Russia's turn to its Asian Past
President Donald Trump’s summit with President Vladimir Putin on July 16 will take him to Helsinki, one of Russia’s many lost possessions. From Finland to Mongolia, the Russian Empire and then, in somewhat different borders, the Soviet Union once ruled more than a sixth of the planet’s surface. Mr. Putin has famously described the loss of this empire, which happened nearly overnight in December 1991, as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century—not least because it has stranded tens of millions of Russian-speakers beyond Russia’s shrunken frontiers.
The phantom pain over that vanished greatness still haunts Russia’s collective consciousness. These days, the sting of this perceived historic injustice is redefining Russia’s sense of where its civilization really belongs—and is prompting a revision of how the country views its own past.
Less than a decade ago, it seemed self-evident that Russia, despite all of its cultural and political differences, was reclaiming its rightful place as part of the Western world. In a piece for a German newspaper, Mr. Putin wrote of a “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok” that aspires to free trade and shares common values.
Now Russia is increasingly looking East, toward an uneasy alliance with an illiberal and much more powerful China, and—in recognition of the country’s increasingly Muslim makeup—with nations such as Turkey and Iran. But even more pronounced is a sentiment that Russia, so unique in its vastness, must remain a world unto itself, a country that should expect kinship from no one—and that, in a motto coined by Czar Alexander III more than a century ago, can count on only two reliable allies: the Army and the Navy.
While the forces pulling Russia apart from the West have long bubbled under the surface, the breaking point came with Mr. Putin’s decision in 2014 to invade Ukraine (which many Russian politicians and officials believe shouldn’t be a separate country in the first place) and to annex the Crimean peninsula. The Ukrainian crisis of 2014 and the Western reaction to it, Mr. Surkov wrote, “marks the end of Russia’s epic journey toward the West, a stop to the multiple and fruitless attempts to become a part of Western civilization.”
Russia is less keen on being part of the west nowadays. Sertorio, maybe its time to revise your thinking. You have always wanted an Europe from Lisbon to Vladivastok. Russia nows sees itself as different from Europe. It is a half breed, part European and part Asian.
Still, Russian expansionism is not all about Mr. Putin and his personal ambitions. Empire-building is part of the DNA of Russian and Soviet history, said Alina Polyakova, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution. Stalin’s Soviet Union, just like Mr. Putin’s Russia, she pointed out, moved to reconquer lost parts of the Russian Empire once it became sufficiently strong, annexing the Baltic states and invading Finland. “Putin’s foreign policy is not really an outlier from a historical perspective,” she said. “There is a difference between Russia and the other empires, such as the British or the French. Those empires may have given up even more territory, but in Russia, the sense of loss, the sense of being a victim of the world, has never been healed.”
That's what I have been telling you Sertorio. Russia has imperialism in its DNA. it like to dominate others. Maybe Russia inherited this trait from Genghis Khan.
Mr. Putin highlighted this perception of victimhood in his March address to the Russian parliament, lamenting once again that, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the country lost 23.8% of its territory, 48.5% of its population and 41% of its GDP. Though Russia within its current borders remains the largest nation on earth by landmass, it doesn’t even rank among the world‘s ten largest economies. Its GDP is roughly the size of South Korea’s or of the Guandong province of China. Russia’s political class naturally looks with nostalgia to the time of its youth, when Moscow was the feared and respected capital of one of the world’s only two superpowers.
Today, Russia has no ideology or alternative economic model to export, and its claim to global relevance is backed up almost exclusively by its military might and the willingness to use it, as in Syria, Georgia and Ukraine.
“The position of the authorities and of Putin himself is clear: Everything was awesome in the past, during the Russian Empire and even during the Soviet Union, and we want to return to that greatness,” said Russian historian Alexey Malashenko, the director of research at the non-government Dialogue of Civilizations think-tank. “But what greatness?” he asked. “There is no such thing as the Russian national idea anymore, just a thought that people should be afraid of us. It’s a hooligan ideology. We cannot imagine our future and so we keep distorting our past.”
Now you know why people are afraid of the Russians Sertorio? Now are you convinced that former Warsaw Pact allies want the US to protect them?