Russia's foreign policy surge: Causes and implications

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This paper proposes a domestic electoral explanation for Russia's foreign policy surge during Vladimir Putin's second term. It argues that neither the rising power of Russia nor the incessant Western encroachment on Russia's core interests (international-level explanations) can fully account for the abrupt surge that shocked observers around the world. Instead, it points out the significance of Putin's succession and the domestic need to appeal to anti-Western sentiment during an election campaign in Russia's switch to a more assertive foreign policy. The international-level explanations provide insufficient reason for the abruptness and timing of the surge. A comparison is also made with China, a similarly situated continental power, to demonstrate that if international factors had been sufficient to provoke such a surge, Beijing would have taken a much more assertive attitude toward the West than Moscow. The fact that this has not happened points to a major difference between Russia and China: the lack of electoral competition and hence the need to whip up anti-Western sentiment in China. There has been no moderation in Russia's foreign policy after the 2007 and 2008 elections, despite the windows of opportunity opened up by the electoral cycle. This is attributed to the inherent tension in a diarchy, the ratchet effect, and the unfavorable international environment. It is asserted that if the current window of opportunity is shut, and as time goes by Russian politicians get geared up once again for electoral competition, the chances of a rapprochement between Russia and the West will grow even dimmer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-162
Number of pages46
JournalIssues and Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • Dmitrii medvedev
  • Domestic/foreign linkage
  • Foreign policy
  • Russia
  • Vladimir putin


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