Russia in Eurasian and World Politics

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National Research University Higher School of Economics

Saint Petersburg Campus

Syllabus “Russia in Eurasian and World Politics”


Ivan Sablin, senior lecturer,


Through historical analysis of Russia’s engagement in regional and world politics during the modern and contemporary periods we will attempt to position it within the constantly changing global political space-time. The timeframe of the course spans from the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) to the Saint Petersburg Group of 20 Summit (2013). Major topics include, but are not limited to the formation of the Russian Empire, its development into a prominent regional and global actor, crisis and collapse; the emergence of a new transnational agenda and creation of the Soviet Union, its role in major events of the twentieth century, superpower status, and ultimate dissolution; Russian foreign relations and transnational entanglements in the post-Soviet period.

The main objective of the course is to develop overarching knowledge on the listed topics. In order to deepen the understanding of historical processes we will focus on several key regions and events which were crucial for the overall developments. These are the incorporation of North Asia; the conflict with Sweden and the Great Northern War; the attempts to form a European state; the southward expansion and the wars between the Russian and Ottoman empires; the victory over Napoleon and the formation of the Holy Alliance; the Great Game between the British and Russian empires in Central Asia and beyond; the Russian Far East and the Russo-Japanese rivalries; international factors in the 1905 and 1917 Russian revolutions; the Communist International and its global objectives; socialist agenda in the post-Second World War world: Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, Africa; the Soviet Union in the global scientific and cultural contest; the hot spots of the Cold War: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan; Perestroika and the rise of Atlanticism; nationalist clashes in the post-Soviet space; Russian pipeline diplomacy; leading developing countries in a multipolar world.

The course aims at overcoming Eurocentrism and includes Asian dimensions of both Russia and its foreign relations into analysis. It also avoids narrow state-based approach and discusses both conventional international relations and interactions of non-state actors, as well as affairs which may be perceived or deemed internal, but which are deeply connected to events and developments beyond national boundaries. Discussing Russia as an imperial and post-imperial space and as a larger political network rather than as a unified clearly defined actor allows grasping the ambiguity and dynamics of world politics, whereas case studies of particular events develop concrete historical competence.

I. Methodological Aspects


The course Russia in Eurasian and World Politics aims at getting the students acquainted with the innovative approaches to studying world politics and history; helping them to understand the main tendencies of world politics and international development; teaching the methods of global and comparative history in application to Russia; strengthening skills in political and historical analysis and teaching their application to oral discussions and academic writing; overcoming Eurocentric understanding of history and methodological nationalism; developing academic communication skills in English; fostering exchange between Russian and foreign students.


The main objectives of the course Russia in Eurasian and World Politics include: studying the key historical facts and developments between 1689 and 2013 which influenced the position of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation in the world; getting the students to know not only the European space of international relations, but also the Asian one; localizing Russia in global political space at different periods; overcoming language barrier in professional interactions; making the students ready to further studies of the world political aspects of Russia’s development.

Methodological Innovations of the Course

The course Russia in Eurasian and World Politics is developed within the framework of the innovative approach to studying the past while underlining its connections to the present – global and comparative history. Russia is analyzed as a network and a system of heterogeneous actors and as a space which is created by their interactions, but not as a homogenous subject of international relations. In Russian higher education such an approach is still being implemented, whereas in international humanities and social sciences it has become central. The course also introduces methods of spatial and network analysis which may be used by the students in their later professional activities. The course relies on the innovative potential of the Higher School of Economics in the sphere of remote learning and availability of multimedia sources, including the exchange of digital materials between the students and the teacher via the LMS system, analysis of photographs and videos, and usage of non-linear narratives with the help of Google Earth.

The Place of the Course in Forming Innovative Qualifications

During the course Russia in Eurasian and World Politics the student masters the following competences: the ability to synthesize, analyze and process information, to set goals and find the ways to achieve them; the ability to learn, acquire new knowledge, skills, including those spanning beyond the area of professional competence; the ability to apply professional knowledge and skills in practice; the ability to identify the scientific substance of problems in the professional field; problem-solving skills in professional activities on the basis of analysis and synthesis; the skill to work with information from different types and kinds of sources in English; the ability to written and oral communication in English; the ability to use the skills of working with information from various sources when accomplishing professional and social objectives; the ability to conduct scientific discussions in English; the ability to use new methods in the social sciences and humanities.

II. Plan


The course Russia in Eurasian and World Politics is taught within an interdisciplinary approach to the past and present using the methods and analytical tools from history, economics, political science, international relations theory, geography, sociology and other disciplines and fields of study. Global and comparative history, the interdisciplinary field which focuses on the humanity’s past in a global context and in connection to the present, forms the theoretical foundation of the course. Network and spatial theories of international relations and world politics are also used. The course distances itself from methodological nationalism (the way of portraying the state as a homogenous actor, the basic unit of analysis and its scope) and Eurocentrism (the understanding of European and North American development trends as universally present and applicable). Despite the implementation of the new approach in world’s and Russia’s leading universities, almost no special courses devoted to Russia embedded in a global context are being developed. Russia is usually studied from conservative perspectives and as a field of study remains excluded from the latest theoretical and methodological discussions. The vast majority of courses devoted to Russia are based on country-specific or area studies. The Higher School of Economics offers courses on the history of Russia’s foreign policy in the Russian language. There are also courses devoted to the contemporary international relations in Eurasia and the world. There are, however, no courses which would combine the advantages of the abovementioned theoretical and methodological approaches either in English or in Russian. Russia is addressed as a homogenous actor. Transboundary interactions, the heterogeneity of interests of organizations and individuals within Russia are barely studied. The course Russia in Eurasian and World Politics allows for tracing the changes in Russia’s situation on the world arena by means of integrated analysis of specific historical events in global and historical contexts. Such an approach will help the students both understand the general tendencies, “the global picture”, and acquire concrete knowledge in international relations and history.

Thematic Plan of the Course

Section Titles

Total Hours

Classroom Hours

Independent Work





Part 1. Introduction






Part 2. A European Model for the Eurasian Empire






Part 3. The Russian Empire between Global Leadership and Crisis






Part 4. The New Transnational Agenda and the Soviet Union as a Super Power






Part 5. Post-Soviet Russia in Eurasia and the World: Politics, Business, Science










III. Contents

Part 1. Introduction.

Lecture Contents: Theoretical approaches to world politics. Theoretical approaches to the history of Russia. Criticism of the Marxist historiography and civilizational approaches. Global and comparative history. Network analysis in international relations. The concept of relational spaces. Russia in Eurasia and the world.

Seminar Topics: Discussion of the main theoretical approaches and Russia’s geographical situation.

Mandatory Reading:

  • Wenzlhuemer, Roland. 2010. “Globalization, Communication and the Concept of Space in Global History.” Historical Social Research 35 (1): 19–47.

Supplementary Reading:

  • Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Conrad, Sebastian, and Dominic Sachsenmaier. 2007. “Introduction: Competing Visions of World Order: Global Moments and Movements, 1880s–1930s.” In Competing Visions of World Order: Global Moments and Movements, 1880s–1930s, edited by Sebastian Conrad and Dominic Sachsenmaier, 1–25. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Hall, Catherine, and Sonya O. Rose, ed. 2006. At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Harvey, David. 1993. “From Space to Place and Back Again: Reflections on the Condition of Postmodernity.” In Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change, edited by Jon Bird, Barry Curtis, Tim Putnam, George Robertson, and Lisa Tickner, 2–29. New York: Routledge.

  • Herren, Madeleine, Martin Rüesch, and Christiane Sibille. 2012. Transcultural History: Theories, Methods, Sources. Heidelberg: Springer.

  • Hobsbawm, E. J. 2000. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. 2nd ed.

  • Mazlish, Bruce. 1998. “Comparing Global History to World History.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 28 (3): 385–395.

  • Wenzlhuemer, Roland. 2012. Connecting the Nineteenth-Century World: The Telegraph and Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Wimmer, Andreas, and Nina Glick Schiller. 2002. “Methodological Nationalism and Beyond: Nation-state Building, Migration and the Social Sciences.” Global Networks 2 (4): 301–334.

Part 2. A European Model for the Eurasian Empire.

Lecture Contents: The inclusion of North Asia into economic and political spaces of the Russian state. Delineation of imperial zones in Europe and Asia. The Treaty of Nerchinsk with the Qing Empire. Conflict of interests in Northern and Eastern Europe with Sweden, Poland and Lithuania. The Great Northern War. European models in Russian state formation. Accession to the European cultural space. Conflict of interests in Southern Europe and Asia with the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Russo-Turkish and Russo-Persian wars.

Seminar Topics: Discussion of the integration of the peoples of North Asia into the Russian Empire. Discussion of symbolic aspects of the empire in the visual arts.

Mandatory Reading:

  • Forsyth, James. 1992. A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia’s North Asian Colony, 1581–1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Supplementary Reading:

  • Avery, Martha. 2003. The Tea Road: China and Russia Meet Across the Steppe. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press.

  • Burbank, Jane, Mark von Hagen, and Anatolyi Remnev, ed. 2007. Russian Empire Space, People, Power, 1700-1930. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

  • Lieven, Dominic, ed. 2006. The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 2: Imperial Russia, 1689–1917. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Lieven, Dominic. 2001. Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Sablin, Ivan, and Maria Savelyeva. 2011. “Mapping Indigenous Siberia: Spatial Changes and Ethnic Realities, 1900–2010.” Settler Colonial Studies 1 (1): 77–110.

Part 3. The Russian Empire between Global Leadership and Crisis.

Lecture Contents: The victory over Napoleon and the transformation of Russia into a leading European power. The Holy Alliance and the regime of global regulation. The Crimean War. The Great Game between Britain and Russia in Asia. Acquisition of the Russian Far East. Construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The conflict with Japan in the Far East. The conflict with Germany and Austria-Hungary in Europe. The global crisis of empires. Transboundary factors in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

Seminar Topics: Discussion of the geographic information system of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Discussion of political posters which reflect the imperial conflicts.

Mandatory Reading:

  • Marks, Steven G. 1991. Road to Power: The Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Colonization of Asian Russia, 1850-1917. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Supplementary Reading:

  • Ellis, Geoffrey. 2003. The Napoleonic Empire. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Figes, Orlando, and Boris Kolonitskii. 1999. Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Hobsbawm, E. J. 1996. The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848. New York: Vintage Books.

  • Hobsbawm, E. J. 1995. The Age of Capital, 1848-1875. London: Abacus.

  • Hobsbawm, E. J. 1989. The Age of Empire, 1875-1914. New York: Vintage Books.

  • Manning, Roberta Thompson. 1982. The Crisis of the Old Order in Russia: Gentry and Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Motyl, Alexander J. 2001. Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires. New York: Columbia University Press.

Part 4. The New Transnational Agenda and the Soviet Union as a Super Power.

Lecture Contents: The Communist International and the plan for global change. Renunciation of transnational interests and consolidation of the Soviet regime. Victory in World War II and the transformation into a superpower. Socialism in the postwar world: Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa. The Soviet Union in the global scientific and cultural competition. Hot spots of the Cold War: Korea, Vietnam , Afghanistan. The global crisis of socialism.

Seminar Topics: Discussion of mutual depictions of the USSR and the USA in propaganda art. Discussion of video materials.

Mandatory Reading:

  • Zubok, Vladislav M. 2007. A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Supplementary Reading:

  • Hobsbawm, E. J. 1995. The Age of Extremes, 1914-1991. London: Abacus.

  • Kenez, Peter. 2006. A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Neilson, Keith. 2006. Britain, Soviet Russia and the Collapse of the Versailles Order, 1919-1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Quigley, John B. 2007. Soviet Legal Innovation and the Law of the Western World. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Suny, Ronald Grigor, ed. 2006. The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 3: The Twentieth Century. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Part 5. Post-Soviet Russia in Eurasia and the World: Politics, Business, Science.

Lecture Contents: End of the Cold War. The concept of the end of history and the global spread of neoliberalism. Euro-Atlanticism as a new foreign policy ideology. Ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet Union. Russia and international terrorism. Russian raw material companies in world politics. Post-socialist and developing countries in a multipolar world.

Seminar Topics: Discussion of key foreign policy documents. Final discussion.

Mandatory Reading:

  • Bugajski, Janusz, ed. 2002. Toward an Understanding of Russia: New European Perspectives. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.

Supplementary Reading:

  • English, Robert D. 2000. Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Medvedev, Roy. 2000. Post-Soviet Russia: a Journey through the Yeltsin Era. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Milton-Edwards, Beverley. 2006. Islam and Violence in the Modern Era. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sample Test Questions and Essay Topics

1. The Treaty of Nerchinsk and the formation of imperial regimes in North Asia.

2. The Great Northern War and the choice of the European model of state-building.

3. Foreign artists, composers, architects, scientists and teachers in Russia.

4. Dynastic ties between Russia and Europe.

5. Russian and Ottoman Eurasian Empires.

6. Russia’s participation in the anti-French coalitions and the Patriotic War of 1812.

7. The Crimean War and the crisis of the Russian Empire.

8. The Russian and British Empires: commonalities and differences.

9. The performance of the Russian Empire in the East Asian arena of world politics.

10. The Trans-Siberian Railway: political, economic and social importance.

11. The Russian Empire and Japan at the beginning of the twentieth century.

12. The role of the First World War in the collapse of the Russian Empire.

13. The Communist International: from a world party to a Soviet government body.

14. USSR as a fighter for freedom and justice in socialist propaganda.

15. USSR as the Evil Empire in capitalist propaganda.

16. The space race.

17. The arms race.

18. The USSR and USA as nuclear powers.

18. Vietnam and Afghanistan as failures of the superpowers.

19. The policy of detention.

20. Neoliberalism in Russia.

21. Raw material factors in Russian foreign policy.

22. Russia as one of the centers in a multipolar world.

23. Russian emigrant communities.

24. Russia and the global migration trends.

25. Russia between nationalist and imperial models.

IV. Forms of Evaluation

Forms of Midterm and Final Evaluation

The students write two tests in which they have to demonstrate their knowledge of mandatory reading. The students write an essay on one of the suggested or related topics. The students have a final test in a form of an oral examination. During the final test the students have to answer two questions based on the lecture contents.

The Approximate Volume for Writing

The essay should have at least 3,000 characters. It is an independent research project on one of the topics of the course. Essay topics are discussed at the first seminar. The work must be sent to the teacher via e-mail to (preferred format is .pdf) or handed in during the class before the end of the module.

Test Execution Time

The two tests are intended for 10 minutes each.

Final Grade

The final grade includes the activity of the students at seminars. When evaluating the seminar work, the teacher pays attention to the participation in discussions and the quality of text analysis at the seminars. The grade for the seminar and other work is given according to a 10-point scale, with ten being the best and 0 being the worst score, before the final examination – Gclassroom.

The teacher evaluates the independent work of the students. The student has to show the knowledge of mandatory reading and knowledge of other sources during the seminars. The grade for independent work is given before the final examination – Gindependent.

The cumulative grade is based on the following formula:

Gcumulative = k1*Gmidterm + k2*Gclassroom + k3*Gindependent

where k1=0.3; k2=0.5; k3=0.2

where Gmidterm is the weighted total of the two tests and the essay

Gmidterm = n1·Gtest1 + n2·Gtest2 + n3·Оessay;

The arithmetical rounding is done to the advantage of the student.

The final grade for the class is based on the following formula:

Оfinal = k1* Оcumulative + k2Оexam

where k1=0,8; k2=0,2.

The arithmetical rounding is done to the advantage of the student.

During the exam the student can ask for an extra question for extra credit. The final grade goes to the graduation certificate.

ATTENTION: The grade for the exam is equal to the final grade when unsatisfactory.

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