Russia’s policy towards is neighbours is based on three factors: the traditional power component, the existence of a common geopolitical space, and a common history. The main component in international politics is the balance of forces, but geography and ties that have developed over centuries are no less important in this particular case.
Russia has been and remains the dominant power in the so-called post-Soviet space, because it has the largest population, one of the world’s best armies, and a large arsenal of nuclear weapons that is commensurate only to the US stockpile. However, it should be remembered that topography precludes the marking of clear dividing lines between Russia and its neighbours, and that common historical experience will always influence decisions.
Therefore, Russia’s military-political might cannot guarantee control of its neighbours or allow it to keep aloof of them. Many problems could be solved if Moscow resumed a form of direct control of a part of the former Soviet republics. But the effort required could eventually prove fatal to the Russian economy and statehood. Keeping aloof of its neighbours would imply the development of a defensive strategy for the areas in direct proximity to vital centres of Russian territory. Military domination is a way to develop relations favourable for a sustainable but not imperial international order around Russia, that is, an order that does not include direct control of neighbours.
Moscow needs to find a form of interaction with its neighbours that supports the national security and relative peace of the countries along Russian borders without dictating domestic or foreign policy rules to them. This is the common element of Russia’s strategy towards all its neighbours, regardless of where they are located in the common geopolitical space. Ideally, Russia’s foreign policy should be aimed at creating a chain of states on its border which can take independent foreign policy decisions with due regard for geopolitical circumstances.