This book focuses on the Western difficulties in interpreting Russia. It begins with by reflecting on some of the problems that are set in the foundations of Russia's post-Cold War relationship with the West. The book points to problems that emerge from linguistic and historical 'interpretation'. It looks at the impact of Russia's decline as a political priority for the West since the end of the Cold War and the practical impact this has had. It then reflects on the rising influence, especially, but not only, in public policy and media circles, of 'transitionology' as the main lens through which developments in Russia were interpreted. The book then examines the evolution of the West's relationship with Russia since the end of the Cold War, focusing particularly on the NATO-Russia relationship. It focuses on the chronological development of relations and the emergence of strategic dissonance from 2003. The book also looks at Russian domestic politics, particularly the Western belief in and search for a particular kind of change in Russia, a transition to democracy. It continues the exploration of domestic politics, but turns to address the theme of 'Putinology', the focus on Putin as the central figure in Russian politics.
The state of surprise
This chapter explores the reasons for the state of surprise, sketching them out from the starting point of the significant impact of the collapse of the USSR on Western understandings of Russia. It also explores the practical ramifications for the decline of Russia as a political priority on the wider political stage. The chapter outlines some of the problems of the current mainstream discussion of Russia, which is drowning in a discourse of speculation and rumour, 'Putinology' and historical analogies. Despite the dominance of transitological/regime question approach and the perceived eccentricity of Kremlinology, for many it has remained a truism of Russian political life that the final decisions are made behind the closed doors of the Kremlin. In fact, the collapse of the USSR has had serious ramifications for the study of Russia in the West, resulting in a major reassessment of Soviet studies, often bitter and acrimonious.
Deciphering power in Russia
This chapter first sketches out an overview of the various understandings of the Russian political landscape, framing the considerable long-term continuity in post-Cold War Russian politics. Since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, 'Putinology' has dominated the mainstream Western discussion about Russia. The 'Solar system' or 'Planets' model depicts relationships as they relate to Putin, who is the 'sun' at the core of the system. 'Putinology' is thus entrenching an analytical context in which various assumptions are made about how 'Putin's Russia' and how it approaches its international actions. The chapter then turns to assess the vertical of power, framing it as a cascade from the core leadership team at the top, to 'federal locomotives', to those tasked with management. Finally, it looks at some of those who appear to be emerging figures, as managers and as players in the 'reset'.
Reinterpreting Russia in the twenty-first century
The war in Ukraine has served to refocus Western political attention on Russia through the lens of the potential threat it poses to the West. It is the serious multi-disciplinary study of Russia that builds an empathetic understanding of Russian history, society and politics, and includes accurate linguistic and conceptual interpretation. The optimism of the 'end of history' era and the possibility of Russia's progress towards Western-style democracy and partnership with the West has proven remarkably resilient, if increasingly reflexive and automatic. The frequent references to the Cold War serves to distort understanding of Russia, the references to mid-twentieth-century Nazi Germany, so evident in the wake of the war in Ukraine, even more. Some have suggested that the war in Syria may offer grounds for some form of cooperation between the West and Russia in their opposition to Islamic State.
‘We’ve moved on’
This chapter focuses on some of the problems that are set in the foundations of Russia's post-Cold War relationship with the West. It then points to problems that emerge from linguistic and historical 'interpretation'. In the West, the Russian middle class is understood to be a driver of political change, part of an evolving entrepreneurial private sector and civil society increasingly free and independent from the state. Swedish analysts have suggested that the Ukraine crisis has revealed that the West and Russia are 'speaking different dialects' on security. The chapter presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book takes the form of an essay about Russia and how it is understood in the West. It examines the evolution of the West's relationship with Russia since the end of the Cold War, focusing particularly on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-Russia relationship.
This chapter attempts to see if there is more to wring out of 2014 elections and protests in terms of understanding Russian politics. It explores the results of the December elections, contextualising the decline of United Russia (UR). The chapter turns to reflect on the protest demonstrations, compares them to previous protests, then explores their size, make-up and sustainability, and also turns to the presidential elections and Vladimir Putin's victory. The liberal opposition has been completely marginalised, the political opposition that remains is left-leaning and protest is mostly social rather than political. The chapter looks at the political 'reset' that the leadership has attempted to implement. The mainstream orthodoxy was an automatic response to the stimulus of seeing protests as precipitating democratic upheaval and the end of Putin, a reflexive return to 'transitionology' and the hope for democratic change in Russia.
Russia as ‘a Europe apart’
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Western officials and observers believed that Russia would return to the 'Western family of nations' after decades of Soviet era isolation. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have asserted that in annexing Crimea and intervening in eastern Ukraine, Russia is undermining the post-Cold War European security order. This chapter explores conceptual differences that lie at the core of the dissonance. From 2002 and 2003 a chronology of dissonance became increasingly intense, as mutual recriminations became harsher and interpretations of events more visibly incongruous. As with the Cold War era understandings of 'peace', the differences may appear slight, but the ramifications are significant. Consequences are two-fold - not only is progress in building cooperation hampered, but it contributes to the sense of dual history and divergent conclusions from the same evidence, illustrated by the cyber attack on Estonia in 2007.