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The Influence of Nationalism on Russian Security Policy: The Logics of (Dis)-Order and Terrorism in the Shift from Nation-State to Nation-Civilization


Far from being a peripheral issue, the challenges of nationalism are part of the core of Russian security policy and operate as stressors on the NATO-Russia-United States relationship. These nationalist challenges, especially in the case of irredentist nationalisms, are spurring constitutional innovation in Russia and creating a foreign policy/ international identity almost wholly foreign to American conceptions of international relations.

This report argues that as Russia is attempting a shift from a constitutional strategy of being a nation-state to being a nation-civilization, which increases the potency and militarization of nationalist responses to Russian foreign policy and will destabilize an international system that has territorial borders as its chief foundation.. Nationalist responses to Russian foreign policy lead to Russian state-sponsorship of terrorism abroad and ethnonationality terrorism at home. This a vision of a renewed Russian civilization, often identified as Novorossiya, does not comfortably fit within an international system Russian civilization, in contrast to a Russian nation-state, is based on two concepts, a unity of Russian-speaking peoples and the promulgation of a Russo-centric Orthodox-Slavic World.

The report analyzes Russian sponsorship of terrorism in the Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine and in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia as well as Russian counter-terrorism against Chechen separatist movements, its principal source of domestic terrorism. The report argues that nationalism in Russia has to be understood in the context of a distinctive nationality regime of the former Soviet Union and the emergence of a distinctive territoriality regime as embodied by the Chechenization policies. Both the nationality and territoriality regimes are the expression of logics of political order that are largely incommensurate with Western views of international order based on stable, fixed boundaries separating distinct political units. In the former Soviet Union and the Russian federation, boundaries are not only less fixed, but political units are often not separated and distinct.

The evidence from these four cases is that Russia’s civilization-state strategy requires an expansive view of its obligations toward Russian-speakers across international boundaries, which in turn is internationalizing the ethno-nationalist conflicts occurring within its borders. This strategy breeds conflict and disorder, both domestically and abroad. Although nationalism has been largely understood as ethnic domination within a single state, or aspiring to get a “state of one’s own,” Russia’s interaction with nationalism has transformed nationalist influences on foreign policy to be as ideological as they are territorial. The report is therefore pessimistic that Russian foreign policy will continue to use force expansively both within its territory and in the territory of other countries that were once a part of a former Soviet Union.

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Full Citation:

Stevenson, John. "The Influence of Nationalism on Russian Security Policy: The Logics of (Dis)-Order and Terrorism in the Shift from Nation-State to Nation-Civilization," Report for the Strategic Multilayer Assessment, U.S. Department of Defense. College Park, MD: START, 2015. https://www.start.umd.edu/sites/default/files/publications/local_attachments/START_TheInfluenceofNationalismonRussianSecurityPolicy_Oct2015.pdf

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