The Geopolitical Blame Game: Russia’s Strategy of Weaponizing Grievances against the West.

Thursday, April 29, 2021
1:45 PM - 2:15 PM

Virtual Seminar

  • Yasmin Samrai

THIS EVENT STARTS AT 1:50PM. Introductions will start at 1:50pm. Each presentation will be 20 minutes with a 10 minute discussion.


* Please note all CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.


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About the Event: Russia harbors both real and imagined grievances against the West. Since the end of the Cold War, the Kremlin has accumulated a litany of complaints – spanning NATO enlargement to liberal hegemony, economic sanctions to cultural degeneracy – and amplified them with renewed fervor at home and abroad. Despite the resurgence of resentment politics in Russia, China, and Iran, few studies have examined the phenomenon of national grievance narratives. This thesis fills the gap with a study on the sources and strategic aims of Russia’s grievances against the West. An original dataset of 471 grievances, created by surveying hundreds of Russian presidential speeches, interviews, and strategic documents, charts Russia’s grievance narrative since 1991. Contrary to conventional assumptions, grievance narratives do not reflect the genuine foreign policy interests of the state. A fifth of the grievances in the dataset are neither reliable nor merely rhetorical, but rather instrumental to a revisionist Russian foreign policy. Instrumental grievances, a term this thesis introduces, are tactical complaints that state actors exploit to undermine, challenge, or gain leverage over an adversary. An in-depth case study on Russia’s long-standing grievance against NATO suggests the Russian political elite inflate national security threats to serve their geopolitical ambitions and domestic political interests. Consequently, policymakers should interpret Russia’s grievance narrative with caution and skepticism. When policymakers mistake an instrumental grievance for harmless rhetoric or, worse, genuine offense, they overlook the subversive ways that Russia exploits the grievance to deceive and undermine the West.


About the Speaker: Yasmin is an international student from the UK studying History and Economics at Stanford. Since visiting Russia three times and studying the language, she has developed a deep interest in the country and turned to historical analysis to help make sense of Russian foreign policy.