the future of Russian foreign policy is, in fact, unusually broad.  

Scenarios for the Future

The Western economic and political order, with Japan, North America, and Western Europe constituting its core, may be seen metaphorically as a magnetic field, pulling other countries toward it. Because this community of free-market democracies is both powerful and successful, other countries seek to join its organizations, observe its norms, and replicate its institutions. At least they seek to gain the benefits, especially economic ones, that those organizations, norms, and institutions have produced. The magnetic attraction of the Western order is not irresistible. But the capacity to resist it depends on a country's size and location. Belgium, for example, small and situated in the heart of Western Europe, is not well placed to adopt radically different political and economic practices from its neighbors. Russia is far larger and more distant, in both geographic and cultural terms, from the core of the Western order and so is much better able to resist its pull. Thus while Russia may turn out to be, in its own way, as western as Belgium, this is not foreordained. Other possibilities do exist.  

One is that Russia will have no effective foreign policy because it will not have an effective national government. The trends that, if severely aggravated, could produce the disintegration of Russia as a unified state--hyperinflation leading to economic collapse, the fragmentation of the military, the rise of politically independent regional authorities--are already visible, although far from virulent enough to produce the disintegration of central authority. A historical precedent for a Russia of this kind is the chaos in China in the 1920s and 1930s, when different parts of the country were dominated by military leaders known as warlords who controlled independent armed forces.  

A chaotic Russia is hardly desirable. While it would present no organized threat to any other country, the thousands of nuclear weapons within its borders would not be under the control of legitimate, competent, prudent authorities, a circumstance that would indeed pose a danger to other countries. Nor is chaos in Russia a likely scenario. Whatever its failings, the Yeltsin government has avoided the kind of wanton monetary indiscipline that would produce economic collapse. There is little appetite for secession in Russian regions other than Chechnya; instead, a number of them, such as heavily Muslim Tatarstan, have negotiated arrangements with Moscow that afford them considerable autonomy. While Russia is sufficiently disorganized and unstable to preclude the conduct of anything like the assertive global foreign policy over which Andrei Gromyko presided, it is unlikely to have no foreign policy at all.  

Rather than no foreign policy, Russia could have several. It is part of three global neighborhoods--not only the West and the Middle East, but also, by virtue of its border with China and coastline on the Pacific Ocean, the Far East. The politics and economics of the three regions differ sharply. It would not be surprising, therefore, if Russian policies toward them should turn out to differ from one another. It is conceivable, for example, that Russia will conduct a policy of conciliation to the west, confrontation to the east, and neoimperial control to the south. Nor is a historical precedent required for a preview of a differentiated Russian foreign policy. Six years after the end of the Soviet Union, that was the pattern of Russian foreign policy. In none of Russia's adjacent neighborhoods did that policy follow, unambiguously, a single course. To the west, Moscow was not altogether conciliatory; to the south, it was not unambiguously imperial. And its relationship with its great neighbor to the east, while no longer marked by the undiluted hostility of the last two decades of the communist period, was not one of firm friendship either.  

Sino-Russian relations are not fixed and, depending on the direction they take, could underpin a third kind of Russian foreign policy, one that seeks not to join but to oppose the Western order. Russian neo-Gaullism has elements of such a policy. Russia has displayed a friendlier attitude toward countries that the United States considers "rogue" states than Washington has thought appropriate--although so too have America's Western European allies.  

Moreover, President Boris Yeltsin has held several highly visible meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin. The United States and Western Europe have also sought good relations with China, but from the Yeltsin-Jiang meetings came conspicuous declarations of a common objection to "hegemonism," a reference to the pretensions of the United States.  

A Russian foreign policy of opposition would go beyond rhetoric. Rather than a tactic to improve Russia's position in the world, it would be part of a strategy of assembling a coalition of the discontented. Such a coalition would not be likely to follow in the footsteps the Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan, whose aggressive pursuit of power, wealth, and territory was the cause of World War II. In the age of nuclear weapons, doing what they did--trying to overturn the existing international order by force--risks catastrophe for the entire planet. Nor would such a coalition replicate the communist bloc at the height of its power in the 1950s, when the Soviet Union and Maoist China were allies. What held that bloc together, a fully elaborated ideology that provided an alternative to Western political institutions and economic practices, is now missing. Marxism-Leninism is permanently discredited (in China as well as in Russia), and no substitute worldview is presently available.  

For Russian foreign policy, however, there is a broad middle ground between the principled commitment to solidarity with the West that has been, if not rejected entirely, then at least temporarily suspended, and outright warfare--either hot or cold. Alone or together with other countries, Russia could frustrate the designs of the West in many ways: through its veto in the U.N. Security Council; by lax compliance or outright noncompliance with the rules of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime; by economic ties with countries that the West--or at least the United States--is trying to isolate.[19]  

A suggestive analogy for a Russia in concert with other countries often if not always opposed to American international purposes is the loose association of Arab governments and movements that have resolutely opposed the state of Israel since the 1970s. They have little else in common, their relations with one another have sometimes been poisonous, and they have no real hope of destroying Israel. But they do share an adamant refusal to come to terms with it. A loose association of a disgruntled Russia and other countries with similar resentments might display something like the "rejectionist" attitude toward the West that the Arab irreconcilables have toward Israel.  

To pose a major challenge to the West, a Russian foreign policy of rejection would require at least a limited partnership with China. Both are sufficiently large and self-contained, and culturally and politically distinct enough from the West, to resist the pull of the Western political and economic order. As the Yeltsin-Jiang statements attest, both harbor suspicions of the United States for real and imagined slights, which in both cases are fueled by the resentment that the powerful often attract. Both Russia and China, however, have evinced more interest in joining the Western order than in overturning or boycotting it. And even if both should become far more hostile to it, they would not find it easy to act cooperatively against it. Important issues divide them. Their common border is a potential source of friction. During the communist period, China claimed that large chunks of what was then the Soviet Union had been stolen from China by Russia at the zenith of Chinese weakness in the nineteenth century.  

They are potential rivals for influence in the newly independent countries of Central Asia that were once Soviet republics, which are wedged between them. It was on the territory of these countries that the contest for influence between Russia and, from its base in India, Great Britain, was played out in the nineteenth century. This contest formed the backdrop for the plot of Rudyard Kipling's novel Kim and came to be known as "the Great Game."  

There is another point of contention between the two large, formerly orthodox communist countries, and it is potentially the most serious one. Russia is an underpopulated country. China has an excess of inhabitants. A wave of Chinese immigrants has swept across the Russo-Chinese border into the Russian Far East since the relaxation of the strict border controls of the Soviet period.[20] This movement has aroused fears that the small number of Russians in the region will be swamped by an influx of Chinese through a peaceful, slow-motion invasion that will change the character of the Russian Far East.  

Of all the possible scenarios for Russian foreign policy, the most desirable remains integration with the West. This is what both Russian and Western leaders regularly insist that they want. The foreign policy of perestroika may no longer dominate Russia's relations with the rest of the world, but it is neither entirely gone nor forgotten. And there are reasons to consider it not only a desirable but also, despite its post-1993 eclipse, a plausible path for Russian foreign policy. Those reasons are to be found in the historical experience with the greatest relevance for Russia's future: that of Russia itself.  

Russia and the West

It will surely be easier for Russia to be part of the West internationally to the extent that it is more like the West domestically, and here the course of Russian history provides paradoxical grounds for cautious optimism. There is a lively controversy about whether that history is, in its major features, more or less continuous since the sixteenth century, or whether it experienced a sharp break when the Bolsheviks seized power and installed a regime that governed according to the precepts of Marxism-Leninism.[21] But even if 1917 is seen as a radical turn in the course of Russian history, there remain major continuities over three centuries.  

For most of that period Russia was the largest but also the least European of the European powers. Since the time of Peter the Great, who ruled from 1682 to 1725, Russia, under tsars and commissars, played a major role in the European state system. The other powers had to take it into account in the conduct of their affairs, and the other Europeans in turn influenced Russia's calculations. While never separate from Europe, however, compared with the countries to its west Russia was always distinctive in a number of important ways.  

Like the rest of Europe, Russia was Christian--but Orthodox, not Catholic or Protestant. Like other European countries. its language was an Indo-European one, which used an alphabet rather than the ideograms of East Asia; but the alphabet of the Russian language was and is the Cyrillic, not the Latin, one. Like Europe in the nineteenth century, Russia's economy was largely agricultural, but until the second half of the century most of its laborers were serfs, not peasants; and in the nineteenth century Russia was slower to industrialize than Great Britain, France, or Germany. For most of the last century, few European governments were democratic. But the Russian tsar was not only an autocrat, he exercised something approaching absolute power, unchecked by countervailing groups, institutions, or rules.  

Different from other Europeans and situated on the fringe of Europe though Russia always was, however, the degree of dissimilarity to the other Europeans, and the extent to which Russia was integrated into Europe-wide procedures and institutions, did vary over time.  

Perhaps the high point of Russian similarity to, and integration into, the rest of Europe was the period after 1815. Tsar Alexander I was one of the leaders of the coalition that ultimately defeated Napoleon. His troops entered Paris in triumph, and he himself enjoyed considerable popularity throughout Europe. Conservative monarchs like him governed most of the continent. Russia was an integral part of the Concert of Europe, the informal series of understandings that brought a measure of order to continental affairs in the wake of the Napoleonic wars.  

By contrast, Russia was probably most estranged from the rest of Europe after 1945. Ironically, this period was ushered in by a series of events uncannily reminiscent of those that had introduced the era of greatest solidarity. The Soviet Union was part of a coalition that defeated, at great cost, a would-be European conqueror, one with whom the Soviet authorities had at first been allied but who turned on the communist state and invaded and occupied a large part of its territory: Hitler was in this way a would-be successor to Napoleon. After 1945, however, the political and economic systems of the Soviet Union differed so radically from those of the European countries to its west that the continent was effectively divided for four decades. The Soviet Union did not belong to the international organizations that were established on the western side of what came to be known as the Iron Curtain.  

The end of the Cold War, of communism in Europe, and of the Soviet Union itself have created the opportunity for Russia to become more European--more like the rest of Europe internally and more closely connected with it internationally--than at any time in the last two centuries.[22] These developments have had this effect because they have removed the obstacles to westernization at home.  

The French Revolution of 1789 triggered social and political forces that led, with many twists and turns, to the spread of democracy over virtually all of Europe during the next two centuries. Democracy is, of course, entirely incompatible with tsarist and communist rule. Therefore, first the Russian and then the Soviet regime adopted as a central political purpose resistance to the infection, as they saw it, of democratic political ideas and practices from the West. In the nineteenth century, the tsar feared that the Poles he governed would demand the modest liberties that the Habsburgs permitted the Poles under their rule. In the twentieth century, the Soviet Politburo and its surrogates in East Berlin as well as the other Eastern European capitals were concerned that the citizens of communist Germany would demand the liberties enjoyed by the citizens of West Germany.  

The barriers that they erected against the Western liberal ideas and practices have now crumbled. The tsars and the communists each professed a countervailing ideology. Opposition to democracy was based in both cases on principle: on the divine right of the Romanov dynasty to absolute power in the first case, and on the superior understanding of the imperatives of world history possessed by the leaders of the Communist Party in the second. Post-Soviet Russia has no such ideology. Liberal ideas may not be widely or deeply held there, but the commitment to illiberal ones in Russia is even weaker. Neoimperialist rhetoric is to be found in post-Soviet Russian politics, but it can scarcely be called a full-blown doctrine.[23] Nor does the government of the new Russia dispose of the means to suppress democratic impulses on which its predecessors could rely. The tsars and the communists built powerful governmental machinery for sealing their borders and crushing any and all opposition within them. The communist regime confronted a more democratic Europe than had the tsars, but it had a more powerful set of tools for resisting its influence, which it used more ruthlessly.  

The contrast with the new Russia is stark. Six years after the end of the Soviet Union, the successor Russian government was weak, weaker not only than its tsarist and communist predecessors but considerably weaker than its Western counterparts. Incapable of doing what its predecessors had done--stifling independent political activity--it was also incapable of doing what Western governments routinely and necessarily do: collecting taxes and enforcing the law.[24]  

Even when and if the Russian government achieves the capacity that other European regimes possess, moreover, it is unlikely to be able to exercise the degree of political control that its predecessors did, even if it were inclined to try. Any post-Soviet government will preside over a very different kind of country from the one that the tsars and the communists ruled. Russia is no longer populated largely by illiterate serfs and peasants. Fragmented and ignorant, the largely rural Russia of the past was, with the exception of occasional uncoordinated uprisings, far easier to bully and repress than the urbanized, literate Russia created under communism.[25] In the old Russia, the initiative for change rested with the ruler. From the time of Peter to the era of Stalin, change came from the top. That is no longer the case.[26] If rulers are less capable of blocking European ideas and practices than in the past, the Russian public is also now far better able to receive, absorb, and implement them.  

Another reason that post-Soviet Russia can now be more like the rest of Europe than before is that it is no longer an empire. In the past, the requirements of empire often conflicted with the norms of democracy. Russian and communist rulers feared, rightly, that if granted liberty, the non-Russians they ruled would choose to leave the empire. Unwilling to permit this, the rulers were, as a result, unable to grant such liberties to Russians.  

There is a final reason that it is easier than ever before for Russia to be like the rest of Europe. Europe is a safer place for Russia--and for all other countries--than ever before. For virtually all of its recorded history, the defining rule of Europe's international politics was the law of the jungle. Every power had to be prepared to defend itself. The constant and pressing need for self-defense lent itself to the centralization of political power, the better to muster and deploy military force; and this trend was particularly pronounced in Russia. To be sure, the world beyond its borders was not solely responsible for the oppressive character of Russian governments until the last decade of the twentieth century. The failure of political liberalism in Russia is a long and complicated story, sometimes dreary, sometimes tragic, sometimes both. But during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, efforts at liberal reform were repeatedly derailed by the need to attend to real or perceived foreign threats.  

A dangerous international environment is not, of course, an insurmountable barrier to liberal politics; if it were, liberal politics could scarcely have made any headway whatsoever in Europe.[27] Moreover, the degree of danger in Europe varied over time. From the middle of the eighteenth century to the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, war was a constant feature of European public life. From 1815 to the Crimean War in 1854, the continent was relatively peaceful. But from the middle of the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth, Russia was threatened almost continuously, at least in the eyes of its rulers.  

In the wake of the Cold War, that too has changed. The international relations of Europe proceed according to new, different, and radically more promising norms.[28] This change is important for Russia's internal development and even more so for its foreign policy. It creates the opportunity for Russia not only to be more fully a part of Europe, but to be part of a Europe that is far more benign than ever before.  

The domestic political norms of Europe changed, by fits and starts, over two centuries, from autocracy to democracy. The international norms in the western part of the continent changed just as dramatically, and in a far shorter period after 1945, from rivalry to cooperation. The post­World War II reconciliation between France and Germany is the core of, and model for, this new Europe. There is no historical precedent for such a Russian relationship with any neighboring country. But then, there is virtually no pre-1945 precedent for such a relationship anywhere in Europe. That kind of international relationship is now, however, normal west of Russia. And it is a pattern that, were Russia to follow it, would provide a stable, comfortable, useful framework for its post­Cold War foreign policy. Russia would then be part of a community of peaceful, democratic, economically integrated nation-states. This would mean the expansion of what has come to be known since 1945 as "Europe" far enough to the east to include Russia. If the question that broaches the worst future for Russian foreign policy is "Will Russia be an empire?" the one that frames the best scenario for the Russian future is "Will Russia become part of the West?"  

Becoming part of the West would not be easy. Russia would have to become much more like the countries of Europe in political and economic terms than it is now. The new Russia would have to create and sustain the kind of relationship France and Germany have developed over the last half century, and to create and sustain it not only with France and Germany but also, and most importantly, with Ukraine. Russian-Ukrainian relations, with all their difficulties, would have to be more like those between the United States and Canada (in the twentieth, not the nineteenth, century) and less like the post-1947 relationship between India and Pakistan.[29]  

Even if Russia can make the changes necessary to fit comfortably into the Western community, the rate at which it can do so, and thus the pace at which it can proceed westward, in political and economic terms, are unknowable. Nor are such changes the only requirements for anchoring the new, postcommunist Russia in the West. Not only must Russia be ready and willing to enter the gates of the West, the West must be ready and willing to receive Russia. This condition is less easily fulfilled than the rhetoric of Western governments suggests.  

The rhetoric is welcoming. Of course, Western leaders assert, Russia is welcome in their ranks. Nothing is more important, no project has a higher priority among the advanced capitalist countries, than integrating Russia into the West. The actual policies of the Western countries, however, are at variance with the rhetoric. In the wake of the Cold War they asserted the continuing centrality of two Cold War­era international organizations: NATO and the European Union (EU). These, they said, would define the borders of the West. They then proceeded to propose adaptations to the two that had the effect of excluding Russia.  

In 1997 NATO invited three Central European countries to join its ranks and promised membership to a number of other countries, including some that had once been republics of the Soviet Union, but not to Russia. Whatever the merits, if any, of the scheme for NATO expansion, it did not--indeed could not--have the effect of smoothing Russia's path westward.[30]  

In 1991 at a meeting at Maastricht, the Netherlands, EU members agreed to deepen their economic relations; the centerpiece of this effort was to be the creation of a common European currency during the following decade. While it was far from certain that all the existing members of the European Union would qualify for the common currency, there was no chance whatsoever that Russia could conceivably do so for decades, if ever.  

The motives for NATO expansion and the Maastricht accords were diverse, and not necessarily anti-Russian. (Part of the motivation for NATO expansion, however, was decidedly anti-Russian.) But whether intentionally or not, the two initiatives had the anti-Russian consequence of defining post­Cold War Europe in a way that ensured that Russia could not belong to it.  

This Western approach to Russia was not, as during the Cold War, one of active, principled hostility. Indeed, the two major Western initiatives were not, on the whole, aimed at Russia at all. On the basis of the NATO and EU initiatives, however, neither could the Western approach to Russia be described as one of active embrace. Six years after the end of the Soviet Union, the door to the West was not closed to Russia; but neither was it flung wide open. Postcommunist Russia was not, in any case, yet in a position to walk confidently through that door. When and if it is ready to do so, however--and indeed even before that--Russian foreign policy would not, and will not, be determined by Russia alone.  


  1. ^ Quoted in Seweryn Bialer, Stalin's Successors: Leadership, Stability and Change in the Soviet Union (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 237, n. 5.
  2. ^ The often-cited parallel between Russia and the United States, most notably drawn by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, is not relevant to post-Soviet Russia. There are, to be sure, marked similarities between the two. Both were, and are, countries of continental scope. Both expanded from their original areas of settlement in the nineteenth century, the United States westward, tsarist Russia to the east. Both subjugated the indigenous people they encountered in the course of expansion. But there was a crucial difference. The United States did not incorporate territories with large numbers of people of non-European ancestry: The parts of Mexico that became American, for example, were settled by relatively few Mexicans. In the course of Russian expansion to the east and south, by contrast, large non-Russian populations came under the control first of the tsars and then of the communists. The native American population was too small, relative to the European-descended Americans, to affect the basic political character of the country. Thus, while Russia was an empire, the United States was not.
  3. ^ Russia remains a multinational state; and in China, Han Chinese govern Tibetan Buddhists and Central Asian Muslims without their consent.
  4. ^ Roman Szporluk, "The Russian Question and Imperial Overextension," in Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds., The End of Empire? The Transformation of the USSR in Comparative Perspective (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), p. 70. That volume explores in depth the similarities and differences between the Soviet Union and other empires.
  5. ^ An estimated 25 million ethnic Russians suddenly became members of a national minority in an entirely new country. Many then emigrated to Russia. Many more, however, especially in the two neighboring countries with the largest Russian populations--Ukraine and Kazakhstan--stayed put.
  6. ^ There are some striking parallels between Ataturk and Boris Yeltsin. Both emerged from the old regime to dominate the politics of the new successor state. Each sought to make his country more Western. It is too soon to assess Yeltsin's success in this endeavor; and, with the increasing attraction of Islamic politics for many Turks, that also may be true, six decades after his death, of Ataturk.
  7. ^ On Gorbachev's "new thinking," see Coit D. Blacker, Hostage to Revolution: Gorbachev and Soviet Security Policy, 1985­1991 (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1993), pp. 63­65; and Robert Legvold, "The Revolution in Soviet Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, America and the World, 1988/89, Vol. 68, no. 1 (1989), pp. 82­98. On the significance of the arms treaties, see Michael Mandelbaum, The Dawn of Peace in Europe (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1996), chap. 5.
  8. ^ For a fuller discussion of this issue, see below, pp. 169­72.
  9. ^ On this point see, for example, Anders Aslund, How Russia Became a Market Economy (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1995), especially chap. 8, and Aslund, "Social Problems and Policy in Postcommunist Russia," in Ethan Kapstein and Michael Mandelbaum, eds., Sustaining the Transition: The Social Safety Net in Postcommunist Europe (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1997), chap. 3, pp. 124­46. See also Richard Layard and John Parker, The Coming Russian Boom: A Guide to New Markets and Politics (New York: Free Press, 1996), chap. 4.
  10. ^ Michael Mandelbaum, NATO Expansion: A Bridge to the Nineteenth Century (Chevy Chase, MD: Center for Political and Strategic Studies, 1997), p. 13.
  11. ^ See Michael Mandelbaum, The Fate of Nations: The Search for National Security in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), chap. 5.
  12. ^ See below, pp. 25­38.
  13. ^ On the relevance of Gaullism to Russia (and China), see Michael Mandelbaum, "Westernizing Russia and China," Foreign Affairs (May­June 1997).
  14. ^ See below, pp. 42­51.
  15. ^ In political and economic terms, Russia's "west" also includes the United States and Japan, although each is geographically closer to the eastern borders of Russia.
  16. ^ See Mandelbaum, The Dawn of Peace in Europe, pp. 134­40. See also Alexander J. Motyl, Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1993), chap. 4; and Sherman W. Garnett, Keystone in the Arch: Ukraine in the Emerging Security Environment of Central and Eastern Europe (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1997), chaps. 2 and 3.
  17. ^ See below, pp. 125­47.
  18. ^ Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1968. First published, 1961).
  19. ^ In September 1997 a consortium of Russian, Malaysian, and French energy companies signed a contract with Iran that not only contradicted the American policy of trying to isolate the Islamic republic economically and politically but also violated an American law against large-scale economic dealings with Tehran.
  20. ^ The numerical estimates range widely. A reasonable guess is several hundred thousands.
  21. ^ The classic statement of the argument for continuity is Richard Pipes, Russia under the Old Regime (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974). An eloquent presentation of the argument that the 1917 revolution led to a radical break may be found in Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy (New York: Free Press, 1994).
  22. ^ Precedents from Russian history are relevant here. On several occasions lost wars discredited the regimes responsible for them, creating opportunities for change that were not available previously. For example, the Russian defeat in the Crimean War led to the abolition of serfdom. The defeat in World War I paved the way for the Russian Revolution.
  23. ^ "Today, the neoimperialist blowhards in Russia do not bother to justify their claims against the newly independent states with anything more than vague references to Russia's perceived interests." S. Frederick Starr, "The Fate of Empire in Post-Tsarist Russia and in the Post-Soviet Era," in Dawisha and Parrott, eds., The End of Empire? p. 253.
  24. ^ See Stephen Holmes, "Cultural Legacies or State Collapse? Probing the Postcommunist Dilemma," in Michael Mandelbaum, ed., Postcommunism: Four Perspectives (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1997), pp. 22­76.
  25. ^ For an appreciation of the political implications of the social changes of the second half of the twentieth century, published during the Gorbachev era, see Moshe Lewin, The Gorbachev Phenomenon: A Historical Interpretation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
  26. ^ It was ceasing to be the case in the late Soviet period. See S. Frederick Starr, "The Changing Nature of Change in the USSR," in Seweryn Bialer and Michael Mandelbaum, eds., Gorbachev's Russia and American Foreign Policy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988), pp. 3­36.
  27. ^ It is worth noting, however, that historically, the most democratic European power--Great Britain--was the one least threatened by the others, thanks to the natural protection afforded by the English Channel.
  28. ^ See Mandelbaum, Dawn of Peace in Europe, chaps. 4­6.
  29. ^ On these analogies see ibid., pp. 138­39.
  30. ^ For a critique of the policy, see Mandelbaum, NATO Expansion.