With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation was slowly reintegrated into the international institutions that support the global economic system: in 1992 Russia joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (Wb); in 1997 it was formally accepted into the G8 (only to be excluded with the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine in November 2013), while in August 2012, after almost eighteen years of negotiations, it became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). On the other hand, the same path was not followed in matters of cooperation and security: Russia continued to look with extreme distrust at the progressive enlargement of NATOto the countries of Eastern Europe, especially the Baltic countries and Poland, considering it a threat to their national security. The ‘misalignment’ between economic cooperation and security is explained by the Russian concept of regional relations. The ruling class and part of public opinion consider the territory that was part of the Soviet Union (and, often, also of the Empire) as a space of natural projection and Russian influence, within which no other state has the right. of interference. Not surprisingly, the former Soviet republics are placed by the Russians in the category of ‘near foreigners’ (blizhneye zarubezh’e): Moscow has been leading this space since the early 1990s through mechanisms of political, economic and security cooperation, first and foremost the Community of Independent States (CSI). The CSI should, in the intentions of the Kremlin, partially take up the baton of the dissolved USSR, avoiding centrifugal thrusts of the republics that were once part of it. Starting with the outbreak of the so-called ‘color revolutions’ in Georgia in 2003, in Ukraine in 2004 and in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 – revolutions that led to overtly pro-European forces in the first two countries to overthrow previous governments – the CIS however, it appeared unable to establish itself as an efficient and incisive organization of regional integration. Faced with the weakness of the CSI, but above all in the face of the awareness of the increasing attractiveness for neighboring countries of the European integration model, President Putin made official in 2011 the start of the ambitious Eurasian Union project. The project, aimed at a regional recomposition under the aegis of Moscow and aimed at proposing a credible and alternative institutional model to the Western European one, is a priority objective of Russian foreign policy. To date, it has led to the first birth of a Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and, from 1 January 2015, to the transformation of the latter into a more institutionalized Eurasian Economic Union which also includes Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. The Ukrainian crisis which erupted in November 2013 and is still far from resolved, however, membership of Kiev, considered fundamental by the Kremlin for the credibility of the Union from the outset.
In a context of growing tensions between Russia and some post-Soviet countries since the early 1990s, the Ukrainian crisis – especially following the annexation of the Crimean peninsula to Russia in March 2014 and Moscow’s military support for separatist forces in the southeastern regions of the country – is at the root of the most serious deterioration in relations between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. After the dissolution of the USSR, tensions with the European Union and the United States had emerged on several occasions, in particular due to the Russian-Georgian conflict of August 2008; but the cooperation between Moscow and the West, particularly in the fight against international terrorism and in the negotiations for nuclear disarmament, had limited the repercussions of regional crises. Relations with Washington then experienced further moments of tension linked in particular, as well as to the enlargement of NATO, to the military operations conducted in Serbia and Kosovo in 1999 and to a rhetoric that, especially in the era of George W. Bush (2001-08), made continuous reference to the period of the bipolar confrontation. Since 2009, under the US presidency of Barack Obama, the two countries have aimed at reaching an agreement on the reduction of nuclear weapons, sanctioned in April 2010 by the New Start treaty. However, there has been a new tightening of relations following the announcement of the deployment of the NATO missile shield, which has exacerbated historical Russian fears for its own security and then led to a direct confrontation and the suspension of joint initiatives.
In foreign policy – and this despite the Ukrainian crisis and the consequent cooling of relations with the West – in recent years Russia has assumed a central role both in the negotiations on Iranian nuclear power, which ended with the reaching of an agreement in July 2015, and in Syria, where Moscow intervened militarily in September 2015, placing itself at the head of an alternative coalition of countries to the one led by the United States. With what is Russia’s first direct and official military intervention in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War, Moscow is not only pursuing the same goal as the international community, namely the fight against IS. Its intent is also to offer decisive support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war in the country since 2011. The position taken by Russia is for this reason of new tensions with Western powers, in particular with States United, who instead support some of the rebel forces against the president.
Overall, Russia’s image as a relatively reliable (as well as strategic) partner has been permanently undermined and Moscow has increasingly turned to cooperation with China. China has historically been viewed by Moscow with partial distrust: as an important economic partner and at the same time as a threat to the traditional Russian influence on Central Asia and to the reaffirmation of the status of a great power that was in crisis after the collapse of the USSR. The attempt to contain the Chinese expansionist push is at the basis of the regional cooperation between Moscow and Beijing through the Shanghai Organization for Cooperation (Sco) which, founded in 1996, also includes the Central Asian republics with the exception of Turkmenistan. On the other hand, economic opportunities – all the more so when considering the rapid worsening of the Russian economic situation following the imposition of various sanctions by the West – led to the signing of important agreements in the energy sector in 2014.