Russia’s foreign policy does not follow directly from the nature of its internal political system but rather from the interaction of that political system with other political systems. Russian policy toward the Western world is best understood in terms of the capacity of Russia’s post-Soviet rulers to achieve two goals that are in implicit tension with each other. They are: a) maximizing the benefit to the Russian state of the country’s multifaceted relations with the Western world; and b) securing Russia’s status as the undisputed hegemon throughout the country’s historical borderlands. These broad policy objectives—shared by Russian liberals and nationalists alike–have been common to both the Yeltsin and Putin administrations, albeit expressed in different ways over time and with differing expectations of being able to reconcile the two. Building upon authoritarian and interventionist patterns established early in the Yeltsin years and reacting to the West’s refusal to acknowledge Russian regional primacy, Putin has consolidated an arbitrary personalist regime at home and waged war along the Russian periphery, even at the cost of relations with the Western world. In this respect, Putin’s regime may usefully be seen as a “state-nation” with a strong imperial imprint, building upon powerful legacies of Russian political development. The removal of Putin from power will not in se change that regime type or key challenges in Russiane Western relations.

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