Russia's geopolitical orientation towards the former Soviet states : was Russia able to discard its imperial legacy?
This thesis analyses Russia's military, economic and diplomatic policies towards the newly independent states, particularly towards the members of the CIS, during Boris Yeltsin's first term as President of an independent Russia (December 1991 to July 1996). The objective is to determine whether after the collapse of the Soviet Union the new Russian state tried to restore a sphere of influence or informal empire over the former Soviet republics - as the French did in sub-Saharan Africa after decolonisation - or whether instead Russia's policies reflected a genuine desire to establish normal state-to-state relations with the new states. Chapter one analyses the underlying principles of Russia's foreign policy towards the former Soviet states and examines the debate on Russian foreign policy priorities which took place during the first years of Russia's independence. This section also overviews Russia's policies towards the Russian minorities that inhabit the Baltic states, in order to determine whether Russia attempted to use this diplomatic tool to further its own interests in the area. Chapter two analyses the peculiar structure of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the extent to which Russia used this political framework to achieve hegemony over the former Soviet republics. Chapter three looks at Russia's participation in the wars in Transdniestria, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabagh, and Tajikistan, and Chapter four analyses Russia's energy trade with Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caspian states. The thesis reaches the conclusion that during 1992- mid 1996 Russia's policies only partially reflected an attempt to reassert the country's influence over the republics of the former Soviet Union and create an informal empire in the post-Soviet space. Russia's behaviour was particularly assertive in the military field as well as in its attempts to build a Russian dominated CIS military infrastructure. However, Russia's policies were less aggressive in the economic sphere, except probably as far as energy policy is concerned, and regarding the fate of Russians living beyond the new borders. More often than not, though, Russia's policies followed an ambivalent and incoherent pattern, a result of the weak and fragmented character of the Russian state.