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Russia is not a follower country

Russia continues to have an imperial mentality and acts accordingly, explains Russian American Professor Nina Khrushcheva in our interview. The dream of a "common European house" for her is – despite the challenges – perhaps the only possibility in the future.

25 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, what impact does the heritage of the former empire have in today´s Russia from your point of view?

Russia continues to have an imperial mentality. Its idea of power is very much based on an idea of size – size matters. Russia's very large size that covers almost the whole continent from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad, from Japan to Germany explains a lot of Russia's thinking about its power. Also as in many empires the relationship between its parts are vertical, not horizontal, ultimately all begins and ends in Moscow. If we talk about the heritage, Russian empire is far from over, it is seeking opportunities to regroup – hence Wladimir Putin's arguments about "Russia's traditional spheres of influence" – Ukraine, Georgia, and so on, i.e. the territories that once were official parts of an empire, and now are somewhat unofficial, and yet "ours" nonetheless.
As of late, quite a number of people in Russia talk about Europe as if Russia were no longer a part of it. What happened to cause this change of perspective?

The way Russians see it, Europe, well the West, rejected them. NATO expansion to its borders became a sign that the West itself doesn't consider Russia as Europe. So the Russians turned the tables-you don't want us, we don't want you. Russia really is not a follower country (most empires are not), and the expectations that it would just adjust to the West with a little say in the process was a big miscalculation on the part of Western powers.

How relevant is the past with regards to the current challenges in the dialogue between Russia and its European neighbors?

It is very relevant. Since Russia continues to think of its role in the world in imperial terms, past is paramount as it gives the Russians examples of how they succeeded before. I am not certain about the dialogue though. Are European neighbors really ready to have a dialogue with Russia rather than just telling it what to do and how to be?

Has the dream of a "common European house" finally come to an end?

This is a question for Europe more than for Russia. And I hope not. But since the United States under Donald Trump is hardly a Western leader, and Wladimir Putin has hurt feelings that Europe has not accommodated him, Europe is more on its own than it ever was. And it is up to Europe itself to lead. As for the Common European House with the Russians, it is (and perhaps the only) possibility in the future. However, with this Kremlin there is too much baggage to achieve it in the near future.

Nina Khrushcheva is one of the speakers at the Körber History Forum 2017; she will join the debate "Is Russia entering the post-European era?".

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