Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Peter Liberman

Committee Members

Zachary C. Shirkey

Julie A. George

Subject Categories

Comparative Politics | Eastern European Studies | International Relations | Other International and Area Studies | Other Political Science | Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies


Russia, foreign policy, U.S.-Russia relations, threat, threat perceptions, assertiveness


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian foreign policy has ranged from openly embracing partnership with the United States to criticizing, challenging, and confronting the United States on numerous foreign policy issues. What explains change in Russia’s foreign policy—from cooperation to balancing the United States—between 1991 and 2018? What are the causes of Russia’s turn to a more assertive foreign policy? I test a main hypothesis that Russia’s change in foreign policy is a direct result of the change in Russia’s assessment of threat and compare it to alternative explanations for Russian foreign policy assertiveness.

The most compelling evidence in this dissertation suggests that international factors have an overwhelmingly larger impact on Russia’s foreign policy than domestic factors. The systematic analysis of Russia’s foreign policy confirms that the periods of Russia’s foreign policy assertiveness coincide with Russia’s heightened threat perceptions. As the nature of threats changed over time so did Russia’s response to these threats. Russia’s increased foreign policy assertiveness was not inevitable and only started when Moscow changed its view of the U.S.’s intentions, which led to a change in Russian perceptions of the United States. Explanations focused on Russia’s threat perceptions effectively trace a direct relationship between Russia’s perception of security threats and its changing foreign policy.

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