The return of imperial Russia

Roger E Kanet

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 and the emergence of fifteen new states in its place seemingly brought to an end the imperial tradition of Russian domination over various peoples conquered and absorbed into the Russian/Soviet empire over more than half a millennium. Yet as I demonstrate in this chapter, political leaders in Moscow have been committed to returning Russia to the status of a great power since the very creation of the new Russian state. This includes the re-establishment of much of the imperial political order that collapsed in 1991. Before continuing with an examination of the emergence of Russia’s more assertive approach to dealing with the world, it is important to note the international environment in which Russian policy developed. To a substantial degree, Western (especially US) policy since the collapse of the former USSR was based on the assumption that Russia’s demise as a great power would be permanent. Throughout the 1990s, and even after the turn of the century, Russia’s interests and concerns were largely ignored, as both the United States and the Western community more broadly moved to fulfil their own political and security objectives in post-communist Europe; objectives that included the incorporation of most of Central and East European post-Soviet space into Western security, political and economic institutions.

Initially, as the Russian state found itself in virtual political and economic free-fall under President Yeltsin, the objective of re-establishing Russia’s great power status seemed little more than rhetoric. Even though Russia did employ its greatly reduced military capabilities in the attempt to play a role in those Soviet successor states challenged by internal conflict (often facilitated by clandestine Russian military interference), the prospect of the Russian Federation rejoining the ranks of major global actors seemed remote. More recently under Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev, however, Russian self-confidence has been buoyed by the rising price of oil and gas, the revitalisation of other sectors of the economy, and the reassertion of Moscow’s administrative control over the vast territory of the Russian Federation itself. As a result, more sophisticated diplomatic and economic instruments, including what amounts to economic blackmail, have become a central component of Russia’s reassertion of authority within what Moscow views as its traditional and legitimate sphere of influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConflict in the Former USSR
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780511980565, 9780521763103
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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