An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2017

Russian Revanche: External Threats & Regime Reactions

Keith A. Darden

Has the development of post-Soviet Russia in an international system dominated by a democracy-promoting United States bred an authoritarian reaction in Russia as a response to perceived threats from the West? Beginning with the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, Russian elites have increasingly seen the United States as a distinctively threatening power, one with a strategy to exploit civic organizations, ethnic groups, and other forms of domestic pluralism as “fifth columns” in an effort to overthrow unfriendly regimes. With each new crisis in U.S.-Russian relations – Ukraine 2004, Georgia 2008, Ukraine 2014 – the Russian leadership has tightened controls over society, the press, and the state. The result is that the United States’ muscular promotion of democracy abroad has produced the opposite of its intended effect on Russia, leading successive Russian governments to balance the perceived threat from the United States by pursuing greater military and intelligence capacity to intervene abroad, and by tightening internal authoritarian controls at home to prevent foreign exploitation of the nascent internal pluralism that emerged in the wake of Communism.

KEITH A. DARDEN is Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University. He is the author of Economic Liberalism and Its Rivals: The Formation of International Institutions among the Post-Soviet States (2009) and Resisting Occupation in Eurasia: Mass Schooling and the Creation of Durable National Loyalties (forthcoming).

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