Abstract: This article takes a strategic narrative approach to explaining the current and likely future contestation between Russia and the West. We argue that Russia projects a strategic narrative that seeks to reinforce Russia’s global prestige and authority, whilst promoting multilateral legal and institutional constraints on the other more powerful actors, as a means to ensure Russia stays among the top ranking great powers. To illustrate this we analyze Russia’s identity narratives, international system narratives and issue narratives present in policy documents and speeches by key players since 2000. This enables the identification of remarkably consistency in Russia’s narratives and potential points of convergence with Western powers around commitment to international law and systemic shifts to an increasingly multipolar order. However, we explain why the different meanings attributed to these phenomena generate contestation rather than alignment about past, present and future global power relations. We argue that Russia’s historical-facing narratives and weakened material circumstances have the potential to hamper its adaptation to rapid systemic change, and to make attempts to forge closer cooperation with third parties challenging.
Keywords: Cold War; international order; Russia; strategic narrative; United States