Understanding Russia's use of Transborder Nationalism - A Tool of Hard Power in Disguise of Soft Power?

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Politics


During the last decade Russia has sought to influence their neighbouring countries through different means. One is through the idea of Russian ethnicity and historical and cultural belonging, and the notion that there exist strong bonds between Russia and some populations that are citizens of other countries. This could be seen as a form of transborder nationalism where Russia is trying to create or maintain a community outside of the core nation. However, where sole soft power has failed, Russia does not seem to shy away from using its hard power as well, which is evident from cases such as Georgia, Ukraine and Estonia (cyber attacks).

I would like to focus my research on Russia's apparent mix of soft and hard power, and the role of the country as a patron state for various populations dispersed in the post-soviet region. The main goal of my proposed research project is to study the methods that Russia uses in order to strengthen its influence over the countries in its near abroad, as well as analysing the particular type of transborder nationalism employed by Russian decision makers.

My two main questions are: 1. Methods and strategies in the use of Russian soft power in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. Is this tool used by its own or is it deliberately used in tandem with hard power? 2. Is the Russian promotion of transborder nationalism posing a security threat to neighbouring countries' internal stability and sovereignty?

This study will primarily rely upon qualitative methods in order to better understand contemporary Russian foreign policy and pinpoint its use of soft and hard power. The qualitative analysis will also be supported by quantitative evidence where appropriate. To achieve a deeper understanding of the Russian activities and policies I will also use a comparative approach, both studying the variation in Russian conduct towards the different former USSR countries, but also including a historical perspective linking current Russian strategies to those employed by Russia and the Soviet Union in previous periods. In order to achieve this I need to focus on already existing documents and literature, which requires an in-depth reading of the material. Since I have knowledge of Russian I will be able to study first hand sources such as governmental documents, academic articles and newspapers. To be able to make a comprehensive analysis of the modern behaviour of Russia, and also in an attempt to interpret and explain the countries further aims and motives, I will conduct interviews with both academics and politicians. This will be possible through the contacts I have in the region through previous studies and work experience.

My first year would require in-depth reading on my subject as well as producing a preliminary draft of my work. During year two I would continue my in-depth reading, working in archives and conducting interviews. Toward the end of my second year I will be prepared to complete my first full draft on my final dissertation. After the completion of the first draft I would spend the third year making the final revisions together with my supervisor, in order to complete the study before the end of the year.

I believe that this topic carries importance in terms of predicting and understanding contemporary Russian foreign policy strategies, and Russia's behaviour towards its immediate neighbours. I hope that my research on this topic would help clarify the strategies employed by Russia and contribute to the discussion on concepts such as soft power, nationality and potential security issues linked to these questions. My hope is that my study could be of use for those who are interested in Russian foreign policy, such as government officials and decision makers.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000746/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1943007 Studentship ES/P000746/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021 Maria Hellborg