Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Domestic Power Relations and Russia's Foreign Policy

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Domestic Power Relations and Russia's Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

The link between domestic politics and how foreign policy aims are prioritized and put into operation is crucial, but it is perhaps the most difficult factor in the equation to analyze.1

The current Russian regime has been in place for nearly fifteen years, having survived occasional challenges at the ballot box, in the streets, and even a temporary succession in the presidential seat. President Vladimir Putin has secured his domination over the political scene by enforcing a "power vertical," curtailing the autonomy of state institutions, and imposing the "virtualization" of public politics. This concentration of domestic power was initially acclaimed as leading to a centralization of foreign policy-making, which replaced the turmoil characteristic of Boris Yeltsin's period in power. Initially, it was Putin who effectively shaped Russia's international behavior.2

Putin's dominance has not, however, removed pluralism and competition from Russian politics. Following Putin's first term, a process of contestation governed by informal rules re-emerged in the factional arena, which has prevailed over public politics.3 Constant bargaining among domestic actors over political influence, economic assets, and control over the means of violence has become a durable feature of the Putin era. Although these power struggles have not jeopardized either the system as a whole, or the position of Putin as the leader, they have limited the scope of Putin's authority and the coherence of state policies.4

There has been little consensus among scholars regarding the extent to which domestic politics have influenced Russia's foreign policy. Some see Moscow's international behavior as isolated from the intensity of domestic political struggles. Others view foreign policy in utter disarray because of the nature of the political system in which it has been embedded. Interpretations located in-between these two positions have attributed a certain degree of influence to interest groups, bureaucratic structures and informal coalitions, such as the siloviki (a Russian term for politicians from the security and military services), but in general the key role of the Kremlin and the autonomy of Putin in foreign affairs have been acknowledged.

This article proposes to reconstruct the evolution of Russian politics by focusing on domestic power relations: shifting coalitions, changes in Putin's entourage, and struggles for political influence and economic assets. Russia's advance toward a non-democratic political system has marginalized the role of both general elections and autonomous institutions. Domestic power relations have emerged as the most intrinsic feature of internal arrangements. Such an approach allows for tracing the role of domestic politics in Russia's foreign policy in a systematic way.

This article argues - by analyzing how domestic politics influenced Russia's policy towards Asia - that the evolution of domestic power relations has influenced changing patterns of Russia's international behavior. The growth of Putin's winning coalition has broadened the scope of Russia's international preferences. The domestic balance of power and power struggles within Putin's regime have shaped the implementation process, as a result of which the outcomes have significantly differed from the Kremlin's objectives. This approach enables us to relate political dynamics under the surface of Putin's leadership to the formation, content, and evolution of Russia's foreign policy.

In order to explain the role of domestic power relations in Russia's foreign policy, it is important to place this factor against the backdrop of developments taking place in the international system. The role of American primacy and the unipolar balance of power should not be disregarded. Russia's foreign policy is situated within this context. External power shifts force Russia to respond and to adjust. Russian policy is in many instances a direct and explicit response to the particular policy moves of other actors, the U. …

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