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Forum on Geopolitics

Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

Studying at Cambridge


Borderlands: Russia and the rest of Europe

Borderlands: Russia and the rest of Europe

The question of how to order the space between Russia and Central Europe – the 'lands between' – has been a long preoccupation in European geopolitics. For much of the Early Modern period, this area was dominated by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Swedish empire. This ended with the collapse of both in the eighteenth century and the triumph of the eastern empires. After the restoration of Polish statehood and the establishment of Baltic States in 1919, the question became how this space could defend itself against Russo-German territorial revanchism, and political extremism within and without.

The charismatic Polish dictator and national hero, Marshal Pilsudski, recognised the weakness of bilateral agreements and suggested an 'Intermarum Federation' instead, which would mobilise the populations between the Baltic and Black Seas (principally Poles, Romanians and Balts) for the common cause. It failed, partly because of a lack of imagination among national governments and partly because the Polish government create a cold house for national minorities. After the end of the Cold War, the 'lands between' joined NATO and the EU, and history appeared to have ended.

This project will examine the strengths and weaknesses of the old Polish Commonwealth, the interwar attempts to contain Nazism and Stalinism, the long Russian tradition of western expansionism and the state of Baltic and Western European security today. Its results will be published as scholarly works in their own right and inform the 'New Intermarum' project's exploration of ways to enhance the security of Eastern Europe today.

This research theme will explore a range of interrelated questions, including:

  • Historically, where has the main thrust of Russian expansion lain: east, south or west?
  • What is the relationship between Russian domestic politics and external behaviour in Europe?
  • What grand strategies have been developed by Russia's western neighbours to cope with real or perceived threats?
  • What role does trade and energy play in the relationship with Russia?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the institutional designs adopted by Russia's nearest neighbours and competitors?

For upcoming events relating to this theme, click here.

For reports on past events relating to this theme, click here.

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