Foreign Relations

Russia Table of Contents

ONCE A PARIAH DENIED DIPLOMATIC RECOGNITION by most countries, the Soviet Union progressed from being an outsider in international organizations and negotiations during the interwar period to being one of the arbiters of Europe's fate after World War II. The Soviet Union had official relations with the majority of nations by the late 1980s. In the 1970s, after achieving rough nuclear parity with the United States, the Soviet Union proclaimed that its own involvement was essential to the solution of any major international problem. At that time, regimes in countries containing about one-quarter of the world's population emulated the socialist form of political and economic organization proselytized by the Soviet Union. That web of influence was built upon the political doctrine of class struggle and the geopolitical philosophy of a proletarian internationalism that would link together the workers of the world. Although the spirit of those concepts remained at the base of the Soviet Union's international attitudes even in 1991, pragmatic considerations often were the primary determinants of policy in specific cases.

Among the many bureaucracies involved in the formation and execution of Soviet foreign policy, the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU--see Glossary) determined the major policy guidelines. The foremost objectives of that foreign policy were the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of the hegemony gained over Eastern Europe following World War II. Relations with the United States and with Western Europe also were of major concern; the strategic significance of individual nations in the so-called Third World of developing nations determined, at least partly, the relations with those nations.

The Twenty-Seventh Party Congress of the CPSU in 1986 produced the last formal enumeration of Soviet foreign policy goals. That listing included ensuring favorable external conditions for building communism in the Soviet Union; eliminating the threat of world war; disarmament; strengthening the "world socialist system"; developing equal and friendly relations with so-called liberated (Third World) countries; peaceful coexistence with capitalist countries; and solidarity with communist and revolutionary-democratic parties, the international workers' movement, and national liberation struggles.

In the years that followed, the emphasis and ranking of these priorities changed in response to domestic and international stimuli. After Mikhail S. Gorbachev assumed power as CPSU general secretary in 1985, for instance, some Western analysts discerned in the ranking of priorities a deemphasis of Soviet support for national liberation movements. As such shifts occurred, two basic goals of Soviet foreign policy remained constant: national security (safeguarding CPSU rule at home and maintenance of adequate military forces) and influence over Eastern Europe.

After the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia claimed to be the legal successor to Soviet foreign policies. That position would allow Russia to assume a ready-made role as a leading world power. At the outset, Russia accepted or built upon many tenets of the conciliatory foreign policy toward the West of Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who had termed his revised policy "New Thinking." New Thinking defined international politics in common ethical and moral terms rather than military force, largely abandoning the Marxist-Leninist (see Glossary) idea that peaceful coexistence was merely a breathing spell in the worldwide class war. The most important practical result of Gorbachev's approach came in 1989 with the release of the Soviet Union's forty-four-year hold on the states of Eastern Europe. Superpower competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, known as the Cold War, gave way to increased cooperation with the United States on issues such as arms reduction, peace in the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf War.

In the early period after Russia became independent, Russian foreign policy built upon Gorbachev's legacy by decisively repudiating Marxism-Leninism as a putative guide to action, emphasizing cooperation with the West in solving regional and global problems, and soliciting economic and humanitarian aid from the West in support of internal reforms. In that early period, Russian foreign policy defended itself against arguments from former communists and ultranationalists that Russia had capitulated to the West and should renounce entanglements such as Western foreign aid. Russia also faced the challenge of reconciling the international commitments and obligations it inherited from the former Soviet Union with new and sometimes conflicting Russian interests, such as the desire to sell arms and missile technology abroad. Although Russia's leaders described Europe as its natural ally, they grappled with defining new relations with the East European (now termed Central European) states, the new states formed upon the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and Western Europe. In Asia, Russia faced territorial claims from China and Japan at the same time that closer Russian relations with these states and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Taiwan became possible. Several challenges emerged in Russia's relations with the fourteen other former Soviet republics, now called the "near abroad." Among the most serious confrontations were Russia's dispute with Ukraine over the status of Crimea, long and complicated conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan and within Georgia, and numerous new economic frictions. The problem of discrimination and ethnic violence against the 25 million ethnic Russians living in the new states was a growing concern in relations with several of the former Soviet republics, especially those in Central Asia. Russia also faced adapting to and competing with changing regional politics along its borders, such as the growing ties between the Central Asian states and Iran and Turkey.

The Emergence of Russian Foreign Policy
The Foreign Policy Mechanism
Regional Policies
The United States
Western Europe
Central Europe
Other Asian States
The Third World
The Middle East
Latin America

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress