Moscow Rules: Decentring Russian domestic and foreign policy
Russia's re-alienation from the West?
In his speech at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) in February 2007, Vladimir Putin openly accused the United States of overstepping its national borders “in every way” and therefore posing a security threat to the world due to which “no one feels safe”. This direct message hit the assembled global elite by surprise, keeping in mind Putin’s efforts towards a rapprochement between Russia and NATO in his first few years as Russian president. Following this clarity, the relations between Russia and the West cooled down considerably with the war in Georgia in 2008 and reached the brink of a complete halt with the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent Ukraine crisis in 2014. Often perceived by Westerners as aggressive and having an expansionist behaviour, this development is attributed in academic circles to the NATO and EU eastward enlargements in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including the planned EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in 2013 (e.g. Chenoy & Kumar, 2017, p. 255). This approach implies, however, that the relations between the West and Russia would have most likely been splendid, had the EU and NATO refrained from further eastward enlargement. But would this be true?
In his excellent book "Moscow Rules: What Drives Russia to Confront the West" the author, Keir Giles, decouples the current Russian foreign policy approach from its president and outlines his main argument according to which Putin, contrary to Western perceptions, is following the Russian mainstream. He does so by applying many persistent domestic and foreign policy approaches, most notably the assertion of great power status. Instead of an unpredictable interruption in the improving relations between the West and Russia after the Cold War, Giles observes a repetitive occurrence of sinusoidal fluctuations between rapprochement and alienation that can be traced back to tsarist times. Although each confrontation causes a new surprise in the West, Russian state behaviour is described as consistent, in which “Putin himself is not the issue” (p. 160). All in all, this book offers an overview of Russian thinking, the comprehension of which is of central importance for all those who want to understand not only Russian state behaviour, but above all the intrinsic world view of Russian citizens, which is inseparably linked to the political action of the state apparatus. Giles systematically builds up his argumentation by dividing the book into four main parts, in which he breaks down the Russian perception of its relationship with the West, the Russian self-perception and the way the system has shaped the lives of its citizens, the Russian moral framework, as well as the Russian cyclical history and the nature of change.