Academic journal article Military Review

Is a Greater Russia Really So Bad?

Academic journal article Military Review

Is a Greater Russia Really So Bad?

Article excerpt

The Russian military's foray into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in late February 2014 set in motion a chain of events that some observers fear threatens to dismantle the post-Cold War order presumed to be based on global integration and the rule of international law. (1) Such observations are overblown and bear close, critical scrutiny. After such an analysis, one may very well conclude that developing events involving Russia and its bordering states are of grave concern to the United States, but not for the reasons one might first expect.

Are Russia's newly resurrected expansionist tendencies the harbinger of a secret plan for world conquest, or do they signal something else altogether? Why should the United States be concerned at all? The fact is that the United States should be concerned because in the evolving global system, both nations are going to need each other--a lot. Consequently, anything the United States can do to more fully grasp the underlying motivations for Russia's apparent newfound aggressiveness, and to use such insight to shape policy aimed as assuaging the bitterness Russia currently harbors toward the United States, will be hugely important to U.S. national interests.

For better or worse, the two nations share similar threats to both their long-term security and their national identities. Consequently, the policy priorities of the United States should focus on cultivating Russia as a valued ally instead of continuing with ham-fisted efforts to publicly humiliate it into compliance with American wishes on the world stage over such issues as its relationship with Ukraine. This is only serving at present to convert Russia back into a Cold War-like adversary.

Unquestionably, preservation of Ukraine as an independent, sovereign nation should be a serious objective but one that can be best achieved by a concerted effort to see the issue from a Russian perspective and reasonably accommodate Russian concerns and interests.

The Return of Russia as a Great Power?

A good place to start any critical analysis of the Russian viewpoint regarding the events in Ukraine is to consider whether Russia has any legitimate vested interest in that nation. From the Russian perspective, it certainly does. Russian interests stem in large part from historical roots in Ukraine. Ethnic Russians see Ukraine as the ancestral home of the founders of the Russian nation itself--the Kievan Rus. Consequently, Ukraine has been regarded for the better part of a millennium by many ethnic Russians as an integral part of Russian territory. (2) (Most ethnic Ukrainians appear to disagree with that premise.)

Irrespective of either view, there is little doubt that owing to Ukraine's geographical proximity to Russia and undeniable common Slavic ethnic and cultural roots, Ukraine is legitimately within Russia's cultural as well as strategic sphere of interest. All the more so, Russia's only warm weather port--at Sevastopol in the Crimea--was located in Ukrainian territory (now annexed to Russia), which made it vulnerable to constant threats of closure during periods of regional or international political tension.

Seen in such context, it is understandable why Putin's bold gambit to seize Ukrainian territory was so extremely popular among ethnic Russians both in and outside of Russia. It was widely seen among such as a positive step toward reasserting Kremlin authority over what most regarded as fundamentally Russian territory and ethnic-Russian enclaves that at various times in history had been part of the Russian empire. From such a perspective, one can also readily understand why Russian troops entering Ukraine were so warmly received by ethnic Russians living in the Crimea, who saw such an incursion as rescue from ostensible infringements on their civil rights by an increasingly nationalist Ukrainian government that wanted to distance itself from Russia.

Similarly, and not surprisingly, this pan-Russian sentiment was again manifest just two months after initial Russian involvement in the Crimea by an uprising of pro-Russia militias that seized other cities and towns with ethnic Russian populations in eastern Ukraine and took control of the respective local governments. …

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