It is well-known that relations between the EU and the West in general and Russia suffer from mutual mistrust fanned by conflicting assessments of each other’s actions and intentions in the European space and in each other’s domestic politics. The role here of propaganda and misinformation spearheaded by powerholders and spin doctors in Moscow and their allies no doubt contributes negatively to the profoundly distorted vision that many ordinary Russians seem to have on Europe and our politics – not to mention the conflict in Ukraine or Syria, or institutions, such as NATO.
Yet one thing that has struck me ever, since I became interested in Russia and the post-Soviet space, is how much our understanding on Russia is overwhelmingly dominated by a sort of geopolitical or strategic thinking prism that it leaves little room for other angles. This perspective stresses notions of power, Grand Strategy and geopolitics (e.g. Russia’s strategic interests and history as an empire, NATO’s posturing, etc.) over a more societal or, if you will, a bottom-up approach that also lays emphasis on people-to-people interaction, societal understanding, impact of globalisation on popular perceptions, etc. At least in my experience, many Western pundits and policymakers, whether they favour a rapprochement with Russia or they see it as a challenge, tend to equally fall in this conceptual trap. Further, such debates are many times suffused by a mixture of pre-conceptions, common places, and clichés that certainly do not help to better understand modern Russia.