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

Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Autumn 2018-2019

Number of hours : 24

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 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, 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 The Europe-Russia partnership of earlier years has been replaced by confrontation and distrust.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 between Russia and western countries. EU and USA policies toward Russia and Ukraine will be analysed, in the difficult context of the Trump presidency. The nature of the Putin regime, and the role of the military and intelligence services in domestic and external policies, will be studied. 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. Several guest lecturers will address the class. Readings: A detailed syllabus, with assigned readings, will be posted. 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.


MENDRAS, Marie (Professor at PSIA - Research Fellow with CERI – Sciences Po)

Course validation

-A short analytical reading note of two publications, to be handed out on 26th of September. -a 3000-word essay (not counting appendices and bibliography) to be handed out at the end of November. Students will choose among 5 essay topics. -an oral presentation, jointly prepared by two or three students. -active participation in class discussion.

Required reading

  • Alfred RIEBER, «How Persistent Are Persistent Factors», in Robert LEGVOLD (ed.). Russian Foreign Policy in the 21st Century and The Shadow of the Past. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. (Available at Sciences Po library)
  • Marie Mendras, Russian Politics. The Paradox of a Weak State, Hurst, London, and Columbia University Press, 2012, chapters 1, 2, 7, 8.
  • Roy Allison, ‘Russia resurgent? Moscow's campaign to “coerce Georgia to peace”', International Affairs, Vol. 84, No. 6 (2008), pp. 1145-71.
  • David Cadier & Margot Light, eds., Russia's Foreign Policy: Ideas, Domestic Politics and External Relations, Palgrave-Macmillan, London, 2015.
  • Dmitri Trenin, What Is Russia Up To in the Middle East?, Cambridge (UK), Polity Press, 2018.

Additional required reading

  • M. Mendras, “Russian Elites are worried. The Unpredictability of Putinism”, Transatlantic Academy Paper Series, Washington, D.C., June 2016.
  • J. Rupnik (ed.), Géopolitique de la democratisation, Presses de Sciences Po, 2015.
  • Russian Security/Defense, Russian Analytical Digest, No. 196, January 2017, online See also “Russia and Regime security”, ibid., N. 175, September 2015, “Russia's Political Economy”, ibid., N. 220, May 2018,
  • M. Czuperski, et al. “Distract. Deceive. Destroy. Putin at War in Syria”, Atlantic Council, April 2016.
  • Vladimir Putin, speeches and interviews, e.g. Address by President of the Russian Federation, 18 March 2014, at
  • Vladimir Putin, speeches and interviews, e.g. Address by President of the Russian Federation, 18 March 2014, at