The Evolution of the Russian Perception of a Western Threat, 1993-2023

Sarah Slye | Critique | January 13, 2023

Part I

Changes to the Russian perception of a Western threat can be roughly traced through a textual analysis of the major strategic documents outlining the Russian state’s evolving views on foreign policy and national defense and security. This article reviews successive versions of the Foreign Policy Concept (FPC), National Security Concept (NSC), Military Doctrine (MD) and Information Security Doctrine (ISD) of the Russian Federation to provide a sketch of how the “official” Russian perception of a Western threat has evolved over the past thirty years. Focusing primarily on the texts themselves, it does not delve deeply into context or evaluate the extent to which the Russians’ perceptions may or may not have been grounded in reality. Nor does this article put forward any particular argument. It is a purely descriptive exercise. The first part covers 1993 through 2000.


In the early 1990s, the Kremlin struck a hopeful tone regarding the potential for harmonious and productive relations with the Western states and other countries, especially through cooperation in the United Nations and other international organizations, the observance of international legal norms and productive participation in joint peacekeeping operations. Russia wanted Western support in its transition to a free democratic state and dynamic modern economy (FPC 1993, MD 1993), promised to engage other countries on the basis of “equitable and mutually beneficial interstate relations” (MD 1993) and expressed willingness to cooperate with NATO (FPC 1993). Russian policymakers even suggested the possibility of allied relations with the United States (FPC 1993) amid talk of joining NATO.[i]

Nonetheless, the vast state was already betraying a skittishness about the possibility of its neighbors looking elsewhere for support and mutual benefit. Russian policymakers explicitly wanted to prevent Eastern Europe from becoming a buffer zone between Russia and the West and voiced concern over the potential for geopolitical encirclement by way of neighboring countries turning towards those states with which they shared cultural, religious or economic connections (FPC 1993). Moreover, however much they coveted American regard and support in the form of a “strategic partnership,” the Russians could not help but conceive of the USA as a country intent on maintaining its leading position and transforming itself into the world’s “only superpower.” And they expected particular obstruction to their aims in the area of disarmament from America’s “rightwing conservative circles.” (FPC 1993) Meanwhile, this Leviathan yet wobbly from its recent hatching was mainly focused on preserving its (as the Russians saw it anyway) unity and territorial integrity; dealing with border area conflicts and ensuring stability in the ring of states around it, particularly the CIS countries (FPC 1993, MD 1993). Notably, the Russians expected that tensions would arise in U.S.-Russian relations over conflict situations along Russia’s borders and were already voicing suspicions that the USA might use the cover of mediation and peacebuilding efforts to supplant Russia in the countries of its “traditional influence.” (FPC 1993)


Categories: Geopolitics

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