The Sources of Russian Foreign Policy after the Cold War

By Celeste A. Wallander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Russian Nationalism and the National Interest in Russian Foreign Policy

Astrid S. Tuminez

Promising a new era of nearly unbridled Russian imperial expansionism, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his Liberal Democratic Party captured approximately one-quarter of party votes to the Russian Duma, or lower legislative chamber, in the December 1993 elections. This victory heralded a new and triumphant phase in the rise of nationalism as a driving force in post-Soviet Russian politics. It also lent credence to what observers had earlier underlined as a looming danger in Russia: the rise of malevolent nationalist ideology and the attendant renewal of authoritarianism at home and aggression abroad.1

Zhirinovsky's victory and the ensuing attempt of Russian politicians of all colors to grab the nationalist/patriotic mantle raise several questions: What exactly is the content of Russian nationalism, and is such nationalism universally malevolent? Who are the key proponents of nationalist ideology, and what are their goals? Under what conditions is Russian nationalism likely to be empowered and, therefore, have an impact on the definition of Russia's national interest and, implicitly, on Russian foreign policy?

Many scholars who write on Russian nationalism, both before and after Zhirinovsky's debut on Russia's political stage, argue that nationalism is intrinsically dangerous. It embodies exclusivist and chauvinist ideas and, therefore, promotes a discriminatory and aggressive definition of the state's national interest.2 However, although nationalism may often be negative, it need not be exclusively harmful. In fact, nationalism can aid consolidation of reform, economic development, and the pursuit of collective welfare. As one author argues, nationalism is "an inevitable concomitant of social life and of many generous human impulses."3 In this chapter, I highlight the variable quality of Russian nationalism: It varies in content, degree of empowerment, and impact on the national interest in Russian foreign policy. I describe below four strands of Russian nationalism that range from the most benign to the most malevolent. These are liberal nativism, Westernizing democracy, statist nationalism, and national patriotism.

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