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  • Russia and the West from Alexander to Putin: Honor in International Relations by Andrei P. Tsygankov
  • Anne Clunan
Russia and the West from Alexander to Putin: Honor in International Relations. By Andrei P. Tsygankov (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2012) 317 pp. $99.00 cloth $79 ebook.

Tsygankov’s ambitious study of Russian foreign policy seeks to explain and assess three patterns in Russia's relations with the West that reappear throughout Russian history—cooperation, defensiveness, and assertiveness. Following Reus-Smit, Tsygankov argues that states have a moral purpose that drives their behavior, best captured by the concept of honor.1

Russia’s honor has “two essential dimensions—European and local” (5). Tsygankov is interested in correcting Western perceptions of Russia as anti-Western. He focuses on Russia’s “honor as loyalty to the West,” or “Europeanness,” as the motive for cooperation (40). The “local” element is the stumbling block to cooperation; it consists of what makes Russians feel distinctive—allegiance to Slavs and Orthodox Christians during the nineteenth century, to communist regimes during the next century, and presently to Slavs in the post-communist Balkans and Russian speakers in the former Soviet Union, as well as a commitment to statism and great power status.

According to Tsygankov, “Russia may only act on its Europeanness [that is, cooperate with the West] when the West does not principally challenge the distinctive aspects of Russia’s honor” (5). Russia’s efforts to cooperate with the West in his book are the Holy Alliance (1815–1853), the Triple Entente (1907–1917), Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov’s collective security policy from 1933 to 1939, and the War on Terror (2001–2005). Tsygankov argues that Russo-Western cooperation can be successful only when the West recognizes and respects Russia’s special obligations to protect the “local” component of its honor. Otherwise, domestic proponents of cooperating with the West either fail in [End Page 266] steering state policy or change their minds about the wisdom of cooperation.

The foreign-policy choice between defensiveness and assertiveness is a function of “internal confidence,” which translates into domestic perceptions of Russia’s material capabilities. Defensiveness occurs after foreign-policy setbacks and the West’s refusal to recognize Russia’s honor obligations. Tsygankov presents as cases of defensiveness Alexander Gorchakov’s policy of recuillement after defeat in the Crimean War, the Soviet policy of peaceful coexistence with the West from 1921 to 1939 after the Bolshevik Revolution and World War I, and Yevgenii Primakov’s policy of containing NATO expansion from 1995 to 2000. Russia's assertiveness is demonstrated by the promotion of Russia’s non-Western values during the Crimean War, the early Cold War (1946– 1949), and the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, all of which occurred when the West disregarded Russia’s honor and Russia was confident enough in its strength to advance its own ends.

Methodologically, the brief case studies vary in their depth, relying heavily on Western and Russian secondary accounts, probably because Tsygankov has three goals in each empirical chapter—to prove that realist theories of international relations are inadequate as an explanation, to evaluate the success or failure of each policy episode, and to explain why each policy was chosen. The historical analysis has a geographical focus on events within Europe and scarcely mentions Russia’s long march into Asia or the geopolitical and intellectual currents that shaped much of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European history. This constricted view deprives readers of the broader geopolitical and ideational context of Western-Russian suspicion.

Tsygankov emphasizes that Western lack of recognition of Russia’s distinctive values (and of its Westernness) is in good measure responsible for the failure of Russia’s cooperative overtures and its choice of non-cooperative policies. Although his argument certainly has merit, Western policymakers are just as likely to defend their interests as are Russia’s; the two sides’ interaction is often a conflict of interests rooted in different values. Even if Western countries and Russia shared similar values, their interests might not have coincided in some of the cases that Tsygankov presents, such as the issue of republicanism versus absolutism, Adolf Hitler’s expansionism, or the United States’ role...


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