Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Russian experiments in power projection had become so misguided by late 2015 that a coherent analysis of their pattern was at risk of lagging behind the latest headline. Yet this neat and carefully edited volume conceptualized in mid-2013 and updated in the course of Crimean annexation in spring 2014 has not lost currency. Thirteen authors share the conviction that the sudden turn in Russia’s international behaviour towards risky confrontation with the West is rooted in the maturing of corrupt anti-democratic regime built by Vladimir Putin. The volume offers a sharp dissection of his personal idiosyncrasies (Hill) and very particular use of ‘soft power’ (Lankina and Niemczyk) leading to the conclusion that regime insecurity and individual political insecurity are ‘the main determinants of Russia’s foreign policy choices’ (p. 210). The content of these choices is examined thoughtfully on every key direction: relations with USA (Kuchins), China and Asia-Pacific (Kurt), Eurasian project (Cadier), as well as on a more general level (Trenin, Bond), leaving out only the military build-up and application. Somewhat disappointing is the insufficient attention to political and economic dynamics inside Russia, despite the commendable efforts of Mendras to estimate the costs of deepening authoritarian degradation. This omission leaves the clever title of the Conclusion – Foreign policy as continuation of domestic politics by other means – rather unsupported. Yet the book is definitely worth a careful read because the identified worrisome trends toward scoring points by pro-active and bold foreign policy moves for strengthening the grasp on power by the regime that cannot any more rely on distributing petro-revenues have since accelerated – and are approaching a breaking point.