Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Russia's structural need to be an empire?

Stratfor has just published a significant article:  "Russia: Rebuilding an Empire While It Can"  [October 31, 2011] by Lauren Goodrich.  [Click on the title for a link to the original article.]  [See also, "Putin calls for a Eurasian Union"]

Goodrich says that
Russia’s ultimate plan is to re-establish control over much of its former territories. 
And indeed:  
Russia’s defining geographic characteristic is its indefensibility, which means its main strategy is to secure itself. Unlike most powerful countries, Russia’s core region, Muscovy, has no barriers to protect it and thus has been invaded several times. Because of this, throughout history Russia has expanded its geographic barriers in order to establish a redoubt and create strategic depth between the Russian core and the myriad enemies surrounding it. This means expanding to the natural barriers of the Carpathian Mountains (across Ukraine and Moldova), the Caucasus Mountains (particularly to the Lesser Caucasus, past Georgia and into Armenia) and the Tian Shan on the far side of Central Asia. The one geographic hole is the North European Plain, where Russia historically has claimed as much territory as possible (such as the Baltics, Belarus, Poland and even parts of Germany). In short, for Russia to be secure it must create some kind of empire.
I don't know how many people pay attention anymore to the structural conditions that affect the course of history, but here Goodrich is pointing out a historical pattern in Russia's past.  The Russian empire that reached its peak in the nineteenth century grew out of years of struggling to establish viable limits.  Over and over again the problems of maintaining their boundary, especially on the east, induced them to push a little further.  They sought to secure their eastern territories by importing Russians who would ensconce themselves in the newly available lands, only to demand protection and help from the frontier peoples who harassed them.  Eventually they were drawn eastward all the way to the Pacific coast.  Now, contemporary Russia seems to feel it must have better control of some of the frontier countries in Inner Asia.  In the mean time China looms, and the Chinese unlike the Russians have lots of personnel.  If I were betting I would bet on the Chinese in the long run.  

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