6th column: American Ideology’s Influence on Russian IR Studies


As Steven Gill said, there are two meanings of ideology: positive and negative[i]. In Marxism for example, the negative meaning of ideology is “false consciousness”, which is a system of views that is imposed from the outside. The positive meaning of ideology is the expression of the Weltanschauung of a particular class or other social entity. In other words, ideology always presumes someone’s subordination to an idea (the negative meaning), and also someone who produces this idea, whose values and interest are expressed in the ideology (the positive meaning). The liberal ideology pretends to be universal, but actually reflects the values ​​and interests of the US government and society.

Decision-making in any state’s foreign policy is a process that is influenced by many factors, including the important role that is played by the expert and academic community. Of course, it is part of a larger community of specialists on foreign relations, which includes also government employees. Between these three groups, there is also a natural exchange of ideas and people. The community generates ideas and concepts that later become part of state policy, forming the basis of the state’s thinking about its place in the world, as well as practical actions in the field of international politics.

To correctly determine the potential impact of American ideology on Russian foreign policy, we should examine which ideas are dominant in the Russian IR community. Is there a place for American ideology? What is the ideological basis that establishes the outlook on international relations in respective educational institutions?

Education: Liberal Indoctrination

Let us start with the basics. What ideology is the foundation of the educational process in the relevant institutions? Usually, most of the Russian IR experts have degrees either in political science or history. Both branches of knowledge at their core are extremely ideological. At the same time, the ideas in the field of political science have a major impact on those who receive education in the field of history. The scope of analysis in international relations is impossible without knowledge of history, but it demands working with political science terminology.

Political science that is taught in the majority of Russian universities, including in educational institutions that teach foreign affairs, is a carbon copy of the American field of political science, and reflects different doctrinal principles that characterize the American ideology as a whole:

1. progressivism and universalism;

2. the view that the liberal-democratic political system is normative;

3. an uncritical examination of the ideology of human rights and civil society;

4. individualistic anthropology;

5. positivist epistemological installations.

Examples of this include the political science textbooks edited by Melville (MGIMO)[ii], Kravchenko (MSU)[iii], the classic textbook by Pugachev and Soloviev (Pugachev V., Soloviev A., Introduction to Political Science), etc.

Within the framework of the dominant paradigm in Russian political science, liberal democracy and civil society are understood to be the pinnacle of the progressive development of humanity. Anti-American ideology in this paradigm simply cannot exist, as the American ideology is understood as the universal one, and the only possible choice for any civilized person.

The same thing can be seen within the specific courses in international relations (IR) and world politics, and theories of integration. International relations, as a rule, is limited to retelling the classical positivist theories of the discipline that emerged in the Anglo-Saxon geopolitical context. The introduction of the concept of “world politics” is conceptualized in particular by Marina Lebedeva (MGIMO) as a transition to the understanding of the world as a single system, defined by the trends of globalization, democratization and the development of a global governance system.[iv] In this context, the concept of world politics is becoming synonymous with post-national politics, strengthening the domination of the globalist discourse.

The leading authors (Lebedeva M., Strezhneva M.[v]) tend to have a positive approach towards the neo-liberal concept of global governance, which implies a dispersed global system of world processes coordination with the participation of state and non-state actors, including interest groups and transnational corporations. However, the concept of “global governance” is rarely criticized and is considered to be historically inevitable.[vi]

The open promotion of the globalist liberal ideological discourse characterizes global studies (GS), especially the version of Marat Cheshkov [vii] We again face the typical American ideology and universalist vision of the world in the style of the early work of Fukuyama, which nevertheless claims to have the status of a scientific discipline.

At the same time, geopolitics, which offers a vision of the world alternative to liberal-globalist one, and a dynamic conflicting understanding of world processes, which concludes that there is an inevitable and built-in geopolitical dualism between tellurocratic and thalassocratic powers, is now forced out of the educational process.

Geopolitics itself is severely criticized for its conflict-based approach; otherwise this approach is artificially removed from geopolitics all together, offering intellectual surrogates. As a rule, rather than offering a serious critique, rhetorical methods of argumentation are used to discredit geopolitics, for example, clichés such as “vulgar geopolitics”, “fundamentalist conservatives” are used by liberals, and so on.[viii]

The course of geopolitics at the MGIMO University for a bachelor's degree in "International Relations" is an example of this. In the subject, "The Geopolitics of Contemporary Russia," the author of the course offers to students everything, including the predictive "The End of Eurasia" , by the head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, Dmitri Trenin, except for the classics from the Russian geopolitical school.[ix]

Paradigm of Liberal Globalism

At the level of the Russian expert community, there are two types of promotion of American ideology that can be identified.

The first one is the 1990’s liberal Westernizing narrative, with some amendments based on developments from the 2000’s. Its distinctive features are its statements that Russia and the West share common values, which are declared to be values ​​of  the European Enlightenment, the equivocation of the concept of the West with the "Euro-Atlantic community". This is one where the US dominates, and views the changes in the predominant powers in the political system of Russia and its foreign policy in a negative way. The aim of Russian foreign policy in their paradigm is rapprochement with the West, overcoming differences with the US and the EU. Pundits for liberal globalism stress the necessity to continue liberal reforms in the sphere of politics and economics. Some of the most notorious representatives of this trend, in particular the academician Arbatov, Jr., are presently attempting to create a false discourse, supposedly demonstrating the evolution of these views, combining liberal theses with patriotic stamps and quoting the head of state[x]. A polycentric world, in their theories, became synonymous with a global Western-orientated one, where international institutions play a main role, as classical liberals always dreamed. According to them, Russia's sovereignty can only be achieved if it returns to the course of development along European civilizational lines.

At the same time, political rapprochement with non-Western countries, or Russia’s transformation into an independent pole of power, is demonized. The non-Western countries themselves, in particular China and Iran, are declared as the sources of various threats.

Usually, this style is typical of the representatives of Russian offices of Western think-tanks (the best example: Carnegie Moscow Center), or academic institutions directly connected Western structures like the INION (Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences), in particular the department of European security under Parkhalina T., and also IMEMO (Institute of World Economy and International Relations ), especially the Euro-Atlantic security initiative and the Center for International Security of Arbatov, and the ​​Institute of US and Canada, and the Institute of Europe.

The Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP) continues to follow this discourse. It was created as the direct continuation of the leading globalist think tank, the New York based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Examples could be the last SVOP Assembly, The Contours of the Future Problems, and the SVOP report, The Changing Orientation from the West to the East.

Naturally, the agents of an openly pro-American discourse are the representatives of the Higher School of Economics and liberal think tanks, such as  theInozemtsev Post-Industrial Studies Center, the INSOR of Igor Yurgens, the Liberal Mission Fund, New Eurasia Foundation (established by the American Eurasia Fund), the PIR center, the Gorbachev Foundation, and others.

A similar ideological orientation can be seen in the texts of MGIMO's political science school, with the representatives Melville A., Lebedeva M., Kuvaldin V.[xi],  and Kulagin V., who is the main promoter in Russia of the liberal democratic peace theory, which lies at the root of the American doctrine of spreading democracy.

Russian-style Peripheral Realism

The second type of American discourse being promoted is based on a slightly different position. Like in the first case, the authors declare that Russia and the West share common values, however, they state that the national interests have a priority. It is alleged that, despite the conflict of interests, Russia and the United States may find agreement. The most desirable prospect for Russia is said, by them, to be a transformation into an influential regional power in the global system, under the leadership of the US. It can be either implemented through “entry into the Western world”, or through a transformation into a kind of “bridge” between the US and China.

Despite the limited criticism towards the US and the periodic use of terms like “polycentrism”, this approach also completely contradicts multi-polarity, as it approves of the necessity of preserving, or the inevitability of, the global dominance of the West. The West still stands as a role model, and the most “progressive region of the planet.” The progressivist and westernizing ideology refers to everyday consciousness, instinctive materialism and hedonism, and a belief in progress.

One version of such a ideology is manifested in an article written by the Deputy Director of the Institute of the US and Canada, Viktor Kremenyuk. It is titled the Chances and resources of the Russian statehood[xii], where Kremenyuk uses precisely the arguments mentioned above. Earlier, the same author had an ultra-Western position[xiii], in particular he justified the principle of supremacy of human rights over the sovereignty of particular states[xiv].

A recent interview with the director of state-funded IMEMO, Alexandr Dynkin to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, where he praises such approach, is very significant.


“The US will have to reconsider the idea of ​its superiority in world politics and to accept the status of the first among equals (as the ancients said: “primus inter pares”). Together with other major powers, it will take responsibility for the building of an international relations system that takes into account the interests of other players, reinforcing their position and their desire to play a more important role in world politics.”[xv]

At the same time Dynkin states that Russia and the US must work together to confront the crisis in the cultural and ideological sphere. That is again supported by the idea of a common ideology (the American and liberal) and the US having a leading position in the global world as something self-evident and undoubtable.

Such a position has a special name in the international relations theory: peripheral realism. It is widespread mostly in Latin America. The most typical exponent of peripheral realism is the Argentinian internationalist Carlos Escudo. As well as traditional IR-realists, the “peripheral realists” see international politics from the point of view of the national interests of the states, however, they believe that as their states are not strong enough, the most rational strategy would be to follow the rules that exist within the system. Thus, states can achieve maximum results if it follows the existing rules and is guided by the hegemonic state. Eliminating the hegemon and the hegemonic system is fraught with disruptions, crises, and conflicts that may affect the safety of the peripheral countries.

Peripheral realism equates the national interests with the individual interests of citizens, which is the need to ensure safety and well-being. Based on this, the most important conclusion is: there is no need to oppose stronger states, as this leads to the fact that the burden of the costs is imposed on the citizens. Only a hegemonic state can ensure the implementation of the rules in international system, without them the system would collapse.[xvi]

It is significant that Russia's leading “realist”, Dr. Alexander Bogaturov balances between peripheral and classical realism. In the 1990’s, he offered the idea of ​​thinking about the world system as “pluralist unipolarity”, where the main task of the state is to improve its status within the existing system.[xvii]

In the article Pluralistic Unipolarity[xviii], in the early 2000’s, Bogaturov argues that an anti-Western course would be most disastrous for Russia, as the West is strong and a source of technology, capital, and modernization experience for Russia. In addition, the author's view is characterized by a desire to extend the US's “peace mission” in Afghanistan.[xix] Of course it was justified by Russia’s interests and the threat of Islamic extremism.

This liberal ideology is still implicitly present even in the works of authors who are trying to faithfully mimic realism. Therefore, the pro-rector of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukin, in exploring the political crisis in Kyrgyzstan in 2010, offers a purely liberal method to solve similar problems for all post-Soviet countries, including Russia:

“The establishment and the institutional strengthening of the rule of law and separation of powers instead of the current quasi-parties, quasi-societies, and quasi-elections.”[xx]

It is possible to say that the supporters of Russian peripheral realism only examine the situation objectively; in fact they have such arguments. However, the theory of international relations is not a pure reflection of this kind of “objective reality”, it always has a subjective element. Besides, theoretical constructs directly affect practical politics. In other words, international relations are what they are in the IR-theories, and the IR-theories are what theorists make of them. Those who claim to have only the correct reflection of the current reality, in fact, constitute this reality.

Even criticizing liberalism, democratization, and the imposition of Western values upon other ​​civilizations, Russian authors cannot give up the basic ideological principles that can be defined as “the American ideology.” Lukin himself believes that “Russia should become a conductor of European approaches and values ​​in Eurasia”[xxi] and, in response to the strengthening of conservative tendencies in Russian politics, suggests not to give up the Western concept of human rights and freedoms, separation of powers, etc.[xxii] (the basic principles of American ideology), and actively denounce “authoritarian regimes”. The Director of the Institute of Europe, Andrei Gromyko, criticizing the supporters of the view that Russia is a unique civilization, believes that “will oppose Russia to the rest of the world”. In all likelyhood, “the rest of the world” is the United States and Europe.[xxiii]


Both liberal globalism and Russian peripheral realism are consistent with two variants of American ideology in the IR sphere: liberalism and realism. If the first one is just a copy of the Western variant, the second one is likely to be colonial realism, which instead of a full defense of the sovereignty and interests of the country, it invites us to be content with what the country currently is and has. If bona fide realism, as was noted by Edward Hallett Carr [xxiv], aims to reshape the existing international system, if necessary,  peripheral realism strives to maintain or slightly upgrade the system by putting the preservation of international order as the main purpose.

Naturally, both these types of discourse are ideal types. In fact, one can observe the mixing of the two discourses, or the use of their individual elements in scientific constructs, debates, justifying someone’s position. It is significant that both of these types of perception of international relations are based on Western ideological and philosophical principles. It is not the reality that the US is the center of politics and economics, because this in fact is not the case, but rather because it is the ideological center of the modern Western world, that causes their pro-American orientation.

Occidentalism is the main ideological core that ensures the dominance of liberal discourse in the Russian foreign affairs expert community. Of course, it is quite closed, maintaining the continuity of certain institutions from the Soviet period. The Westerners of both branches represent a united group in general, the majority of which are incorporated in the structures of umbrella organizations like The Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, or the Russian International Affairs Council, with the President of the New Eurasia Foundation, Andrei Kortunov, as its head.

It can be deduced that it is the ideological indoctrination, carried out in educational institutions, which forms the Westernized intellectual climate among the experts and the academicians, and displaces the adherents of other philosophical systems, contributing to the usurpation of a disproportionately large segment of the discourse on international relations in Russia by the liberals.

[i] Gill. S. American Hegemony and the Trilateral Commission. Cambridge: Cambridge Studies. P.6

[ii] Melville A. Political Science. Moscow. 2013

[iii] Kravchenko A. Political Science. Moscow. 2016

[iv] Lebedeva M. World Politics of the XXI Century: actors, processes and problems. Moscow, 2009

[v] Strezhneva M. Intefration as Means of Global Governance

URL: http://www.intertrends.ru/seventh/002.htm

[vi] See Baranovsky V., Ivanova M. IMEMO, 2015

[vii] Cheshkov M. The Global Studies as Scientific Knowledge  NOFMO. 2005

[viii] Bogaturov A. Notion of World Politics in the Theoretical Discourse/ Kokoshin A, Bogaturov A. World Politics: Theory, Methodology, Applied Research 

[ix] Busygina I. Geopolitics: Theories and Applied Research program for Political Science Faculty of MGIMO.

 URL: http://old.mgimo.ru/files/266794/Geopolitics_theory_and_applied_analysis_MO_2014.pdf

[x] See Arbatov A. Destruction of World Order

URL: http://www.globalaffairs.ru/number/Krushenie-miroporyadka-16918

[xi] See Kuvaldin V. Globalization, National State and New World Order

URL:  http://ecsocman.hse.ru/data/2013/01/31/1251414690/3.pdf

[xii] Kremenyuk V. Chances  and Resources of Russian Statehood

URL: http://www.intertrends.ru/twenty-eight/05.html

[xiii] Kremenyuk V. Russia: out of World Society

URL: http://www.intertrends.ru/twelfth/005.htm

[xiv] Kremenyuk V. Violence and Non-violence in the “Empire of World Democracy” // International Processes, 2004. Vol. 2. P. 34-42

[xv] Dynkin A., Burroughs M. Danger of Political Dogmatism / Rossiskaya Gazeta

 URL: http://www.rg.ru/2015/12/16/opasnost.html

[xvi] Escude C. Foreign Policy Theory in Menem's Argentina. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1997.

[xvii] Bogaturov A. Modern International Order.

 URL: http://www.intertrends.ru/one/001.htm

[xviii] Bogaturov A. Pluralistic Unipolarity.

URL: http://obraforum.ru/pdf/Essays-bogaturov-chapter15.pdf

[xix] Bogaturov A., Fenenko A. Crisis of Imposed Consensus Strategy.

URL: http://mgimo.ru/files/73144/bced5e078c6344ffdc589685a4edb1ff.pdf

[xx] Lukin A. Dilapidation of Authoritarism in Kyrgysia and post-Soviet Space: Rules and Exceptions.

URL: http://www.globalaffairs.ru/number/Obvetshanie-avtoritarizma-14875

[xxi] Lukin A. “Democratism” against Democracy.

URL: http://www.globalaffairs.ru/number/Demokratizm-protiv-demokratii-17495

[xxii] Lukin A. Where Does Progress Lead.

URL:  http://www.globalaffairs.ru/number/Kuda-vedet-progress-17108

[xxiv] Carr E. H. The Twenty Year Crisis. N.Y.: 2001.