Magazine article World Affairs

Signs of a Democratized Foreign Policy? Russian Politics, Public Opinion, and the Bosnia Crisis

Magazine article World Affairs

Signs of a Democratized Foreign Policy? Russian Politics, Public Opinion, and the Bosnia Crisis

Article excerpt

The Bosnian war was the first foreign policy challenge for the new Russian state. During the period from 1992 to 1995, as the world community watched and listened with horror to tales of atrocities and wanton destruction in the former Yugoslavian republic, Russia's leaders struggled to establish their country's policy toward the war. Although other countries were also involved in trying to end the war, Russian politicians confronted issues that directly affected their country in ways that the other countries did not because the problems of extreme nationalism and ethnic minorities, which were the issues in Bosnia, also beset multiethnic Russia. President Boris Yeltsin had to find a way to reconcile the international and domestic constituencies surrounding these questions while remaining true to the promise of the new democratic institutions of the post-Soviet Union Russian state.

Analysts of events in Russia commonly remark on the changes that the end of the Soviet Union has brought to the country. Most tell us that the changes have not all been for the better, for this "democratic transition," with its multicandidate elections and open parliamentary debates, has been accompanied by an increase in the crime rate, an increase in the unemployment rate, major disruptions in the economy, and a host of other social ills.

Frequently lost in discussions of Russia's transition to democracy is any analysis of the foreign policymaking process of the Russian Federation. Is it, too, becoming "democratized"? In short, what has changed, and what has not?

This article focuses on the effects that democratization has had on Russia's policy toward the Bosnian war and on the foreign policymaking apparatus itself. It is not a day-to-day account of events. First, I present the broad outlines of Russia's Bosnia policy during the period from 1992 to 1995. Second. I discuss how the politics of Russia's democratic transition influenced the institutions and the process of foreign policymaking in the country. Finally, I offer some predictions about the future of an increasingly democratized Russian foreign policy.


Bosnia was a sensitive issue for the government in Moscow for reasons that overlapped and influenced each other. Russia's Bosnia policy was the intersection in which questions of the fights of ethnic minorities, extreme nationalism, and of Russia's role in the international community collided. Nationalism and international objectives were the major themes that the new policy process had to address and, when they conflicted, had to reconcile. In this section. I examine the positions and actions that the Yeltsin government took concerning Bosnia and the effects that those decisions had on Russia's domestic politics and Russia's relations with other countries and international organizations.

The Effects of Russian Nationalism

Like the governments in Bosnia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia, the Russian government was facing separatist demands from many of the non-Russian nationalities that lived in the Russian Federation. The Chechen war that began in 1994 was only the most visible dispute. The Crimean Tatars. the Volga Tatars. Bashkirs, Yakuts, and many others all have grievances with Russia's government. The Russians themselves also face discrimination in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, former Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs) of the old Soviet Union. The nationality problem influenced the Russian government's policy in Bosnia in many ways, since even a simple slip during a press conference could inflame tensions at home and in Bosnia. Obviously, the situations in Bosnia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia, on one hand, and the Russian Federation, on the other, were not completely analogous. Still the government had to be aware of the ways in which its domestic and foreign policies were linked.

In addition to these ethnic particularist problems, Russian nationalist sentiments played a part in the calculations of the Yeltsin government. …

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