In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Russian Foreign Policy

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • The Sources of Russia’s Assertiveness
  • The Role of Domestic Politics in Foreign Policy
  • Russia’s Policy toward the West
  • The Asian Vector of Russian Foreign Policy
  • Russia in Global Governance

International Relations Russian Foreign Policy
Marcin Kaczmarski
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0310


Russian foreign policy has undergone substantial shifts in the post–Cold War period. Scholarly attention toward the topic has also experienced ebbs and flows as the breakup of the Soviet Union drastically decreased general interest toward a newly emerged Russia. The initial period of Russian foreign policy in the early 1990s was to a large degree a continuation of Soviet foreign policy, with its focus on cooperative relations with the West. This, in turn, combined with the general weakness of the Russian state, resulted in the relative disregard of other foreign policy directions. The deepening domestic power struggle led to a growing opposition toward the pro-Western course and paved the way for a number of domestic players to influence Russia’s foreign policy course. Vladimir Putin’s arrival to power in 2000 and the domestic changes he introduced freed foreign policy from most of its domestic constraints, at least temporarily. During his first presidential term (2000–2004), Russian foreign policy oscillated between competition with the West (the United States in particular) and attempts to integrate Russia as the West’s equal partner. The consolidation of the regime, which accelerated in Putin’s second presidential term (2004–2008), left its mark on foreign policy. Russia’s engagement with the external world underwent substantial changes, which turned out to be durable for the next decade and a half. Material resurgence, the strengthening of the state, and the domestic political consolidation fueled Russia’s assertiveness in international politics. These processes culminated in Putin’s 2007 Munich speech and the 2008 war with Georgia. The following period of the so-called tandemocracy (2008–2012), with Putin becoming prime minister and Dmitri Medvedev serving as president, led to a partial warming in relations with the West, though Russia continued its assertive policy. Russia also deepened its cooperation with a rising China. Putin’s return to power in 2012 initiated the conservative-nationalist turn in domestic politics, which was reflected in foreign policy. Russia increasingly positioned itself not only as a geopolitical challenger to the West, but also a normative one. The annexation of Crimea (2014), followed by the military intervention in Syria (2015), opened a new phase in Russian foreign policy. Moscow became bolder in using military force abroad and enlarged its presence in such regions as sub-Saharan Africa. The explanations of change and continuity in Russian foreign policy can be grouped in several camps, with scholars emphasizing power politics and external constraints, domestic politics, and the role of ideas and identity. The emerging trend is the growing popularity of pluralist explanations of Russian foreign policy.

General Overview

Overviews of Russian foreign policy tend to focus on several key directions, such as Russia’s relations with Western states (with particular emphasis on relations with the United States and the policy toward the European Union), Russia’s policy toward the post-Soviet neighborhood, Russia’s relations with Asian states (with the bulk of attention paid to relations with China, Japan, and India), and Russia’s role in the global international order. Other foreign policy directions, including the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa receive much less attention. While most general works discuss the domestic background of Russian foreign policy—both in terms of political competition and ideational debates, this background usually does not feature as a central point in the analyses of policy behavior. Stent 2008 provides a succinct overview of the Russian foreign policy record following Putin’s two terms in office. Monaghan 2008 points to the partial success achieved by Moscow during this period, with the Russian leadership oscillating between defensive and offensive mindsets. Mankoff 2011 emphasizes the role of material resurgence in the 2000s and of the 1990s elite consensus in fueling Russia’s assertiveness. Gvosdev and Marsh 2014 pays more attention to the complexity and diversity of Russian foreign policy, emphasizing internal divisions and incoherence between particular directions. Lo 2015 traces the implications of the return of geopolitics to the center of Russian foreign policymaking. Shiraev and Khudoley 2018 focuses on institutional and domestic aspects of the policymaking process. Donaldson and Nadkarni 2018 adopts an implicitly realist approach to Russian foreign policy, whereas Tsygankov 2019 bases its analysis on the constructivist approach. Kramer 2019 provides an overview of the Soviet legacy in Russian foreign policy. Stoner 2021 offers a multidimensional analysis of Russia’s power in international politics. Two edited collections, Tsygankov 2018 and Kanet 2019, provide a broad overview of numerous aspects of Russian foreign policy and external security policy, respectively.

  • Donaldson, Robert H., and Vidya Nadkarni. The Foreign Policy of Russia: Changing Systems, Enduring Interests. 6th ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780429449666

    Now in its sixth edition, this volume combines thematic and chronological approaches. The shifts in Russian foreign policy are explained as driven mostly by the evolution of the external environment. Separate chapters introduce a brief history of Tsarist and Soviet foreign policy and outline the domestic context.

  • Gvosdev, Nikolas K., and Christopher Marsh. Russian Foreign Policy: Interests, Vectors, and Sectors. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781506335391

    An overview of key directions of Russian foreign policy (the US, Asia, Western Europe, and the post-Soviet space), supplemented with separate chapters dedicated to Russia’s policies and roles in less prominent regions: Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Gvosdev and Marsh argue that Russian foreign policy is composed of many foreign policies, which ultimately leads to incoherence and contradictions.

  • Kanet, Roger E., ed. Routledge Handbook of Russian Security. London and New York: Routledge, 2019.

    A comprehensive overview of Russian foreign security policy. Particular parts discuss the history of Russian security policy, the domestic backdrop and threat perception, and the instruments at the Kremlin’s disposal. Two remaining parts analyze regional dimensions of Russian security policy and introduce several case studies of Russian security policy: the Black Sea region, the Balkans, Georgia, Ukraine, and the Middle East.

  • Kramer, Mark. “The Soviet Legacy in Russian Foreign Policy.” Political Science Quarterly 134.4 (2019): 585–609.

    DOI: 10.1002/polq.12988

    Kramer demonstrates in what ways the Soviet legacy has influenced the course of Russian foreign policy. He identifies the carryover of personnel and worldviews, territorial disputes in Asia, disputes stemming from the breakup of the Soviet Union, legal continuity after the USSR in international organizations, and Soviet-era ties with developing countries.

  • Lo, Bobo. Russia and the New World Disorder. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2015.

    Analysis organized around the questions of what the transformation of international politics means for Russia, how Moscow has responded to this transformation, and what Russia’s prospects in the post-American world are. Following the discussion of domestic and international contexts, the book analyzes Russia’s role in global governance, Moscow’s responses to the turbulence in the post-Soviet space and the rise of Asia, and the Russian-Western relationship.

  • Mankoff, Jeffrey. Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.

    An overview of key directions of Russian foreign policy: toward the United States, Europe, Asia, and the post-Soviet space, preceded with a sketch of the domestic political and ideational backdrop. Mankoff focuses on the process of Russia’s assertiveness, observed since the mid-2000s. He explains it as a result of Russia’s material resurgence in the 2000s that allowed it to implement policy preferences that have been dominant among the Russian elites since the mid-1990s.

  • Monaghan, Andrew. “‘An Enemy at the Gates’ or ‘From Victory to Victory’? Russian Foreign Policy.” International Affairs 84.4 (2008): 717–733.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2346.2008.00734.x

    An analysis of the Russian ruling elite’s worldview in the mid-2000s. Monaghan focuses on the transition from Russia’s defensive approach, driven by the state’s weakness in the beginning of Putin’s presidency, to a more assertive—but still insecure—stance vis-à-vis the external world toward the end of his first two terms. Renewed confidence of the Russian elite exists alongside continuing insecurity.

  • Shiraev, Eric, and Konstantin Khudoley. Russian Foreign Policy. London: Macmillan International Higher Education, 2018.

    The textbook combines an overview of the foreign policymaking process (an institutional dimension, key domestic players) with the analysis of key directions in Russian foreign policy.

  • Stent, Angela E. “Restoration and Revolution in Putin’s Foreign Policy.” Europe-Asia Studies 60.6 (2008): 1089–1106.

    DOI: 10.1080/09668130802161264

    A summary of foreign policy results of Vladimir Putin’s first two terms in office (2000–2008). Stent identifies both restorative elements, such as the revision of post–Cold War arrangements and the legitimization of Russia as a great power, and revolutionary ones, such as the projection of power by economic rather than military means.

  • Stoner, Kathryn E. Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190860714.001.0001

    Stoner challenges the dominant narratives of Russia as a “power in decline.” Instead, she argues that Russia has reestablished itself as a global power. She presents a multidimensional understanding of Russia’s power, going beyond material components. Russia’s actions in international politics are linked with the nature of the political regime that has evolved under Vladimir Putin, with foreign policy employed to secure domestic support for the regime.

  • Tsygankov, Andrei P. Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity. 5th ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.

    Now in its fifth edition, the volume explains change and continuity in Russian foreign policy by looking at two factors: Western approaches toward Russia and shifting domestic identity coalitions within the Russian elite. The book adopts a chronological perspective, beginning with Gorbachev’s new thinking and ending with Russia’s renewed assertiveness observed since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.

  • Tsygankov, Andrei P., ed. Routledge Handbook of Russian Foreign Policy. London: Routledge, 2018.

    A comprehensive overview of the Russian foreign policy landscape. Particular parts analyze the conditions shaping Russian foreign policy, key instruments and relevant domestic actors, main directions of Russian foreign policy, and Russia’s engagement with international organizations.

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