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.