The Sources of Russian Foreign Policy after the Cold War

By Celeste A. Wallander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Ideas, Interests, and Institutions in Russian Foreign Policy

Celeste A. Wallander

Although the authors contributing to this volume view their subjects from different theoretical perspectives, they arrive at a striking common focus in their attempts to explain Russian foreign policy: the relationship between a weak and unstable domestic institutional context, ideas as a source of legitimacy in competition for political power, and the weight of the international environment in activating interests and influencing policy choice. This common focus suggests that the linkages between ideas, institutions, and interests, and the linkages between domestic political power and the international environment, are important themes to explore further in this chapter as well as in future research.

For all of the authors, the partially changed and democratizing character of Russian domestic political institutions is crucial for understanding Russian foreign policy interests and the policymaking processes. As the chapter authors demonstrate, however, it is more accurate to characterize this as the removal of centralized, closed political processes and institutions than the creation of new democratic institutions and processes.

Yet although this points to the impact of a vacuum in democratic institutions, the evidence also suggests that Russian foreign policy does not begin from an entirely clean slate. Significant political institutions exist, usually in the form of holdovers or reincarnations of Soviet institutions. In a context where new processes and legally based lines of authority are weak or absent, old institutions with established resources--finances, infrastructure, or even information--can have disproportionate impact. For example, as Zisk explains, the managers of Soviet defense industries were able because of their position, knowledge, and access to firm resources to become "owners" of the capital of their enterprises, either by literally acquiring the enterprises through legal or other means or by being so crucial to the successful operation of these enterprises that they could not be removed and thus were able to enjoy the financial benefits of "ownership."

So even though there has rarely been such a complete change of political institutions as in the transition from the Soviet Union to Russia, there is more continuity in Russian institutions than meets the eye--for two reasons. First, nearly all the institutions of the Soviet state existed for some time after 1991. Most have

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