The Russian Perception of the Post-Cold War Era and Relations with the West

Bush Yeltsin Toast

The Russian Perception of the Post-Cold War Era and Relations with the West

Dmitry Suslov
National Research University - Higher School of Economics

The following lecture was delivered by Dmitry Suslov (HSE) as part of the inaugural Consortium Module, hosted by the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

The usual Western perception of Russia is based on the paradigm of the “end of history” and universality of the Western values and development model. It presumes that after the end of the Cold War Russia should have followed the Central and Eastern European countries in their democratic transition – transform its political system and process according to Western standards, develop a Western-oriented foreign policy, approximate its threats and interests perception with those of the West, - and finally join the West (at least politically, and not necessarily institutionally, for membership in the leading Western institutions was not a viable alternative for Russia from the very beginning).

Thus, from this paradigm a black-and-white approach is used, which states that Russia was developing strategically in a right direction under Yeltsin (although with many drawbacks and troubles, but right in general) and then made a U-tern under Putin to come back to its traditional domestic authoritarianism and foreign policy imperialism. Moreover, it emphasizes a link between the share of Russia’s democratization and a share of its pro-Western foreign policy orientation, and states that the more authoritarian was Russian domestic regime under Putin the more imperial and anti-Western was getting its foreign policy.

The same paradigm tells that in the long-term perspective this U-tern is unsustainable, because it is a deviation from the universally right course of development, and thus it pushes towards a constant search of proves of this unsustainability (poor economic indicators or poor foreign policy achievements) and indications of inevitable change (new Medvedev’s initiatives, looking for quarrels between him and prime minister Putin, etc.).

In fact, this paradigm is profoundly wrong, and proved to be wrong already in the beginning of 90-s, when Russia started opposing NATO enlargement and showed very explicitly, that its political system will not follow the Western models (for instance, when the independent Parliament was shot down by tanks by “democratic” Yeltsin in 1993, the war in Chechnya started in 1994, and when the 1996 presidential elections were openly flawed).

It is wrong, because from the very beginning the Russian perception of itself, of the world and of the post-Cold War period, its perception of how should have the world develop, and its assessment of how they did develop in reality, differed fundamentally.

And since the task of this Consortium for this year is to analyze and unpack the narratives of how we got to the current crisis of Russia-Western relations, I will focus today on the Russian perception of the Post-Cold war period if its relations with the West, how did this perception differ from the Western ones, and how did this difference result to the current deterioration.

I will proceed in the following way:

  • Different perceptions of the end of the Cold War
  • Different perceptions of what kind of state should Russia become after the end of the Cold war and rejection of communist
  • Different perceptions of Russia as a great power and of what is required for Russia to remain such
  • Different perceptions of the international order – both in terms of power distribution, and in terms of rules and norms.
  • Different perceptions of the Post-Soviet space.
  • Different perceptions of European security order.
  • Different perceptions of decision-making on the issues of state sovereignty and use of force.
  • Different perceptions of relations in security sphere and defense.

On the bases of these, I will make a conclusion about the Russian resultative perception of the US developed throughout the Post-Cold war period, and the lessons that Russia learned from this period – the lessons that are vital for explanation and understanding of its FP now.

And I will conclude with the Russian perception of the EU and relations with the EU...

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