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Sanna Turoma
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Maarit Elo-Valente
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Miikka Piiroinen
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The Aleksanteri Institute

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Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Alicja Curanovic (University of Warsaw, Poland)

When Simple Tasks are not Enough: Mission in Contemporary Russia's Politics

Although the concept of messianism is mentioned by most experts on Russia, it has received surprisingly little attention as a subject of research in its own right. Two concepts should be distinguished in this field: messianism and missionism. Both terms denote exceptionality of a certain community (nation, state). The premise of messianism is that a given community is an executor of God's will and plays a role in God's Plan, in which the central event will be the new arrival of the Messiah. Missionism is a wider concept and expresses a conviction that some communities (nations, states) have to play a unique part in the history of mankind. In order to play out this part and thus achieve self-fulfilment, the community has to fulfil its mission. Russian political thought often combines elements of both concepts. This is why I have introduced in this paper a general notion of mission, which will allow for a better encapsulation of the heterogeneous nature of this idea.

Mission's central point is a conviction that a certain community (state/nation) is exceptional and that this exceptionality manifests itself in its special destiny (Russian: osobennoe prednaznachenie). From the perspective of international relations mission should be understood as the projection of a communities' identity in the international arena. In other words: mission is the way in which a state thinks about its role and position in the international community. The research of mission falls into the category of works on the interplay between identity of the state and its international activity. Mission is seen as an attribute of specific communities - powers, empires, civilizations.

One of the hypotheses of this paper is that mission (as an element of a state's identity) is a universal phenomenon in international relations and not solely a Russian specific issue ("Russian pathology"). This is not to say that mission of individual states (nations) do not have their own specific traits. In researching mission in the Russian context I have been able to discern three distinctive interconnected features: a conviction of having a special destiny, a sense of moral superiority and a conviction that her activity is not based only on her own particular interest.

My hypothesis is that mission is influenced by external (structure of international system) as well as internal (political culture) factors. Following Richard Ned Lebow I accept the assumption that the situation in the international system is an important catalyst for defining the foreign policy of a state in categories of mission. The reason for this, I assume, is the disappointment of a state regarding its status attributed to it by the "international community" because this status does not correspond to the ambitions and visions the state has regarding itself (self-attribution, self-recognition). In other words, the mechanism which activates thinking in terms of mission is status inconsistence.