Preserving Peace Among the Great Powers: Russia’s Foreign Policy and Normative Challenges to the International Order

Alexey Bogdanov


Maintaining peace and preventing ‘major wars’ are, apparently, the ultimate goals of international life, constituting the essence of any international order. Although the extant theoretical approaches suggest different explanations of the causes and preconditions of ‘great-power peace’, most of the existing interpretations emphasize structural factors, stressing the destructive impact of ‘anarchy’ on the prospects of international security. International relations (IR) scholars, sharing this view, assume that constraining anarchy by establishing some sort of supranational authority and diminishing anarchy’s negative impact on international stability should contribute substantially to the protection of peace and avoiding large-scale inter-state conflicts. Three major ways to achieve this goal are usually debated in the course of the academic discussions:

1. Escaping anarchy as a ‘state of nature’ through the establishment of supreme sovereign authority (‘world governance’ or the ‘concert of nations’).

A. Bogdanov (*)

Saint Petersburg State University, Saint Petersburg, Russia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

R.E. Kanet (ed.), The Russian Challenge to the European Security Environment, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50775-0_3

  • 2. Worldwide promotion of democratic principles and liberal values through the establishing of supranational multilateral institutions, regulating international relations (primarily in the field of economy and security) and restraining the nation-states’ sovereignty and ‘egoism’.
  • 3. Dominance of a single great power, whose supremacy facilitates the imposition of hierarchical order, assuming that secondary states, following, largely, the security reasons, cede some of their sovereign functions to the hegemonic power,1 which, in turn, provides economic and security benefits for the subordinates, in particular, and for the international system, as a whole (Lake 2007, p. 61). In this case, the costs of using competitive strategies are too high for the less powerful states and, hence, they become more prone to ‘bargain’ with the dominant power,2 seeking to preserve the existing status quo and to exchange their loyalty on various privileges, escaping any overt confrontation both with the hegemon (Kang 2003/2004, p. 172) and with each other. Overall, this approach emphasizes the consensual nature of hierarchy, originating from ‘relational authority’, which is conceived as a kind of ‘social contract’, preconditioning that the superordinate power provides order in exchange for consent and loyalty of the secondary states.

In this chapter, I discuss the impact of Russia’s policy towards post-Soviet space (and Ukraine, particularly) on the established international norms and regional security environment. Investigating current security challenges in Europe, I stress the linkage between the ‘international structure’ and ‘sovereignty’, which, in my view, affects decisively the prospects of international peace across the region. I start with drawing a distinction between ‘anarchy’, as a structure, under which states are sovereign and perform security functions themselves, and ‘hierarchy’ - a structure, under which the subordinate states cede some oftheir sovereign functions to a preeminent power or to a supranational legal authority. My next point is the proposition that, since the early 1990s, the collision of ‘anarchical’ and ‘hierarchical’ tendencies has been unfolding on the post-Soviet space. I propose that the former is caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a number of ‘newly independent states’, while the latter is conditioned by the gradual restriction of these states’ sovereignty as a result of the impact of two processes - the expansion of Euro-Atlantic transnational institutions (European Union, EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO) and the gradual restoration of Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’. This understanding provides a ‘structural’ explanation of the origins and causes of current tensions between Russia and the Western powers around the post-Soviet space as a whole and, particularly, around Ukraine. The prospects for peace and security in Eurasia are viewed in the context of the two orders’ collision - (1) Euro-Atlantic hierarchy, embodied in supranational norms and institutions, constraining the member-states’ sovereignty and political autonomy and (2) the emerging single-power hierarchy, relying both on Russia’s increased might and economic influence of transnational bodies (Eurasian Economic Union and Customs Union), controlled from Moscow and designed to strengthen the mutual dependence of the post-Soviet states within the centralized, Russia-led regional order. I also propose that this collision engenders the fundamental normative challenges to the post-Cold War European international order, questioning the mere foundations of the existing legal frameworks. Hence, the incipient Russian hierarchy transforms radically the strategic landscape of post-Soviet space, provoking both scholars and decision-makers to take a fresh look at the nature of current security challenges in the region.

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