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Book review

by Seth Unmack

Russia and globalization: identity, security, and society in an era of change
edited by Douglas W. Blum

Published by Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2008-03-26
ISBN 9780801888427

Russia and Globalization is a multi-disciplinary compendium which examines the processes, contexts, effects, and trends of globalisation in Russia. Each chapter analyses a specific aspect of the nation-state: demographic changes, economic development, education, defence industrial policy, geopolitics, foreign policy, international relations, and so forth. Although it is published in English, over half of the contributors are from Moscow institutions. The remainder are Western, aside from a small representation from regional Russia – a representation which rather pointedly makes the argument that in regional Russia self-identification is increasingly anti-Moscow. Indeed, centre-periphery relations – the crucial tension which has been such a prominent feature of Russia’s historical development – is a recurrent theme of the volume, as is the evolution of a coherent and cohering post-Soviet Russian identity.

The first half of the volume addresses Russia’s domestic processes in the context of globalisation; the second manifestations of globalisation within Russian foreign policy. The domestic analyses represent the more useful section of the book: they poignantly describe a society which, having opened up to the flows of globalisation, now labours to maximise influence and minimise risk. They also describe a state which must, as Blum and Hedetoft put it, ‘become accustomed to adapting to rather than directing the global environment’. It is a transition riven with problems. For example, Vodichev and Lamin, director and vice-director of the Siberian branch of the Institute of History, argue that Moscow’s historic difficulty managing regional identity formation in restive settlements continues in Siberia today. They express genuine concern that ongoing heavy-handed management from Moscow will encourage ‘opposition to Moscow’ as ‘the unifying principle of Siberian self-identification’. Korotayev and Khaltourina’s study is one of the more carefully researched in the book. Their statistical analysis on consumption of spirits and drugs suggests both negative and positive influences from globalisation: closer integration with ‘global drug trafficking networks’, but also some ‘dilution’ of the traditionally heavy-drinking culture. Bradshaw examines the interrelations between economic-geographical globalization and the changing territorial configuration of Russia’s economy and settlement. His chapter relates a common theme of a state trying to maximise the economic and political benefits of globalization while maintaining unshakeable economic and political control.

The domestic section also reveals a nation-state ill-prepared for some of the challenges exacerbated by globalisation. Bradshaw suggests that regional inequality ‘presents challenges that the current patterns of recentralisation seem ill-equipped to deal with’. Likewise, Kassianova’s excellent analysis points to the weaknesses of Russian defence industrial policy, which, she argues, has ‘not yet devised a strategy adequate to meet the challenges of technological revolution and globalisation’. Richter relates the recent diminishment of Russian social organisations, and criticises the Putin regime for attempting to ‘contain and control Russian civic life’.

The international section contains more specific studies of Russian foreign policy. For this reason they are also somewhat more obscure, and provide a more fragmented expression of Russia and globalisation. Solovyev contributes a fascinating study of geopolitical identity formation, while Fawn examines how values derived from Council of Europe membership influence Russia’s conduct of the war in Chechnya. Troitskiy deftly handles what could otherwise have been a very dry exposition on the utilisation of justice concepts in foreign policy decision-making. His inference that norms-based or power-based analyses are inferior to justice-based analyses in part because they are ‘far less original’ is less skilful. Noreen’s comparative study of threat perceptions in Estonia and Russia requires some careful reading for reward. The chapter fails to explicitly develop the significance of national identity formation. It is a curious omission as identity plays such a prominent role throughout the volume, but especially in the international section, where Troitskiy suggests that ‘a country’s inclination to resort to justice based arguments depends... the maturity of its external and internal international identity,’ and Solovyev finds that ‘the emergence of ethnic and cultural nationalism’ represents ‘a break with the prior tradition of the supranational, imperial identity’ of the Soviet era. Fenenko suggests that ‘for the first time since the nineteenth century, Russian society does not feel itself to be one of the leading industrial countries’, and that ‘this new Russian identity demands a new security policy’.

Blum’s excellent concluding chapter draws the focus back to the broader problem of diverse and often contradictory identity narratives. Blum deftly posits the difficulties Russia experiences in trying to establish a post-Soviet Russian identity which is at once unifying yet dynamic, which incorporates a unique sense of ‘Russianness’ to ease concerns that Russia will be assimilated into a neo-liberal Western identity operating under the guise of globalising transnationalism, which defies the more vulgar and destabilising elements of an ‘embattled’ Russian identity, and which caters for the diverse range of sub- and transnational identity groupings within the vast Russian Federation. A chapter more explicitly analysing processes of national and transnational identity formation would have been appropriate, as would a chapter on the differing political rhetoric regarding globalisation. Nonetheless, Russia and Globalisation is unquestionably a valuable scholarly contribution, and gives clear indication of the awesome task confronting Russia in the age of globalisation.