Analysing the Changing Foreign and Domestic Politics of the Former USSR




Katz, Mark N.

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For the past few years, history seems to have been switched from "normal" speed to "Fast forward." Vast transformations have been occurring in what once appeared to be immutable aspects of Soviet foreign and domestic politics as well as in international relations generally. Nor have these transformations necessarily come to an end. Others may yet be in store. How should questions about the foreign and domestic politics of the former Soviet Union be analysed during this period of rapid change? The question is an important one since the methodology or approach scholars employ can in large measure determine the answers to the questions they ask. I will argue here that traditional Sovietology, or an analysis of domestic and foreign policy issues from the perspective of Russian and Soviet history, is not the most fruitful method for studying a situation in which rapid change is occurring. A more productive approach, in my view, is what will be called here comparative historical analysis - an approach which seeks to relate questions regarding the foreign and domestic politics of the former USSR to similar situations which have occurred elsewhere. No claim is being made that this method will yield definitive answers. What it can do, though, is bring to light a range of answers or possibilities that traditional Sovietology, by examining questions solely in terms of the Russian/Soviet historical experience, does not. In this paper, I will first examine traditional Sovietology and consider why it is no longer as useful a methodology as it once was. I will then outline comparative historical analysis and discuss why it might be a more appropriate methodology for analysing the current situation. Finally, I will discuss two examples of the very different results which different methodologies might yield when applied to the same question.



Domestic Policy, Soviet Union, Foreign policy, Sovietology, International relations