Context Column


Claiming respect.

Tracing the socio-emotional dimension of Russia’s relations with the West

Russia’s current Ukraine policy appears to be quite costly: Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in April 2014 and its covert military operation in Eastern Ukraine not only led to a dramatic deterioration of relations with the West, but have also had severe economic consequences. Thus, the question of what Russia really wants is more pertinent as ever. Many observers assume that the Russian leadership is not – or not primarily – interested in securing its spheres of influence in the post-Soviet space, but rather in preserving a special status both in the region and in world politics. The research projects builds on this hypothesis and tries to answer whether and to what extent Russian foreign policy vis-à-vis the West can be traced back to the influence of socio-emotional factors, particularly the elite’s need to see Russia’s role in international relations – and hence their own image of Russia’s international status – respected and acknowledged. Thus we consider foreign policy not only or not primarily to be the result of rational considerations (power accumulation, result of power struggles between domestic groups) or intersubjective social norms, but rather identify another driver that ranges beyond the conventional IR paradigms. Our assumption draws upon insights from social psychology, identity theory and emotion research, all of which suggest that expectations of respect and concern with status in international relations imply an emotional component, insofar as they are embedded in emotional appraisals and expectations about how we want to be treated by others. We formulate the hypothesis that in the case of Russia, status issues and expectations of respect become relevant whenever the elites’ self-image and associated status definition are challenged by the West. By taking this analytical perspective, the project also reacts to current tendencies in IR to revive consideration of emotions as an influencing variable on world politics.


Heller, Regina. 2016. Russlands Machtpolitik in Syrien – (k)eine Frage der Kosten. In: Friedensgutachten 2016, edited by Margret Johannsen, Bruno Schoch, Max M. Mutschler, Corinna Hauswedell, Jochen Hippler, 232-245. Berlin: LIT.
Heller, Regina 2014. Annäherung in der Sackgasse. Russland und der Westen zehn Jahre nach der Osterweiterung. In: Reader Sicherheitspolitik, August 2014
Forsberg, Tuomas, Regina Heller, Reinhard Wolf. 2014. Status and emotions in Russian foreign policy. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 47 (3-4): 261-268. DOI: 10.1016/j.postcomstud.2014.09.007.
Heller, Regina. 2014. Russia's quest for respect in the international conflict management in Kosovo. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 47 (3-4): 333–343. DOI: 10.1016/j.postcomstud.2014.09.001.
Heller, Regina. 2013. Wenn Status zur fixen Idee wird. Russland – zur Großmacht verdammt?. Osteuropa 63 (8): 45-58.
Heller, Regina. 2012. Subjectivity Matters. Reconsidering Russia’s Relations with the West. In: Russia & European Security, edited by Roger E. Kanet, Maria R. Freire, 45-78. Dordrecht: Republic of Letters Publishing.