The Russian President might not fear the west, or seek its approval, but his current imperialist policy is deeply flawedby James Sherr / March 14, 2014 / Leave a comment
Putin plays by rules his opponents fail to understand ©Utrecht Robin/ABACA/Press Association Images
Had Western governments preserved their institutional memory, Russia’s assault on Crimea would not have come as a bolt from the blue. As far back as 1992, Russia declared that it must be a “leader of stability and security in the former USSR”. Since 1993, military doctrines and foreign policy “concepts” have asserted its right to intervene in support of its citizens and “compatriots” abroad. After NATO’s Bucharest summit of 2008 (which many cite as the trigger for the war against Georgia), Putin warned George Bush that Ukraine was an “artificial state” whose existence could be “called into question”.
The triggers are different now. But Russia still believes that restricting the sovereignty of its neighbours is essential for its own security. It views the West as the architect of revolutions in its “sphere of privileged interest”, and it connects Ukraine’s fate with its own. Just over 20 years ago, the former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski famously said: “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire”. As the commentator Alexander Vasiliyev said in January this year, the Russian view is different: “Russia can be an empire without Ukraine, but it can’t be Russia.”