Photograph: NTB Scanpix

When every act is war: Post-Crimea conflict dynamics and Russian foreign policy (WARU)

2020 - 2023 (Ongoing)
Research project
Tension between great powers in world politics is escalating rapidly. What are the driving forces behind deteriorating relations? Can we explain them solely by the ‘aggressiveness’ of the other (be they Russia, China or the USA) as political narratives will have us believe? This research project expounds interaction between political entities as the 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. We investigate how adversarial relations can spread to engulf the entire relation through totalizing images of the other party as threat.

Examples: On the Russian side, the continuous claims that the West is operating with ‘double standards’ and fostering ‘colour revolutions’ and regime change around the globe has paved the way for policies of denial and rejection of Western initiatives across the board. In the West, a new common knowledge has been established: in Russia, truth is ‘weaponized’ – ‘nothing is true and everything is possible’ – and Russian foreign policy can aptly be summarized as ‘hybrid warfare’. This implies that any Russian foreign policy act can be seen as an act of war.

The project is an in-depth empirical study of how inimical rhetoric about the other party becomes self-evident and unproblematic, making it appear natural, even necessary, to treat the other party as a threat. It explores these dynamics through Russia's interactions with Norway, Estonia, Germany, NATO and the USA in the years 2014–2020. We build on and advance Securitization Theory, by examining how discourses of existential threat expand to encompass all areas of engagement with the other party, and by connecting such a process in one political entity with that going on in another. With this, WARU conceptualizes how rhetorical interaction between political entities can contribute to conflict escalation.

The issue in focus has acute political relevance. We anticipate that WARU will contribute to a school of thought that explains Russia's relations with the West with reference to interaction, help reduce the risk of politization and polarization in the debate about Russia and the West and contribute to knowledge-based political choices.

The project is financed by the RCN and the highly qualified international research team reflects the geographical scope of the project.

The capstone conference for this project will be held on 14 November 2023. Read more and register for the conference here.

Events organized by other institutions than NUPI

Tuesday 8 June 2021 - Yhe panel "Russia-West relations: Changing discourses of the Other post-Crimea" at Fifth Annual Tartu Conference on Russian and East European Studies. Project contributors: Wilhelmsen, Hjermann, Gjerde, Morozov, Krawatzek og Sasse 

Thursday 2 September 2021 - The dynamic of escalation between East and West: Russia, Belarus and regional dimensions of conflict and dialogue. Policy roundtable, Tallinn, Estonia. Project contributor: Julie Wilhelmsen.

Monday 12 June 2023 - The panel "Threat constructions in Russia-West social relations since 2014 " on the Seventh Annual Tartu Conference on Russian and East European Studies. contribution from: Wilhelmsen, Hjermann, Gjerde, Morozov og Toal.

Publications from external partners:

Morozov, Viacheslav (2021): "Institutionalizing National Memories: The Baltic Sea Region and World War II" in The Journal of Slavic Military Studies.

Funding program

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway


Publication : Podcast

Liberal halvtime: En lang samtale med Julie Wilhelmsen om Russland

(This podcast episode is in Norwegian). In episode 343 of the think tank Civita's 'Liberal halvtime', Senior research Fellow Julie Wilhelmsen ...
Publication : Academic article

Spiraling toward a New Cold War in the North? The Effect of Mutual and Multifaceted Securitization

Building on a discourse-theoretical reading of securitization theory, this article theorizes and examines how two political entities can become locked ...
Publication : Academic article
Screenshot 2022-05-27 at 10.49.29.png

Russian Certainty of NATO Hostility: Repercussions in the Arctic

How does a security dilemma dynamic between parties deemed not to hold hostile intentions toward each other emerge and escalate? This article investigates ...

Project Manager

Julie Wilhelmsen

Research Professor, Head of the Research group on Russia, Asia and International Trade


Russia and Eurasia  Conflict  Diplomacy  Foreign policy  Europe  The Nordic countries  NATO  North America  Security policy

Anni Roth Hjermann

Former employee


Gerard Toal, School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech

Viacheslav Morozov, Centre for Eurasian and Russian Studies, University of Tartu

Gwendolyn Sasse, Centre for East European and International Studies

Felix Krawatzek, Centre for East European and International Studies



Tue 14 Nov 2023
Time: 08:30 Europe/Oslo
Location: Sentralen

The Russia Conference 2023: Russia and the West – a new reality