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Russia’s Identity in World Politics

June 28 – July 9, 2021

20 Contact hourse

The course aims to take an in-depth look at Russian politics understood as the conjunction of culture, society, and civilisation.

Course Description

In this course we approach sociocultural premises of Russian foreign policy, which often remain implicit but which invite direct inquiry. We use the concept of symbolic politics to ‘untangle’ four dimensions of Russia’s international relations: the language with which Russians define their society (the ‘we’ dimension); how Russia frames messages about its ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’ (the ‘significant others’ dimension); how Russian elites produce narratives and metaphors of collective memory (the ‘time’ dimension); and how Russia perceives its geopolitical space (the dimension of ‘political space’).

These four dimensions comprise the four principal parts of the course. We will study the texts of key public intellectuals, analyzing Russia’s role in modern world politics in relation to what shapes the country’s identity and sovereignty, and to how Russian ruling elites construct relationship with both the West and East. We examine key narratives of Russia’s ‘heroes’, ‘triumphs’, and ‘historical victims’ (WWII), as well as the principal symbols of geopolitical space (for example, the Crimean Peninsula).

The course is taught by Sergei Akopov (www.sergeiakopov.com).

Learn more about the lecturer

We examine the intriguing interconnection between Russian culture, politics, history, international relations, literature and art. We also explore sociocultural premises of Russian foreign policy, which often remain implicit but which invite direct inquiry.


  • Looking at Russia’s IR through different theoretical lenses. Studying Russia in world politics through research of symbolic politics.
  • Who are we, Europeans?” Russia’s Identity in its International Relations.
  • Contemporary Russian Foreign Policy: construction of the “East” and deconstruction of the “West”.
  • Russia’s Foreign Rhetoric: Between its ‘Friends’ and ‘Enemies’?
  • Constructing Political Identity by usage of collective memory about Russia’s past.
  • Russia in its geopolitical space: new and old.
  • Studying the role of leadership in Russia’s International Relations.
  • Analyzing Soft and Smart Powers in Russia’s Foreign Policy
  • “Russia’s Identity” From A Feminist IR Perspective

Please note

Field trips to Russian Art Museum and the The Museum of the Siege of Leningrad and WWII are subject of availability 

Skills and Competences

Upon course completion students should be able to:

  • Identify key points of Russian ‘political identity’, key political narratives and metaphors of its collective memory, and principal perceptions of Russian geopolitical space;  
  • Critically interpret the main events and trends in post-communist transition;
  • Asses the role of Russian in international organisation and deliver insight in Russia’s international ontological security strategy, including its ‘soft’ and` ‘smart’ powers.
  • Come up with a solid research proposal in the field of Russian domestic and foreign symbolic politics.

Teaching Methods

The course material will be presented through the combination of lectures and in-class discussions. Students are expected to take active part in class discussions and to give one individual presentation on the topic of their choice.

Final Assessment

The course will finish with Research portfolio written and oral presentations. Students should provide a collection of materials organised in one file arranged in coherence with one of the topics from the course. Making portfolios is a part of a “learning by doing” process that intends to encourage you “want to learn” creative behaviour and practice research methods. Portfolio is a collection of printed materials provided by the student in a file, along with reflections.

Portfolio begins with a short (300 words) “Letter to yourself” about “what do I want from this course?” This task stresses students’ autonomy in the definition of learning goals and outcomes (later to be compared with “what did I actually get from the course?”). The framing of this exercise highlights the agency of the student: “Hi, Future Me! … I want you to remember some important things and ideas from this course”.

Portfolios may include essays, critique, reflections, fieldwork, theoretical or practical pieces, conference papers, book reviews, audio and video clips with reflection notes, diaries with academic comments etc. escorted by written explanations of the importance of each entry as well as their interconnection.

Overall student should provide in one portfolio minimum 4 different pieces (including a “Letter to yourself”) of work with a total sum of between 2 000 – 3 000 words (around 6-8 pages, double-spaced between lines along with 1" margin on all sides and it should use 12-point Times New Roman font).

Students shall be ready to present portfolios (illustrated with e.q. PowerPoint slides) orally during the final exam. (Make sure that you properly refer to the sources you use and do not plagiarize). In the end of the course each student will give an oral presentation on the chosen topic, as a way to share her/his findings with the rest of the class and receiving feedback from peers and the instructor.

Final Grade Background

Assessment and Final Grade

Students will be assessed according to the following criteria:

In-class participation  25%

In-class oral presentation 25%

Research portfolio oral and written presentation 50%                      

TOTAL 100%    


Taking part in class discussions is essential for learning. It is important that all students prepare course readings for the assigned date and come to class ready to analyze and debate issues raised by the readings. All reading materials will be made available to students in electronic form (pdf), so having a convenient means to read .pdf files (a laptop, a pdf-capable e-book reader, etc.) would be of great help.

Paper and presentation

Students are required (1) to participate actively, intelligently and regularly in class discussions; (2) to read articles for home reading; (3) to prepare ONE presentation.


For each class, one of the students will prepare a short Presentation (5-10 slides in PowerPoint), with a brief outline of main findings in the assigned text and a set of (3-5) questions for discussion.  

Recommended Reading List

Engström, M. (2016). Daughterland [Rodina-Doch’]: Erotic patriotism and Russia's future. Conservative mobilization and sexualization of the nation. Intersections, September 27.

Hopf T. ‘Crimea is ours’: A Discursive history. International Relations 2016, Vol. 30(2) 227–255.

Krickovic A.  The Symbiotic China-Russia Partnership: Cautious Riser and Desperate Challenger // The Chinese Journal of International Politics . 2017. Vol. 10. No. 3. P. 299-329.

Malinova O. (2018). Russian Identity and the “Pivot to the East”, Problems of Post-Communism, Published on line August 24.

Mearsheimer, J.  “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault”. Foreign Affairs. September / October, 2014.

Rutland, Peter & Kazantsev, Andrei. (2016) The limits of Russia’s ‘soft power’ Journal of political power, Vol.9, pp. 395-413;

Taras R., (2015) Putin’s Sochi hubris: righting the ship of sport, wronging the ship of state? Sport and Society, November, 1-16;

Tsygankov A. (2016) Crafting the State-Civilization, Problems of Post-Communism, 63(3), 1-13.

Zevelev I., Kuchins A. (2012) Russian Foreign Policy: Continuity in Change, The Washington Quarterly, 35, 147-161

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