CANCELLED - Russia's foreign policy towards its neighbors - institutions, norms and policies

Course content

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the emergence of 15 independent states. These states are connected through cultural, historical, political and economic ties, but at the same time divided by diverse backgrounds, tensions and conflicts. Russia, the official successor state of the Soviet Union, has ever since the collapse of its empire been struggling with the loss of territory, status and influence. The transition from planned to free market economy, from socialism to capitalism and from a bipolar to a unipolar global system posed further challenges. While the late 90ies and early 2000s witnessed partial democratization, the political development during the past decade can best be described as authoritarian backlash. This backlash, often also termed democratic rollback, comprises the strengthening of state structures and competencies, the limitation of democratic civil rights and the weakening of civil society and media.


Today, Russia is no longer the undisputed hegemon in the post-Soviet region, but is challenged by several external actors. China has replaced Russia as the most important trading partner and investor in Central Asia. Through its massive infrastructure project “Belt and Road”, Beijing will gain even more influence and leverage in the region. The EU has been active in this region ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but stepped up its activities significantly after its eastward enlargement. Through the Eastern Partnership, its Central Asia Strategy and new tools like the Association Agreements, it has institutionalized its Eastern engagement. At the same time, the former Soviet republics have been striving to diversify their foreign relations and decrease their dependence on Russia. As an answer to increased geopolitical competition, Russia intensified its own engagement in the neighborhood. On the one hand, the Kremlin created new regional institutions, such as the Eurasian Economic Union, to intensify ties with the states of the region. On the other hand, its aggressively defended its foreign policy interests, engaging in several wars and conflicts inside and outside the region.


This course addresses constants and changes in Russia’s foreign policy towards its neighboring states during the past three decades to understand where current dynamics, concepts and rationales originated We will deal more intensively with recent years, that is President Putin’s third and fourth presidential terms. The course focus is on on institutions, norms, and policies. We will discuss and analyze preference formation in Russian foreign policy, the role of elites, in particular the president, changes in the official Russian foreign policy discourse and foreign policy tools at the Kremlin’s disposal to realize its interests. Throughout the course, we will pay particular attention to the engagement of other actors in the post-Soviet region, such as China and the EU, and Russia’s reaction to it.


Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


SRM students have priority

Learning outcome


The course aims to provide students with an analytical framework and theoretical tools to understand and analyze Russian foreign policy towards its neighborhood. Students will learn to:

  • Understand Russian foreign policy in the context of the Soviet past and the remaining political, economic and cultural heritage
  • Identify, describe and make sense of current issues, ideas, categories and discourses in Russian foreign policy
  • Understand and analyze preference and interest formation in foreign policy as well as recognize the intertwined nature of domestic, regional and global affairs
  • Characterize political developments and regional dynamics in Eurasia
  • Analyze institutions through which Russia realizes its foreign policy interests



Students will train the following skills and abilities:

  • To recognize the main arguments of academic texts and relate them to the overall course topic
  • To summarize, synthesize and assess arguments in academic texts
  • To independently apply theoretical perspectives on Russian foreign policy and regional politics in the post-Soviet region
  • To analyze foreign policy ideas and norms as expressed in written and oral discourse
  • To understand and analyze preference and interest formation in foreign policy
  • To develop and support own arguments on the reasons for current trends and developments in Russian foreign policy



Students will strengthen the following competencies

  • Critical analysis and evaluation of theoretical and empirical arguments related to states’ foreign policy behavior
  • Critical analysis of foreign policy preferences and interests as well as tools to realize those interests
  • Well-structured, sharp and critical formulation and presentation of issues and arguments and the ability to defend them
  • Independent reflection on structures, norms, actors and contexts that influence the formation of foreign policy preferences and interests

The course depends on active participation by students. This means that student prepare the readings in advance and participate in discussions in class based on the assigned literature. Approx. two texts will be assigned for each session. Topics and literature will either be discussed collectively in class discussions or in small group exercises, whose results have to be presented afterwards. After having covered the foundations of the course topic, more specific case studies will be discussed to illustrate constants, changes and challenges in Russian foreign policy. The focus will be on central issues and actors, foreign policy preferences and interests of involved actors, the sources of these preferences and interests and resulting dilemmas. As part of the case studies, we will analyze speeches by policymakers either in written form or as video recordings as well as foreign policy strategies and other primary sources.

Students will be required to present a set of readings in class in the form of short input presentations at least once. Alternatively, students can also prepare a case study that complements the literature and provides practical examples of discussed phenomena. Presentations last approx. 10 minutes and should summarize and synthesize key arguments in the readings and link the arguments to the overall topic of the class. Moreover, in their presentations, students should assess key arguments, present their own opinion and raise remaining questions, which will be discussed by all students afterwards. One day before class, presenters are expected to send a one-page handout to the other students and the instructor. Presentations will be assigned during the first class. Alternative to presentations, students can also write a paper of approx. 2000 words on the assigned readings, answering a particular question, which has to be discussed and agreed upon with the instructor.


  • Kanet, R. E. and Sussex, M. (2015): Power, Politics and Confrontation in Eurasia, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Tsygankow, Andrei P. (2018): Routledge Handbook of Russian Foreign Policy, Oxford: Routledge


Articles and book chapters:

  • Gill, G. (2015): Putin, Nationalism and Foreign Policy. In: Kanet, R. E. and Sussex, M. (eds.). Power, Politics and Confrontation in Eurasia, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Neumann, Iver B. (2008): Russia as a great power, 1815–2007, Journal of International Relations and Development, 11 (2).
  • Hale, H. E. (2005) : Regime Cycles. Democracy, Autocracy, and Revolution in post-Soviet Eurasia, World Politics, (58).
  • Hale, H. E. (2010): Eurasian polities as hybrid regimes: The Case of Putin’s Russia, Journal of Eurasian Studies, 1 (1).
  • Cooley, A. (2017): Whose Rules, Whose Spheres? Russian Governance and Influence in Post-Soviet States. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • Vysotskaya, A. and Guedes, V. (2016): Eurasian integration: elite perspectives before and after the Ukraine crisis, Post-Soviet Affairs, 32 (6).


Additional literature will be made available electronically. Moreover, students will be required to find additional suitable material to illustrate case studies and empirical phenomena.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral exam with a synopsis
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28