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Cornell University Cornell Brooks Public Policy

Fighting Yesterday’s War: Soviet Influences in Putin’s Foreign Policy

Russia’s behavior has thrown into doubt the purported strength of international norms regarding territorial integrity, not least because Putin himself has spoken of seeking to ‘re-gather’ adjacent territory deemed ‘lost’—as they had been once under possession by Imperial Russia or the Soviet Union—through military means.

Professor Maria Snegovaya examines the drivers of Russian revanchism. While recognizing that decisions to go to war and to reclaim lost territory are complex and multifaceted, we argue that many analyses overlook—ironically—the nature of the political regime that rules Russia. If domestic political variables do matter for observers of Russia, the emphasis is on how Russia is institutionally autocratic such that it will pursue a foreign policy more aggressive than what would have been the case if it were democratic. Maria Snegovaya and Alexander Lanoszka's essay define a political regime in both institutional and behavioral terms to acknowledge the structural organization of power as well as the qualities of the elites that exercise influence. They show a strictly institutional definition of political regimes neglects the elite continuity that ties together the Soviet and the Russian leadership. This elite continuity across the two systems matter because the political regime still privileged particular beliefs about the use of force to settle international disputes, the intentions of the United States, and the relationship that certain nations should have vis-à-vis Russia. These beliefs, which we show to hold sway, had their Soviet antecedents.

About Speaker

Maria Snegovaya (Ph.D., Columbia University) is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Political Science at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service, a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for New American Security. She is a comparative politics, international relations, and statistical methods specialist. The key focus of her research is democratic backsliding in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. Her research results and analysis have appeared in policy and peer-reviewed journals, including West European PoliticsParty PoliticsJournal of DemocracyPost-Soviet Affairs, and the Washington Post‘s political science blog the Monkey Cage. Her research has been referenced in publications such as the New York TimesBloomberg, the Economist, and Foreign Policy. Throughout her career she has collaborated with multiple U.S. research centers and think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace among others.