Russia in the Western World: Russian Interactions with Europe

Since at least August 2008, Russian foreign policy toward the West has come to be seen by many analysts as aggressive and bent on extracting maximum economic and political benefit regardless of the long term consequences for relationships. In this issue, six Russian scholars discuss their perceptions of Russian attitudes toward and relations with its neighbors to the West.

The first three articles in this issue focus on how Russians and Europeans view each other. The issue opens with Andrei Andreev’s article on “Russians’ Views on Foreign Policy After the Caucasus Crisis.” In this article, the author argues on the basis of survey data that the Russian–Georgian war of August 2008 greatly accelerated a gradual shift already underway in Russian public opinion, creating a consensus opposed to the West and to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He discusses the rapid increase in negative public perceptions of the United States in the aftermath of the war and similar changes in attitude toward other countries that openly supported the Georgian side, include Great Britain and Ukraine. Negative feelings toward international organizations are pronounced only in the case of NATO. Other such organizations are viewed quite positively by most Russians.

Although Andreev recognizes that attitudes are fluid, he nevertheless characterizes the post-war situation as indicative of a qualitatively new stage in Russian foreign policy – one that is more oriented toward shows of strength and the achievement of results regardless of how Russian actions are viewed internationally. However, this finding has not stood the test of time. Russian attitudes toward the US and other Western countries have gradually returned to their pre-war average values, while Russian leaders have recently shown signs of willingness to compromise in their foreign policy decision-making.

In “The Anti-Russian Discourse of the European Union: Causes and Main Targets,” Pavel Tsygankov and Filipp Fominykh analyze the content of anti-Russian rhetoric in the European Union (EU) as it pertains to Russian economic strategy, domestic policy, and foreign policy. They explain its causes mainly in terms of divergent economic interests and the EU’s internal needs for identity and consolidation. They separate the traditional West European powers from the new East European EU members, arguing that the latter are driven in their anti-Russian views by an inferiority complex toward the rest of Europe that paradoxically leads them to actions that violate European norms.

The authors also note some aspects of Russian policy and internal development that lead to anti-Russian attitudes in Europe. They argue that Russian economic growth and the strengthening of Russian internal political and economic control over its own territory as factors that infringe on the political and economic interests of European elites. But in the end, they return to internal European factors as the key to explaining European attitudes, arguing that Europe needs a “significant other” in order to maintain its drive toward greater internal unity. Russia, in their argument, is the best candidate for filling this niche.

Whereas the first two articles examine relations between Russia and Europe as a whole, the other articles in this issue focus on specific subregions or countries. Konstanin Voronov, in “Perceptions of Russia in the European North: Signs of the Times,” examines the images and perceptions of Russia prevailing in Scandinavia and the Baltic states and the historical and contemporary factors that have shaped them. He contrasts good-neighborly attitudes in Finland and Scandinavia with hostility to Russia in the Baltic states. He argues that most of the population of this region is disenchanted with Russia’s behavior in both its internal affairs and its foreign policy and continues to view Russia as simply the continuation of the Soviet Union in the present day. At the same time, he believes that if the political elites of these countries decided they would benefit from a change in attitudes, they could begin a campaign of “reeducation” of the masses that, as the Finnish example has shown, could work in the long run.

The author comes to the conclusion, however, that the image of Russia among the Scandinavian population does not really matter for bilateral relations or policy making in the region. Despite negative attitudes among their populations, the Scandinavian governments have friendly and pragmatic relations with Russia. However, this is not the case for the Baltic states, which continue to blame Russia for the occupation of their countries by the Soviet Union.

The last three articles, address relations between Russia and the two European neighbors with which bilateral relations were most hostile for the second half of the last decade. In “An Answer to the ‘Polish Question,’” Iurii Solozobov assesses the improvement in Russian–Polish relations since the Tusk government took office in Poland. He notes that Tusk has carried out a far more pragmatic foreign policy than his predecessor, which has led to a decline in tension in the relationship. The article was written before the air crash in Smolensk that killed the Polish president and a significant number of other members of the Polish political elite. Russian actions in the aftermath of this disaster have led to further improvements in Polish-Russian relations.

Solozobov also argues that Russia should aim to Finlandize neighboring states, in the sense of developing mutually advantageous pragmatic cooperative relations that avoid demeaning lectures about questions of democracy and human rights. He calls for a policy of compromises without one-sided concessions and dialogue without giving up any sovereignty. As a result of such a policy, he believes that the two sides will develop an understanding of the strategic and normative value of a positive relationship between Russia and Poland.

In “Alienation as a Resource in Ukraine’s Relations with Russia,” written while Viktor Yushchenko was still President of Ukraine, Aleksandr Slinko surveys the range of attitudes toward Russia among Ukrainian specialists. He divides them into four groups: nationalists, conspiracy theorists, critics of the Orange revolution, and rationalists. He argues that the latter group, which believes that good relations are the dominant tendency in Russian-Ukrainian relations, is now dominant and the period of anti-Russian populism in Ukraine has passed its peak. Given the trajectory in bilateral relations since the election of Viktor Yanukovich, he may well be right.

In “The Power of Mutual Repulsion: Russia and Ukraine—Two Versions of One Transformation,” the last article in this issue, the philosopher Vladimir Pastukhov reflects on Russian–Ukrainian relations, emphasizing their subjective or psychological aspect. He argues that proximity is not conducive to cooperation but instead generates mutual repulsion. Respectful—albeit not friendly—cooperation, however, would be a rational response to certain threats faced by both Russia and Ukraine.

He argues that the two countries are currently united by their positions in the world, where they are surrounded by more economically and culturally powerful states. At the core, they both face crises of spiritual values that need to be resolved before they can modernize their political or economic systems. The threat posed by these crises will force both countries to accelerate the tempo of their internal development or become essentially colonies of more powerful neighbors. Cooperation will increase the chances of success for both, while continued competition will come to resemble a fight between two paupers. Of course, this competition cannot be arrived at immediately, but given the recent tenor of bilateral relations, will need to be developed gradually.

The six articles in this issue show that Russian political scientists recognize that the conflictual nature of relations between Russia and its neighbors is harmful for Russia’s long term political development. Recent signs of a more pragmatic and cooperative tone in Russian foreign policy pronouncements shows that its rulers may be coming to recognize this as well.

One thought on “Russia in the Western World: Russian Interactions with Europe

  1. Pingback: Russian Politics and Law, November 2010 Table of Contents « Russian Military Reform

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