Russia and Long Memories

Our policy makers are reading Russia all wrong.

History is our collective memory.

I have been reading a great deal about Russia this past year. Some of that is incidental, I have been focused on Turkey: Russia is a central player in much of contemporary Turkish history. Russian policy makers remember this history and everything before it.

We live in a new period of great power instability. Russia, disapproved by the west, seeks to reclaim its place. If not the legitimate protector, then a challenger. And, yet, somehow Russia clings to its ‘legitimate’ role in the post war institutions like the United Nations.

The longest memory is that the Russian people emerging from Viking and Slavic trade in Kyiv. And, now the emotional attachment of Russia to the Ukraine is clear.

If the Americans have the Monroe doctrine, Russia sees the former Soviet Union in a similar way. What would the US would do if Russia put offensive weapons in Cuba? Think of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The West is taking this a step further trying to bring Ukraine into the European Economic Area, and then NATO.

Russia sees itself first as a great Western power. Russia is not any great Western power. Russia took the brunt of Mongols, saving Europe from being overrun. Russian power was the key to preventing Napoleon from creating a Greater France ranging from the Atlantic to the Urals. Russian muscle was key to destroying Hitler. Russia is not simply a great Western power, it is a savior. Moreover, Russia is an architect of the modern order, of the post Napoleonic and post World War II legitimacy.

Curiously, whatever we think of Putin and Russian behavior, Russia sees itself denied its legitimate role. As Kissinger wrote, the legitimate order is not about justice, it is about stability. Russia sees the eastward marches of NATO and the EU as destabilizing the legitimate order and threatening.

Why does this matter? Crenshaw warned that when Russia feels rejected by the ‘rest of the West’, Russia turns to the East. Today, the greatest threat to the World order is a revolutionary China whose Premier Xi rejects the post war order. On every metric from economic to security, China is a deadly threat to the West. China is potentially a militant aggressor in Asia. Imagine a cascading series of errors in the South China Sea leading to a military conflict between the US and China, and Russia joins in with China.

This raises simple geo-political questions. Nord Stream II marginalizes the Ukraine. Western accommodation of Russia potentially legitimizes Russia’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbas region and leaves the Ukraine an unhappy vassal of Russia. But, it also leaves Russia to join the West in dealing with unwanted Chinese behavior as Russia too finds that its border with China is not seen as legitimate in Beijing. If only Western policy makers had memories as long as Russia’s.

What do you think @TanyaAndrosov, CoffeTimes Readers?

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