The origin and evolution of the Russian doctrine of international law have never been a focus of attention for the scientific community, despite a more than one thousand year history of the Russian national identity and the huge impact that the country has made on the development of human civilization. Meanwhile, it is obvious that without understanding and taking into consideration the Russian position on key issues of international law, the resolution of many present-day problems and challenges seems highly unlikely. In this light, the book reviewed not only proves to be essential from a theoretical point of view, but is of significant practical interest for a wide circle of readers. The utilitarian significance of it also lies in its being the result of the author's long-term research, in the course of which he had an opportunity to participate in a wide variety of scientific events in Russia and to form his own views of international law.
The book is focused on examining three main spheres of Russia's interaction with international law: how it “has historically been construed in Russia, how it is theorized and understood in today's Russia, and … how ideas about international law have shaped the state practice of post-Soviet Russia” (p. 21). As a result, the author has managed to provide quite an interesting and balanced representation of the development of Russian international law doctrine from the era of Peter the Great through to today. The author's main conclusion is that the doctrine's content in certain historical periods has largely been determined by the attitude of Russian researchers and officials regarding “whether Russia construes itself as a part of Europe or as an independent civilization and even hostile to (‘Romano-Germanic’) Europe” (p. 71).
The book is divided into four parts. The first part covers the aims and goals of the research and describes the methodology of its conduction. The second is devoted to the history of international legal scholarship in Russia in the context of its encounter with Europe and the West. The third analyzes the theory of international law in contemporary Russia. Here the author states the fact of persisting differences between Russian and Western approaches to how international law is perceived in respective of expert circles, and notes that at the root of those differences lie different interpretations of “the balance point between the principles of state sovereignty and human rights” (p. 141). In the final part, the author describes the patterns of modern Russian state practice in international law. In his opinion, it is typical for Russia to use it, not for the resolution of problems, but rather for the extension of Russian influence in the world and for the simulation of its compliance with international law by means of constant formal appealing to its norms.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the reviewed book represents an important contribution to the discussion on how international law is interpreted by different states. Moreover, the fact of choosing Russia as a subject of research makes it unique in many ways. However, in my opinion, the book would have been much more valuable if the author had gone beyond showing the differences between Western and Russian approaches to international law and criticizing the latter. I would ideally have liked to see the author try to determine the meeting points between Western and Russian approaches and to identify the possibilities of the two approaches converging in the face of the threat of common challenges and problems facing humanity.