Russia's Defensive Revisionism in the Baltic and Moldova. Bluff Charge or Prelude to the Storm?

Thesis (M.A.), 2018

186 Pages, Grade: 110/110 cum laude





Chapter One. Evaluating Russia’s revisionism. The analytical debate
1. Literature Review
How different IR theories evaluate revisionism
Realism and «explicit» studies on revisionism
The explicitly mentioned dichotomy between revisionist and status quo states
The defensive-offensive debate and revisionism
IR Theory and Russian foreign policy
Defensive revisionism as a possible argument of IR
Defensive revisionism and IR literature
2. The defensive model for Russia’s revisionism
3. The birth of a system
The implication of genetic features
The elaboration of an ideal system
Generated flaws
4. Conception of peaceful means
The peaceful applicability and its relevance for the defensive approach
The actors and the will to avoid/accomplish borders revision
The main peaceful means: ethnic dynamics and military strategy
The centrality of an empirical methodology
5. The ultimate objective. Reintegration
The effective reintegration
The difficulty of accomplishing this step
6. Methodology
Figures of Chapter 1

Chapter Two. Application and impact of a revisionist agenda: a methodological approach to Russia’s revisionism means
1. Peaceful means
The role of international laws
The role of media
The economic dynamics of Eurasia
2. The concept of Russkij Mir
The Russian-speaking minority, the context and its exposure
The lack of cohesion
The ethnic dynamics as envisaged by the Russian Federation: protecting the Russian minorities («C» and «D»)
3. The New Generation Warfare
Delineating the staple relation of warfare and territory («F»)
Situating the context and the level of exposure to Russian military strategies («C» and «D») p. 78
The aspects of the New Generation Warfare and the obtained deductions («C» and «D»)
Figures of Chapter 2

Chapter Three. Case Studies
Case One. The Baltic States. Ethnic discrimination and military axes
1. The ethnic minority between discrimination and protection
Establishing the Minority-Majority relation
The localized trajectory in the Baltic and research findings
2. The military context of the Baltic: the impact of Russia and NATO’s response
Russia’s capabilities in the Baltic and the first research findings
NATO’s response and weaknesses and the second research findings
Case Two. Moldova. The impact of Russia in a transitionary context
3. Russia’s impact on Moldova: the country and its future arrangement
Establishing the Minority-Majority relation
The localized trajectory in Moldova and research findings
4. The Russian military impact for the Moldovan political context
The security dilemma of Moldova and the potential impact of two alternatives
The internal propensity towards the dilemma’s alternatives

Maps and Figures of Chapter 3
Map 1 – Discrimination and protection in the Baltic – minority, majority anf the homeland
Map 2 – Military axes and the development of Russia’s and NATO’s strategies in the Baltic
Map 3 – The whole Republic of Moldova. The impact of Transnistria on the country’s transition
Map 4 – Security dilemma od Moldova and potential impact of the two alternatives
Fig. 1 – The relation bwtween annexation and federation-building








Table 1.1 – The three momentums of the idealization

Table 1.2 – The main peaceful means in the borders revision

Table 2.1 – Elements of the relation between conflict and ethnicity

Table 2.2 – Categorizing empirical data on ethnic, geographical and economic issues though CEE and obtaining deductions

Table 2.3 – Deducing te degree of exposure to ethnic dynamics in terms of vulnerability, based on empirical deductions. How defensive-revision prone in the context?

Table 2.4 – Categorizing protection of the Russian-speaking minorities

Table 2.5 – Deducing the degree of achievement on the basis of obtained categorization

Table 2.6 – Founding the staple relation between territory and territorial tension

Table 2.7 – Categorizing empirical data on geographical and strategical issues related to Russia’s military strategies through the Baltic

Table 2.8 – Deducing the relative level of exposure to Russian military strategies by region, on the basis of existing data disproportions. How defensive-revision-prone is the context?

Table 2.9 – Categorizing Russia’s New Generation Warfare phases

Table 3.1 – The Russian-speaking minority in the Baltic: categorizing the components of the context

Table 3.2 – Risk assessment for Russians in the Baltic States: the causal relation between the Russian-speaking minority and the ethnic majorities (F)

Table 3.3 – Categorizing the protection of the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic: localizing the trajectory

Table 3.4 – General impact of Russian protection’s stages in the Baltic

Table 3.5 – Compared NATO-Russia regional power in the Baltic

Table 3.6 – The strategic axes in the Baltic

Table 3.7 – The Russian-speaking (Slav) minority of Moldova: categorizing generic data

Table 3.8 – Risk assessment for Russians in the Republic of Moldova: the causal relation between the Russian minority and the ethnic majorities (F)

Table 3.9 – Categorizing the protection of Slavs within the Republic of Moldova: a dual- trajectory context

Table 3.10 -The shift to federation-building issues in Bessarabia with the Transnistrian impact

Table 3.11 -Security issues for the Republic of Moldova in the post-Crimean context

Table 3.12 - Parliamentary map of the Republic of Moldova, following the last elections of November 2014


The major impulse for this research is represented by my passion for international relations, geography and methodology. My interest in studying Eastern Europe’s dynamics also stimulated this research. I have learned a lot both by traveling across this region and by developing friendships across it.

In truth, I could not have shown such interest without having been inspired by this institution and by its professors. They stimulated the development of my academic interests and provided me of both guidance and rigor. Along this course I developed greater passions, greater skills, greater linguistic capabilities and greater schematism. It has represented for me an important step, rich in experience.

My family, my friends, with their support also specially contributed to the achievement of this step.


This work focuses on the concept of revisionism and on its significance for explaining Russia’s current strategy towards Eastern Europe. It explores its evolution – or applicability – through theoretical debates. The literature of international relations (IR) is diverse. Some theories such as Liberalism adopt this concept, other do not. Though, only Realism has examined it in depth, by questioning – for instance – what are its relevant causes. The realist theoretical framework maintains that the international system be anarchic and that, consequently, states fear each other and seek survival. It undoubtedly displays an internal tension between defensive and offensive views. This distinction is reflected in the study of revisionism. Defensive realists argue that states tend avoid interstate conflicts due to systemic conditions. Opposing Mearsheimer and the offensive assumption that states be belligerent, Schweller, Snyder, Zakaria – among other – develop the waltzian defensive perspective to explain such lack of incentives for expansionism. Consequently, they stress the importance of domestic variables and of the context. This work identifies with the latter approach. It develops a theoretical model of revisionism. More specifically, a precise kind, centred on inner mechanisms and on defensive dimension of this concept. Yet, is there a possible defensive revisionism? Theory has still not well developed such concept. Realism indeed, by debating on the issue of revisionist states only provides an interstate model which only explains the offensive dimension of this concept. Though, how to explain border modelling without such schema? Transborder issues, overall since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the bipolar phase represent a major source of conflicts. Within the post-Soviet space, they acquire a central importance. Which mechanisms affect this area, and how a defensive revisionism may represent an impact for these countries? This work suggests a new perspective to the studies on revisionism. Yet, its focus is the application of theory. I propose a model for defensive revisionism which uses a strictly empirical methodology. The latter consists in an extensive use of data and considers which causal relation links them, before providing deductions. Undoubtedly, the study on revisionism of this work is centred on Russia’s foreign policy in Eastern Europe. Chapter 2 will illustrate which are the most important means of Russia’s defensive revisionism, by introducing the two contexts of this study: the Baltic and Moldova. I attribute special importance to the context, due to the defensive dimension of revisionism. The aim of the work itself consists on providing deduction on the Baltic and Moldova. How defensive-revision- prone are these contexts? Which impact does Russia play for their future? By attempting to answer these questions, I will emphasize the central aspect of ethnic dynamics and of military strategies. They represent those aspects of Russia’s foreign policy capable to orient the context towards a border modelling. Both contexts share similarities. Yet, also share sharp differences. The Baltic States are NATO members, Moldova is not, the latter is experiencing an inner transition, the Baltic is not. For this reason, the spontaneous question preceding the title itself of the work remains the following: bluff charges or prelude to the storm? Namely, is border modelling plausible? Will it generate a sharper confrontation between NATO and Russia?


Evaluating Russia's revisionism. The analytical debate

1. Literature Review

The international dynamics of the first decade of out centuryhave shown a decline in terms of power of the United States. The attempts to balance its power has increased from many a side. There are a number of empirical demonstrations that this great power has started a progressive decline.. The most recent and well-known are perhaps related to its disengagement from the Syrian civil war, showing at least a changing of attitude. Which actors would then fulfil its void? Is there any empirical demonstration showing that other great powers are increasing in terms of relative power? Can they be referred to as revisionist powers? Different perspectives in the study of IR have attempted to answer questions about the ongoing power shift in the international system. Those theories largely differ.

IR has long been divided between explanatory theories on the one side and on the other side interpretative others. This divide results from a threefold series of conflicting theoretical assumptions: ontology, methodology, epistemology. Explanatory theories produce empirical deductions, whereas interpretative theories epistemological observations. The latter adopt positivist methodologies and produces deductions on the basis of systematic observations. The former deconstructs by digging beneath the surface. The former explains, the latter understands. Can they all study revisionism?

I propose a brief revisiting of a theoretical background. More specifically, I will refer, in an implicit or explicit way, to the theme of revisionism. A short, preliminary, overview of this set of theories will introduce the argument of revisionism itself, and will help paving the way to defensive realism’s view. I start by illustrating the different assumptions of these theories that refer to the changing and anarchical nature of international system. Then, I will discuss the concept of revisionism. I will underline how this concept be a result of particular methodological, epistemological and ontological assumptions. It will consequently emerge how it is typical of realism: of its positivist epistemology and empirical methodology. Many IR theories would not refer to the same variables in which this concept is modelled. Many other would even not adopt variables to analyze the changings of international system. This is the result of the wide and diverse characterization of IR literature.

How different IR theories evaluate revisionism

Constructivism - so-called «middle-ground» approach - even though it does not treat revisionism, may implicitly refers to this concept by studying the ongoing construction of the international relations. The most mentioned of the constructivist authors is Wendt. He illustrates how relations change over time. The states’ «mutual interaction» will finally result on their «mutual constitution».1 Just like aliens meeting for the first time, «Alter» and «Ego» determine their choices on the consequence of the choice of the other. This means that a challenger be such not because of its material interests per se, but as a result of a mutual interaction: he is a consequent challenger, as he elaborates its own choices on such mutuality. Undoubtedly, mutual constitution requires the existence of a preliminary choice. Hence identity matters. Constructivists indeed conceive state’s identity as being the preliminary base of its choices. A liberal democracy for example complies with human rights2. Grey – another relevant constructivist – rejects the idea that strategic behavior may be guided by material conditions3. The constructivist author critics realism for not taking into account the cultural dimension. Ideas as «revisionism» are cultural, and hence states create it through their mutual interaction. For this reason, constructivism would study the reasons pushing a state to challenge the system only through mutuality, by stressing the cultural (identity-based) aspect of relations. This approach is profoundly distinguishable from the realist theory. There is a profound divergency in terms of epistemology. Constructivism is oriented at studying international relations through social facts, which realism would not even consider. Yet, it does not mean they are methodologically opposed to realists: constructivists use empirical facts to illustrate their assumptions. Then, is there plausible way to bridge the gap between constructivists and realists, considered their common empiricism? It must be stressed that realists respond to critics made by constructivism. More precisely, they address constructivists a question. Is there a way states are adhering to such cultural norms without trying to violate them? Cultural normative diversity among states is so huge that cultural aspects are not much considered by realists even under empirical terms, being them potentially uninfluential. Could be that from this mutual critique will emerge a greater mutual comprehension among the two empirical theories. It may fulfil at least a small part of this gap4. Constructivism tends to attract thematic linked to Russia and its revisionist behavior towards the West.

Among the «middle-ground» approaches – like constructivism – the English School emerges as central. It delineates the existence of a twofold type of «international society»5: a «tolerant» and a «pluralist». Relevant authors are Bull and Wight. In the former of these societies institutional arrangements are restricted only to the maintenance of order. Moreover, countries are culturally diverse. In the latter, states’ liberty represents the additional value. The international society is constructed on the anarchic arena of the international system: this means that states share a number of practices, and that these practices can be aimed at preserving their own liberty. Consequently, could the idea of a revisionist state fit into this theoretical approach? Obviously this approach is not meant to directly explaining revisionism, but some ideas may emerge. Just as constructivists, it stresses how a state might be conceived by other as a revisionist, based on a mutual interaction. But there is something more: to be part of a society, states must be members of it and hence own a membership. The divergence between members and non-members may lead to interpret the status of the latter as revisionists. Members and non-members are indeed different in the fact that they do not accept the same set of rules. They share their belonging to the international system more than they share a membership to the international society. Undoubtedly, realism and the English School largely differ in their methodologies: the latter is based on an interpretative methodology.

The Marxist theory is meant to explain the imperialist dynamics of the intentional system, conceived as the evolution of the domestic-based capitalism. Hence to understand imperialism, one must understand capitalism as they only differ in their scale, not their power’s hierarchical construction. Both historical materialism and the dialectic process of social relations finally generate identities and strives. It is a structural mechanism. Agents are determined by structures, and the latter generate agents: these are the very resumed three continuous phases of the dialectic process. Moreover, materialist assumptions – typical of this theory – finally conclude that actors be capable of recreating their world. More precisely, they may act in the intersection of the three-sided organic relation with the world. When studying the capitalistic system, Marxists stress the existence of three relations. Each of them has its own characterization. Social relations are hierarchical, the relation with the natural world corresponds to a survival interchange among its actors and, finally, institutional relations are based on the most important institution. The most important domestic institution is the market; it could be identified as the empire for the international system dimension6. The specific aspect of this theory is that it underlines how people may result alienated, namely how they can be inhibited from acting in such intersection to recreate the world. Therefore, how alienation be traduced by the acceptance of injustice. This huge theory in a certain sense may allude to the concept of revisionism. First, it explains that the world may change if there is a consistent action devoted to this kind of objective. Second, that these changings may encompass every relation with the world: with institutions (empire), with sociality (hierarchical dichotomies) and with the natural world (anarchy). The possibility of change is particularly relevant for this theory, at the point that it is referred to as a critical theory. Consequently, even if revisionism is a realist theoretical development – grounded on a specific interaction between specific variables (assumed to exist) – Marxism can explain some dynamics related to this concept particularly if linked to materialism or to the dialectic process. Perhaps it finds a greater applicability to explain the relations among developed and undeveloped countries. Those undeveloped would more plausibly change their material relations with the world, but are restrained from acting for a structural change.

IR is diverse also due to the existence of a series of approaches adopting very different methodologies compared to empiricism. In this sense, poststructuralism represents the most relevant among these approaches. It assumes that the understanding of IR depends on representation. More precisely, it adopts an interpretative methodology aimed at defining the limits of knowledge and concepts, which Focault defines post-empiricism7. This so-called «limits attitude» attempts to define the «limits by which opposing concepts begin».8 For instance, exclusion begins where inclusion ends, unreason starts where reason ends, anarchy begins where sovereignty ends, and so forth. And then, revisionism? Could this concept correspond to the plausible «end» of another? Orthodoxy? Examination? Well, what is certain is that this approach emphasizes the existence of a preliminary concept. It does not correspond to any of realist or liberalist theoretical assumptions, nor to a positivist methodology. Therefore, even if a plausible understanding of revisionism may emerge, it would not be in line with empiricism.

The liberal theory of IR is meant to highlight how war can potentially be inhibited, by going beyond the realist assumptions. Undoubtedly, the idealism of this theory does not correspond to a utopist view: most of its theorists highlight how it can be difficult to eradicate war. Though, war is not insurmountable after liberal theorists. By developing the «constraints approach», they calculate the factors that inhibit war. They underline how the regime type, economic links and international law (and not only power ratio or the balance of power) all might all represent potential war inhibitors, and that their combination constrains even more war. This theory can hence explain how a a potential challenger may be inhibited from going to war. Yet, it does not further develop a categorization between status quo and revisionist states, which remains typical of the realist theory. Angell in its work presents the realist postulate that «nations earn from war» as of utilitarian nature. He highlights how no nation can «through a military conquest, destroy or gravely damage […] the commerce of another»9. The author stresses how the economic aspects of relations may push a state to inhibit a costly and non-beneficial war. The challenger is therefore constrained by a series of aspects preventing it from adopting a revisionist attitude. Therefore, the liberal theory cannot explain the existence of revisionist powers. It tends to explain more the beneficial aspects linking states to peace. Claude represents an important contribution to the liberal theory. The author develops the idea of automatic system by adjusting a series of realist assumptions, especially deriving from Morgenthau. He maintains that the concept of balance does not rely on the states’ willingness or decisions, but on the existence of an automatic mechanism. Every state desires to balance the position of strong others, as they represent potential challengers. Therefore, to be balanced, power needs a «collective security»10 system. The liberal theory emphasizes the existence of such automatic balance of power against the challenger. Some important similarities between the ideal and the realist theories emerge, when it comes to explain how the system inhibits a potential challenger from its «revisionist» stances. Both explain that deterrence inhibits such aspirations: states avoid war because of their capability to fight against it. Moreover, both emphasize the importance of the joint involvement in balancing against the potential challenger. Finally, both assume that these two aspects, together, significantly reduce incertitude. It results on the states’ reduction of interest in undertaking a completely arbitrary politics. How then the study of revisionism emerges from realism?

Realism and «explicit» studies on revisionism

Realism provides the most important theoretical framework for studying revisionism. The concept of revisionism itself may be seen as the result of a specific dichotomy developed within this theory. Realist theories rely on the same kind of assumptions regarding anarchy. However, they explain systemic changings in different ways. The argument of revisionism emerged within realism through a series of debates among three groups of realists. The latter can be distinguished in classical, neo and neoclassical realism.

The first refers to classical realism. Among them, Morgenthau - as all realists – conceives interest in terms of power.11 He identifies the seek for power as the result of the a need for survival. The latter results in a moral duty. Indeed, to pursue its other interests, a state must result integral. To pursue integrality, states must survive to anarchic conditions, namely in a system in which they are not fully aware of others’ behaviors. How to survive in such system then? Classical realists answered that states can assure the pursue of their self-interests only by assuring that they seek power. The authors related to this strain have argued «that the world could be divided into two general categories of states»12. On one side, those states «expressing a demand for values not already enjoyed, and thus a demand for a change of the status quo»13: they were referred to as «revisionist» states by this strain. One the other side, «status quo» states seek the «maintenance, protection of the existing distribution of values»14. Such discrepancy between these two categories of states generates war for classical realists. Therefore, peace may exist only insofar as the status quo results desired by all states. In P olitics Among Nations, Morgenthau suggests the existence of three policies states generally achieve to pursue integrality (and the seek for power): the «maintenance», the «increase» and the «demonstration» of power15. Particularly the second, which he calls «imperialist politics», is directed to overturn the existing power relations, namely the status quo. He proposed that this policy – typical of the revisionist powers – must be countered through containment.16 By challenging the system and opposing containment, revisionist states on their side must rely on compromise. A miscalculation will generate war. This represents a noteworthy base for the forthcoming understandings of the concept of revisionism.

Waltz brought about a series of critics to classical assumptions. Some result directly related to the argument of revisionism. The problem of changing and continuity results deeply analyzed in Waltz’s works. The author demonstrates a scientific interest for the so-called «international level» of analysis, which he assumes to be of anarchic and changing nature. Moreover, he considers this level to be the primary base of interstate relations. Its critics he moves to classical realists is therefore based on the assumption that the «individual» and the «unit» levels might result «reductivist» for analyses on international relations. These «hierarchic» levels of analyses are irrelevant compared to the system-level. In the latter, states are unitary and hence act as single units.17 This has a precise implication: units are dependent variables, the system an independent one. Consequently, the variance in structure of the international system determines how units will respond to its challenges, and challengers18.

Neoclassical realists disagreed on some Waltzian assumptions: these authors find too restrictive the Waltz’s system-based approach. They put the emphasis also on domestic and individual factors to explain international politics. They propose the return to some neoclassical claims. Yet, they differ from classical realists on their greater empirical rigor.19 Neoclassical realism is divided in at least three strains: one stressing the relevance of the perception of power (cognitive variables), another stressing the role of domestic factors on international politics, and finally one of these strains focuses directly on the revisionist and status quo states. Davidson highlights how – compared to Waltz’s realism – the emphasis be put on state goals. The latter are assumed to be as twofold: status quo seeking and revisionism. In a certain sense, neoclassical realism could be grasped as the improvement of the Waltzian theory, «a more empirically accurate»20 theory. Among neoclassical realists, the most mentioned works are those of Jervis, Schweller, Zakaria, Murray, Wohlforth. The importance given to domestic and systemic variables makes it a fertile ground for defensive assumptions related to revisionism. Why domestic variables could result so important to explain revisionism? Which are these variables? Snyder explains how domestic variables can explain irrationality, particularly if among these variables also ideology is considered.21 The author suggests that domestic dynamics favor expansive, imperial policies. Not taking it account domestic policies could not be sufficient to explain over-expansionism or any other irrational attitude created domestically. Van Evera also offers a relevant defensive realist study by using domestic variables. The author assesses a particular relation: that between nationality (domestic variable) and conflict22. This relation is crucial for grasping revisionism in certain circumstances as in the post -Soviet space. Both authors are interested in regime-types as well. Domestic dynamics related to regime types influence relevant aspects of international politics. Democratic and authoritarian states behave differently due to their regime distinctions. For instance, Russia (considered authoritarian), can act more promptly than a democracy and has a larger maneuver in terms of decision- making.

the explicitly mentioned dichotomy between revisionist and status quo states

Davidson explains that several factors must be considered when adopting the revisionist/status quo dichotomy.23 The author points out that a revisionist state could not just be defined as such on the basis of its hostile actions. He argues that a distinction between revisionism and status quo seeking is needed. Such distinction may be oriented on the following assumptions. First, the presence of «articulated goals rather than actions» are a primary, consistent element to define whether a state is revisionist. Second, «the willingness of the state to incur costs in the pursuance of its goals». Third, he highlights that a state may be categorized as revisionist if revisionist goals are the «primary focus of its foreign policy».24 To highlight how the neoclassic strain be still undeveloped, he proposes a scientific advancement related to such dichotomy, which «does not exhaust the types of preferences a state may have». 25 He proposes the notion of «recluse state». He argues that this ulterior categorization refers to «those states that will not incur costs to maintain the distribution of goods […] other than the defense of their own territory». Considering Russia, this category does not find application. It could not explain the impact of its defensive means outside its borders; the term revisionist appears more convenient. The latter, results inserted in a precise dichotomy only by the neoclassical realist theory. The concept of revisionism is hence scientifically deepened. It results from a combination of variables, which may be internal as external. It is moreover strictly related to empiricism, which results more emphasized more by neoclassical realists than by other realist groups.

The defensive-offensive debate and revisionism

The important aspect of realism is that its defensive-offensive debate has particularly furthered the study on revisionism. The already mentioned Waltz’s view results particularly fundamental for defensive realism, overall for the debate on revisionist versus status quo states. As discussed above, the author maintains that states seek survival, and are permanently worried about that. The Waltzian position is consequently defensive: it maintains that states will eventually prefer balancing each other to prevent the rise of a dominant power, due to these systemic worries.26 The debate begins with a series of critiques from the so-called «offensive» realists, followed by subsequent responses from defensive theorists. The Waltzian fundamental ground finds collides with Mearsheimer’s «offensive» theory and its opposite claims, explaining how states expand27. This opposite strain criticizes the lack of consideration of the existence of offensive policies. In other words, that conflict results on the coexistence of revisionists and offensive policies. What explains conflict, otherwise? One of the most important critics to defensive realism, indeed is that conflict could result irrational28. Though, if it is not rational, how states maximize power and balance the challenger also using force? And yet, isn’t conflict the result of anarchy, an unavoidable characteristic of the anarchic international arena? How do defensives respond? War could also be intended as the cause of a status quo-status quo relation, and not only the aftermath of different policies. This is the theoretical base offered by the «security dilemma». In other words, the four different possibilit ies it produces are not implying that war should be solely caused by the revisionist-status quo gap. Defensive realism results rooted in this dilemma. It explains how states avoid war and prefer pacific relations, though by working on their defense.29 A possible revisionist may then follow this pattern. Some defensive realists have later tried to adjust such too strong compliance with security. Schweller distinguishes between two specific goals: «influence and survival».30 Are all states just seeking for survival? Well, revisionist and status quo states pursue both, even if differently. The security dilemma would not stand alone for a defensive theory of revisionism. For this reason, influence is also the reason why Russia pursues its foreign policy. It seeks the influence on Eurasia, its peculiar position of great power. Not only surviving, consequently. This represents the gap between Waltzian assumptions and the advancements brought about by defensive realists later. Therefore, revisionism would not be explained on the same way. Schweller relates influence with the degree of satisfaction31. The pursuit of influence in world politics results from existing discrepancies in the degree of dissatisfaction. These two variables are disproportionally correlated: the higher is satisfaction, the lower is the seek for influence and revision. Perhaps the most important contribution that this offensive-defensive debate brought about to IR is a strengthening of the Waltzian fundamental structural theory as well as the advancement of neorealism itself. Another important aspect of this debate, is that there are scientific reasons for keeping the divide between defensive and offensive realists. Actually the debate clarified this point. In which sense these two strains are divided? They result divided in their initial assumptions. As already mentioned, defensive realists start with security issues and eventually found their theory on the security dilemma. Offensives on the other side start with the political discrepancies between status quo and revisionists. There is also another reason to keep this distinction. Defensives start by assuming that the majority of states are status quo states. This implies that revisionists are going to be the focus of their observation, as they will attract the attention. Offensives start with a different, contrary point, symmetrically opposite: revisionist states are the majority of states, and hence the status quo related issues tend to be their attractive focus. It seems that the most, still undeveloped question to further this debate is how a revisionist state can generate a revision by defensive means? Which combination of empirical variables could scientifically contribute to answer such question?

IR Theory and Russian foreign policy

An overview on the different major approaches that analyze the Russian foreign policy towards the West may result difficult to achieve. Not every analysis completely – or even spontaneously – relies on a clear theory (at least on clear methodologies and epistemologies). A short categorization could help framing the defensive revisionist model within the literature, and could result on a better comprehension of the Russian foreign policy. Then, which may be considered relevant theories trying to explain the Russian foreign policy, and in particular the Russian relations with the West? It appears that – at least since the collapse of the USSR – there is threefold possible set of theories that are focusing in the Russian foreign policy. Moreover, it seems that through the last two decades none of these resulted in a way predominant along the whole period.32 These three theories are: liberalism, realism and constructivism. From the collapse of USSR in the end of 1991 until the mid-1990s, the liberal theory resulted particularly applicable for explaining the imminent post-Soviet dynamics. Starting from the mid-1990s, due to decreasing idealism among politicians and policy-makers, realism replaced liberalism as the main theory able to explain Russia’s foreign policy. Primakov, the Russian foreign minister since 1996, may be interpreted as the most visible break with an idealist governmental stance. There is large agreement on the fact that Primakov represented a more assertive great power politics than its predecessor33. For this reason, the post-Soviet Russian foreign policy only started in the mid-1990s to become visibly realist.

In the period from 1991 to 1996, Russia is a great power with limited capabilities. Kubicek stressed that the Federation enhances its cooperation with the West due to its relative weakness and its transitional phase. Indeed, it had to deal with a relevant number of critical issues from the complicated post-Soviet military and nuclear issues to the economic transition into the capitalist model.34 Realists argue that badwagoning with the West was the most rational answer to the Federation’s post-Soviet weaknesses. But at the same time they also explain that the West was exploiting such maximization, by maximizing its power too. For this reason, Russia and the West cooperated, but exploited their relation. On the one hand Russia needed an economic and military cooperation to compensate its post-Soviet weaknesses. On the other side, NATO profited of this cooperation to further its eastward expansion, by reaching even three former-USSR Republics in the Baltic. The realist theory can explain the revisionist aspects that are related to power. It has nevertheless been criticized, particularly by constructivists. There is a number of factors characterizing the evolution of the Russian foreign policy that realism does not explain. For instance, phenomena such as foreign policy’s «reactivism» and lack of complete coherence of this foreign policies in some occasions. Legvold is a relevant constructivist explaining the Russia-West post-Soviet relations. He argues that the collapse of the USSR corresponded to a «failure of Russian leadership to construct a coherent national identity […] accepted by the population».35 Sakwa has analyzed the implications that the structural challenges had into collective ideas. Historically, Russia mutually constituted its identity with Europe as being «Europe’s Other». As history demonstrates, every presidential tenure started with the intention to increase Russia’s relations with the West; all but the 2012 Putin’s third presidential term36. Sakwa defines the new post- 2012 (re)assertive tendency of the Russian foreign policy as «neo-revisionist»: a policy «based on the view that there could be no genuine partnership with Atlantic powers, and hence Russia built up alternatives, above all Eurasian integration and Greater Eurasian projects». 37 Moreover, the abovementioned authors see on the Russian foreign policy an implicit purpose of shaping a new national identity. Svarin, focusing on the discourse of the ruling elite, suggests that territory, space and geographical components should be analyzed in term of (re)construction. In other words, the author stresses how policy construct the idea of spaces and articulate the importance of particular spaces. Eurasia, for instance, may result as a constructed idea functioning as the driving force of Russian revisionism. What emerges from the literature on Russia-West post-Soviet relations is that a constructivist interpretation is increasing through IR literature. Particularly, it appears that theories of non-balancing tend to emerge to explain Russia’s revisionism and tend to replace structural realism. It also appears that theories tend to be increasingly behavioral.38. It does not mean that every realist theory enters a phase or crisis. It only means that domestic variables tend to be of increasing scientific attention towards the Russian foreign policy, and that the classical realist theory is not very applicable, at least in the post-2014 context. Obviously, there is no theory able to completely define Russian revisionism. This remains a characteristics of IR theories, able to explain only certain aspects of interstate relations. Indeed, the liberal theory explained the post -Soviet cooperation, the realist the reciprocal Russia-NATO lack in confidence, constructivism a series of emerging other ideas. It results clear how a theory may be applied only to explain determined factors, and that it is predominant whether it is able to explain the majority of them.

Defensive revisionism as a possible argument of IR

The course of events following the collapse of the Soviet Union knew a major change. The end of the bipolar phase is associated with the emergence of nationalism, a major source of tensions and conflicts. Particularly the post-soviet space currently suffers from geopolitical tensions related to nationality. The new phase is hence more chaotic. Interstate relations may become associated with interethnic relations. Transborder issues hence acquire a central importance in the new era. The fact that nationality may be spread across big areas, also outside its homeland means that transborder nationalisms be plausible. The consequence of transborder issues is visible. Borders constitute the object of a plausible modelling, which is not directly implemented by a state. It is the result of an existing inner mechanism. A state subject to transborder issues might hence see its borders re-corrected because of such mechanism. Is theory able to explain this post-bipolar dimension? How to define the homeland state? Is it possible to define it a revisionist actor related to a specific context? Such state does not directly correct borders. Yet, it is engaged on a mechanism which may generate a border modelling. Therefore, it does not recur to external offense. It only turns t o its defensive capabilities by enhancing them. Hence is it possible to talk about defensive revisionism?

It appears that IR did not spend a lot on the defensive dimension of revisionism. Theory has indeed payed attention on revisionism mostly by defining it by general terms. Realist authors have concentrated their attention on state attitudes without deepening the implications of this concept. They concentrated their attention on several categorizations: status quo versus revisionist states, satisfied versus unsatisfied states, and so forth. IR has widely focused on offensive revisionism, by mostly studying its interstate characterizations. Even to explain regional conflicts, theory adopts an interstate schema. Yet, theory does not explain how a state might influence territorial revision without using an offensive attitude. Which schema? Which underlying mechanism?

Defensive revisionism hence must be defined by contrast to classical offensive revisionism. A kind of revisionism whose challenger is not recurring to offensive measures to influence a change in the system. A theory of defensive revisionism would then seek to explain the existence of such transborder dimension of system change. A territorial revision by peaceful means, without offense. By peaceful, I mean they are not generating official interstate wars: means that do not directly challenge the system. They are the result of a parallel, inner dimension.

How to define a defensive revisionist then? A defensive revisionist is a calculator of causal mechanisms. The defensive dimension of revisionism only finds possible application in a context where a strong relation between the revisionist and the context exists. Such interaction does not correspond to an interstate relation.

I argue that a possible definition of defensive revisionism exists and that is might constitute a theoretical argument of IR. The following points attempt to identify the most important aspects of such definition. With the support of the theoretical background, I construct the theoretical concept of defensive revisionism around the following arguments:

1) it is defined as opposed to offensive revisionism
2) the existence of a transborder dyadic interaction
3) its applicability within a kin state’s borders
4) the contentious mechanism
5) the existence of border contiguity
6) the gap between a defence-prone and a offense-prone attitude

Both offensive and defensive realists are divided on the rationality and on the causes of revisionism. The former assumes that states – concerned about their survival – identify in the international system incentives to expand. The latter provide no rational explanation for revisionist behaviour.

Offensive realists like Mearsheimer provide the basic exploitation that states be belligerent. That is the result of their seek for survival.39 The latter is indeed their major concentration. Rose, Rynning, Guzzini – all defensive realists – argue that revisionist powers are anomalies.40 In addition, they argue that – even if capable of engaging in war – the latter is unwanted.

Therefore, they avoid any irrational revisionist behaviour. Similar assumptions are argued by Schweller, depicting a word of «a world of all cops and no robbers». 41 More specifically, the international system provides no incentives to initiate direct conflict. The revisionist state is hence a systemic pathology within the system. The latter may result in hands of parochial groups.42 But if a revisionist behaviour cannot appear rational in the systemic level of analysis – and states are pressed towards a moderate behaviour43 – how the concept of revisionism can be further defined? All the mentioned authors refer to revisionism as a sole category. It is an offensive attitude a state can potentially adopt to challenge the system. It corresponds to using force directly. In this sense, defensive revisionism appears deeply contradictory. It is not possible to easily identify this concept through such theoretical background. By treating revisionism, realism does not study the crucial aspect of transborder dynamics. It only links the existence of a revisionist behaviour to an interstate dynamic. Yet, a state – because of lack of incentives for expansionism and of its security requirements – can gear its agenda towards transborder dynamics, if it has the possibility and the ability. This requires the existence of a precise context of application. A revisionist – transborder – dynamic would require the existence of a fertile ground, within which a causal mechanism can be activated. The defensive revisionist state provides its support and its full interest for such mechanism, though it is not directly regarded by the latter.

The existence of such transborder dyadic interaction is very first premise for the existence of a defensive revisionism. It constitutes the essential link between the revisionist and the context. This interaction is mostly constructed around nationality and nationalism. The latter represent indeed the essential domestic variables of the existing of these ties. For instance, a minority is linked to the revisionist by the existence of transborder nationality and nationalism. Such interaction constitutes a dyad: context’s minority versus revisionist.

For this reason, the context matter relatively to the concept of defensive revisionism. It is represented by a kin state. Namely, a lesser power compared to the revisionist. The differential in power accumulation pushes the greater power to challenge the system. It would not challenge a great power. A weaker state represents a higher probability to succeed on its intention. Another crucial aspect of defensive revisionism is represented by borders. They must be contiguous. This aspect denotes the high level of vulnerabilities and exposure regarding the kin state. Moreover, such aspect allows the great power (the revisionist) to interact with the inner context by supporting the mechanism. The latter strengthens its exposure and minimizes direct hostilities. Without contiguity, a state would have to directly intervene to see its objectives realized. With the presence of contiguous borders though, its involvement is minimized, and the inner mechanism maximized.

The transborder mechanism is based on the existence of a transborder contentious between two states. The existent contentious in a situation of border contiguity explains the activation of a transborder mechanism. It regards transborder issues. Such causal mechanism is rooted within the kin state. Hence it is based on domestic variables. The essential variable – without which it seems complicated to root a defensive revision – is represented by ethnic dynamics. Nationalism, lack of cohesion, protection are the most plausible variables composing such causal mechanism.44 Namely, the existence of a dyadic demographics is the most plausible causal mechanism of defensive revisionism. It consists in the minority – majority relation, which is the fundamental aspect of the inner mechanism.

If the causal mechanism is of a transborder kind, the kin state constitutes the context where it originates. Considering ethnic dynamics, the relation between the ethnic majority and the minority constitutes the activation of the contentious mechanism. It brings about the great power’s involvement in such mechanism, due to the existence of a dyadic demographics. 45 Finally, as the logic of defensive revisionism lies on the existence of border contiguity, borders reflect the existence of two sides of a balance. One of the two actors is relatively more offensive-prone, whereas the other is more defensive-prone. This, within the respective borders. The revisionist state enhances its offensive capabilities to show its power. Hence, the kin state becomes aware of an existing gap and enhances its defensive capabilities. The defensive revisionist is hence a state capable of offensive, which is moreover involved by a causal mechanism with the domestic variables of the kin state. It does not use offense but to enhance its capabilities. It adopts an internal level of hostility, without developing an external hostility. Indeed, its involvement to the contentious mechanism does not include a direct level of hostility towards the kin state. The great power hence supports such mechanism, which independently moves towards a territorial revision. It supports it by peaceful means. Consequently, a defensive revisionist is rather a mechanical variable of the context. It influences its plausible future through internal dynamics. The latter may lead to territorial correction.

Defensive revisionism and IR literature

What appears clear after the revisiting of theories is that the model this work will attempt to develop is linked to neoclassical realism and its defensive strain. Indeed, it founds the all- encompassing elements of its analysis on the preliminary assumption that states are divided in their goals. Moreover, it takes into account some domestic variables and not only the systemic ones. The ethnic component is clearly a domestic component, as well as other aspects of the analysis. It stresses several times that it adopts defensive variables, and that these variables are ordered. Namely, the structural – system-related – variable dominates: it is the only independent variable. All the other are dependent: they depend on the system: units, domestic variables and any other variable rely on the system. This implies that – to challenge the system – a revisionist power will not directly act against it, but will rely on its defensive means. Moreover, it will revise the system by focusing on a structural element: the borders. For this reason, the model alludes several times to the «border-oriented» concept of revision. The model will moreover highlight how such «border-oriented» revision may be framed into a three- stepped analysis, and will clarify how borders’ redetermination (or borders’ modelling) corresponds to the second of these three phases. The relevance of the neoclassical realism and its defensive strain for the analysis of the Russian revisionism in Eastern Europe is that it emphasizes empiricism. The latter is linked to the analysis when it seeks to establish if the context is defensive-revision-prone, and when it estimates the impact of the different means. For this reason, I propose an empirical model, which is such because of its empirical methodology. If this assumption may appear too general, is there a particular methodology that can be adopted by an empirical study seeking to explain Russia’s foreign policy in Eastern Europe? The model in which I frame Russian revisionism along this work develops a positivist methodology, that I will refer to as «Founding-Categorizing-Deducing» (FCD). It constitutes an empirical attempt to analyze Russia’s defensive revisionism and its weight in Eastern Europe. It is a defensive realist study. It only studies the defensive dimension of revisionism, namely the mechanism of borders’ modelling. Therefore it is not aimed at explaining the all- encompassing dimensions of the Russian foreign policy, neither to consider any non-defensive factor. This demonstrates how theories might eventually not be meant to explain every, but only particular aspects of the reality.

2. The defensive model for Russia’s revisionism

The model developed along the following paragraphs serves to embody the defensive components of Russia’s revisionism. It identifies which are its means and it is aimed to structure it by using empirical method. It generates deductions, like the degree of e xposure of a context to defensive revisionism, or the impact of defensive means. More precisely, it studies the dynamics linked to borders’ modelling, corresponding to defensive revisionism. It could not find application to any offensive analysis of any foreign policies: only to a border-oriented, defensive policy. Therefore, this model is mainly adequate for explaining Russia ’s foreign policy in Eastern Europe. It could also be applied to other similar cases though, in which there is one revisionist actor, a balancing opponent, and a defensive-revision-prone context. Applied to Eastern Europe, this model identifies one revisionist state (Russia), one status quo actor (NATO) and a defensive-revision-prone context (the Baltic and Moldova). It is composed of three different stages. It identifies a genetic reason that pushing Russia to desire a borders’ redetermination. A structural «flaw» will indeed generate its interest in both developing and applying its defensive means. The model questions how then it could be possible to achieve border redetermination. The latter is the result of a defensive revisionism. By adopting empirical methodology (developed in Chapter 2), referred to as «FCD» it aims at answering these questions. The central question the model seeks to answer is: how a defensive revisionist state can re-determine the borders? Undoubtedly, it is assumed that a defensive revisionist does not want to directly oppose the system. For this reason, this actor will abide by the international order.

The defensive model consists of three steps: idealization, revision and reintegration. All three correspond to stepped aims. They are cumulative: identifying a territorial flaw will bring to the second aim, in which the actors will attempt to re-determine the borders. If ever achieved, the revisionist actor would then engage in a reintegration of that territory. The latter corresponds to a post-revisionism step. Therefore, it results obvious how even if this model is comprised of three steps, the dynamics it seeks to explain are all related to the second step. Namely, evaluating how defensive-revision-prone is the context and the impact of defensive means. It studies revisionism, neither pre nor post revisionism. It needs to frame these dynamics into a greater horizon, by conceiving a sort of pathway. Indeed, both reintegration and idealization deepen the explanation of defensive revisionism. They are even essential, as they serve to shape revisionism into a theoretical process, which explains that revisionism has on origin and a finality. It is not developed and applied per se.

It might result too analytic, though emphasizing a primary number of assumptions before describing the model could necessarily help. I therefore mention a series of relevant assumptions that characterize this model. The first is the adoption of a defensive neoclassical approach: this is perhaps the most characterizing assumption. «Defensive realism holds that the international system provides incentives for expansion only under certain conditions»46, as Taliaferro illustrated. They also point out that the «security dilemma causes states to worry about one another's future intentions and relative power»47. The defensive strain reasons that under anarchic conditions states could still find ways of defending themselves without threatening others48 and that the system strictly emphasizes this possibility. Any over- expansionism action led by the challenger is eventually punished by the system itself, making «moderate strategies the best route for security»49. This approach stimulates an inner analysis, capable of establishing the domestic though internationalized causes of war. Therefore, it explains why the model is particularly oriented towards the dynamics of border's revision. Borders are the core of any indirect and defensive strategy related to revisionism. Second, it is essential not to overlook a the separation between dependent and independent variables50 before entering the analysis. This approach implies that the system be considered an independent variable, whereas all the other variables like the units and their strategies depend on it. «[...] Human beliefs, values, hopes and fear» are also dependent variables. From this moment on these variables will be referred to as defensive variables, to stress the difference between the structural variable and the dependent ones. The international system constrains the actors not to venture any challenging maneuver as this would compromise t heir own survival, pushing them to consequently adopt defensive strategies. Third, the model assumes a simplification of the context to explain it. This is why, even though the actors involved by Russian revisionism may be manifold, the model is only centered in two actors: the Russian Federation and NATO. The reason of this duality of «main actors» is that they are the most relevant actors able to model or influence Eastern Europe’s borders. Lesser actors like Romania, Moldova or Estonia will rather represent the context of their policies and are strictly dependent on them. It also means that these lesser powers are too weak to exercise a relevant role if taken alone for the system. Fourth, one clear actor triggers the mechanism linked to defensive revisionism: Russia. The other actor attempts to avoid the borders’ redetermination.

Fifth, the empirical outcomes the model produces are not per se meant to answer those questions linked to further developments of the international system. It attempts to highlight the different potentialities the actors wield for influencing the borders of Eastern Europe, and brings about a mapping of empirical deductions to grasp vulnerabilities, threats and possible developments. Finally, this model has a geopolitical slant. It embodies those geopolitical assumptions allowing to transfer theoretical assumptions into a charter.

3. The birth of a system

In the first stage composing the model, actors conceive their own system's ideals. This phase consists in the elaboration of what is the ideal system. More specifically, it establishes what actors would realize if all the conditions were favorable. Clearly, such ideals are a preliminary step to revisionism. They anticipate the elaboration of foreign policies and represents a trend the actors will follow. Indeed, by considering the system’s constraints, they elaborate a concrete policy which differs from their structural ideal. The decrease of constraints, for instance, will represent a greater effort to elaborate a reassertive policy. The latter will tend to fill the gap between the ideal structure and the real one. By idealizing the system, a great power conceives its ideal role in the system, as well as the role of the lesser powers in its near space. Russia has idealized its role of uncontested Eurasian great power: its ultimate purpose consists of holding the leadership of the so-called Eurasia. Let us decompose this first phase to grasp what lies behind such idealization and its implications. The idealization could be decomposed in three «momentums» or components, namely the role of genetic features, the elaboration of the ultimate purposes and the generated flaws.

The implication of the genetic features

Genetic features introduce a gamut of implications that anticipate the elaboration of foreign policies. That is because what characterizes the actors is also what composes their all- encompassing ambitions.

Liska coined the term «political physics».51 It explains how the system affects the genetic formation of actors. The author explains that geography can literally form units, but that it also imposes incompatible visions of the world to the units, so-called «schisms». The dichotomy maritime-continental is one of these schisms. It may constitute the anticipation of the processes triggered by actors as well as the base for their conflicting visions of the world. A terrestrial power conceives a different distribution of its power compared to a maritime power. The former is able to build its system unconditionally around a clear center, the latter is not and needs for this reason a polycentric asset of lesser centers. The geographic variable conditions actors’ capabilities. Therefore, actors distribute their power differently and for this reason they tend to maximize power by a maximization of its distribution.

Such sharply different features imply a possible categorization of the actors. This first «momentum» consists in fact in a preliminary categorization based on elementary features. For Eastern Europe's borders, a distinction based on actors’ genetical features may result important as these divergences provide a manifold number of implications. They anticipate the elaboration of Russia’s revisionism.

The Federation and NATO share contrasting genetic features. The former is a terrestrial power, the latter is a maritime one. The former is a nation-state, the latter is an international organization. Russia is a revisionist power while the Alliance is a status quo power. Russia is a great continental power which especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union has spontaneously assumed the role of primus inter pares 52 among the former Soviet Republics. NATO is a formal alliance uniting through two continents through the Atlantic. The leadership of the Alliance is held by the United States, which emphasizes the maritime features of the Alliance.

A noteworthy aspect is related to the fact that Russia is a nation-state, whereas the Alliance is not. This has profound implications. The Russian Federation can affect the ethnic dynamics of its near space, whereas the Alliance cannot. Furthermore, it can adopt faster decisions without facing a longer bureaucracy typical of the policy-making procedures typical of an international organization. Such differential in speed is also the outcome of its authoritarian and centralized regime, a feature which became crucial since the replacement of the Yeltsin «multi-voicedness» with Putin's «vertikal»53. For these reasons, Russia is sharply distinguishable from the other actor in question in terms of primary and basic description. This implies cleavages in terms of ideals.

The elaboration of an ideal system

In the second «momentum», main actors elaborate their own ideals about the international system. They identify both their role and the ideal distribution of power through the system. Russia’s ideal system consists of a terrestrial integration of its Near Abroad, in which integrated actors are linked to a center – Moscow – through terrestrial continuity. This concept regarding terrestrial power’s distribution may be defined «tellurization». It represents a specific type of idealization of the system. More precisely, an idealization that is strictly characterized by the elements of continuity and centrality of the power, both linking lesser actors to the main actor. Therefore, Russia’s ideal of the international system consists of a system which condones its uncontested role of Eurasian great power and allows it to stretch from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. In absence of constraints, the Federation would maximize its power distribution through the post-Soviet space. Derzhavniki, 54 namely the Russian great power ideologists rely on a systemic ideal based on tellurization, which anticipates the elaboration a policy. The ideal of tellurization is counterposed to the Western US-led ideal. The latter consists of linking the European continent to a broader system of maritime alliances, whereby the Atlantic Alliance is certainly central. This ideal seems to be closer to the current reality of Eastern Europe. It is a form of idealization that can be summarized under the concept of «thalassocratization». More specifically, that kind of idealized system which allows the diffusion of lesser interdependent centers of economic power that rely on a political leadership. It is characterized by interdependence, fragmentation, discontinuity of power and political affiliation as main features linking lesser actors to the main actor.

Generated flaws

In the last «momentum» actors become aware of the difference between the ideal and reality. Such difference is inevitable: these ideals will never be totally realized. Between the total idealization and the realized idealization there is a clear, identified and unrealized purpose definable as «flaw». The latter is a systemic constraint, forestalling the realization of the actor’s ideal.

Actors identify flaws where their idealized integration is threatened. Constraints to ideals’ realization consist of any element countering the idealization’s core principles. Systemic flaws are symmetrically the opposite of systemic ideals. A word adding «de» before the ideal would then emphasize such asymmetry. Therefore, where Russia identifies a threat for its terrestrial continuity, it becomes aware of the existence of a systemic flaw. The latter constrains the realization of its own ultimate purposes and its own ideal role.

There are several flaws in Eastern Europe forestalling Russia's systemic idealization. They can be resumed as a twofold kind of flaws: those constraining its terrestrial continuity and those constraining its centrality. Both terrestrial continuity and centrality are indeed the core principles of tellurization. Probably, the most relevant systemic flaw for Russia is represented by Kaliningrad. An exclave of a terrestrial power: all but an unrelieved terrestrial continuity for Russia’s power distribution. The Russian Federation is at odds with such deep contradiction and attempts to fulfill the void. That is way in the Baltic States the subject has become very sensible overall after the adhesion to the European Union. The Oblast of Kaliningrad has been defined as a «trump card»55 for Russia, which shows its awareness for such contradiction by elaborating a special role for the exclave in its foreign policy (see Chapter 3). The Baltic States forestall the ideal of unrelieved Russian role of great power from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok: it is a an obvious flaw both in terms of centrality and terrestrial continuity.

Ukraine represents a flaw as since the «Orange Revolution» it endangers the centrality of Moscow in its near space. This damaged centrality implies a chain-effect as it would isolate other units creating additional exclaves. Moldova indeed must be grasped as a flaw in the Ukrainian context: not only it shows its own interests for a shifting of centrality by cooperating with the European Union, it also represents a further possible split for the terrestrial co ntinuity (see Chapter 3).

Table 1.1 – The three momentums of the idealization

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: personal elaboration

4. Conception of peaceful means

In the second phase, actors identify those means they will attempt to use to counter the flaws they identified. Hence, they will attempt to accomplish their systemic ideal. This phase represents the central aspect of defensive revisionism. The revisionist actor engages in a borders’ revision by peaceful means. It could be useful making some preliminary assumptions.

First and foremost, that a process of revisionism with a defensive approach – especially in the context of Eastern Europe – emphasizes the centrality of borders. The terrestrial elementary component of Russia binds it to a border's revision. Second, the actors of the model are defined as rational units maximizing their power. This means that they are aware of the limits of their power, pushing them to preferably venture an indirect involvement rather than a direct exposition: they will avoid the excess of costs. Their idealization will constitute their policy trend, pursued through this rational inhibition of over-exposition. Third, defensive variables which this model incorporates emphasize the peaceful applicability of those means. This is a direct consequence of the second assumption and pushes the actors to identify a series of means allowing them to rely on the systemic variable.

The peaceful applicability and its relevance for the defensive approach

The parameter of peaceful applicability is typical of the defensive approach (see Definitions). Jervis would distill its underlying logic as the «actors['s] anticipation of expected [systemic, anarchic] effects»56. The defensive approach maintains that actors will attempt to accomplish their ultimate goals without direct involvement. The consequence of this assumption is that actors adapt their strategies, by identifying peaceful means. Hence this parameter represents the tenet of their strategic strain. Therefore, they identify and use peaceful means as the main attempt to determine a changing in the system.

The peaceful applicability of means is related to how actors seek to determine a changing of the system. At this point, a distinction between «reintegration» and «revision» is necessary. The former is the consequence of the success of the latter. The subsequent phase of revision consists in the reintegration of its Near Abroad. To reintegrate means having accomplished a complex revision. It means linking, through power distribution, such areas (to a clear political center in the Russian case). It corresponds to a post-revisionism phase. On the other hand, revision – and more precisely the border's revision – is the core of revisionism. It corresponds to a strategical attempt to determine a changing within the system. The actors try to model the borders to revise the near space. To be indirectly involved, they conceive peaceful means. If borders’ revision leads to borders’ redetermination, the area would inevitably be reintegrated. Sherr provided a threefold explanation of why a strategic approach (as the analysis on borders) is required to explain Russia’s foreign policy. First, «when the Russian state defines its goals and its opponents, it acts with unnerving concentration and intensity»; second, «Russia tends to combine means and methods»; finally, «that common institutions will harmonize conflicting interests to confuse principles with policy»57. The combination of means and methods emphasizes the centrality of the peaceful applicability for the Russian actor which «tends to combine hard and soft approaches as a general modus operandi». 58 The expression prinudit' k druzhbe – coerce into friendship – well resumes such attitude.59 «Soft coercion […] an influence that is indirectly coercive, resting on covert methods»60 could hence be used to define Russia’s combination of hard and soft powers. A combination based on applicability, which would make these two concepts imperfect if considered alone.

The actors and the will to avoid/accomplish the border's revision

Border's revision by peaceful means is conducted by Russia. The other relevant actor of the model attempts to avoid it. Therefore, NATO enters the model only once Russia has idealized the system, identified the flaws forestalling its ideal and identified its peaceful means. The western actor indeed represents the antagonist of Russia’s revisionism. Its attempt is to avoid any successful borders' modeling as well as any consequent reintegration. In this second phase NATO represents the status quo power: it is involved in the boders’ revision by its attempts to counter their redetermination.

Trenin explains that «the Cold War analogy is misleading»61 to explain the nowadays' NATO- Russia related political dynamic. He also outlines the unpredictable nature result ing from this dangerous rivalry, emphasizing the importance of an empirical analysis. The Alliance has the purpose to avoid Russia’s revision, though always through peaceful means. The two main actors hence keep peaceful relations and are not willing to go to – cold or warm – war. Paradoxically, this intent to keep formally peaceful relations emphasizes the centrality of defensive variables and hence of the peaceful means in the framework of their policies. Current tensions among the Russian Federation and the Alliance could result as circumscribed strategic priorities, inherited from the arrangements that two decades ago led to the end of the Cold War62.

The main peaceful means: ethnic dynamics and military strategy

The crucial question of the model seeks to answer is represented by this phase. How actors can defensively influence international borders? Namely, how can they maximize their power through peaceful means?

Their impact is rooted on their genetic features, impinging on both the number and the quality of peaceful means they can rely on. Indeed, the ethnic component of Russia – being a nation- state – stimulates it to focalize on ethnic dynamics. Still considering Russia’s genetic features, its terrestrial nature incites the development of border-oriented military strategies. The Alliance on the other hand is not a state but an international organization specialized on security issues. It originated from a non-ethnic background. Therefore, it can't produce any influence on any nation-building process like Russia (see Appendix 1). Moreover, NATO’s military contingents as well as their collocation depend on a longer decision-making process due to the Alliance's democratic nature. The latter can result as an even more critical issue as Russia, due to its authoritarian nature, has a fast decision-making process. The identification of peaceful means results hence on the actors’ features, pushing them not to overlook their potentialities.

Table 1.2 – The main peaceful means in the border's revision

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: personal elaboration

Great powers of the model are provided of an uneven distribution of «main» peaceful means. Russia holds a twofold availability of these means, whereas the Alliance own only one. Russia’s influence on ethnic dynamics is derived by its nation-state nature: Piontkovsky has even assimilated the presence of a Russian-speaking minority to a threat, for every country owning one63. That's because the «Putin-led vision»64 of Russia's self-proclaimed right of protection of these minorities (related to the concept of Russkij Mir) can represent a vulnerability for the Near Abroad countries as well as a justification for a Russian plausible intervention. Russia’s new generation warfare (see Chapter 2) is a unique and new military strategy by which Russia uses traditional military means along with heavy military presence on its borders by emphasizing ethnic involvement. This second peaceful mean emphasizes both soft and hard power instruments, as the threat of using a limited military pressure to accomplish its political goals, which Tkachenko has defined «coercive diplomacy»65. The Alliance can also rely on a military strategy.

A question could be helpful, though. What are ethnic dynamics, and why are they plural? Actually this term can refer to any dynamic involving an ethnic group able to affect the context. Separatism, by the way, represents the most relevant dynamic which is able to potentially determine the border's revision (see Chapter 2 for more details). Furthermore, this uneven distribution affects not only numbers, but also the quality itself means. As a result, whereas Russia is able to potentially influence Russian-speaking minorities and can rely on a heavy military strategy, the Alliance can only resort to a much lower preventive military strategy in order to reassure the situation. It faces the first European army with a heavy presence on borders and – as already stated – cannot influence any ethnic dynamic. The fact that the Federation owns a twofold number of means allows it to conflate its border-oriented heavy military strategy into the ethnic dynamic, therefore enhancing its intervention's capabilities. Indeed, ethnic dynamics can be interpreted as the first level Russia’s defensive revisionism, followed by the military support.

Sherr has stressed the role of the «today's Russian instruments of soft power»66 in the Russia's official policy. These instruments include public relations, public diplomacy, print and broadcast media, the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian culture.

Peaceful means and soft power are related concepts though not the same thing: a feasible means can be an instrument of soft power as well as it can be an instrument of hard power. An instrument of soft power can be a peaceful but also an unpeaceful mean. By the way, there is a strong correlation between soft power and peaceful means when in Russia's official policy, as Russia invests a considerable amount of soft resources in its foreign policy, trying to form a «good neighborly belt among its border's perimeter»67.

In this process of border's revision NATO, through its preventive strategy, attempts to avoid Russia’s revision and hence attempts to avoid it.

Lesser powers like Romania and Moldova can influence the revisionism's process – though with a reduced impact – by supporting the idea of reunification, while the Baltic States can implement cohesion inside their societies (where half of the Russian-speaking minority still has no citizenship; see Chapter 3). These powers bear the burden of the so -called «finlandization of relationship»68: even though they are sovereign states, they must realistically face the Russian foreign policy's parameters, and cannot challenge this actor alone.

The centrality of an empirical methodology

As a result of its positivist characterization, the model produces empirical deductions. Based on data, it produces research findings as well as empirical scenarios. Both attribute probabilistic relevance to a series of components. Deductions are mapped. Therefore, the model offers a production. It does not mean that such findings be meant to conclude which are the political development of the situation in Eastern Europe per se. The purpose of this instrument is to deduce after a series of empirical evidences, which is the impact of revisionism for the context, which are its plausible developments. It relies on the language of probability rather than to an exact science.

Through such instrument it could be possible to evince a series of additional assumptions as well, after having mapped the components. The latter can be categorized in different degrees. Gariup outlined in a work whose attempt is to identify the elements of a «Grammar of Security» that «threat is a measure of the likelihood that a specific type of attack will be initiated against a specific target»69. The author also states that «vulnerability is a measure of the likelihood that various types of safeguards against a scenario will fail»70, and «consequence is the magnitude of the negative effects if the attack is successful»71. This categorization may represent a scientific categorization of the components and their implications. What will result is indeed that the deductions may easily lead to identify a vantage of the Russian Federation in terms of potential border's modeling in Eastern Europe, compared to the other relevant actor. By only considering defensive variables and analyzing the impact peaceful means, it results that Russia has more capabilities to model the borders. Undoubtedly, genetic features – making Russia a terrestrial great nation-state – are also crucial to explain the different impact that Russia’s revisionism has on borders’ modeling.

5. The ultimate objective. Reintegration

The third theoretical phase represents a post-revision strain, whereby a successful border's revision has become a matter of fact. Why strain? Most of all, why strain given the fact that the revision is in this phase a matter of fact? Once the defensive strategies have determined the borders, then the consequent phase consists in the near space’s re-codification. More specifically, it consists in linking it to a new center and attributing it both a different importance and position. Therefore, the actor in the post-revision phase re-orders the system, linking the lesser powers to its own system's logic.

The effective reintegration

As above mentioned, there are sharp differences between the two concepts of «reintegration» and «revision». In this phase, the former is the key concept. The process of border's modeling, namely borders’ revision – implies the combination of peaceful means able to determine the actor's influence in its near space. Such influence could be restored in case of successful border's revision. Reintegrating a near space emphasizes the importance of the logic of power, whereas the borders’s revision emphasizes the role of strategy. Therefore, strategy comes before the logical organization of the system.

In any case, the concept of reintegration assumes a political significance, namely the idea that within the European context the existence of a twofold distribution of power confirms a rivalry between the main actors who envision a different a overlapping.

The difficulty of accomplishing this step

Through this ultimate phase actors effectively restore and literally build up their own great power role. It represents a strain, because in this step they normalize their role. It consists of effectively linking lesser powers – in the Russian case – through continuity and centrality. In its critical work, Raffestin argued that an actor needs to «recognize itself through the space»72 ; the geographer conceived a cyclical process named TDR73 by which in the second of the three processes the actor abandons its territory, whereas in the latter it decodifies the territory. The system is reorganized: not only because the great power in this phase distributes its power through it (that way creating its power structure), but also because the all-encompassing elements of this territory will be re-transformed by complying to the new center. Reintegrating hence means reconverting. In such last phase Russia would enhance the centrality and the continuity of power as the main characteristics of systemic power's distribution. The example of the annexation of Crimea of 2014 is illustrative. The peninsula has become after the successful referendum in March of that year, an integral part of the Russian Federation. In order to link the revised area to Moscow and reconvert it to its political center, the Russian Federation has made a series of logistic strains. It has to guarantee the security of the peninsula by placing new contingents; it has to assure that Crimea is swiftly integrated with the mainland by investing its resources in the construction of new infrastructure, as the projected Kerch Strait Bridge74 that stress the importance of continuity of power; it has to reorganize the new strategic role of the Crimean peninsula and its crucial harbors; it provided the same economic currency to this area; it envisages new economic roles for the peninsula as the central aspect it has been given in the framework of the tourism industry.

6. Methodology

As mentioned, methodology results attributed a special importance. The use of empiricism is the major characterization of a model seeking to reach deductions. The use of dataset and generic data constitutes the basis of empirical observations. They constitute the very first aspect of the research. However, alone these data are less useful. For this reason, it is necessary to be aware of their specific – scientific – relation. Theories, studies, and researches provide a causal relation to these data. Some will hence appear positively – other negatively – correlated. For instance, territorial disagreement is positively correlated with historical grievances, ethnic dynamics with economic aspects, and so forth. Only being aware of their relation it will be possible to make deductions. The latter are the result of an extensive data collection. Research findings provide indeed the very result of the work. It will result on visible, emerging conclusions based on researches. Methodology is therefore organized through the work. It incorporates some precise phases of the research itself before the conclusions. The next chapter will develop such method in detail. It will emphasize its employment by reaching deductions on the main peaceful means of Russia’s foreign policy. I attributed a specific name to this method: «FCD». It serves to found, categorize, and deduce. It provides causal relations, it uses an extensive data collection and on this basis, it provides deductions. Therefore, the latter will result on a spontaneous conclusion. Empirical methodology hence characterizes the all-encompassing parts of the work.


1 Wight, 2006, p.164-166

2 I b i d em

3 Farrell, 2002, p.15

4 Snyder, 2005, p.55-71

5 Watson, 1987, p.147-153

6 Brewer, 2002, p.105-120

7 Edkins, 1999, p.41-65

8 I b i d em

9 Navari, 1989, p.341-358

10 Claude, 1966, p.87

11 Morgenthau, 1948, p.7

12 Davidson, 2006, p.4-6

13 I b i d em

14 I b i d em

15 Morgenthau, 1948, p.10-12

16 I b i d em

17 Davidson, p.8-12, 2006

18 I b i d em, p.7

19 I b i d em, p.8

20 I b i d em, p.14

21 Snyder, in Foreign Policy, 2005, p.55-71

22 Simmons, 2013, p.580-584

23 Davidson, 2006, p.14

24 I b i d em, p.16

25 I b i d em, p.18

26 Guzzini, 1998, p.130

27 Mearsheimer, 2001, p.65-85

28 Rynning, Guizzini, 2002, p.12

29 I b i d em, p.12

30 Schimmelfennig, 2003, p.30-35

31 Rynning, Guizzini, 2002, p.14-16

32 Thorun, 2008, p.8-10

33 I b i d em, p.12-16

34 Kubicek, 1998, p.2-5

35 Legvold, in Foreign Affairs, 2001

36 Sakwa, 2011, p.106-109

37 I b i d em

38 Korolev, 2017, p.2-4

39 Mearsheimer, 2001, 21

40 Rose, 1998, p.150

41 Schweller, 1996, p.91

42 Snyder, 1991, p.31

43 Zakaria, 1992, p.192

44 Woodweell, 2007, p.2

45 I b i d em, p.35

46 Taliaferro, Security Seeking Under Anarchy, p.129, 2000

47 Ibidem

48 Dunne, p.39, 2012

49 Taliaferro, p.129, 2000

50 Jervis, p.93, 1997

51 Liska, 1999, p. 40

52 Di Nolfo, 2008, p.170

53 Sherr, 2013, p.15

54 Sherr, 2013, p.43

55 Krickus, 2002, p.5

56 Jervis, 1997, p.263

57 Sherr, 2013, p.55-60

58 Nye, 2004, p.7

59 Sherr, 2013, p.60

60 Ibidem

61 Trenin, Should We Fear Russia ?, 2016

62 Ratti, 2015, p.2-4

63 Pionkovsky, 2015, p.8

64 Praks, 2015, p.3

65 Notes from Conference, February 8th, 2017, Roma Tre

66 Sherr, 2013, p.65

67 Ibidem

68 Ibidem

69 Gariup, 2009, p.45-60

70 Ibidem

71 Ibidem

72 Raffestin, 1981, p.29

73 Térritorialisation – Déterritorialisation – Reterritorialisation

74 Bershidsky, 4/2016

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Russia's Defensive Revisionism in the Baltic and Moldova. Bluff Charge or Prelude to the Storm?
Università degli Studi Roma Tre
MA in International Relations
110/110 cum laude
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Conflict resolution, Eastern Europe, Moldova, Romania, NATO, Baltic, Baltic States, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Revisionism, Ethnic, Strategy, Military, Map, Geopolitics, Tables, IR, Theories, Defensive, Cohesion, Trajectory, Media, Security, Dilemma, Axis, Minority, Russian, Annexation, Federation, Nation, Nation-building, Protection, Warfare, Methodology, Russkij Mir, Majority, Relation, Bessarabia, Transnistria, Case study, Transitionary, Context, Domestic, Variable
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Alessandro Vitiello (Author), 2018, Russia's Defensive Revisionism in the Baltic and Moldova. Bluff Charge or Prelude to the Storm?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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