85236 - History of Soviet Union and Russian Foreign Policy

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Peace, justice and strong institutions Partnerships for the goals

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

During classes students are expected to acquire a strong comparative methodology in order to approach the most relevant events of the foreign policy of Russia and Soviet Union from 1917 to nowadays. Students are particularly expected to develop an in-depth knowledge and a critical overview of a set of crucial documents in Russian/Soviet diplomacy that will be analysed during the lectures.

Course contents

Adopted teaching model

The course is organized according to the traditional teaching model with face to face active participation of students. Therefore, students are required to carefully read the assigned materials before the class and active participate through presentations according to the instructions received by the professor.

In case enrolled students cannot join temporarily the Forlì Campus due to health related conditions, they will be able to follow the lectures remotely, simultaneously with students in presence (blended teaching system). They will be also instructed how to actively contribute to the lectures from the distance.


The course focuses on foreign policy of the Soviet Union and Russia during the 20th century. Still, particularly in the Soviet-Russian case, foreign policy cannot be studied without referring to the main dynamics of domestic policy as well. As a result, the course will start from the Lenin’s strategies aimed at ending WW1 and the international intervention against the Bolshevik revolution in order to explore their impact in Europe and Asia at the beginning of the 20s. Then, the course will discuss the following domestic and international events that influenced particularly the following geopolitical contexts: a) neighbouring countries like Germany and Poland; b) the building of a policy for expanding the revolution through the Comintern; c) the building of the besieged fortress. After understanding the changes imposed by Stalin at the end of the 20s the course will focus on the attempt at supporting a collective security, the relations with nazism and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the reshaping of the relations with the UK and the USA and the war diplomacy including the Yalta agreements.

After WWII, the course will concentrate on the double Soviet policy towards the newly established Camp (from the limitations to sovereignty to the Helsinki accords and the role of the dissent) and the broader international context (from the confrontation with the USA to the hostilities with China and the attempts to expand in Africa). Students will be invited to consider that events in the light of the changes represented by the policy and the personalities of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbačëv. In the end, the course will focus on the foreign policy of Gorbačëv, on the reasons that led to the creation of a CIS and on the main aspects of Russian foreign policy during Yeltsin and Putin.

list of documents:

Introduction. Studying the foreign policy of Russia and Soviet Union

  1. Decree on Peace, Oct. 26 [Nov. 8], 1917.
  2. The debate on the Brest-Litovsk treaty, March 7, 1918
  3. The Treaty of Rapallo, Apr. 16, 1922
  1. Conditions to the admission to the Comintern, Aug. 1920
  2. + 5.1 Documents on the Chinese Communist Party 1922-1926
  3. From the Thesis of the 6th congress of the Comintern, Aug. 19, 1928
  4. Resolution of the 7th Congress of the Comintern, Aug. 1935
  1. Litvinov, Speech at the League of Nation on Collective Security (Excerpts), Sept. 14, 1935
  2. Diaz’ report to the CC of the CP of Spain (Excerpts), March 5, 1937
  3. Litvinov on Czechoslovak assistance (Excerpts), Sept. 21, 1938
  4. Molotov, The Meaning of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact (Excerpts), Aug. 31, 1939
  1. Stalin’s speech on the Patriotic War (Excerpts), Nov. 6, 1941.
  2. The Percentages Agreement, Oct. 9, 1944
  3. Stalin’s speech on USSR war aims, Nov. 6, 1944
  1. Agreement on the Soviet Entry into the War against Japan, Feb. 11, 1945
  2. Report of the Crimea Conference (Yalta), Feb. 11, 1945
  3. Zdanov, The Two Camps Policy, September 1947
  1. Berlin Blockade: a Soviet Note to the US Government, July 14, 1948
  2. The Tito-Stalin correspondence, March-June 1948
  1. Mao on the Communist victory in China, July, 1949
  2. Record of Conversation between Stalin and Mao, Dec. 16, 1949 and Jan. 22, 1950
  3. Kim il Sung pleads for Soviet support, January 1950
  4. Mao informs Stalin of China’s decision to enter the Korean War, Dec. 1950
  1. Stalin on the inevitability of war, 1952
  2. The Warsaw Pact, May 14, 1955
  3. Khruschev’s speech on arrival at Belgrade (Excerpts), May 26, 1955
  1. Khruschev’s report to the 20th congress CPSU (Excerpts), Feb. 1956
  2. Khruschev’s secret speech, Feb. 25, 1956
  3. Declaration of the Communist Conference in Moscow (Excerpts), Nov. 1957
  1. Khruschev’s speech upon his return from the US (Excerpts), Sept. 28, 1959
  2. Warsaw Pact Communiqué and East German Decree on the Wall, Aug. 13, 1961.
  1. Khruschev’s two letters to Kennedy on the Missiles crisis, Oct. 26-28, 1962
  2. Khruschev's third letter to Kennedy, Oct. 28, 1962
  3. The Sino-Soviet Schism: the Chinese and the soviet views, June-July, 1963
  1. The Brezhnev doctrine in his speech, Nov. 12, 1968
  2. The Helsinki Accords, Aug. 1, 1975
  3. Brezhnev’s statement on no first use, June 16, 1982
  1. Gorbačëv’s Memorandum on socialist countries, Jun. 26, 1986
  2. Gorbačëv, Statement on Afghanista, Feb. 1988
  3. Gorbačëv: A common European Home, July 6, 1989
  1. Bush-Gorbačëv: Conversation at Malta, Dec. 3, 1989
  2. The “Belovezhskiie Agreements” and the formation of the CIS, Dec. 8, 1991
  3. Gorbačëv: We opened ourselves to the World, Dec. 25, 1991.
  1. Andrei Kozyrev, Strategy for Partnership, 1994.
  2. Russia and the Near Abroad, Jan. 12, 1994
  1. Vladimir Putin, Russia at the Turn of the Millennium, Dec. 30, 1999.
  2. National Security Concept of the Russian Federation, January 10, 2000.
  1. New Neighbours - Common neighbours, 3 dec. 2004
  2. Vladislav Surkov’s Secret Speech: How Russia Should Fight International Conspiracies, 11 lug. 2005.
  1. Putin’s speech at the Munich Conference 2007
  2. Russian National Security Strategy, December 2015
  1. Putin’s speech at S. Petersburg on Eurasian Union, 2014
  2. Conclusion: Current policies and events
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Compulsory readings:

1. Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment. Russia, the USSR and the Successor States, Oxford U. Press, New York, 1998.

2. Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, Russia and the World 1917-1991, Arnold, London, 1998.

3. Andrei Tsygankov, Russia's Foreign Policy. Change and Continuity in National Identity, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, 2013.

4. Stefano Bianchini, USSR and Soviet Bloc between Ideology and Realpolitik (1947-1958), IN: Antonio Varsori (ed.), Europe 1945-1990s. The End of an Era?, MacMillan, London, 1995, pp. 117-140


Nicolai N. Petro, Russian Foreign Policy 2000-2010. From Nation State to Global Risk Sharing, in: PECOB’s Series 2011 at http://www.pecob.eu/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/EN/IDPagina/3132.

Moreover students must have a sound knowledge of approximately 50 documents included in the following reading list:

Documents on USSR and Russia in the World Politics 1917-2014 (Students will receive the link and the password to access the documents during the first lecture from the professor).

Students are also invited to refer to the following Atlas:

Martin Gilbert, Atlas of Russian History, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993


The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia, Penguin Books, London, 1995.

Optional readings, which are relevant to help students contextualizing the analysis of the documents:

  1. Richard Sakwa, Putin. Russia's Choice, Routledge, London, 2008.
  2. Bobo Lo, Russia and the New World Disorder, Chatam House, London, 2015.
  3. Marlène Laruelle (ed.), Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia, Routledge, Abingdon, 2010.
  4. Robert Legvold (ed.), Russian Foreign Policy in the 21st Century and the Shadow of the Past, Columbia University Press, New York, 2007.
  5. Dmitri Trenin, The End of Eurasia. Russia on the Borders between Geopolitics and Globalization, Carnegie End. for International Peace, Washington D.C., 2005.
  6. Gabriel Gorodetsky (a cura di), Russia between East and West. Russian Foreign Policy at the Threshold of the 21st Century, Frank Cass, London, 2003.
  7. Paul Kolstoe, Russians in the Former Soviet Republics, Indiana Univ. Press, Bloomington, 1995.
  8. Jeff Chinn and Robert Kaiser, Russians as the New Minority. Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Soviet Successor States, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1996.
  9. Jakub M. Godzimirski, New and Old Actors in Russian Foreign Policy, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Oslo, 2000.

Teaching methods

Methodologically, classes are organized interactively. Regular lessons include discussions on the topic of the day and students' acquisition of transversal skills. In particular, students are expected to organize themselves in team-works and make oral presentations of the selected documents with the support of readings, according to the instructions received during classes. Social responsibility toward classmates, ability in addressing the audience, direct focus on the key issues and strictly respect of deadlines are among crucial components of the lessons guided by the Professor. His lessons explanations will help students understanding the historical context and receiving additional interpretative inputs aimed to increase their critical thinking.

Assessment methods

Oral exam. Students are expected to analyze and discuss in details the content of the documents and the topics that have been developed during classes with appropriate references to the sources offered by the readings. The ability of comparing theoretical approaches, contextual scrutiny of the documents, and policies implementation will be highly appreciated.

Please note: Students from other Italian programs or Exchange students are requested to follow MIREES rules: therefore, in order to take the exam, they MUST have attended at least 70% of lectures.

Teaching tools

PowerPoint and overhead projector

Office hours

See the website of Stefano Bianchini