Putin, the Liberal? An analysis of the Putin regime’s discourse on the ‘return’ of Crimea to the Russian Federation

Louise Nyborg

Student thesis: Master thesis


On 16 March 2014 the residents of Crimea woke up in Ukraine, and went to bed in what claimed to be the Independent Republic of Crimea. Two days later, President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Crimea signed an agreement to absorb Crimea into the Russian Federation. Russia’s interference in Crimea startled the international community, who immediately imposed sanction on Russia as a consequence of what they claimed to be an illegal annexation of Crimea. While traditional realist theory of international relations might appear to best explain Russia’s foreign policy towards Crimea, political events are without exception, accompanied by competing narratives. This thesis navigates the Putin regime’s discourse on the ‘return’ of Crimea and examines which theory of international relations explains their discourse best: realism or liberalism. In order to fully understand the discourse, the shared fate and fortune between Russia and Ukraine is accounted for with special emphasis on Crimea. The thesis uses Fairclough’s model for critical discourse analysis to make sense of the regime’s discourse before discussing which theory explains it best. The thesis’ main finding is that the historical, cultural, and identical ties between the two Slavic nations constitute large parts of the regime’s discourse. These elements, however, are not familiar to the realist theory of IR, and are largely inconsistent with the regime’s general worldview. The discourse is ambiguous because it is liberal and realist at the same time. Accordingly, neither the realist nor the liberal theory of IR explains the discourse best; rather it portrays a neorealist regime ‘hiding’ beneath a liberal discourse.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages91