Central and Eastern Europe
Russian foreign policy in Central and Eastern Europe in the post-Cold war period followed the track of the evolution of its general foreign policy strategy. After the Second World War countries of Central and Eastern Europe were either Soviet republics or fell under the sphere of interests of the USSR. The following dissolution of the socialist bloc and the Soviet Union itself resulted in fundamental geopolitical changes in the region, erasing the solid military and political frontier that divided Europe on the borders of the GDR, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. New states took shape out of what was left of former socialist republics. The region became split and uneven politically. Moscow itself was no longer a political center for Central and Eastern Europe. It became the capital of a remote state that had no common borders with most of the Eastern European countries. Russia-NATO relations that used to be the basis of the continental politics lost their sense of certainty, having opened up room for experiments. Russia faced the challenge of shaping its foreign policy afresh, taking into consideration the changing environment on its western border.
The geopolitical configuration of Central and Eastern Europe is what makes this region especially important for Russian foreign policy. Its intermediate position in between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic makes it an arena for either cooperation or rivalry between the two power centers on the continent. Metaphorically put, this region may serve as a bridge over the chasm between Russia and NATO, or it may become a battlefield for the two. Apart from security concerns, there is also a factor of gas and oil transit via this territory, which explains Moscow’s interest to ensure the safety of energy supply through Eastern to Western Europe, where its end consumers are.
Scholars of Russian foreign policy in Central and Eastern Europe largely disagree on its motives and goals. The key disagreement is between two approaches. One group of scholars argues that Russian policy inherently aims for expansion encouraged by imperial complexes (McFaul, 1998; Sherr, 2013; Umland, 2016) or ethnic and nationalist impulses (Rutland, 2014; Zevelev, 2014; Motyl, 2016). The other group believes that Moscow’s primary concern is to ensure its national security and protect its values (Bogaturov, 2007; Mearsheimer, 2014; Tsygankov, 2015; Graham, 2017). Academic debates on issues of Russian foreign policy today are overly politicized. It is not clear how soon the academic sphere will break free from the extremes of the emotional load that is caused by the major conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine.