State transformation and foreign policy in Russia and beyond

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPublic lecture/debate/seminar


The story of Russia’s post-Soviet trajectory is typically told as a tale of two halves, an initial decade of state unravelling, loss of state capacity, the rise of alternative centres of power geographically and economically, a phase where fragmentation, decentralization and internationalization deeply transformed the Russian state. The
second half is defined by President Putin’s centralization efforts aimed at the restoration of the vertical of power and has, more generally seen a decisive push towards authoritarian rule. Russia’s – or China’s for that matter – strong defense of sovereignty, its resistance to governance arrangements leading to its pooling and its strong support for the principle of non-interference, appear to lend support to the argument about the return of Westphalian statehood. Empirical evidence calls for qualifying this thesis. In Putin’s Russia forms of Westphalian statehood co-exist with post-Westphalian ones. Fragmentation may have been reigned in, but decentralization
is visible in the emergence of cities as new international actors and in the internationalization of energy companies. Of course there are visible differences between time periods. Sub-national governments in the Yeltsin era embarked on their own para-diplomacy with foreign policy outcomes at times at odds with those
of the federal centre. At present the foreign policy goals of sub-national units are more aligned to those of the Kremlin. And yet, the more general dynamic is one of a bargaining where different centres of power (the state being one of them) scrambling for control and autonomy. Even the energy sector, which in principle should
serve as the tool of Russia’s foreign policy, calls for a more nuanced and complex picture than hitherto assumed. Moscow’s attitude towards governance arrangements in the energy sector and climate change negotiations clearly shows the prevalence of Moscow’s Westphalian self. Gazprom’s overseas adventures in the South China
sea show that some of its internationalization strategies lie at odds with the main foreign policy goals of the Russian Federation. The paper concludes that, attempts at centralized decision-making notwithstanding, governance decay, marked by low institutionalization and the presence of multiple centres of power continue
to mark the two countries’ current political trajectory. The state thus remains in a precarious equilibrium. Attempts at recentralization without without institutionalization make for a less than coherent foreign policy by states
that, after all, are not so unitary.
Period6 Nov 20177 Nov 2017
Held atQUEEN MARY LONDON, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • state transformation
  • Russia
  • China
  • foreign policy
  • energy
  • Gazprom
  • geopolitics
  • Vietnam
  • Central Asia
  • Southeast Asia