Conflict between Russia and its Neighbors since 1992: The Cases of Belarus and Ukraine



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University of Tartu Press


Russia’s recent aggressions against Georgia and Ukraine have sparked intense discussions among journalists, scholars, and policymakers. However, these debates have not produced a universally accepted, theoretically grounded and empirically reliable explanation for the recurrence of conflict between Russia and its post-Soviet neighbors. While many studies have dealt with the causes of great power expansionism and the security policies of less powerful states, no theory has yet been developed to capture the intrinsically interactive nature underlying conflict behavior of unequal neighbors. To make a first step into this direction, this paper develops and tests two competing positions on variance in conflict between unequal neighbors: Autocratic Imperialism and Geopolitics. The paper develops these two positions by first conceptualizing unequal neighbors as a theoretically distinct form of state dyad, and, second, applying on unequal neighbors existing paradigms of international relations theory. The paper then derives hypotheses from these positions, which it then tests by using structured and focused comparison as well as congruence analysis on two cases of unequal neighbors: Russia and Belarus as well as Russia and Ukraine, both from 1992 to 2014. The paper finds that both positions fail these tests, albeit Autocratic Imperialism more so than Geopolitics. The concluding discussion of the conceptual and empirical problems that each position encountered yields some important hints towards the construction of a middle-range theory that would explain the conflict behavior of unequal neighbors in a more valid and reliable way.



Peace and Conflict, Coercive Statecraft, International Relations Theory, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Regional Hegemony, rahu- ja konfliktiuuringud, rahvusvaheliste suhete teooria, Valgevene, Venemaa, Ukraina, regionaalne hegemoonia