No. 40



Russian Trickster, Popularity of the Kremlin’s Foreign Policy and de facto States*

  • Viacheslav Morozov

    Professor of European Union and Russian Studies, University of Tartu

  • Andrey Makarychev

    Visiting Professor, University of Tartu

  • Eiki Berg

    University of Tartu professor ordinarius of theory of international relations

  • Kristel Vits

    PhD student, University of Tartu

The article focuses on two interrelated topics.

The first part examines how the domestic legitimacy of Russia’s current foreign policy can be explained with the cultural references deeply embedded in the Russian society. Moscow’s policy of systematic strategic deceit in the form of deliberate violations of international norms – the most recent example being the annexation of Crimea and stocking of conflict in Eastern Ukraine – enjoys widespread popular support at home. This might seem somewhat surprising, given the high cost in terms of international sanctions and isolation such behaviour brings along. The article demonstrates how the Russian regime is successfully using the popular image of the poor but cunning peasant (Russia) playing tricks on the powerful but somewhat slow lord (West). Though the actual motives of such a foreign policy are rooted in the desire to (re)attain Russia’s global standing by using the relatively low-cost strategy of being a disrupter, the high costs for the domestic audience are legitimised by appealing to the image of the trickster who successfully bends the rules to overpower an otherwise much stronger adversary. The second part of the article examines one of the tools used for the disruptor role, namely being the patron state to de facto states. It details how increasing the agency of de facto states could actually be employed to diminish using them as foreign policy tools by other powers. Russia’s approach so far has been rather dualistic, denying the sovereignty of such state-like formations when it does not suit their foreign policy goals or vice versa, actively encouraging it when it seems advantageous. Giving de facto states more agency would clearly limit the patron state’s ability for such behaviour.

* peer-reviewed article