Post-Soviet Political Systems: Editor’s Introduction

This issue considers how the political systems of the post-Soviet states function. The articles all come from a special issue of the Carnegie Endowment’s Pro et Contra journal, which also included an article on Belarus that could not be published here due to space constraints. The issue forms a natural continuation of the previous issue, which examined the functioning of Russia’s present-day political system.

In “Disintegrating Community or Coherent Region?” Andrei Ryabov sets the stage for the country-specific articles by examining the extent to which the states that formerly made up the Soviet Union can still be considered to constitute a coherent political region. At first glance, it seems that these countries’ political and socioeconomic systems have diverged too far from one another to regard them as belonging to a single unit. The countries also do not share a common foreign policy, a unifying ideology, or even good communication and transportation links with one another.

Nevertheless, Ryabov finds that the former Soviet states do constitute a single region because they have all inherited from their common ancestor a particular mode of authoritarian dominance that has remained a common feature throughout the region’s political systems. In his overall assessment, the current situation in the former Soviet Union is a complex social phenomenon: “on the one hand, there is continuing fragmentation and distancing from the former center; on the other hand, certain shared features of development persist.” Ryabov labels this system post-Soviet capitalism. According to his analysis, the overriding goal of such a system of power is to maintain the permanence of the ruling elite and its absolute control over key national economic assets. When compared to the Soviet system, Ryabov finds that although economic and political fields have shifted, the mechanisms of social interaction and elite behavior have remained largely unchanged.

Aleksandr Iskandaryan focuses his analysis on “Armenia Between Autocracy and Polyarchy.” He finds that in Armenia, a situation of natural resource scarcity has given rise to control of the state by a coalition of representatives of merchant and manufacturing capital that includes regional princelings and state bureaucrats. The country’s poverty encouraged the tight intertwining of business and politics. Players in the upper echelons of the economic system find themselves in an extremely competitive environment, in which there are few resources, highly limited export and import channels, and a narrow market. Members of the elite have been forced into a constant search for consensus among themselves and have quickly determined that the easiest way to reach such an agreement is by seeking to take control of state structures, including the parliament and the presidency.

While this system is similar to those found in other post-Soviet states, the Armenian political system does have some unique aspects that derive from the crucial role played by the Karabakh conflict in its formation and development. Iskandaryan describes how the Karabakh conflict led to the domination of a particular segment of the liberal intelligentsia in the early years of Armenia’s post-Soviet political development. In subsequent years, this elite was gradually replaced by veterans of the Karabakh war, who had come to dominate in both politics and business by the end of the 1990s, creating a system that resembled feudal fiefdoms in its nature. With the passage of time, these veterans are beginning to fade away, and the system is gradually coming to resemble more closely those of the other post-Soviet states.

In discussing “Moldova’s Fragile Pluralism,” Nicu Popescu presents Moldova as “something of a paradox.” On the one hand, it is one of the poorest states in Europe, with a large rural population and a long-running (though frozen) secessionist conflict on its territory. But at the same time, it has the highest indicators of democracy among the post-Soviet states outside the Baltics. Popescu shows that in its short history Moldova has avoided most of the extremes of other post-Soviet states. It has a long and uninterrupted history of peaceful transfers of power from the government to the opposition through elections. The lack of natural resources and the consequent dispersal of economic power have played a role in preventing the takeover of the state by a consolidated business elite, as has happened in the vast majority of post-Soviet states. The country’s foreign policy orientation toward the European Union has also played a helpful role in promoting and preserving Moldovan democracy.

Some of the unique features of Moldova’s system of political institutions have prevented the establishment and consolidation of an authoritarian regime. Efforts to establish authoritarian rule failed on two occasions because of the power given to the parliament by the country’s constitution. Although the Communist Party ruled the country for almost a decade, it was unable to translate its dominance into permanent control of the political system. Its peaceful acquiescence to electoral defeat was yet another step on the road to democratic consolidation.

In “Ukraine: Pluralism by Default, Revolution, Thermidor,” Olexiy Haran considers how Ukraine has managed to avoid the consolidation of an authoritarian state. He argues that the rowdy and unpredictable nature of Ukrainian politics—including such events as the Orange Revolution, the frequent collapse of governing coalitions and subsequent early elections, and regular physical confrontations in the parliament—have created an impression of Ukrainian politics as a zero-sum game. Until recently, however, even during the most acute crises, Ukraine always managed to pull back from the edge of the abyss, avoid violent confrontation, and reach a compromise. Haran asks whether this balance is likely to be maintained under President Yanukovych or if the country is fated to drift toward the more authoritarian Russian model.

Unlike the Russian authorities, the Ukrainian authorities have not been able to create a social base for authoritarianism through the use of cheap raw materials and the idea of state grandeur. Ukraine faces a number of internal divisions, including ones based on language and region. As a result of a combination of a dearth of natural resources and a dominant cultural cleavage, the economic system is much more decentralized than in Russia. The political system includes parties that represent these various business elites. Whenever a single clan has seemed to secure a dominant role, splits develop as members of other clans united to prevent the leading group from establishing complete control. Haran argues that a similar scenario may develop over time to reduce the power now held by President Yanukovych.

The final article in the issue reviews the condition and prospects of the five Central Asian states. The title of Aleksei Malashenko’s article, “Doomed to Eternity and Stagnation,” makes clear that he sees few signs of hope for these countries. The authoritarian regimes of Central Asia are characterized by Malashenko as modifications of a single authoritarian regime, and one that has over the last twenty years withstood the test of time. Central Asian authoritarianism has been sorely tested by socio-political upheaval, Islamist radicalism, and internal squabbling. But this authoritarianism has continually proved its political worth: it has survived and provided for relative stability in the states of the region. Nowhere in Central Asia has anyone been able to put forward a real and publicly understandable alternative.

Because the authoritarian Central Asian regimes lack the necessary conditions for even partial democratization, Malashenko argues that while “the political weather may change in Central Asia, . . . the authoritarian ‘climate’ will remain the same.” Neither the local political elites nor the most influential outside actors have any interest in promoting real democratization, as they fear that it would only lead to instability and conflict.

The articles in this issue show that despite the vast divergence in the political development of post-Soviet states in the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the countries still share some core commonalities. The primary shared aspect is a set of similar relationships across the region between political and economic elites, with the latter frequently turning to control of the state to ensure that they can maintain their dominant positions in their countries’ economic systems. This has most often resulted in state capture by one or more sets of business groups, who have attempted, usually successfully, to create a set of political institutions with a dominant executive branch that they hope will act to ensure their continued political dominance.

In this environment, the likelihood of a systemic change is fairly low. The color revolutions have shown that even in cases where these elites are removed from power, the long-term outcome is simply their replacement by a different set of elites. An enduring change would require the establishment of a new and more balanced set of political institutions. As Ukraine’s recent experience has shown, this is a difficult process that is much easier to reverse than it is to initiate.

Russian Politics and Law, July 2012 Table of Contents

Volume 50 Number 4 / July-August 2012 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the web site at

This issue contains:

Post-Soviet Political Systems: Editor’s Introduction  p. 3
Dmitry Gorenburg
Disintegrating Community or Coherent Region?  p. 7
Andrei Ryabov
Armenia Between Autocracy and Polyarchy  p. 23
Aleksandr Iskandaryan
Moldova’s Fragile Pluralism  p. 37
Nicu Popescu
Ukraine: Pluralism by Default, Revolution, Thermidor  p. 51
Olexiy Haran
Doomed to Eternity and Stagnation  p. 73
Aleksei Malashenko

The Rules of the Political Game in Russia: Editor’s Introduction

This issue of Russian Politics and Law considers how the political system functions in Russia, focusing especially on the differences between formal rules and informal practices. The issue starts with a discussion of the personalities involved in running the Russian political system. In “Formats of Russian State Power,” Ol_’ga Kryshtanovskaia, one of the leading experts on Russian political elites, compares the power resources at the disposal of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. She shows that the two leaders divided responsibilities between themselves in a way that does not match the constitutional division of power between the president and the prime minister. Instead, “the siloviki, the economy, parliament, the regions, and the party have been left to Putin, while Medvedev is responsible for the formal performance of constitutional obligations, the courts, the fight against corruption, and the training of a personnel reserve.”

The comparison of resources available to the two leaders reveals that after two years in power, Medvedev had largely failed to develop his own political team and remained dependent on Putin. By examining the resources available to both members of the ruling tandem in late 2009, Kryshtanovskaia correctly forecast Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012. However, she does not think that the Medvedev presidency will pass without consequences for Russia’s political system. In her conclusion, she discusses the possibility that the creation of the Putin–Medvedev tandem has changed the Russian political game, setting the stage for ongoing shifts between the president and the prime minister in future election cycles.

Grigorii Golosov’s article, “Problems of the Russian Electoral System,” moves the discussion to the sphere of institutional rules of the game. The author analyzes how the Russian electoral system has evolved since 1993, showing how electoral institutions that are commonly used by democratic states around the world have been distorted to eliminate their democratic potential. He enumerates a list of problems withRussia’s electoral system, beginning with the single national electoral district—a feature that can work in small homogenous countries such as Israel and the Netherlands but makes no sense in a country as large and diverse as Russia. An excessively high threshold for party entry into parliament further distorts the proportional representation system, allowing the ruling party to easily dominate parliament. Finally, he criticizes the “locomotive” system that allows candidates who have no intention of sitting in the Duma to run at the head of their party’s list, only to be replaced by unknown deputies after the election.

Having discussed the problems that characterize Russia’s electoral system, Golosov then considers what kind of system should be adopted in the event of democratization. He shows that a majoritarian system based on single-mandate electoral districts would not work well in Russia because of its tendency to create highly disproportional outcomes and to entrench local bureaucratic clans in power. He recommends instead a modification of the current system of proportional representation, with lower thresholds and with relatively small electoral districts.

The bureaucracy plays a critical role in the functioning of the Russian political system. In “The Russian Bureaucracy and State Policy,” Sergei Sytin describes the bureaucracy as a social stratum or corporation with its own subculture and political and economic interests. While traditionally state bureaucrats have been tasked with implementing decisions made by their political superiors, they are no longer willing to limit themselves to such a neutral role. Instead, Sytin argues, they are increasingly seeking to implement their own agenda, a tendency that has led to their partial politicization. He believes that the bureaucracy is gradually usurping power over state policymaking, although its dominance has only limited potential.

Since Vladimir Putin first came to power, propaganda has come to play an increasingly important role in the Russian political system. Aleksandr Belousov’s article, “Political Propaganda in Contemporary Russia,” analyzes the forms and content of propaganda under the Putin–Medvedev regime, with a focus on the ideological concepts of the “power vertical” and “sovereign democracy.” He notes that the regime’s propaganda efforts were most successful in influencing the population during the first two Putin terms, when the regime established a circle of intermediaries who publicized its positions without necessarily having an official position in the government.

As far as the content of the propaganda, the concept of the power vertical was the basis for all subsequent propaganda constructs. It helped that the population was ready for an increase in centralization and control after the relative chaos of the Yeltsin years. The concept of sovereign democracy came later, with the goal of distinguishing the Russian political system from both the democratic ideals of the early postcommunist period and from Western democracies. The concept of sovereign democracy allowed the Putin regime to justify the changes it had made in the Russian political system without explicitly rejecting the democratic revolution of the late 1980s or the partial rapprochement with Western democracies.

The last two articles in this issue focus on efforts to change the rules under which Russian politics takes place. Mikhail Il_’chenko’s “Inertia in Russian Politics” discusses the extent to which reform of the Russian political system is hampered by institutional inertia. He argues that in the 1990s Russian reformers failed to import the institutional innovations that would have been necessary to turn Russia into a functioning democratic state. Neither the party system nor federalism worked as intended, creating instead what Ilchenko calls a decentralized version of the old Soviet nomenklatura. Despite extensive changes in the formal rules of the game, the mechanisms through which power is produced and through which leaders relate to society remain essentially unchanged. What many analysts consider to be traditional Russian values, such as paternalism, strict hierarchy, and clientelism, are in fact merely the representations of Russian political institutions. Putin’s reforms have ensconced these mechanisms more firmly in Russian politics, closing off alternative paths of development and foreclosing the possibility of gradual reform from within.

Ivan Bolshakov’s article on “The Nonsystemic Opposition” addresses the functioning of political opponents of Russia’s current political leadership. Bolshakov argues that the terms “extrasystemic opposition,” “antisystemic opposition,” and “nonsystemic opposition” all fall short as descriptions of what separates opposition parties from those in power, calling instead for a new vocabulary that would more accurately describe the role of such parties in the Russian political system. Bolshakov argues that none of the opposition parties existing in Russia today have a positive evaluation of the Russian political system. Their goals vary between seeking to change the existing system and wanting to destroy it entirely and start over.

The six articles in this issue show that the rules of the political game in Russia depend very little on the formal institutions of the political system. Instead, informal practices, interpersonal relations, and inertia determine power relations. This makes reform both highly necessary and very difficult to implement. The recent protests against fraudulent elections petered out largely because the majority of people who supported them quickly realized that they were not going to be able to affect the system, which would survive this brief scare. The comfortable reelection of Vladimir Putin showed that the system of power had weathered the storm and could endure with minimal modifications until the next crisis. As a result, the chances for real political reform declined further; the system appears likely to survive essentially unchanged until it is brought down completely by a future crisis that it cannot handle.


Russian Politics and Law, May 2012 Table of Contents

Volume 50 Number 3 / May-June 2012 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the web site.

This issue contains:

The Rules of the Political Game in Russia: Editor’s Introduction  p. 3
Dmitry Gorenburg
Formats of Russian State Power  p. 7
Ol’ga V. Kryshtanovskaia
Problems of the Russian Electoral System  p. 18
Grigorii V. Golosov
The Russian Bureaucracy and State Policy  p. 40
Sergei Sytin
Political Propaganda in Contemporary Russia  p. 56
Aleksandr Belousov
Inertia in Russian Politics  p. 70
Mikhail Il’chenko
The Nonsystemic Opposition  p. 82
Ivan Bol’shakov

Russia in the Arctic: Editor’s Introduction

The current issue of Russian Politics and Law examines the Arctic, a region very much at the forefront of Russian security and economic interests for the coming decades. Russian strategic thinkers have long considered the frozen Arctic to be a secure bastion where they could base strategic nuclear submarines without significant additional protection. The combination of permanent and intermittent ice cover made the maritime territory largely impassable and economically uninteresting for other states. But in recent years the retreat of the polar ice has made the region increasingly accessible, while new technologies have led to the discovery of significant natural resources in the seabed. This combination has fueled competition for maritime territory and reinvigorated long-standing boundary disputes among the Arctic states. Russia’s control of the largest chunk of Arctic territory puts it in the forefront of discussions of the Arctic security environment. The five articles in this issue provide a sample of the dominant Russian discourses on Arctic security and governance.

Continue reading

Russian Politics and Law, March 2012 Table of Contents

Volume 50 Number 2 / March-April 2012 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the web site.

This issue contains:

Russia in the Arctic: Editor’s Introduction  p. 3
Dmitry Gorenburg
Russia and the Competition for the Redivision of Polar Spaces  p. 7
Aleksei Fenenko
The Arctic at the Crossroads of Geopolitical Interests  p. 34
Valery Konyshev, Aleksandr Sergunin
The Arctic Horizons of Russia’s Strategy: Current Trends  p. 55
Konstantin Voronov
Opening Up the Arctic: Economic and Geopolitical Aspects  p. 78
S. Kovalev, L. Gainutdinova
Making Provision for Russia’s National Security in the Arctic’s Maritime Border Zone  p. 88
N. N. Kudinov

Russian Politics and Law, January 2012 Table of Contents

Volume 50 Number 1 / January-February 2012 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the M.E. Sharpe web site at

This issue contains:

Characteristics of Russian Power: Editor’s Introduction  p. 3
Dmitry Gorenburg
Perestroika, Second Edition: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Russia  p. 7
Vladimir B. Pastukhov
The Specific Nature of “Russian State Power”: Its Mental Structures, Ritual Practices, and Institutions  p. 36
Nikolai S. Rozov
The Post-Soviet Party of Power: United Russia in Comparative Context  p. 54
Boris I. Makarenko
The Russian Establishment: Paths and Means of Renewal  p. 84
Ol’ga A. Voronkova, Aleksandra A. Sidorova, Ol’ga V. Kryshtanovskaia


Characteristics of Russian Power: Editor’s Introduction

The current issue examines some of the key characteristics of the Russian political system from the cultural and institutional points of view. This set of articles shy away from close analysis of current political developments in favor of stepping back to look at the longue duree, in some cases going back to Soviet and pre-Soviet Russian history and culture to examine how earlier developments affect the modern Russian political system and its future trajectory. While other articles limit themselves to the post-Soviet period, they also analyze the impact of long-term trends in Russian power politics on current and future developments.

The first two articles in this issue discuss some of the conceptual bases for characterizing Russian power. “Perestroika, Second Edition: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Russia,” by Vladimir Pastukhov, assesses the prospects of a second perestroika based on his interpretation of modern Russian history in terms of the concepts of revolution and counterrevolution. Pastukhov begins by presenting his interpretation of Soviet history, in which the year 1953 plays the key role. For him, the death of Stalin and the subsequent execution of Beria were the events that signaled the end of the Bolshevik revolution and the beginning of a gradual transition to a state based on rules rather than violence that he terms a Soviet civilization. Khrushchev’s victory over Beria in the battle to succeed Stalin was the result, for Pastukhov, of a societal instinct for self-preservation kicking in.

Pastukhov terms the late Soviet period as a kind of bubble on the surface of Russian civilization. Its deflation led to the renewal of the Russian revolution in 1989 and resulted in the self-liquidation of the Soviet system. In other words, the Soviet leaders lost confidence in the system and started the process that led to its collapse. The current stage of Russia’s political development in many ways parallels the early stages of Gorbachev’s reform. The legal nihilism that pervades the top reaches of the Russian political elite has led its members to seek safer havens abroad for their financial resources and, often, their families. Without the advent of a political system governed by the rule of law, another revolution from above is inevitable, though the exact timing remains entirely unpredictable.

In “The Specific Nature of ‘Russian State Power’: Its Mental Structures, Ritual Practices, and Institutions,” Nikolai Rozov develops a dynamic theory of Russian state power as an ideal type and emphasizes the roles played by frames, symbols, and interactive rituals in its creation. He presents these frames as dichotomies, with key frames for Russian power including the concepts of our own versus other and idealism versus profit. He then argues that the specifics of these frames lead to the characteristics of the Russian national character, including such factors as atomization, poor self-discipline, and incapacity for self-organization, which result from the rejection of everything alien. Other characteristics, both positive and negative, result from various combinations of these frames.

Rozov then goes on to consider how these frames can explain some of the key attributes of Russian state power. He notes that Russian officials consider the rest of the population to belong to the category of other, rather than considering them to be part of our own. This mentality increases their willingness to sacrifice the people for the goal of achieving and holding on to power. As a result, the rulers have limited legitimacy in the eyes of the population and frequently have to result to violence to maintain control. Rozov concludes that as the international community has evolved, the crises of the Russian authoritarian state have become more frequent. As a result, the cycle of disintegration and restoration may be broken through a peaceful institutional revolution carried out by those social groups that do not accept the traditional cultural frames.

The final two articles turn to more concrete aspects of Russian power. Boris Makarenko’s “The Post-Soviet Party of Power: United Russia in Comparative Context,” addresses the character, role, structure, functions, and evolution of United Russia (UR) in the context of world experience with dominant and predominant parties in competitive political systems. In the first half of his article, Makarenko discusses the phenomenon of dominant parties with examples from around the world. He notes that the establishment of such parties allows for the establishment of broad elite coalitions that can maximize resources and minimize risks for elite projects. He shows that in various countries such parties have been set up both from above and from below.

In the typology of dominant parties, United Russia is neither a traditional catch-all party that avoids any form of ideological commitment in order to appeal to the broadest possible swathe of the electorate nor a monoparty that serves “merely [as a] means of support for military or civilian dictatorial regimes.” Instead,UR is a party of power, a new dominant party type that has been created in the post-communist world in order to support the re-election of a popularly elected president and remains beholden to the power of the executive branch for its survival.

After briefly tracing the development of the party of power institution over the two decades of post-Soviet Russian history, Makarenko discusses the current state of UR. Its role as a dominant party has been cemented in recent years by increasing federal control of electoral processes at the local and regional level. As UR has squeezed all forms of opposition out of the legitimate political arena, its leadership has increasingly come to recognize that internal pluralism is necessary for the party’s continued functioning. To this end, it has created so-called clubs to foster intraparty discussion and allow for a diversity of views to be represented. Makarenko argues that while the party can continue to function quite successfully as an electoral machine, it is incapable of providing the new ideas necessary to continue the development of Russian politics and society and therefore risks becoming a dead end model for Russian political development.

The final article in this issue, “The Russian Establishment: Paths and Means of Renewal,” by Olga Voronkova, Aleksandra Sidorova, and Olga Kryshtanovskaya, analyzes the changing structure of the Russian government elite in terms of age, length of service, place of birth, level and type of education, and work experience. The article uses a unique database of biographical information on 175 members of the elite who served in top positions in the Russian government between 2000 and 2009. The study rejects the conventional wisdom that President Putin’s governing team was formed primarily from a combination of Putin’s colleagues from the power ministries and from St. Petersburg. However, it does confirm that Putin’s closest advisers were from one (or both) of these camps.

In conclusion, the authors argue that the Russian political system has yet to develop a functioning formal mechanism of elite recruitment. In its absence, leaders resort to the traditional methods of recruiting their teams through personal ties based on previous service together in other branches of government. As a result, the channels for younger cohorts to enter the government are inadequate and prevent the introduction of new ideas into the political system. One of the Russian government’s greatest challenges is how to develop a personnel reserve system that allows for the regular renewal of governing elites.

While the four articles in this issue come from very different points of view, they all share a conviction that the Russian political system faces a critical juncture. For all of them, the existing system is at the point where it has more or less played out its possibilities. The choices made by the current set of leaders over the next three to five years are likely to have a determining effect on Russian political development over the next several decades. They hold in their hands the choice of whether Russia continues to modernize its political and economic systems in a gradual manner or if it faces yet another revolutionary moment once the current political system ceases to be capable of dealing with the challenges of the future. My sense is that Putin and his team are more likely to try to muddle through any coming crises, rather than taking the risk of shaking up the system. The lessons of Gorbachev are still too fresh in their minds. Another revolution from above is at least a generation away.


Russian Politics and Law, November 2011 Table of Contents

Volume 49 Number 6 / November-December 2011 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the M.E. Sharpe web site at

This issue contains:

New Directions in Russian Foreign Policy: Editor’s Introduction p.3
Dmitry Gorenburg
Modernizing Russian Foreign Policy p.8
Dmitry Trenin
Russia and the New Eastern Europe p.38
Dmitry Trenin
Russia-China: Time for a Course Correction p.54
Evgenii Verlin and Vladislav Inozemtsev
Russia-China: “Reloading” the Relationship p.74
Vasilii Mikheev

New Directions in Russian Foreign Policy: Editor’s Introduction

For many American commentators, analyzing Russian foreign policy can be a fairly contentious topic. Some see Russia as a continuation of the Soviet Union and are therefore concerned about the future possibility of a revived Russia once again posing a threat to the United States and the rest of the democratic world. Others believe that while Russia is certainly not a Western democracy, it does not bear any aggressive intent toward the West. In this issue, we look at what Russian experts see as the goals of Russian foreign policy.

The issue begins with two lectures by Dmitry Trenin. The first, “Modernizing Russian Foreign Policy,” examines the current goals of Russian foreign policy and makes some recommendations for its future trajectory. Trenin argues that for the last decade, Russian foreign policy has been aimed primarily at maintaining the country’s status in the world. He argues that since the start of Vladimir Putin’s second term as president in 2004, Russia has been focused on cementing its status as an independent power in a multipolar world. Its primary emphasis has been on maintaining its preeminent status in the former Soviet republics. A second goal has been to ensure that it has a say on all the critical issues facing the international system. And the final goal is for the Russian economy to realize a profit from the country’s foreign policy.

Trenin criticizes these goals as inadequate for the twenty-first century. He argues that to be a superpower it is no longer sufficient to be able to destroy the rest of the world or even to be able to export rare natural resources at a premium. The greatness of a state in the modern world, according to the author, lies not in what it can offer the world but in how attractive it is to others. He finds that Russia has little to brag about in this department.

To change this dynamic, Trenin proposes that Russia focus on wide-scale international cooperation in all possible areas. Economic cooperation would be greatly enhanced if Russia were to join the World Trade Organization. He then takes on the question of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion, arguing that although he is not a proponent of further expansion, he finds it difficult to see how the admission of states such as Ukraine or Georgia to NATO could be seen as a threat to Russia. The old Soviet mentality of maintaining a buffer zone around its border does not correspond to present realities, in which Russia and NATO are developing a partnership in dealing with the real security challenges. In this environment, the best strategy for Russian foreign policy is to let these states make their own foreign policy decisions while using its cultural influence to ensure that its neighbors are positively disposed toward Russia.

Having addressed the general outlines of Russian foreign policy in the first lecture, in “Russia and the New Eastern Europe,” Trenin focuses more specifically on Russia’s relations with Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. His first point is quite simple: these three countries now constitute a distinct and durable geopolitical reality that he calls the New Eastern Europe. Given the history of Russia’s interactions with this region, it is not at all surprising that these states’ political elites have devoted a great deal of effort to ensuring that their countries develop distinct political identities that are separate from Russia. Trenin’s second point is that the existence of this region is not a transitory phenomenon. Russian efforts to integrate the states that formerly constituted the Soviet Union are unlikely to succeed, in part because of opposition within these states but in part because of Russia’s unwillingness to subsidize these states in the way that the Soviet Union used to subsidize its satellites. At the same time, this region is unlikely to be incorporated into the European Union (EU) either, both because the EU is suffering from enlargement fatigue and because the states that make up the New Eastern Europe are not yet politically or economically ready for such incorporation.

Given this geopolitical reality, Russian foreign policy will have to address its relationship with this region. When Russians travel to this region, they do not feel like they are in a foreign state. This affects their country’s policies toward the region, including the use of terms such as the “near abroad” that attempt to portray the region as less foreign than the rest of the world. But because of this feeling of cultural similarity, Russian policy toward the region is governed by emotion rather than pragmatic considerations. This is the context through which Trenin views such potentially counterproductive policies as Russia’s reaction to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and its visceral opposition to NATO enlargement. At the same time, there have been gradual improvements in Russian attitudes, as shown in the country’s relative equanimity in advance of the 2010 Ukrainian presidential elections and its efforts to restore cooperation with NATO soon after the 2008 Georgian war. A shift from a foreign policy focused on status maintenance to one aimed at domestic modernization would further help Russia develop normal relations with the New Eastern Europe, which in turn would only enhance Russian security on its western borders.

The last two articles in this issue focus on Russia’s relations with China. In “Russia–China: Time for a Course Correction,” Evgenii Verlin and Vladislav Inozemtsev focus on examining alternative scenarios for the evolution of this relationship, with an emphasis on the potential threats posed to Russia by China’s growing economic and demographic power. They argue that given its economic and political development, China is already a new superpower, although it is not yet sure about its place in the international system. The authors see the likeliest configuration of future power centers as involving a big three of the United States, the European Union, and China, with other regional powers such as Russia and Brazil allied with one of these centers on relatively unequal terms. They believe that Russia should respond to China’s emergence as a superpower by focusing on establishing a balanced relationship with China. Russians must end their long history of looking down on the Chinese, as this attitude has long provoked Chinese hostility. Although such views may have been acceptable when the Soviet Union was clearly more powerful than China, they are no longer permissible in the current geopolitical environment. The authors are concerned that the Russian–Chinese relationship is currently built on situational factors that are unlikely to last. This presents a danger to Russia, which faces a choice between becoming “an industrial appendage of Europe for a time or a raw-materials appendage of China forever.”

Vasilii Mikheev focuses on the role the Russian–Chinese relationship plays in overall Russian foreign policy. In “Russia–China: ‘Reloading’ the Relationship,” he argues that using the Chinese card in Russian relations with the United States is a potentially dangerous course that is unlikely to yield many benefits for Russia. Whereas the previous article focuses on the dangers that China’s growth presents for Russia, this article focuses on the potential opportunities. Mikheev argues that Russia should seek to develop a closer military and political partnership with China, including interactions on areas of potential common concern such as political stability in Central Asia and nuclear security. A dialogue on security in the Asia–Pacific region and the situation in North Korea are also necessary. In focusing on the Russia–China–United States triangle, Mikheev hopes that Russia will be able to avoid focusing on one or another of these states. To this end, he advocates for a trilateral dialogue that enhances international security. The strategic goal for Russia is to ensure that its relationship with China is closer than China’s relationship with the United States.

Although these four articles by no means offer a complete assessment of Russian foreign policy, they do show some of the key issues Russia is facing as it begins its third decade of independent statehood. After an initial effort to try to fit into the West and a subsequent period of attempting to regain the international status held by the Soviet Union, Russia is at a point where it is beginning to come to terms with its status as a regional power that still maintains a significant amount of freedom of action in its own neighborhood but needs to develop alliances with other powers to influence events on a global stage. I imagine that this process will continue over the next decade as Russia gradually cements its place in the international system.