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On the Margins of a EU-Dominated Space: Three Approaches to Russia's Identity in the Baltic Sea Region
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Centre for Research on Regional Development.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4786-4071
2016 (English)Conference paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The Baltic Sea Region was the focal point of enormous geopolitical change in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Previously, the Soviet Union maintained a strong presence along the Baltic Sea coastline but as a result of its collapse, Germany’s reunification and successive European Union (EU) enlargements, the Baltic Sea Region is now an EU-dominated space. Regions of the Russian Federation now find themselves on the periphery. This paper hopes to offer insight into how we can understand Russia in the Baltic Sea Region today and serves as a starting point for empirical research into how Russia’s Baltic Sea identity is constituted in national and EU foreign policy.


The paper is a critical review of the International Relations (IR) scholarship that has addressed Russia’s post-Cold War identity in the Baltic Sea Region. In particular, it addresses the following questions: what tensions and debates exist between different analytical approaches? How can this scholarship help us to understand Russia’s identity in the Baltic Sea Region at the present time? What significance do the discourses of ‘othering’ in the scholarship have for identity-building and inter-regional cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region?


Constructivist and poststructuralist analyses dominated IR discussions on Russia in the Baltic Sea Region in the late 1990s and 2000s (see, for example: Joenniemi et al, 1997; Jæger, 2000; Joenniemi, 2000; Browning, 2001, 2003; Moisio, 2003; Aalto et al, 2003; Tassinari, 2003; Jakobsen-Obolenski, 2005). They critiqued the persisting Cold War dichotomy of East/West and offered solutions as to how this dichotomy could be overcome through emerging inclusive frameworks such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the EU’s Northern Dimension. Yet despite expressing optimism for inclusion in the future, these works continued to consider Russian regions as marginalised and not fully included in the region.


Other perspectives have acknowledged the ability of Russian regions in the Baltic Sea Region to influence Russian and EU policy by considering the benefits of paradiplomacy for overcoming divisive politics (Joenniemi & Sergunin, 2014) or conceptualising the Kaliningrad Oblast as a marginal space that can exercise agency by simultaneously upholding and evading modernist understandings of territory (Browning & Joenniemi, 2004). Postcolonial perspectives potray Russia as an occupant of the ’middle ground’ between the civilised centre and the Orientalised periphery (Morozov, 2013). Such approaches suggest that Russian regions can potentially play an active role in identity politics instead of simply being relegated to the role of ’Other’. Yet such an active role for Russian regions remains largely in the realm of possibility rather than reality for these scholars.


This paper considers the implications of IR discourses of ‘othering’ for identity-building and inter-regional cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region and consider whether the epistemic community has in fact reinscribed the exclusionary dynamics that it has sought to overcome. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Baltic Sea Region, identity, EU-Russia relations, constructivism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, othering, Europe, Russia, regions, region-building
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-41717OAI: diva2:920347
Regional Studies Association Annual Conference, April 3-6, Graz, 2016
Available from: 2016-04-18 Created: 2016-04-18 Last updated: 2016-04-18

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Hirst, Clarissa
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