What is Russia? Russia’s foreign policy orientation under Yeltsin
This chapter examines the main underlying principles of Russia’s foreign policy towards the former Soviet states during the Yeltsin era in an attempt to determine whether Russian leaders were able to discard Russia’s imperial legacy and envisage the conduct of relations with the new states on the basis of total equality and recognition of the new states’ independence and sovereignty; or whether Russian leaders tended to view the former Soviet space as a natural sphere of Russian influence. In order to comprehend the true nature of Russia’s relations with the former Soviet states, the chapter first analyses the views of key decision makers and influential foreign policy elites on ‘What is Russia?’, on Russia’s vital interests, and its role in the post-Soviet space. The chapter shows that most members of the Russian political elite had serious difficulties in accepting the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russian state within the administrative borders of the old RSFSR. Their idea of ‘Russia’ remained closely linked with the former Soviet Union and the Russian Empire, both in terms of territorial dimension and population composition. Moreover, Russians were at pains to accept the fact that their country no longer fitted entirely with the qualities of a ‘Great Power’ in the world arena. Despite the longing for empire, the Russian leadership, President Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Kozyrev in particular, did not adopt a neo-imperialist attitude towards the FSS when the USSR collapsed. On the contrary, the leadership was endowed with a strong anti-imperialist approach. Yeltsin and Kozyrev attempted to bring Russia into the ‘civilised’ group of Western nations. More importantly, they treated the former Soviet states as independent and sovereign entities of international law, although these views were not share by the Russian Defence Ministry.