When Every Act is War: Post-Crimea Conflict Dynamics and Russian Foreign Policy (WARU)

When Every Act is War: Post-Crimea Conflict Dynamics and Russian Foreign Policy (WARU)

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 1, 2020: Sergei Rudskoi, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, holds a briefing. IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

This project is managed by Dr Julie Wilhelmsen at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and funded by the Research Council of Norway. At ZOiS, Prof. Gwendolyn Sasse and Dr Félix Krawatzek are part of an international research team as external partners of the project.


The escalating tension between great powers in world politics and the driving forces behind these dynamics are at the heart of this project. It focuses on the discourses and actions framing bilateral and multilateral relations as a key mechanism in conflict dynamics.

Asking how we can explain the spiral of worsening relations between Russia and the West since 2014, WARU posits that we cannot adequately explain it without understanding the specific way Russia and ‘the West’ have spoken and related to each other in recent years. The project investigates how adversarial relations evolve and spread through totalising images of ‘the other’ as a threat.

The project includes in-depth empirical studies of how inimical rhetoric about ‘the other’ becomes the new normal that is no longer questioned and thereby actively shapes perceptions and actions. Members of the wider research team explore these dynamics through Russia's interactions with Norway, Estonia, Germany, the USA and NATO in the years from 2014 to 2020. Computerised text analysis is one of the main methods applied in this project. Conceptually, WARU traces how rhetorical interaction between political entities can contribute to conflict escalation. The project builds on Securitisation Theory by examining how discourses of existential threat expand to encompass all areas of engagement with the other. External partners enrich the project with additional empirical and methodological perspectives on political framing and societal perceptions.

WARU aims to conceptualise and empirically substantiate the mechanisms shaping Russia's relations with the West, highlight the power of rhetorical framing, and map the scope for reducing the risk of politicisation and polarisation in the wider debate about Russia and the West.


  • What role does rhetorical framing play in the deteriorating relations between states?
  • What role does official rhetoric that construes ‘the other’ as a threat play in conflict escalation between Russia and ‘the West’?
  • What are the scope and challenges of computerised analysis of large quantities of text?


Wissenschaftliche Direktorin
Einstein-Professorin für Vergleichende Demokratie- und Autoritarismusforschung an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin