Foto: NTB Scanpix
Research project

When every act is war: Post-Crimea conflict dynamics and Russian foreign policy (WARU)

2020 - 2023 (Ongoing)

Tension between great powers in world politics is escalating rapidly. What are the driving forces behind deteriorating relations? Can we explain them solely by the ‘aggressiveness’ of the other (be they Russia, China or the USA) as political narratives will have us believe? This research project expounds interaction between political entities as the key mechanism in conflict dynamics.

Asking how we can explain the spiral of worsening relations between Russia and the West since 2014, WARU posits that we cannot adequately explain it without understanding the specific way Russia and the West have spoken and related to each other in recent years. We investigate how adversarial relations can spread to engulf the entire relation through totalizing images of the other party as threat.

Examples: On the Russian side, the continuous claims that the West is operating with ‘double standards’ and fostering ‘colour revolutions’ and regime change around the globe has paved the way for policies of denial and rejection of Western initiatives across the board. In the West, a new common knowledge has been established: in Russia, truth is ‘weaponized’ – ‘nothing is true and everything is possible’ – and Russian foreign policy can aptly be summarized as ‘hybrid warfare’. This implies that any Russian foreign policy act can be seen as an act of war.

The project is an in-depth empirical study of how inimical rhetoric about the other party becomes self-evident and unproblematic, making it appear natural, even necessary, to treat the other party as a threat. It explores these dynamics through Russia's interactions with Norway, Estonia, Germany, NATO and the USA in the years 2014–2020. We build on and advance Securitization Theory, by examining how discourses of existential threat expand to encompass all areas of engagement with the other party, and by connecting such a process in one political entity with that going on in another. With this, WARU conceptualizes how rhetorical interaction between political entities can contribute to conflict escalation.

The issue in focus has acute political relevance. We anticipate that WARU will contribute to a school of thought that explains Russia's relations with the West with reference to interaction, help reduce the risk of politization and polarization in the debate about Russia and the West and contribute to knowledge-based political choices.

The project is financed by the NFR and the highly qualified international research team reflects the geographical scope of the project.

Events organized by other institutions than NUPI

Tuesday 8 June 2021 - The panel "Russia-West relations: Changing discourses of the Other post-Crimea" at Fifth Annual Tartu Conference on Russian and East European Studies. Project contributors: Wilhelmsen, Hjermann, Gjerde, Morozov, Chimiris, Krawatzek and Sasse. 

Thursday 2 September 2021 - The dynamic of escalation between East and West: Russia, Belarus and regional dimensions of conflict and dialogue. Policy roundtable, Tallinn, Estonia. Project contributor: Julie Wilhelmsen. 

Publications from external partners:

Morozov, Viacheslav (2021): "Institutionalizing National Memories: The Baltic Sea Region and World War II" in The Journal of Slavic Military Studies.

Funding program

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway