- Introduction to the Special Issue
This special issue of Asian Perspective focuses on Russia’s relations with the Asia Pacific region. The authors—Russian, Chinese, and American—present different theoretical approaches to the topic, including alternatives to the mainstream realist view of Russia as a major power using geopolitical strategies to establish itself in the Asia Pacific and Eurasia.
The diverse theoretical approaches to explaining Russian-Asian relations reflect a trend of growing internationalization in Russian studies of international relations (IR). This trend could facilitate Russian contributions to an emerging global IR theory—a project that draws on multiple concepts from both Western and non-Western sources, extrapolating from local knowledge and generalizing to the global (Acharya 2016). The global IR project may create the possibility for a more intelligible common Asia Pacific discourse among IR scholars.
Russian scholars and officials rely primarily on the discourse of realist balance of power and geopolitical diplomacy even within Asian multilateral regimes whereas other scholars and officials use a discourse based on multilateralism. Russian scholars with their Asian and Western counterparts have not yet achieved a common discourse within a global epistemic community defined as “a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy relevant knowledge within that domain or issue-area” (Haas 1992, 3). An epistemic community, a transnational network of knowledgeable scholars, can promote understanding and help decisionmakers resolve international issues. [End Page 297]
There is strong Russian interest in the global IR project. The mission of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), established in 2010 by the Russian Foreign Ministry and other organizations, was to promote cooperation between Russian and foreign scholars on issues of international relations. In 2017, RIAC reemphasized its continuing goal to integrate Russian social sciences into the global discourse in order to participate in international research projects, international conferences, and publications in peer-reviewed journals. RIAC proposed “A New Model of International Cooperation” with extensive, detailed analysis on the mechanics of establishing an international research project. The proposal stressed the need to produce educational materials and textbooks for Russian universities, which presumably would lead to an intellectual revolution (Kortunov 2017). However, the new model was silent on the most important issue: How would Russian, Asian, and Western scholars bridge the conceptual gaps? How would they form epistemic communities?
In the twenty-first century, Russian realism became the predominant theoretical approach, although it diverged from Western realism. Much of the work of Russian realism focuses on geoeconomics, geopolitics, and the construction of regional and world order, with Russia’s assuming the leadership of that world order.
The Soviet-Era Legacy
Current Russian IR theory represents a shift from Soviet-era scholarship, which was rigid and lacked theoretical innovation. The Soviet study of international relations was firmly situated in the Marxist-Leninist paradigm, untouched by Western theories (Bordachev 2014). During the Soviet era, because of the applied nature of most IR research, researchers could only present their work in the form of an essay that was intentionally devoid of discussions on theoretical approaches (Lebedeva 2017, 14). This Soviet style, which resembles intelligence briefings focused on foreign policy applications, continues to be the only format for some Russian scholars.
A persistent Western critique of Russian IR analysis is that it has been shaped more by geopolitical considerations than by academic analysis. Western scholars note that the Russian Foreign Ministry’s [End Page 298] practice of foreign policy leaves its imprint on Russian IR theory, placing limits on academics’ theoretical explorations and setting them apart from Western academics. It is generally the case in Russia that academics’ discourse and the Foreign Ministry’s discourse are intertwined and mutually constitutive (Omelicheva and Zubytska 2016). This limits the possibility that Russian studies of IR will connect with the global academic discourse on international relations.
Another legacy of the Soviet era still found in the work of older scholars, and witnessed often by the author while residing in Russia, is the reliance on conspiracy theories regarding plots against the Soviet Union/Russia—a result of isolation and a lack of information and research...