Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Assessing Foreign Policy Commitment through Migration Policy in Russia

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Assessing Foreign Policy Commitment through Migration Policy in Russia

Article excerpt

Abstract: Russia's foreign policy is often seen as reactionary and provocative. This article argues that, despite strong rhetorical framing of foreign policy postures by the Russian government, the level of commitment to implementing these outward stances varies. Looking at the hierarchy of legal mechanisms used in Russia, this article develops a novel measure of policy commitment. It then utilizes this measurement to assess how immigration legislation shifts to match foreign policy postures in Russia's relationships with Turkey, the U.S., and Ukraine. The analysis shows that migration-related sanctions against Turkey in 2015 were largely symbolic, whereas similar sanctions against the West are much more deeply embedded in legislation and implementation. The 2014 flows of refugees from Ukraine were similarly met with comprehensive reforms to the legal framework at many levels.


Common depictions of Russia's foreign policy evoke images of provocative actions in Crimea and Syria, heavy handed joint venture maneuvers, European gas shut offs, embargoes, travel bans, and quasi-imperial interests exercised over states of the former Soviet Union. (1) Sitting around television sets across the Western world, casual and expert watchers of international politics alike repeatedly ask themselves, "What is Russia thinking?" This is in fact a question Karen Dawisha has pursued throughout her career. From her early studies of Soviet foreign policy decision-making, (2) to analyses of Russia's commitment to democracy, (3) to recent elaborations of the kleptocratic underpinnings of the Putin regime, (4) Dawisha has contributed to our understanding of how Russian decision-makers think and what motivates them. She has shown that across time and in response to numerous scenarios, decision-making in Russia is complex and varied, taking into consideration a number of factions and interests (though, in the end, some interests tend to win out more resolutely than others). (5)

Despite a massive propaganda machine that minimizes the appearance of competing interests and justifies decision-making at home and abroad, Russia's deep and long-term commitment to its foreign policy stances varies markedly. To pursue this line of reasoning, this article reframes the question, "What is Russia thinking?" as "Do they really mean it?" by assessing domestic commitment to major foreign policy episodes. In particular, I construct a novel measure of commitment that analyzes a hierarchy of legal mechanisms to assess the government's willingness to embed foreign policy postures into domestic law and policy. I then test this measure by examining whether, how, and to what extent Russia's immigration policy changes in response to major international episodes.

Russia has the third largest number of migrants of any country, behind only the United States and Germany. This is due, in large part, to the high numbers of permanent settlers from other countries of the former Soviet Union. Discussions of migration as a foreign policy issue in Russia typically focus on these permanent immigrants and new potential immigrants in the Russian diaspora. (6) For example, the practice of "passportization" --encouraging citizens of other post-Soviet countries to apply for Russian passports, in order to frame intervention in other countries as the protection of Russian citizens--has received significant attention. (7) This analysis offers a broader look at how immigration policy can be used to further foreign policy prerogatives by regulating the entry and stay of foreign citizens.

The entry of millions of temporary migrants and visitors each year offers Russia a great deal of flexibility in terms of foreign policy maneuvering. Migration policy is a way that the Russian government can put pressure on everyday relations with other countries, reflecting evidence that good bilateral relations are often observed through more open borders for tourist and business travel as well as labor migration. …

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