"Great Projects" Politics in Russia: History's Hardly Victorious End

Article excerpt

Abstract: The article addresses the problem of political identity in contemporary Russia by engaging with and extending the temporal scope of the constructivist analysis conducted by constructivist Ted Hopf. It suggests that the "great projects" politics of contemporary Russia, which are linked to the specificity of the country's political identity and seem to be similar to that of the late-Soviet period, can in fact be better understood when Hopf's approach is complemented by the post-structuralist analysis of Sergei Prozorov. The former, while providing a valuable theoretical framework and linking the state's identity to its status as a great power, cannot account for the digression that is revealed in the discourse analysis of contemporary "great projects" politics. The latter, while being able to interpret these oddities, is limited within the domestic realm and fails to address the idea of great power, which Hopf believes to be an integral part of Russian political discourse and which is possible to interpret, only if the analysis extends beyond national borders. The article incorporates Prozorov's theoretical contribution into the framework of Hopf, thus merging the two approaches and making them applicable to the contemporary Russian condition, both domestically and within the field of international relations.

Keywords: end of history, great power, political identity, Russia's revival, social constructivism

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Today, an international relations scholar encounters the claim that "Russia is back to the world stage" (1) with increasing frequency. Indeed, the vision of Russia as a resurgent power is, no doubt, present in political discourse, "[i]rrespective of whether one refers to the recovery of Russia's economy or its assertive foreign policy, the success of its sporting teams or the wealth of its oligarchy ..." (2) On the international level, this vision is reflected in a number of works that address the problem of Russia's revival. When in 2008 Edward Lucas published his New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces both Russia and the West, the book enjoyed unprecedentedly wide popularity and received a considerable number of positive reviews. (3) In Lucas's view, Russia is reinventing herself as a milder version of the Soviet Union, and hence should be seen as a serious threat to the West.

Such a comparison could also be found earlier in the Steven Rosefielde's Russia in the 21st Century: The Prodigal Superpower. The author emphasizes the similarity between contemporary Russian policies and those of the USSR, thus virtually equating the two and prophesying the comeback of history unless the Russian Federation manages to alter its path by taking the route of genuine Westernization. (4)

Moreover, during the last couple of years, some IR scholars yet again began using the term "empire" to refer to the contemporary Russian state. (5) This once almost forgotten practice explicitly shows the concern that renowned scholars and policymakers have regarding Russia's current status in the international arena and the prospects of its political development.

The domestic dimension of the above-mentioned revival is not only characterized by the seeming stability of Putin's presidency (and his premiership), but is also reflected in the realization of various "great projects" that are either closely intertwined with the commemoration of Russia's glorious history or aimed at modernization and economic growth. Excessive glorification of the victory in the Great Patriotic War, construction of huge cathedrals, (6) canonization of state's former rulers, (7) accomplishment of expensive modernizing projects in business (8) and social spheres, (9) restoration of Soviet symbols and rehabilitation of Joseph Stalin--all of these policies, indeed, look similar (at least in scope) to the forceful urbanization and ideological propaganda of the Soviet empire. Yet, if the ideological undertone of the Soviet "great projects" was rather explicit, the current ones seem to be anything but ideologically coherent. …