Russian Theory of International Relations

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Russian Theory of International Relations

Andrei P. Tsygankov, Pavel A. Tsygankov

San Francisco State University, Moscow State University
In International Studies Encyclopedia, edited by Robert A. Denemark. Vol. X, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2010, pp. 6375-6387.

Russian society has changed dramatically since the Soviet disintegration, and the emergence of new theories of international relations heralded this change. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union and its officially sanctioned “Marxist” social science, Russian scholars have been making intellectual headway in adjusting to new realities. Analyzing the emerging Russian IR studies helps us answer some of the key questions about Russia. How does the new Russia see itself in the world? How does it perceive the new international environment? Which social and political institutions does it see as appropriate to develop after the end of the Cold War? These are the questions that are at the heart of the new Russian IR scholarship, and these are the questions that continue to drive Western scholarship about the new Russia.

The recent revival of the sociology of knowledge tradition in international studies has drawn scholarly attention to the fact that IR scholarship is grounded in certain social conditions and may reflect cultural premises. Historically the tradition is rooted in work by Karl Mannheim (1936) and Max Weber, among others. (For contemporary scholarship focusing on social foundations of knowledge, see Hoffmann 1977; Weaver 1998; Crawford and Jarvis 2001.)

In particular, it has become more common to view international relations as a branch of research that often reflects political, ideological, and epistemological biases of Western, particularly American, civilization (Hoffmann 1977; Crawford and Jarvis 2001). Recently scholars from across the globe have attempted to understand IR from the perspective of various peripheries – Asian (Callahan 2004a; Acharya and Buzan 2007), East European (Guzzini 2007), Latin American (Tickner 2003), and Russian (Tsygankov and Tsygankov 2007; Tsygankov 2008) – suggesting the emergence of a new subdiscipline of comparative IR theory (Callahan 2004b).

In addition, some well-known and still widely practiced classifications of IR theory in the West, such as realism, liberalism, and critical theory or constructivism (Viotti and Kauppi 1998; Weber 2005; Nau 2006), are shaped by theorists’ ideological preferences. As they each emphasize concepts of balance of power, international institutions, and human exploitation/emancipation in their research, these theories reflect broader ideological concerns about Self/Other relationships. Realists, for example, tend to perceive the rise of alternative communities or Other as threatening and recommend that Self prepare to defend its security. On the other hand, many Western liberals, while recognizing the increasingly globalized character of world politics, maintain an image of a progressive assertion of Self’s values and overlook the forces of identity and diversity associated with the Other. Some critical theorists too have a tendency to oversimplify the Self/Other relationships (Shani 2008).

In this essay we argue that Russian theory of international relations is nationally specific, yet it is also grounded in three main intellectual traditions of presenting Self, Other, and their relationships. We refer to these traditions as Westernism, Statism, and Civilizationism because they each emphasize categories of the West, the independent state, and the distinct civilization as their desired identifications of the Russian Self. Although the Russian intellectual traditions have recovered their strengths after the Soviet disintegration, they have their roots in the history of Russia’s relations with Europe and the nineteenth century debates about the “Russian idea.” We therefore adopt a broad definition of IR theory, viewing it as a systematically developed image of the world that is grounded in a local cultural history, rather than in evolution of the Western social science.

The essay is organized as follows. We first review the nature of Russian historical intellectual debates and the impact of the Soviet legacy on discussions of international relations in Russia. We then discuss some post-Soviet discussions within the field, focusing on theories of international system, regional order, and foreign policy. Although Russian IR cannot be fully reduced to these areas of research, they remain the most developed. (For other overviews of the Russian discipline of international studies, see Sergounin 2000; Bogaturov et al. 2002; Shakleyina 2002; Lebedeva 2003; 2004; Torkunov 2004; A. Tsygankov and P. Tsygankov 2004; 2006; Kokoshin and Bogaturov 2005.)

We conclude by reflecting on future directions of Russian international studies and the dialectic of global and local in development of IR theory.

Three Intellectual Traditions in Russia

Across different historical eras, Russia has developed three traditions or schools of thinking about Self and Other – Westernist, Statist, and Civilizationist. Throughout centuries, Westernizers, Statists, and Civilizationists sought to present Russia’s international choices in ways consistent with their historically established images of the country and the outside world. This section relies on discussions in Tsygankov (2006), Neumann (1996), Prizel (1998), Ringmar (2002), and Hopf (2002).

Westernizers saw the Russian idea as an essentially Western idea, and they placed the emphasis on Russia’s similarity with Western nations and viewed the West as the most viable and progressive civilization in the world. The early Westernizers sought to present Russia as a loyal member in the family of European monarchies. Alexander I, for instance, championed the so-called legitimist policies and established the “Holy Alliance” with Germany and Austria in order to suppress revolutionary activities on the continent. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Westernizers, such as Alexander II, identified with the West of constitutional freedoms and political equality. Westernizers within the Soviet system saw Russia as not standing too far apart from European social-democratic ideas. For instance, one of Gorbachev’s favorite lines of thinking was that the Soviet Union had to “purify” itself of Stalinist “distortions” and become a democratic, or “human,” version of socialism (gumannyi sotsializm). Finally, the post-Soviet liberal Westernizers argued the “natural” affinity of their country with the West based on such shared values as democracy, human rights, and a free market. Sharing the prejudices of many in the West, liberal Westernizers, like Andrei Kozyrev and Boris Yelstin, were fearful of the Other and warned against relations with former Soviet allies. They insisted that only by building Western liberal institutions and integrating with the coalition of what was frequently referred to as the community of “Western civilized nations” would Russia be able to respond to its threats and overcome its economic and political backwardness.

Statists have equated the Russian idea with that of a strong independent state and emphasized the state’s ability to govern and preserve the social and political order. They too showed their wariness of the Other and introduced the notion of external threat as central to Russia’s security. Depending on a situation, the threatening Other was presented as coming from either an eastern or western direction. Ever since the two-centuries-long conquest by Mongols, Russians has developed a psychological complex of insecurity and a readiness to sacrifice everything for independence and sovereignty. For instance, when justifying the need for rapid industrialization, the leader of the Soviet state Josef Stalin famously framed his argument in terms of responding to powerful external threats.

The history of the old Russia was the continual beating she suffered because of her backwardness. She was beaten by the Mongol khans. She was beaten by the Turkish beys. She was beaten by the Swedish feudal lords. She was beaten by the Polish and Lithuanian gentry. She was beaten by the English and French capitalists. She was beaten by the Japanese barons. All beat her – for her backwardness […] We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall be crushed” (Sakwa 1999:187–8).

The Statists are not inherently anti-Western; they merely seek for the West’s recognition by putting the emphasis on economic and military capabilities. The Statists of the monarchical era valued Russia’s autocratic structure of power, partly because such were the structures of European monarchies as well. The socialist Statists insisted on the importance of the Communist Party’s firm control over the society for the purpose of maintaining political order and averting external “capitalist” threats. In foreign policy, some Statists advocated relative accommodation with the West, while others favored balancing strategies. Maxim Litvinov, for instance, supported a “collective security” system in Europe in order to prevent the rise of Fascism. Nikita Khrushchev, too, wanted to break taboos of isolationism and to bring Soviet Russia closer to Europe. On the other hand, Stalin’s pact with Hitler, as well as Brezhnev’s “correlation of forces” strategy, reflected the will to balance perceived dangerous influences from the outside world. That dualism survived the Soviet era. For instance, both Primakov and Putin viewed Russia’s greatness and strength as key goals of their foreign policies, yet the former was trying to rebuild the former Soviet Union and contain the United States through a strategic alliance with China and India, whereas the latter emphasized bilateral relations in Russia’s periphery and had the ambition to develop partnership with America to deter terrorism.

Finally, Civilizationists conceptualized the Self/Other relationships in terms of cultural oppositions. This intellectual tradition positioned Russia and its values as principally different from those of the West. Viewing Russia as a civilization in its own right, many Civilizationists insisted on Russia’s “mission” in the world and spreading Russian values abroad (Duncan 2000). As a policy philosophy, Civilizationism dates back to Ivan the Terrible’s “gathering of Russian lands” after the Mongol Yoke and to the dictum “Moscow is the Third Rome” adopted under the same ruler. Some representatives of this school advocated a firm commitment to values of Orthodox Christianity, while others viewed Russia as a synthesis of various religions. In the nineteen century, Civilizationists defended the notion of Slavic unity, and their ideology of Pan-Slavism affected some of the Tsar’s foreign policy decisions. Born out of the agony of autocratic and liberal Europe, the Soviet Russia saw itself as superior to the “decadent” and “rotten” Western capitalist civilization. The early socialist Civilizationists challenged the West in a most direct fashion, defending at one point the doctrine of the world revolution. Other Soviet thinkers, however, advocated a peaceful coexistence and limited cooperation with the world of “capitalism.” Yet another version of Civilizationist thinking was the so-called Eurasianism that saw Russia as an organic unity distinctive from both European and Asian cultures. (On Eurasianism and its influence in the contemporary Russia, see Solovyev 2004; Bassin and Aksenov 2006; Shlapentokh 2007; Laruelle 2008.)
The Soviet Interlude

Soviet Marxism helped to legitimize Russia’s new socialist identity and provided intellectuals with new lenses through which to analyze the outside world. Both ontologically and epistemologically, Marxism presented an important challenge to Western social sciences and international relations. At least three key features deserve to be mentioned here. First, the new way of thinking about the world was socially critical or emancipatory. Marx’s dictum that philosophers must go beyond explaining the world and toward changing it radically drew attention to the relationships between theory and practice and therefore shattered the very foundations of status-quo-oriented positivist thinking. Second, Marxist historically structural approach meant to link world affairs to the existing phenomena of global exploitation and inequality and to reveal their origins and social roots. Finally, Marxist analysis was holistic and global, as it understood the world as globally united and globally divided at the same time. As opposed to the three familiar levels of analysis in mainstream international relations – individual, national, and systemic – Marxism viewed the struggle for human liberation and emancipation as universal and without boundaries.

The Soviet period in Russia’s development also suppressed the described debate among Westernizers, Statists, and Civilizationists. By legitimizing Russia’s new socialist identity, the Soviet regime also developed a self-serving vision of Marxism and legitimized the country’s relative isolation from Western intellectual developments. In addition to some of its progressive and liberating elements, the Soviet version of Marxism served as an ideologically pretentious way to preserve the state-favored status quo and as a tool for suppressing dissent. The official ideological hegemony of Soviet Marxism stiffened creative thought by imposing rigid cannons on scholars of international relations and encouraging dogmatic interpretations of world affairs. IR “scholarship” was all too often reduced to interpretations of official documents and speeches of the leaders to the Communist Party congresses. Soviet Marxism also allowed for only a minimal dialogue with non-Marxist scholars. Even Marxist and neo-Marxist developments outside the Soviet Union, such as the Frankfurt School in Germany, were not welcome. Cross-fertilization with the outside world was therefore negligible and confined to narrow circles of elite scholars with privileged access to information.

Still, the centuries-old intellectual debate on the Russian idea could not be eliminated partly because Soviet Marxism had never been entirely homogeneous – ever since the death of its founder Vladimir Lenin in 1924, at least two schools competed for the status of official ideology and “loyal” interpreter of Leninist intellectual legacy. Radicals advocated forceful methods of industrialization, whereas moderates argued for a more gradual process of development and proceeded from the late Lenin’s notion of “coexistence” with the Western “capitalist world.” This debate had been terminated by Stalin after his break with Lenin’s post-1921 philosophy of moderation in relations with the peasant class and the external world, and was only revived after Stalin’s death. The Soviet social science also began to slowly absorb ideas from the West, some of which were revisionist Marxist in nature, others liberal and anti-communist, and still others fiercely nationalistic. Although for decades the Russian idea debate was to develop within the officially sanctioned version of Marxism, it was alive with Westernizers advocating European social democratic ideas, Statists insisting on preservation of balance of power, and Civilizationists arguing Russia’s cultural distinctiveness.

The Soviet decline and Gorbachev’s perestroika further opened up the space for debate. Reflecting Gorbachev’s own evolution, official Marxism evolved along the lines of European Social Democracy (Herman 1996; English 2000). Opposition to it came from the neo-Orthodox thinking advocated by the newly emerged Communist Party of the Russian Federation and its leader Gennadi Zyuganov. Zyuganov’s (1999; 2002) “Marxism” is a merger of the old Stalinist ideas, traditional geopolitics, and Russian imperial nationalism. Aside from Gorbachev and Zyuganov, Marxist scholars also developed an interest in world-system approaches, often associated in the West with the name of Immanuel Wallerstein. Both Gorbachev’s New Thinking and world-system analysis (Ilyin 2004; Kagarlitsky 2005) have continued a long-standing tradition of Marxist “global thinking” and have roots in the domestic interests in the study of such global issues as the environment, population dynamics, and the arms race. A variety of new approaches have emerged outside of the Marxist worldview. Liberals pursue the ideas of globalization and democratic peace and are often political scientists by training (Davydov 2002; Trenin 2006; Kulagin 2007). Russian realism is emerging as a complex intellectual movement, in which historians, philosophers, sociologists, and economists develop their own schools and research agendas (Shakleyina and Bogaturov 2004; Konyshev 2007). Finally, Russia is beginning to respond to the Western “post-structural turn,” and philosophers and sociologists are increasingly taking a lead in exploring the cultural foundations of Russia’s development (Kapustin 1998; Neklessa 2000).
Russian New IR Theory

Heavily influenced by the West, Russian international thinking has developed consistently with the country’s historical experience. Consistently with their historically established images of the country and the world, the above-described intellectual traditions have each produced a new type of IR scholarship.


Russian liberal IR theory is much more heavily shaped by Western approaches than other Russian approaches. Although there are deep divisions and disagreements within Russian liberalism (P. Tsygankov and A. Tsygankov 2004), those who favor following American theories enjoy a position of considerable dominance. In international relations theory, this position of dominance means that the overwhelming majority of conceptual tools gets borrowed from Western, particularly American, colleagues (Lebedeva 2004:276; Konyshev 2007:20; Tsygankov and Tsygankov 2007). Thus, many Russian scholars treat the world’s institutional development as predominantly West-centered. One example of it is the conceptualization of the emerging world as “democratic unipolarity” (Kulagin 2002; 2008). The concept is Western in its origins because democracy is understood to be a West-centered universal phenomenon, rather than developing out of local cultural, historic, and political conditions. The supporters of the concept contend that “[Francis] Fukuyama and [Robert] Heilbronner were basically correct in arguing the ‘end of history’ thesis which implied the absence of a viable alternative to Western liberalism” (Shevtsova 2001). The argument implies that Russia too would do well to adopt standards of Western pluralistic democracy if it wants to be peaceful and “civilized,” even if this means granting the right to use force to the only superpower in the world, the United States (Kremenyuk 2004; 2006).

An example of conceptualizing a regional order by Russian liberal scholars is the notion of the end of Eurasia introduced by the co-director of the Moscow Carnegie Center Dmitri Trenin (2001) in one of his books. The concept is a liberal attempt to respond to Russia’s conservative geopolitical projects of integrating the region around Moscow’s vision, and it reflects the “no security without the West” thinking associated with politicians like Yegor Gaidar and Andrei Kozyrev, who held key government positions during the early stages of Russia’s postcommunist transformation. The concept assumes that the age of Russia as the center of gravity in the former Soviet region historically associated with the Tsardom of Muscovy, the empire, and the Soviet Union is over. Trenin maintains that, because of pervasive external influences, especially those from the Western world and the West-initiated globalization, the region of the Russia-centered Eurasia no longer exists. Russia therefore must choose in favor of its gradual geopolitical retreat from the region.

Liberal foreign policy concepts too are influenced by Western IR scholarship and reflect a preference for a pro-Western international orientation of Russia. To support this argument, we briefly discuss two foreign policy concepts, Atlanticism and liberal empire. Introduced by leading liberal figures Andrei Kozyrev and Anatoli Chubais during Russia’s respective decline and recovery, they illustrate the ideological connection we seek to highlight. Kozyrev’s Atlanticism (1992; 1995) assumed a radical reorientation of Russia’s foreign policy toward Europe and the United States, and it included radical economic reform, the so-called “shock therapy,” gaining a full-scale status in transatlantic economic and security institutions, such as the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and G7, and separating the new Russia from the former Soviet republics economically, politically, and culturally. The Atlanicist vision shaped the new foreign policy concept prepared in late 1992 and signed into law in April 1993. The concept of liberal empire articulated by the former Yeltsin’s privatization tsar Anatoli Chubais (2003) too had in mind Russia’s pro-Western integration but mostly by means of free commerce and enterprise. Not unlike the early prophets of globalization, such as Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman, Chubais argued for the inevitability of Russia’s successful economic expansion within the former Soviet region and outside due to its successfully completed market reform.

Realism, or Statism

Russian realists too borrow from Western, particularly American, IR many conceptual tools (Konyshev 2004; 2005), yet they are driven primarily by Russian concerns of preserving internal stability and security from outside threats.

In research on the international system’s structure and polarity, realists developed a variety of concepts differentiating between various types of unipolar, bipolar, and multipolar system (Shakleyina 2003) and security threats (Fenenko 2008). One example of it is Aleksei Bogaturov’s (1996; 1998; 2003) proposal to view the post–Cold War international system as “pluralistic unipolarity,” in which the unipolar center is a group of responsible states, rather than one state (the United States). Bogaturov saw Russia as a member of the group and argued for consolidation of its position within the global center, as well as for discouraging the formation of one state-unipolarity in the world. His approach to world order included, not unlike the British school tradition, the notions of norms and rules (Bogaturov 1999). It also complicated the Self/Other ideological opposition because Russia’s Self was expected to develop closer ties with the Other (West), while resisting the tendency of its members (the US) to become predominant in the system.

Realists have been also critical of the liberal notion of universal democratic ideas questioning the significance of internal characteristics in the international struggle for power and security. Many in Russia see attempts to globally promote Western-style democracy as little more than ideology covering a struggle for the world’s domination (Volodin 2006; Gadzhiyev 2008; Karaganov 2008). Rather than recommending development of this kind of democracy, realists propose that Russia concentrate on strengthening its international position by consolidating regional ties and pursuing even-handed relations with Western and non-Western nations.

With regard to the regional order, realists sought to defend the position of Russia’s independence and power. One example of it is the concept of the former Soviet region as a post-imperial space first introduced in a series of reports by the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (1992; 1993; 1996), the influential non-governmental organization that was launched and headed by Sergei Karaganov in the early 1990s. The notion of post-imperial space served the ideological objectives of those social groups – industrialists, businesspeople, intellectuals, and mass opinion leaders – that saw themselves as defenders of the region’s order and stability based on preservation of Russia’s influence. Just like the notion of pluralistic unipolarity, the post-imperial space was a hybrid of hard-line and moderate influences because it sought to revive social, economic, and political coherence of the former Soviet region, without reviving the empire. While a departure from Kozyrev’s isolationism, the notion of post-imperial space, as seen by its advocates, could not be likened to restoration of the empire or revival of aggressive imperial nationalism. For instance, the 1996 report by the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy referred to the idea of the Soviet restoration as a “reactionary utopia.” At the same time, the report argued that a reasonable alternative to post-Soviet integration was not available and that Russia should assume the role of a leader of such integration.

Defending Russia as a relatively independent power center, realists pursued the notion of multi-vector foreign policy. A former senior academic and the second foreign minister of Russia Yevgeni Primakov (1996; 1998) argued that, if Russia were to remain a sovereign state with capabilities to organize and secure the post-Soviet space and resist hegemonic ambitions anywhere in the world, there was no alternative to acting in all geopolitical directions. Primakov and his supporters (Gadzhiyev 2007) warned against Russia unequivocally siding with Europe or the United States at the expense of relationships with other key international participants, such as China, India, and the Islamic world. Such thinking was adequately reflected in official documents. The country’s National Security Concept of 1997 identified Russia as an “influential European and Asian power,” and it recommended that Russia maintain equal distancing in relations to the “global European and Asian economic and political actors” and presented a positive program for the integration of the CIS efforts in the security area (Shakleyina 2002:51–90). The government’s official Foreign Policy Concept of 2000 referred to the Russian Federation as “a great power […] [with a] responsibility for maintaining security in the world both on a global and on a regional level” and warned of a new threat of “a unipolar structure of the world under the economic and military domination of the United States” (Shakleyina 2002:110–11).

Civilizational Tradition

In addition to liberalism and realism, Russian IR scholars have developed a distinct perspective to understand cultural foundations of the country and its regional environment. The perspective combines culturally essentialist and constructivist theories. Whereas cultural essentialists have been inspired by visions of a self-sufficient and autarchic Eurasian or Orthodox empire, constructivist scholars place the emphasis on cultural syntheses and cross-civilizational dialogue. However, both schools proceed from the assumption of Russia’s civilizational distinctiveness that needs to be preserved and respected, rather than eliminated or suppressed.

Essentialists view the international system in terms of irreconcilable struggle of cultures, or a conflict of civilizations, not unlike the one described by Samuel Huntington (1996). Some, similarly to Huntington, identify multipolar civilizational struggle (Nartov 1999; Zyuganov 1999; 2002), while others see an essentially bipolar geocultural conflict. Alexander Dugin’s (2002) concept of a great war of continents is of the latter kind. The bipolarity Dugin perceives is the result of a struggle for values and power between the two competing rivals – the land-based Eurasianists and the sea-oriented Ahlanticists. The Eurasianist orientation is expressed most distinctly by Russia, Germany, Iran, and to a lesser extent, Japan, and the Ahlanticist posture is well expressed by the United States and Britain.

From the constructivist perspective, the fact that the world is culturally pluralist does not mean that cultures are doomed to a conflict. Instead, they should strive to establish a “unity in diversity” regime, under which Self and Other would be able to maintain an intense dialogue and cooperation by observing certain globally acknowledged rules, yet still following their own internally developed sets of norms. In order to sustain the culturally pluralist system, new ideas are necessary to challenge the dominance of US-centered economic and political globalization (Batalov 2005; Alekseyeva 2007; Voytolovski 2007). Some constructivists proposed the strengthening of the United Nations as a prototype for future world government, with the General Assembly as parliament, the Security Council as executive body, and the Secretary General as president of the world state.

For example, former Gorbachev advisor Georgi Shakhnazarov (2000) argued that such a structure was necessary in order to address urgent global problems, such as growing militarism, depletion of world resources, overpopulation, and environmental degradation, and to mitigate the selfish impulses of local civilizations. In his view, the Huntington-proposed restructuring of the Security Council in accordance with the civilizational representation would mean throwing away all the positive potential of the United Nations and returning to the times of isolation and the rule of crude force in world politics. Instead, and for the purpose of preserving and developing the central governing structure of the world, he proposed a piecemeal development of the United Nations by gradually incorporating in the Security Council those states that have acquired indisputable world influence, including Germany, Japan, and possibly even India, Brazil, and other states.

A similar divide between essentialists and constructivists concerns analysis of the regional order. Eurasianists, like Dugin, view such order as a Russia-centered empire free of any Atlanticist influences. Similarly, Russian religious nationalists have advanced the notion of a Russian Orthodox empire. For instance, the recent influential volume Russkaya doktrina (2007) set out a regional order capable of resisting the West and becoming self-sufficient. Projecting the United States’ retreat from the region between 2010 and 2015 nationalists call for “a full-fledged political, economic and – ideally – military union in the manner of a Warsaw Pact” with China, India, Iran, and other non-Western nations (Russkaya doktrina 2007:297, 313).

In their turn, more constructivist-oriented thinkers suggest concepts that transcend the known dichotomy of the region as either pro-Western or Eurasian. Unlike pro-Western liberals, who commonly see Russia as in need to “return” to Europe, some scholars have assumed that Russia already is in Europe/the West. For instance, Dmitri Trenin (2006), while granting Russia a right to pursue a distinct path, assumes that the country needs to “become” a part of Europe and the “new” West. Russia, he says, has been historically European, yet it often “fell out of” Europe (2006:63, 167) as a result of failed reform efforts. If this is the case, then what Russia really needs is to “return” to Europe, rather than preserve its identity and distinctiveness.

By their historical accounts, Russia has been part of the West longer than some other nations, including the United States. Therefore the challenge for Russia is not to be included in, but to develop a deeper awareness of itself as a legitimate member of Europe and of its special ties with the world. Put differently, Russia has to intellectually absorb the world/the West, rather than let itself be absorbed by it. An example of such thinking is Gleb Pavlovski’s (2004) concept of Euro-East, which conceptualizes the region as a part of Europe and distinct in its own right. The Euro-East shares with Europe values of market economy and growing middle class, yet being mainly preoccupied with economic and social modernization, the region is in a special need for maintaining political stability.

Foreign policy too is viewed by cultural essentialists and constructivists in a principally different light. Both Eurasianists and Russian Orthodox nationalists insist on the toughest possible policy response as the way toward restoring Russia’s geopolitical status of the Eurasian Heartland (Bassin and Aksenov 2006) and imperial self-sufficiency, as well as offering a new attractive idea for the world (Russkaya doktrina 2007:11; Kholmogorov 2006; Matveychev 2007). Constructivists see foreign policy differently. More socialist-oriented thinkers (Tolstykh 2003) argue for a cultural dialogue as a key humanistic principle that may set the world on the path of solving the above identified global problems of militarism, poverty, and environmental degradation. More conservative thinkers inspired by Orthodox Christian values (Panarin 2002) advocate a cross-religious synthesis of Western reason and Eastern myth. They see Russia as a natural place for such a synthesis and, therefore, as a model for the world.

Although Russian IR theory cannot be understood outside the country’s relationships with Western developments, it is also a product of Russia’s own intellectual history. Russian IR theory after the Soviet breakup is only new in the sense that it represents a new form of framing reality, yet behind new concepts, such as democratic unipolarity or multi-vector foreign policy, one can recognize the same old debate about the Russian idea that had been introduced by the Westernizers/Slavophiles polemics in the mid-nineteenth century. As our analysis of concepts of international system, regional order and foreign policy suggests, Russian distinct traditions of Westernism, Statism, and Civilizationism have lived on and actively shape public discussions of international relations. Not only in the United States, but also (and perhaps especially) in Russia a national intellectual diversity is alive and well, and it has not been evicted from social sciences by globalization and the rational spirit of modernity. It is in this context that one may understand future development of Russian IR theory. While borrowing from Western approaches and conceptual tools, Russian international thinking is unlikely to principally deviate from some already established and centuries-old patterns of thinking.

The Russian experience teaches us an important lesson about the progress of knowledge in social science and IR. It adds support to the view that development of global social science cannot and should not be a one-sided process, in which one (the West) teaches and others learn. It also implies that, to constitute a meaningful discourse of international relations, local intellectual impulses must meet global reception and engagement. The world is both global and culturally pluralist, and that alone assumes the reciprocity of learning. A promising way to achieve such reciprocal learning is through development of global research projects. Exposure to a demand to work together with scholars from different cultures would quickly, and positively, affect our disciplinary, methodological, and political biases, and provide a powerful impetus to think differently. Serious IR research must be reflective of various localities, and no one can provide a richer account of those localities than their own residents.

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Online Resources

International Trends: Journal of International Relations Theory and World Politics. At, accessed Aug. 2009. A leading international relations journal in Russia that is published three times a year and is available online. Full texts are available in Russian, and abstracts in English.

Russia in Global Affairs. At, accessed Aug. 2009. A prominent foreign policy journal modeled after Foreign Affairs. Publishes articles of policy makers and leading commentators. Fully available online in English and Russia.
Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. At, accessed Aug. 2009. A prominent non-governmental organization that monitors Russian foreign policy and influences the decision-making process. The site is in Russian and contains documents and publications.
Moscow Institute of International Relations. At, accessed Aug. 2009. The top institution in Russia specializing in international affairs. Includes departments of international economics, law, politics, journalism, and others. The site is in Russian.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. At, accessed Aug. 2009. A prominent liberal think tank in Washington with a branch in Moscow. Has many useful links and a separate site in Russian.
Foreign Ministry of Russia. At, accessed Aug. 2009. Official documents of foreign policy officials of Russia.
About the Authors

Andrei P. Tsygankov is Professor at the departments of Political Science and International Relations at San Francisco State University. His latest books are Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity (2006) and Anti-Russian Lobby and American Foreign Policy (2009).

Pavel A. Tsygankov is Professor and Chair at the Department of Sociology at Moscow State University. He is the author of the first international relations textbook in Russia and has written many books and articles on various issues of IR theory and world politics.

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