Russia’s Contested National Identity
and Foreign Policy
ANDREW C. KUCHINS AND IGOR ZEVELEV
Russia’s tumultuous history sets a very unique background for the study of internal debates over the newly independent Russia’s foreign policy orientation by comparison with the other cases in this book. Russia’s history as a political entity stretches back for more than a thousand years, but unlike China, India, Iran, and Japan, Russia today is in a more circumscribed geographical position than at any time since the seventeenth century. The Russian case is unusual because even though it is emerging as a Great Power, its status, unlike the other countries, is largely diminished from what it was as the superpower Soviet Union of the second half of the twentieth century.
Like Russia, China, India, and Iran all share imperial histories of greatness, but it has been at least two centuries since any of them would have been described as a “Great Power.” Russia’s status in the international system, and the international system itself, has experienced particularly wide swings over the past forty years. In the 1970s the system was bipolar, and the Soviet Union was viewed as a rising power. The system remained bipolar in the 1980s, yet Moscow’s view of itself and the view of others (notably China and the United States) shifted quickly, and Russia became seen as a struggling and declining power. With the Soviet collapse at the end of 1991, the system was transformed from one of bipolarity to unipolarity, and Moscow’s status transformed overnight from superpower to recipient of humanitarian assistance. Over the past decade, however, the