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OCRU 2020 - Russia's Foreign Policy : Domestic, Regional and International Factors

Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Autumn 2017-2018

Number of hours : 42

Language of tuition : English


Some knowledge of Russian/Soviet and European history. Introduction to Political Science or to International Relations.

Course Description

The course focuses on Russia's international strategy, policies toward former Soviet republics, Russia-West relations, conflicts and confrontation. It seeks to explain the rationale for Russia's external behaviour, with emphasis on domestic and regional causes of foreign policy, the conflict between Kiev and Moscow, and the Syria war as a key challenge in Russia-West relations. Russia is a post-imperial and post-communist state that has not quite reconciled itself with the loss of great power status. It still claims to have a right to a “sphere of privileged interest” in its neighbourhood. After a historical introduction, the course will analyse Moscow's strategies toward former Soviet republics, former Warsaw Pact satellites, the Balkans, the conflicts with Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014-2017), and Russia's military intervention in Syria. Russia's annexation of Crimea and armed interference in Ukraine mark a historical breaking point in relations between Moscow and the West. The Europe-Russia partnership of earlier years has been replaced by confrontation and distrust. Three years into the Donbas conflict, sanctions and counter-sanctions remain. Subversion, propaganda and meddling in internal affairs have further disrupted relations. EU and USA policies toward Russia will be analysed, as well as relations between Moscow and Central European states, and Kremlin's policies toward the Balkan and Baltic states. The Putin regime will be compared to political regimes in other post-Soviet states. Faced with mounting problems at home, the Russian authorities fear democratisation and westernization in neighbouring countries. The EU's Eastern neighbourhood policy has been constrained not just by Russia's assertiveness but also by internal challenges ranging from the refugee crisis, economic and social problems, to rising anti-EU, anti-liberal sentiments. Nevertheless, the EU after Brexit seems up to a new start, with a reinforced French-German tandem. Will a general consensus emerge about an effective European security strategy in a context of troubled relations with Moscow? Among the major issues addressed: the legacy of 1989 and 1991, the reasons why the Kremlin chooses to go for armed interventions abroad, the lasting impact of the two wars in Chechnya, the questions of national identity and state sovereignty, geostrategic stakes and power status, energy and trade issues, military and security questions, attitudes to international law and humanitarian intervention, the China challenge, EU-Russia tensions, the geopolitics of democratization in Eastern Europe, the interplay between the crisis of the Putin system and Russia's foreign policy. Readings : A detailed syllabus, with assigned readings, will be posted on the intranet. Most of the readings are available online and on the moodle. Books and journals are in the library. Students are expected to read at least two or three assigned publications every week, and be prepared to comment. A teaching assistant, Milica Popovic, will assist students. Please find below a short selection of Background readings.


  • MENDRAS, Marie (Professor at PSIA - Research Fellow with CERI – Sciences Po)
  • POPOVIC, Milica (PhD student)
  • RUPNIK, Jacques (Directeur de recherche)

Course validation

A short 600-800 word analytical note on one or two publications, to be handed out on September 27th. A 3000-word essay (not counting appendices and bibliography) to be handed out at the end of November. Students will choose among 3 essay topics. An oral presentation, jointly prepared by two students. Active participation in class discussion.

Required reading

  • Marie Mendras, Russian Politics. The Paradox of a Weak State, Hurst, London, and Columbia University Press, 2012, chapters 1 and 2
  • Dmitri Trenin, Imperium, Carnegie Moscow Center, 2012
  • J. Rupnik (ed.), Géopolitique de la democratisation, Presses de Sciences Po, 2015
  • Roy Allison, ‘Russia resurgent? Moscow's campaign to “coerce Georgia to peace”', International Affairs, Vol. 84, No. 6 (2008), pp. 1145-71

Additional required reading

  • Angela Stent, “Russia, China and the West After Crimea”, May 2016, TA/GMF
  • David Cadier & Margot Light, eds., Russia's Foreign Policy: Ideas, Domestic Politics and External Relations, Palgrave-Macmillan, London, 2015
  • M. Mendras, “Russian Elites are worried. The Unpredictability of Putinism”, Transatlantic Academy Paper Series, Washington, D.C., June 2016.
  • Russian Security/Defense, Russian Analytical Digest, No. 196, January 2017, online
  • M. Czuperski, et al. “Distract. Deceive. Destroy. Putin at War in Syria”, Atlantic Council, April 2016.
  • Angela Stent, “Russia, China and the West After Crimea”, May 2016, TA/GMF
  • Vladimir Putin, speeches and interviews, e.g. Address by President of the Russian Federation, 18 March 2014, at