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This special issue of Nordisk Østforum deals with the Nordic countries’ relations with Russia. Articles by experts in the field show that Russia constitutes a so-called “significant other”, and thus an important point of reference for the Nordic countries’ self-images and the outline of their policies. The aim of this introductory article is to place these contributions in a wider theoretical context. An interesting observation is that appraisals of Russian domestic politics appear to have just as serious consequences for the attitude of the Nordic countries vis-à-vis Russia as Russia’s behaviour at the international level. The article shows how a deteriorating image of the Russian “other” has contributed to increasingly tense international relations in the Baltic Sea region. The emergence of a so-called “security community” seems to belong in a distant future.
Keywords: democracy, energy, Nordic countries, Russia, security community
The Norwegian-Russian relationship from the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991 to the present is discussed in this article. It is argued that in a historical perspective, the 1990s must be understood as an anomaly or, alternatively, a state of emergency. With the post-Soviet economy in ruins, previously unthinkable opportunities began to open up. It is asserted that this state of emergency has now come to an end. Assisted by soaring petroleum prices, President Vladimir Putin was able to lead his country out of the transitional misery and towards what he, and the average Russian, would perceive as Russia’s rightful place in international politics. Although this is a well-known fact, some sectors of the Norwegian public and foreign aid establishment seem to be stuck in the 1990s in their perception of Russia. We recommend that all projects involving Norwegian aid to Russian recipients be terminated.
Keywords: Barents Euro-Arctic Region, environment, foreign aid, health, Norway, post-soviet transition, Russia
This article investigates the Swedish government’s perception of the power and intentions of the Soviet Union and Russia during the period 1988–93. The aim is to explain why the Swedish government decided to abandon its policy of neutrality and started to support the building-up of security cooperation within the EU. This can be seen as a case of foreign policy change. On the basis of previous research on the foreign policy of small states, a theoretical framework consisting of three external factors – the power structure of the international system, the degree of tension and the threat posed by the closest great power toward the small state – is applied. It is concluded that all three factors were important for the change in Swedish foreign policy, but that their relative importance varied.
Keywords: foreign policy change, perception, Russia, small state, Soviet Union, Sweden.
In this survey of the editorial columns of five leading Danish newspapers on Russia in the 2000s, it is found that, over all, there is a relatively high degree of uniformity in the evaluations of the staff of the respective newspapers. All five newspapers find that political conditions in Russia have worsened throughout the decade and that former president Vladimir Putin has in effect established an authoritarian regime in the country. Putin is criticised for centralising power, rigging elections and silencing the media, as well as for violating civil liberties – all to further the interests of the state. The last-mentioned process, it is claimed in the editorials, is epitomised by the war in Chechnya, which helped Putin win the presidency. There is some variation across the editorials in assigning blame for the war, but they all agree that the use of military force has been disproportional to the challenge posed by the Chechens. In terms of foreign policy, these Danish newspapers see the development of an aggressive line of action. For some this is merely a sign that Russia is returning to its old imperialistic self, while others believe that the West has to take some of the blame, e.g. by imposing its post-Cold War will on Russia. All agree, however, that we will see more confrontation in the time to come.
Keywords: authoritarianism, Chechnya, editorials, identity, Russia, transformation
The article highlights some traits of Finno-Russian relations. After more than 600 years of Swedish rule, Finland became part of the Russian Empire in 1809 and enjoyed a high degree of self-rule. A policy of good Finno-Russian relations up until 1899, thanks to the pro-Russian orientation of the Finnish elite, was successfully resurrected by President Kekkonen after WWII. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the focus of Finland’s foreign policy changed from Moscow to Brussels, with the old “special relationship” between Moscow and Helsinki now hard to imagine. However, the heritage of the past still lingers on in Finland, as exemplified by anti-NATO sentiment. Today, Finland’s relationship with Russia is no longer determined solely by the top leadership of the two states. The number of Russian-speaking inhabitants in Finland is now about ten times higher than it was just ten years ago and may prove the most important single factor among all the novelties in Finno-Russian relations during recent years.
Keywords: Finno-Russian relations, Soviet Union, Sweden, Urho Kekkonen, World War II