Regime Transition and Foreign Policy: The Case of Russia's Approach to Central Asia (1991-2008)
In 1991, Russian embarked on an ambitious regime transition to transform the country from communism to democracy. This would be a massive transformation, demanding economic, political, institutional, and social change. It was also expected that the transition would result in significant foreign policy adaptation, as Russia’s identity, direction and fundamental basis for policy-making was transformed. However, it was an unknown quantity how transition in the domestic environment would interact with foreign policy and what the nature of these changes would be. This thesis examines the relationship between regime transition and Russia’s foreign policy. It begins with an examination of literature on regime transition and the types of changes that potentially impact policy-making in a democratising state. It then moves to examining the policy environment and its impact on the contours of policy in each of the Yeltsin and Putin periods, drawing links between domestic changes and their expression in foreign policy. How these changes were expressed specifically is demonstrated through a case study of Russia’s approach to Central Asia through the Yeltsin and Putin periods. The thesis finds clearly that a domestic transitional politics was a determining factor in the nature, substance and style of Russia’s foreign relations. Under Yeltsin, sustained economic decline, contested visions of what Russia’s future should be and where its interests lay, as well as huge institutional flux, competition, an unstructured expansion of interests, conflict, and the inability to function effectively led to an environment of policy politicisation, inconsistency, and turmoil. Tracing relations with Central Asia through this period demonstrates the challenges of transitional foreign policy. Although an apparent ‘consensus’ on a focus on ‘near abroad’ partners emerged in the wake of rising nationalism and political conflict in 1993, it was never consistently implemented. Continued uncertainty, division, and unrestrained political competition, meant Moscow never substantiated opportunities to maintain or increase its influence in the region. This situation changed drastically under Vladimir Putin. Economic recovery, greater agreement on identity and national interests, transformation of the institutional environment and the installation of a more managed, delegative form of democracy stabilised the policy-making context. The political system became more personalised and tightly controlled, while political liberalism and pluralism declined. A smaller range of actors influenced foreign policy and their involvement was more predictable and constructive, though less autonomous. Policy shifted from the previously reactive nature where it catered more to immediate political interests, to demonstrating greater coherence, consistency and long-term, strategic focus. The subsequent change in Russia’s policy towards Central Asia was signficant. Putin saw Russia’s relations with Central Asia as part of an integrated approach to the world. He refocused relations to target economic and security considerations; areas of primary Russian interest and in which he knew Russia had something to offer. The greater coordination of a range of foreign policy actors and the growth of resources at the state’s disposal allowed for more comprehensive strategies. Importantly, it also laid the basis for a more significant future Russian presence, even in spite of the challenges presented by the more vigorous external activity in the region following September 11. Ultimately, Putin’s domestic changes meant that regime transition came to matter less in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy and allowed Russia to pursue a more successful foreign policy in Central Asia.
Advisor: Patman, Robert
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Political Studies
Keywords: Regime transition; Russia; Democratisation; Central Asia
Research Type: Thesis