Russian Neo-Revisionism

In: Russian Politics
Richard Sakwa Senior Research Fellow, National Research University Higher School of Economics, and School of Politics & IR, University of Kent,

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A revisionist state would seek to challenge the existing balance of power in the system and threaten the foundations of the system itself. This does not apply to contemporary Russia. It seeks to enhance its status within the existing framework of international society. Russian neo-revisionism does not attempt to create new rules or to advance an alternative model of the international system but to ensure the universal and consistent application of existing norms. Russia’s neo-revisionism represents a critique of western practices in defense of the universal proclaimed principles. It is not the principles of international law and governance that Russia condemns but the practices that accompany their implementation. This reflected Russia’s broader perception in the post-Cold War era that it was locked into a strategic stalemate, and that the country was forced into a politics of resistance. This has taken many forms, including the creation of an anti-hegemonic alignment with China and others. For Moscow, it was the West that had become revisionist, not Russia. Although the implementation of applicable norms was patchy, Russia did not repudiate them. In its relations with the European Union, Russia’s neo-revisionist stance means that it was unable to become simply the passive recipient of eu norms, and instead tried to become a co-creator of Europe’s destiny. The struggle is not only over contested norms, but also over who has the prerogative to claim their norms as universal. However, it was precisely at the level of practices that there was least room for compromise, and thus Russian neo-revisionism became another form of the impasse, and only intensified tensions between Russia and the Atlantic system.

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