Protester in Russia

Russia seeks to recapture its imperial past.

Projecting Power

April 2017, Number 08.02

Discussing Russia’s attempts to influence former Soviet countries requires a thorough understanding of just how important the “near abroad” is to the self-understanding and legitimization of the ruling Russian elites. Those elites define Russia’s role as a global power through its primacy as a regional power. As far as they are concerned, Russia can’t be a global player without being the dominant power in the post-Soviet region. That mindset — along with Russia’s nuclear arsenal and its seat on the United Nations Security Council — represents a potent Soviet legacy that defines Russia’s self-perception today.

Russia sees its historical role in the region as justification for trying to influence the politics, economies and culture of former Soviet countries. Russian leadership regularly questions the sovereignty and borders of neighboring post-Soviet states, as Russian President Vladimir Putin did in August 2014 when he declared, “The Kazakhs never had any statehood.” Or as James Sherr points out in his 2013 book, Hard Diplomacy and Soft Coercion: Russia’s Influence Abroad, integration with the European Union is a “choice,” while integration with Russia is “historically conditioned.” Dominance over its neighbors is, to the self-understanding of the Russian elites, crucial to the survival of the Russian state...”

Excerpt from Stefan Meister, “Projecting Power,” per Concordiam: Journal of European Security Defense Issues 8, No. 2, 2017: 16-23.

Dr. Stefan Meister leads the Robert Bosch Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia at the German Council on Foreign Relations. He was a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a visiting fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russian domestic, foreign and energy policy; the interrelationship between Russian domestic and foreign policy; and post-Soviet conflicts, particularly in the South Caucasus. He co-authored The Eastern Question: Russia, the West and Europe’s Grey Zone, published by Brookings Institution Press (2016).


This article reflects the views of the author and are not necessarily the official policy of the United States, Germany, or any other governments.