The Sources of Russian Foreign Policy after the Cold War

By Celeste A. Wallander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Russian Foreign Policy and the Politics of National Identity

James Richter

In March 1992, Sergei Stankevich, then an adviser to Russian president Boris Yeltsin, wrote that "foreign policy with us does not proceed from the directions and priorities of a developed statehood. On the contrary, the practice of our foreign policy . . . will help Russia become Russia."1 This remark raises two central issues in the study of comparative foreign policy. First, Stankevich suggests that Russia's interests are not fixed by its geopolitical position but instead emerge as decisionmakers evaluate that position in relation to a "developed statehood," which I interpret to mean a set of stable state institutions and the myths of identity that sustain them. Second, his statement that "the practice of our foreign policy . . . will help Russia become Russia" raises the agent-structure problem as defined by constructivist approaches to international relations. According to the constructivists, the state and the international system should not be treated as analytically distinct but as mutually constitutive.2 Russian leaders define "the directions and priorities" of Russia's foreign policy in light of expectations based on Russia's previous interactions with the international environment, expectations that are institutionalized in decisionmaking procedures as part of Russia's "developed statehood."

The Russian foreign policy debate since Stankevich wrote these words provides an excellent opportunity to examine both these issues in an empirical case study. In March 1992, the Russian state had no established identity. Many of the institutions of the old order had disintegrated or had been left stranded by the collapse of communism. As a new state with new borders and new neighbors, Russia had no authoritative history of foreign relations upon which to define its international role. These conditions enabled politicians and intellectuals to articulate enormously varied prescriptions for the "directions and priorities" of Russia's foreign policy, ranging from calls to integrate Russia into an international community of Western-style democracies to exhortations to resurrect the Russian empire. Within two years, however, "Russia had become Russia" to the point where most elites agreed that their country should preserve its great-power status in the

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