, Volume 92, Number 6

Iver B. Neumann
Russia defines itself as a Great Power in relation to Europe and the West. The first part of the article traces how, since 1991, a story about greatness centred on being part of contemporary European civilization has given way to a story of how Russia is great by being superior to a Europe that is now seen as rotten and decadent. The former story spelled cooperation with Europe and the West, where the latter spells confrontation. The second part argues that Russia’s superiority complex is unsustainable. It is hard to see how, in the face of the formative structural pressure of the state system, Russia will be able to sustain its superiority complex. A state that does not order itself in such a way that it may either gain recognition as a Great Power by forcing its way and/or by being emulated by others, is unlikely to maintain that status. The costs of maintaining Great-Power status without radical political and economic change seem to be increasing rapidly. If Russia wants to maintain its status, an about-turn is needed. Such a turn may in itself be no solution, though, for if Russia does not do anything about the root causes of its perceived inferiority to Europe, then the Russian cyclical shifting from a Westernizing to a xenophobic stance will not be broken.

To read this article, you need to be a Chatham House member

Find out more about Chatham House membership