Explaining Geopolitical Thinking in Russian Foreign Policy

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Associate Professor of Political Geography, Faculty of Geography, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

2 Professor of Political Sciences, Faculty of Geography, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

3 Professor of Political Geography, Faculty of Geography, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

4 PhD in Political Geography, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


Today geopolitics has returned to political analysis and international relations of the studies with more depth and accuracy in understanding of phenomena and also predicting them. The best example for geopolitical consideration in 20th century is the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The event changed the political boundaries of one of the two superpowers in the global bipolar system. Although Russia has lost the considerable size of its territories, especially as its periphery margins, but it has remained as a great power in the region. Soviet fall as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century- as in 2005 Russian president, Putin called - has changed the geographic borders and brought a broad nationalistic and geopolitical thoughts and visions, including the necessity of reviving the Eurasian civilization. Here we consider some geopolitical schools and approaches in regards of preserving Russian influence as its history and related Russian identity. In fact the eurasianism approach has constructed and grown based on Russian identity in the unique manner and way. It seems Russian foreign policy is inspired of geopolitical thinking.
This study has been executed with analytical and descriptive method.  Data gathering are mainly based on primary resources, library information and documentation and also online books and articles in three languages: Farsi, English and Russian. This study is focus on Russian political community and thoughtful contemporary schools and intellectual thoughts. Here the research areas are in the fields of political geography, geopolitics and also international relations. 
Results and discussion
As mentioned in the text, the Eurasian orientation has been present in Russia for centuries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has undergone a significant change in its foreign policy. Starting from the second half of the 1990s, Russian foreign policy began to reflect more and more on the concept of geopolitics. In spite of the fact that Russia as a successor of the USSR; it was facing many economic and political problems. Russian foreign policy was and is based on geopolitical thinking.
One school of foreign policy thinking in Russia warns against an excessively Eurasian concentration of Russian resources and argues for the country’s pro-Western, rather than merely regional, orientation. This school can be referred to as Westernizers because for many years politicians and intellectuals of this group have been challenging the wisdom of Russia’s regional orientation and developing a special Eurasian strategy. To them, Russia is essentially a European country that must associate itself primarily with the Western world and its institutions. This essay assumes that despite the expectations of some scholars and policy-makers, Russia did not retreat from the Eurasian geographical space and in fact is keenly interested in securing its cultural, political, and economic presence there. Some approaches can be mentioned in the Russian geopolitics thinking in the Russian discourse since the Soviet disintegration among Russian political thinkers and foreign policy including geoeconomism, stabilizing Eurasia, expansionists and civilizationists that represent the politically conservative factions of Eurasianist thinking. To supporters of stabilizing Eurasia, the key word in understanding Russia’s security mission in Eurasia is stabilization. Geoeconomism emphasizes the role of geoeconomic over geopolitical factors in the post-cold war world and Eurasia. The emergence of the new geopolitical thinking in Russia is often associated with Eurasianism or the spatial imagination of post-Soviet Eurasia. Eurasianism emphasizes Russia’s geopolitical and cultural uniqueness and distinctiveness from both Western and Asian worlds. To eurasianism, one of the propositions is the notion of the Eurasian continent as heartland of the world and Russia as the heart of the heartland. Following this logic of exclusive geopolitical competition, Russia must take advantage of its strategic location and mobilize its resources, experience, and will for establishing full and single-handed control over Eurasia. For Alexander Dugin as the leader of neo- eurasianism movement, Eurasia spreads far beyond the former USSR. Russia is at the center of this geopolitical struggle and Russia’s main identity is that of Eurasian. Here there are so many questions: If Russia is unable to perform its traditional stabilizing role in the region, which is going to play this vital role? How are analysts to respond to the sudden emergence of new threats when Russia itself is weak and has very limited resources at its disposal? Finally, what exactly is Russia with its new geographical boundaries and how should it reconstruct its traditional geopolitical identity?
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia lost its geopolitical hegemony, but it retained the tendency towards regaining its influence in the world. This tendency is supported by the geopolitical thinking which underlies Russian foreign policy, and which contains elements of some geopolitical schools of thought.  Eurasianism and Neo-Eurasianism are basically created as a reaction to external factors, which were, in significant aspects, very similar. That means that the political collapse of the structure of the Soviet state was accompanied by the geopolitical dissolution of the territory into several sovereign and quasi-sovereign entities. Today, we can analyze the concept of Neo-Eurasianism which is seen in the development of the contemporary Russian geopolitical thought. Such circumstances have occurred after 2000, with the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s rule started, who, again, tries to position Russia as the dominant geopolitical factor between Europe and Asia. Analyses of Russian schools of geopolitical thought disclose that there is no full use of the concepts, visions and theories of one separate school. Instead, Russian foreign policy is based on some aspects of all schools of geopolitical thoughts, which reflects the realistic evaluation of Russian resources, abilities, and capacities. Geopolitical thinking remains a key stone in Russian foreign policy. Analysis of Russian schools of geopolitical thought disclose that there is no dominant visions in Russian foreign approach, but somehow geopolitical views including eurasianism  and neo eurasianism are reflected on it.


Main Subjects

  1. دادس کلاس، 1390، ژئوپلیتیک مقدمه‌ای بسیار کوتاه، ترجمة زهرا پیشگاهی‌فرد و محمد زهدی‌پور، نشر سهره، تهران.
  2. دوگین الکساندر، 1394، تئوری چهارم سیاست، ترجمة مهناز نوروزی، مرکز بین‌المللی مطالعات صلح، تهران.
  3. پریماکف یوگنی، 1391، دنیا بدون روسیه، نشر ایراس، تهران.
  4. زارعی، بهادر، 1397، قرن بیست و یکم قرن آسیا- پاسیفیک، انتشارات دانشگاه تهران، تهران.
  5. کاویانی، مراد و حسن مالداری، 1396، تأثیر موقعیت ژئوپلیتیک بر راهبرد ملی، پژوهش‌های جغرافیای انسانی، شمارة 4، ص 3.
  6. کریمی‌پور، یدالله، 1394، جغرافیا نخست در خدمت صلح، انتشارات انتخاب، تهران.
  7. کولایی الهه و عفیفه عابدی، 1397، مؤلفه‌های ژئوپلیتیکی سیاست خارجی روسیه، فصلنامة ژئوپلیتیک، سال چهاردهم، شمارة 1، صص 1-25.
  8. لاروئل، مارلن، 1388، اوراسیاگرایی روسیه، ابرار معاصر، تهران.
    1. Klaus D., 2011, Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction, Translated in Persian By: Zahra Pishghahi Fard and M. Zohdipour, Sohreh, Tehran. (In Persian)

10. Dugin A., 2015, The Fourth Political Theory: Russia and Political Ideas Of The 21st Century, Translated in Persian By: Mahnaz Norouzi, International Peace Studies Centre Press, Tehran. (In Persian)

11. Primakov, Y., 2012, The World Without Russia? IRAS, Tehran. (In Persian)

12. Zarei, B., 2018, 21th Century; Asia Pacific Century, University of Tehran Publishing, Tehran. (In Persian)

13. Kaviani, M., and Maldari, H., 2017, The Impact of Geopolitical Situation on the National Strategy, Human Geography Research Quarterly, No. 4, P.3 (In Persian)

14. Karimipour Y., 2015, Geography, First For Peace, Entekhab, Tehran. (In Persian)

15. Koolaee, E., and Abedi, A., 2018, Geopolitical Components of the Russian Foreign Policy, International Quarterly Of Geopolitics, Vol. 14, No. 49, PP. 1-25. (In Persian)

16. Laruelle, M., 2008, Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire, Tehran International Studies and Research Institute, Tehran. (In Persian)

17. Alwaght,  2016,Russian Foreign Policy: Eurasianism, Fourth Political Theory of Alexander Dugin, http://alwaght.com/en/news/42826/russian-foreign-policy-eurasianism,-fourth-political-theory-of-alexander-dugin

18. Agnew, J., 2003, Geopolitics: Re-Visioning World Politics, Second Ed, Routledge, London.

19. Astrov, A., and Morozova, N., 2012, Russia: Geopolitics From the Heartland, in the Return of Geopolitics in Europe? Social Mechanisms and Foreign Policy Identity Crises, Ed. Stefano Guzzini, New York, Cambridge University Press, PP. 192-216

20. Bassin, M., 1991, Russia Between Europe and Asia: The Ideological Construction of Geographical Space, Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1, PP. 1-17.

21. Blouet, B., 2001, Geopolitics and Globalization in the 20th Century, Reaktion Books, London.

22. Clapsa, D., 2006, Geo-Political Thinking in Russia and New Foreign Policy Concept, Russia and The European Security System, www.personal.ceu.hu/students/05/dmitri_clapsa/geopolitics_russia.rtf.

23. Colin S, G., 2005, Defence of the Heartland, In Global Geostrategy, Brian W. Blouet, London, Frank Cass.

24. Dmitri, C., 2006, Geo-Political Thinking in Russia and New Foreign Policy Concept, www.personal.ceu.hu/students/05/dmitri_clapsa/geopolitics_russia.rtf.

25. Danilchenko Sergey Leonidovich, 2017, Geopolitical Thought of Russia: History and Contemporaneity, Center of Scientific Cooperation Interactive Plus. Данильченко С.Л, (2017), геополитическая мысль россии: история и современность, www.interactive-plus.ru.

26. Dergachev V., 2010, Дергачев, ГЕОПОЛИТИКА, Русская Геополитическая Энциклопедия. http://dergachev.ru/russian-encyclopaedia/index.html.

27. Evans, G., and Newnham, R., 2000, The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations (Reference) 1st Edition.

28. Guzzini, S., 2012, The Argument: Geopolitics for Fixing the Coordinates of Foreign Policy Identity, in the Return of Geopolitics in Europe? Social Mechanisms and Foreign Policy Identity Crises, Ed. Stefano Guzzini, NewYork, Cambridge University Press, PP. 1-6.

29. Kennedy, P., 1987, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military ConflictFrom 1500 To 2000, Random House, New York.

30. Laruelle, M., 2004, The Two Faces of Contemporary Eurasianism, An Imperial Version of the Russian Nationalism, Nationalities Papers, 32, No.1, PP. 115-136.

31. Marijus, A., 2015, To What Extend Has Russia’s Foreign Policy Since 2000 Been Influenced by Eurasianism, http://lfpr.lt/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/lfpr-30-antonovic.pdf.

32. Mcdougall A, W., 2003, Why Geography Matters, But Is So Little Learned, Orbis.

33. Morozova, N., 2011, The Politics of Russian Post- Soviet Identity: Geopolitics, Eurasianism, and Beyond, Central European University Budapest, Hungary.

34. Mileski, T., 2015, Identifying the New Eurasian Orientation in Modern Russian Geopolitical Thought, Eastern Journal of European Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2 , PP.159-175.

35. Nikolsky, A., 2013, Putin Tells Zhirinovsky to 'Tone It Down', The Moscow Times, www./themoscowtimes.com

36. Russia’s Geographic Challenge, 2012, Stratfor, www.stratfor.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6lihngsqoc.

37. Sicherman, H., 1997, The Revenge of Geopolitics, Orbis, 8, https://www.fpri.org/docs/media/sicherman_the_revenge_of_geopolitics.pdf.

38. Svarin, D., 2016, The Construction of ‘Geopolitical Spaces’ In Russian Foreign Policy Discourse Before and After the Ukraine Crisis, Journal of Eurasian Studies 2, Vol. 7, PP. 129-140.

39. Tsygankov A. P., 2003, Mastering Space in Eurasia: Russia’s Geopolitical Thinking After the Soviet Break-Up, Communist and Post-Communist Studies 36, PP. 101–127, www.elsevier.com/locate/postcomstud.

40. Viktor, D., 2011, The Rise of Russian Nationalism, Geopolitika, http://www.geopolitika.lt/?artc=4593.

41. Werth, A., 2011, Russia at War, 1941–1945, Skyhorse Publishing, New York.