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Stephen Holmes on Policy of Russia - Dictionary of Arguments

Krastev I 14
Policy of Russia/post-communism/Krastev: The Kremlin’s first response to the global pre-eminence of liberalism was a form of simulation of the sort adopted by relatively weak prey to avoid being attacked by dangerous predators. Russia’s political elite, in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse, was by no means uniform.
Krastev I 15
Democray: The creation of ‘imitation democracy’ in 1990s Russia involved none of the arduous work of real political development. It was essentially a matter of erecting a Potemkin façade with a superficial resemblance to democracy only. >Imitation/Krastev.
By 2011–12, this democratic charade had outlived its usefulness. Russia’s leaders then switched to a resentment-fuelled policy of violent parody, a style of imitation that is brazenly hostile and intentionally provocative. It certainly cannot be captured by bland analyses of foreign policy imitation as ‘observational learning’.(1)
Mirroring: Russia’s interference in the American Presidential elections in 2016, to come to the most salient example of this tauntingly ironic ‘mirroring’ approach, was understood by its organizers and perpetrators as an attempt to duplicate what the Kremlin considered the West’s unwarranted incursions into Russia’s own political life.
Democracy: Thesis: Having simulated the accountability of politicians to citizens in the 1990s, we argue, the Kremlin today has lost all interest in democratic charades. Instead of pretending to imitate America’s domestic political system, Putin and his entourage prefer to imitate the way America illicitly interferes in the domestic politics of other countries.
Krastev I 111
Policy of Russia/Krastev: The Crimean annexation was, fundamentally, a bid to re-legitimize a system that was losing its credibility. It did this by demonstrating that Moscow could
Lrastev I 112
defy the West with impunity. The spectacle of an unopposed violation of international norms replaced the spectacle of an unopposed violation of democratic norms. Small successful wars fought in symbolically important places like Crimea turned out to have a bigger political pay-off than winning rigged elections.
Putin's brazen defiance of Western norms and expectations gave his regime a greater boost than ethno-nationalism or any strategic gains achieved by 'returning' Crimea to the motherland. Against those who 'pursue only one goal - to destroy Russia as a nation', as Putin said in his election victory speech of 2012, 'we have demonstrated that nobody can impose anything on us. Nobody can impose anything.'(2)
Krastev: The Crimea annexation proved the point. Putin had staged a sovereignty drama. Restoring Russia's strength and sovereignty, meaning its de facto independence from Western influence, remains today the fundamental theme of Putin's public discourse. 'Efforts to contain Russia have failed, face it,' he repeated in 2018. 'Nobody listened to us. Listen now.“(3)
Russia/China/Krastev: (...) unlike China, Russia cannot be defined as a classic rising power. Its global weight is minimal compared to the influence once exerted by the Soviet Union, and while it has succeeded in improving its position in the short term, its long-term prospects as a global heavyweight are questionable.
Krastev I 114
Post-imitation: After 2012, the Kremlin jettisoned its attempts to shore up its domestic
legitimacy by imitating Western-style democracy. The new purpose was to discredit the Western-dominated international order by exposing its fundamental hypocrisy. The tone of the new approach was sarcastic: Americans give lip-service to international law, we are told, but act according to 'the rule of the gun'.
Krastev I 134
Policy of Russia/Krastev/Holmes: (...) Moscow's resentment-fuelled policies (...) don't rise to the level of a well-considered, long-term strategy. Indeed, Russia's policy of ironic mimicry and reverse engineering of American hypocrisy may be slowly nudging the world towards disaster.
Aggressive imitation assumes, in a self-fulfilling way, that all grounds for trust between Russia and the West have been fatally eroded.
Paranoia: Distinguishing public justifications from hidden motivations is only common sense. But focusing dogmatically and obsessively on this distinction, as Putin seems to do, is a slippery slope.
Krastev I 135
Because they spy cynicism behind every American invocation of humanitarian ideals and want to prove that they are no longer as naive as they were when they believed America's two-faced promises not to expand NATO eastward, they have thrown themselves into a strutting disregard for elementary humanitarian values, as if jettisoning moral inhibitions in the siege of Aleppo, for example, made them into worthy counterparts to the amoral America whose purported villainy they love to revile.


1. Benjamin E. Goldsmith, Imitation in International Relations. Observational Learning, Analogies, and Foreign Policy in Russia and Ukraine (New York; Palgrave, 2005).
2. This was Putin's famously tearful 'Election Victory Speech' in Manezhnaya Square (4 March 2012); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v-c6qLcDAoqxQ.
3. Anton Troianovski, 'Putin Claims Russia Is Developing Nuclear Arms Capable of Avoiding Missile Defenses', Washington Post (1 March 2018).


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

LawHolm I
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
The Common Law Mineola, NY 1991

Krastev I
Ivan Krastev
Stephen Holmes
The Light that Failed: A Reckoning London 2019


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-15
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