International Relations in Russia

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International Relations in Russia

The position of Russia in the post-Cold War era is rather controversial. Although the tension between the Western countries and the USSR and its satellites is believed to have dissipated when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the modern relationship between the former political competitors is still strained. Particularly, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, said that the collapse of the Soviet Union is the most significant geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century (Allen). Such statement from the country’s leader hints that the past is not yet forgotten and that the state’s leaders might still dream of bringing back the realities of the former century. The likelihood of returning to the past presupposes the dominance of hard power in Russia’s foreign policy, while the latest events in the world show that the USSR’s successor takes advantage of tools other than military force. Therefore, foreign policy in Russia combines traits of both soft and hard power, which makes the country one of the several leading “smart powers” on the geopolitical map of the 21st century.

There is no doubt that after the Cold War ended, the situation in the world greatly changed. First of all, one of the sides of the quasi-conflict, the Soviet Union, lost to the USA. Second, it is demanded that the countries to have a close look at the past and review their foreign policies to fit in the new world. Still, when the USSR existed, there appeared a weighty argument that made many officials thoroughly think over the importance and efficiency of the military force. The nuclear weapons suggested that a potential war would equal committing suicide. Gelb says that such arms “… made big power military contests too destructive and dangerous” (5). Nonetheless, the new dominant powers of the world did not completely abolish the idea of hard power. For example, in Kagan’s opinion, the United States think that “…international laws and rules are unreliable…” and that the country considers that the best way to promote liberal ideas is by using military force (“Of Paradise and Power” 3). Nevertheless, even back in 1989, Fukuyama could see that upon sticking to military doctrines, countries might face large-scale conflicts and “… a very sad time” (25). Such an opinion is another confirmation of the fact that shift to smart power was both a need and a must. The “end of history” theorist Nye who supports the idea of combining soft and hard powers into a single smart one is sure that such foreign policy is available to all states (23). Besides, he insists that a state may be seen as a peaceful country and a peacemaker and be a member of a military organization (Nye 23). Therefore, from this point of view, in the post-Cold War era, the relationship between the states is totally new and the war-oriented reality of the twentieth century is no longer relevant.

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However, the “return to history” theorist Gelb argues that, in spite of the radical changes towards diplomacy and the economic power (smart power), the military power (hard power) is not any less important (5). Moreover, it is the most important tool in international affairs (Gelb 5). In his opinion, the only difference between the Cold War era and today’s time is that the use of military force is more complicated and restrained, and its use needs special conditions (Gelb 5).

Nevertheless, both the “end of history” and “return to history” theorists agree that international affairs have changed since the end of the Cold War. The shift was towards the larger proportion of soft power and the smaller proportion of hard power within the policy of smart power. Although from both perspectives negotiation and aggression matter even nowadays, it is still the combination of both that has been accepted by most of the countries as state doctrines.

Modern political science uses several concepts related to power, which include “soft,” “hard,” and “smart” powers. Each of these has its own meaning. Joseph Nye defines soft power as “one way of getting desired outcomes” (82). In other words, soft power is a country’s foreign policy aimed at attracting allies and partners and cooperating with them, rather than using force to promote the politics of the country. Additionally, the tools of soft power include economics and trade (Kagan 33). Meanwhile, hard power has an opposite meaning. In his article “Propaganda Isn’t the Way,” Joseph Nye states that hard power supposes the usage of economic and military power to dictate modes of conduct to other countries (Nye). Therefore, unlike the peaceful soft power, the hard one is aggressive and undiplomatic. Finally, there is also the third form of power, which is referred to as “smart.” According to Nye, it is the ability to combine soft and hard power “…into effective strategies” (23). Smart power means that a state adequately utilizes both hard and soft powers in the proper ratio. Such combination is more efficient in conditions of the modern world.

All three kinds of power have their supporters and opponents as specialists perceive the modern world from different perspectives. Some state that the Cold War is over and the countries of the world need to use new strategies that include soft and smart power. At the same time, other specialists consider that there is still a great degree of tension between the leading economies, and only the use of military force and aggression can allow countries to remain strong. Nye persuades that hard power and the use of military force are “not seen as attractive” (24). He also states that soft power is often challenging to implement and explains the use of army if such occurs (Nye 24). Therefore, Nye is confident that taking the best of the two extremes would be the most favorable as the state foreign policy (23). Thus, it is possible to conclude that smart power is the answer to the controversy of using military force as a backup for possible weaknesses of diplomacy, which is the basis for soft power.

However, there is an opposing point of view. Gelb is confident that profound changes occurred in the rules of international power, and the Cold War put restrictions on the leading economies (4). The hard power that used to be the main foreign economy of the majority of countries during the former century had to alter to adjust to the new reality, although the “roots of this revolution run deep in the history … and then fully rooted in the twenty-first century” (Gelb 4). Countries had to review their foreign policies and mix the usual hard power with the new soft one to get a perfect combination of military use and diplomacy. Gelb acknowledges that military power is of declining importance, while the international power of economies is rising (5). However, he still underlines that the military force, both as a factor of intimidation and a mean of actual aggression, is a significant lever in the foreign policies of countries (Gelb 5).

Therefore, those who consider that the international relations of the twenty-first century are different from the Cold War era and those who think that the situation in the world arena is returning back to the times of confrontation between the Western bloc and the USSR both agree that the international policy needs a qualitative change and a decrease in military use. However, the presence of force still remains an important tool in the hands of the governments, though it has become less important than diplomacy cooperation.

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The foreign policy of Russia is not dictated by a single party. Instead, it comes from a democratized government (McFaul). The objectives of the Russian Federation’s international relations are diverse, although the key aim is to protect and improve the economic environment and to broaden the sphere of influence on other states. In addition to purely national and democratic intentions, there are also some other that derive from the times before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In his article, Kagan reports that the Russian President claims he needs to strengthen the country to face the enemies (“Stand Up to Putin”). He also defines the presidency of Putin as a dictatorship and emphasizes that the Russian President will always remain in tensions with the USA “…because America’s very existence, its power, its global influence, its democratic example will threaten his hold on power” (Kagan). Therefore, the main objectives of Russia’s foreign policy are based on hard power rather than on the soft one.

McFaul also says that the foreign policy of Russia is rather anti-western, and the government perceives the relations with the USA as a “zero-sum” game (“What Are Russian Foreign Policy Objectives?”). This coldness in attitude towards the Western state has always been noticed. Additionally, possession of nuclear weapons allows the Russian Federation to behave freely and even dictate its own rules.

Furthermore, another objective of the Russian foreign policy is territorial expansion and imposing its influence on the neighboring areas. BBC reports that in 2014 NATO noticed Russian military forces entering Ukraine and fighting against the independent Ukrainian state (“Ukraine Crisis: Timeline”). However, Putin rejects this fact. It proves that the Russian Federation is using both hard and soft powers to impose and expand their interests, and they use the soft power and diplomacy to cover up the facts of aggression and avoid responsibility. Therefore, it may be concluded that the Russian’s objectives of the foreign policy are consistent with Nye’s concept of smart power.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia became the state’s successor and took on the role of the counterbalance to the Western bloc on the world’s political map. However, besides simply protecting its national interests and staying within its borders, the Russian Federation has made several attacks on the neighboring countries, including Ukraine, with the intention to impose its policy there (“Ukraine Crisis: Timeline”). On the one hand, such intentions might be justified, because the countries of the Western bloc are getting closer to the borders of Russia, and this country is taking radical measures to protect its citizen from possible aggression. To implement this protection, they are using hard power. However, on the other hand, such actions interfere with the independence of other states and endanger the citizens of those states. To some degree, the Russian Federation is still using the old-fashioned kind of foreign policy and military force, and covers it up with diplomacy. However, according to Nye, smart power is the key to “…power conversion” (23). Therefore, in order to fit within the reality of the twenty-first century better, Russia should start reflecting the aims of smart power. To do so, they need to use more diplomacy and economic power and decrease the use of military force.


In conclusion, Russia has taken numerous measures to change their foreign policy from hard power to the smart one. However, the militarization processes in the country still account for a large portion of the budget expenses, and the state is responsible for some of the international conflicts. It is possible to acknowledge that Russia is a smart power state, as their use of economy and diplomacy occupies a large portion of international affairs.

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