What is “Near Abroad” and does it make sense?

In Russian political vocabulary, Near Abroad is a very instrumental term that puts a particular stress on military security. This is Russia’s external perimeter, the territory of the Kremlin’s “red lines”.

“Near Abroad” is a very useful term for anyone who tries to understand and predict Russia’s foreign policy.


Near Abroad” is an expression of unknown authorship, popularized by the first FM of post-Soviet Russia, Andrei Kozyrev.

He started to use it about all the former Soviet republics. Despite their newly-won independence, these nations continued to be connected to us by thousands of ties. This made everything that happened there of particular relevance for too many in the Kremlin, as well as among the rest of our nation.


In the West, they often talk about the “sphere of influence” to describe our approach. However, this is too broad and imprecise. Closer to truth would be the ancient Roman word foederati that described tribal territories outside the Empire. Their relevance to Rome was mostly in the sphere of security. They were too poor to be interesting markets, or objects of colonial exploitation—but very useful as a kind of cordon sanitaire against external military threats.

External security perimeter

Since the word foederati seems to be known to few specially interested, “near abroad” is a good substitute. Albeit these territories are not exactly “ours”, we need to watch what’s happening there very carefully. This also covers NATO members in the the Baltics. Their decision not to have foreign bases and keep down the concentration of the NATO’s military is therefore very wise. This makes us less nervous, and reduces the pressure on them.

As to the other former Soviet states, any sign of alienation there signals to us a dangerous breach in the foederati perimeter of security right outside our borders. An interesting account of how this concept triggered Russia’s in the wars in Georgia ’08 and Ukraine ’14 is in the book Near Abroad: Putin, the West and the Contest over Ukraine and the Caucasus, by Gerard Toal.

Missile R12 Caribbean crisis

In the photo above, a missile R12. This is what Khrushchev tried to deploy in Cuba in 1962 during the Caribbean crisis. The American reaction to that deployment exactly mirrors our feelings when outside powers seem to get a military foothold in our “near abroad” .

Leave a Reply