Kevin Doremus

November 7, 2019

Yes, Russia Plays an Important Role in the World

Russia has been at the centerfold of US political discourse for the past few years, but it is only now that some scholars have rediscovered Russia's role in world systems.   In all significant events that are studied in American intro to IR courses, there is one common actor that was conveniently overlooked, Russia.  This is a major mistake because Russia will always be relevant in world politics.

Since the 1990s, Russian studies were no longer considered significant.  The battle of ideas between liberal-market democracy and communism was over, and the US primary rival was contracting.  Research and emphasis on foreign affairs shifted towards democratic governance, the role of institutions, and the Middle East pushing aside any focus on Russia.

Paul Poast, a professor at the University of Chicago, posted an insightful twitter thread discussing how people need to learn more about Russia.  He explains Russia's presence in the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, and both World Wars.  He asks, "are IR scholars studying why states fight war, or are we simply explaining Russia's foreign policy & reactions to Russia's foreign policy?"

To answer Poast's question, American scholars react to Russia's actions because they do not understand Russian policy or its interests.

Russia has played a significant role in the formation of world systems.  Andrei Tsygankov notes that Russia played a role in The Vienna, Paris, Versailles, and Yalta systems.  Only in the current Washington System was Russia pushed aside.  However, Russia still made its presence felt halting the spread of western institutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria.

Russia weak or strong acts accordingly to its national interests.  There are two parts of its national interest.  The first is defending its territory from other powers and ensuring the survival of the state.  The second is protecting its geocultural interest.  Since the 1800s, Russia has been committed to safeguarding Orthodox Christians western and Islamic influence. Russia considers itself as a separate civilization with unique values that differentiate itself from Asia and the West.  

It is essential to consider these factors when considering Russia's role in foreign affairs.  As the global system transition into a multipolar world, understanding Russian interests will be essential for cooperation in the future.

About the author

Kevin is an Instructor of International Relations and Russian Foreign Policy at LCC International University. His primary research interests are the geopolitical orientations of Central Europe and the application of Libertarian thought in international relations theory.

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