In the 25-year period since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has persistently explored the concept of its new national identity. With each new leader – Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and now Vladimir Putin – Russians have re-thought what it means to be living in a modern Russia.

As part of this journey, Russia has sought out aspects of its Soviet past to keep, as well as aspects to discard. It has debated the role of the political elite in imposing national identity from above, as well as the role of regional conflicts in solidifying national identity. And, most importantly, it has confronted the question of whether it should embrace the West as part of its national identity.

This issue looks at the elements that constitute modern Russian national identity in an effort to better understand Russia’s current actions on the global stage. The issue also includes a historical view back at the three major periods of Russian national identity in the post-Soviet era; a review of the dynamic tension that has always existed in Russia’s relationship with the West; and a summary of the major elements that comprise Russia’s current national identity. 

The authors of the report are Ivan Tsvetkov, an associate professor from St. Petersburg State University, Ivan Timofeev, the program director at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and Tatiana Indina, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center in 2014-2015. 

In addition, the report features an interview with the director of the Levada Center, Lev Gudkov, a prominent sociologist, who looks at Russian identity through the lens of the Kremlin’s current foreign policy. We also present a review of the latest book by Carnegie Moscow Center’s Director Dmitri Trenin, “Russia and the World in the 21st Century,” which also deals with the problems of the country’s national identity. 

Finally, we give voice to three young professionals — a foreign policy expert, a research scientist and a journalist — to share their views on what Russia might look like in 20 years and how it will present itself to the world.

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