Russian Minorities and Intimidation Tactics: A Tale as Old as Independence

Russian Minorities and Intimidation Tactics: A Tale as Old as Independence

Judas Everett (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2906-5.ch010

Abstract

Rather than seeing recent Russian actions as part of a grand strategy or master plan, it is worth taking a moment to consider the opposite – that such actions may be reactive measures from a regime more lacking grand strategies than is generally supposed. Focusing on the issue of Russian minorities in Ukraine, it is clear that while Putin has been most assertive in his utilisation of Russian minorities as a pretext to interfere with Ukraine, the threat to do so is nothing new. Ever since the prospect of an independent Ukraine arose, during the rule of Gorbachev, Russian elites have made implicit and explicit threats which utilised the Russian minority in Ukraine. The fact that Ukrainian compliance had been achieved without having to resort to such measures, which are likely to prove destructive in the long term, should not be taken as part of a grand master plan. Rather, they should be seen as desperate reactive measures of a regime that must have seen less and less available options.
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Introduction

The West’s narrative regarding Vladimir Putin is centred around his vision and plan for Russia and the world. The same has been true whether it has been related to Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential election, Brexit or disputes with neighbours. Hidden inside this ever more frantic hyperbole is the assumption that such acts are following a master plan, world view or perhaps simply put they are proactive not reactive. However, rather than seeing such actions as part of a grand strategy or master plan it is worth taking a moment to consider the opposite - that such actions may be reactive measures from a regime more lacking grand strategies than is generally supposed. Focusing on the issue of Russian minorities in Ukraine it is clear that while Putin has been most assertive in his utilisation of Russian minorities as a pretext to interfere with Ukraine, the threat to do so is nothing new. Ever since the prospect of an independent Ukraine arose, during the rule of Gorbachev, Russian elites have made implicit and explicit threats which utilised the Russian minority in Ukraine. The fact that Ukranian compliance had been achieved without having to resort to such measures, which are likely to prove destructive in the long term, should not be taken as part of a grand master plan. Rather they should be seen as desperate reactive measures of a regime which must have seen less and less available options.

The situation which developed in Ukraine in the beginning of 2014, and continued to develop for years to come, initially caught the attention and imagination of both the world’s press and citizenry. However, this initial attention and interest has since waned. When some attention is paid to the situation much of the rhetoric and analysis relegates Ukraine to passive passengers in the whole affair and relies heavily on moral and ethical language, as well as judgements, against Russia. The narrative also considers Russia and specifically Putin to have had a well-developed plan, the realisation of which Ukraine only represents a small part. References to Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics as guiding Putin (Firth, 2017) and the role of “Putin’s Russia” in seeking advantages electoral results in the 2016 US presidential election (Shane & Mazzetti, 2018) and references to the Brexit referendum result as a Russian victory (Kennedy, 2016), which contained ‘signs of Russian meddling’ (Kirkpatrick, 2017), all inherently contain these ideas. The actual validity of each claim may well be verified, or be verified in time. However, the idea that Putin has a sinister plot for the whole world only seems questionable.

In Western media outlets the claims are explicit ‘Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West’ (Foer, 2016), the evidence for this includes the funding of right wing populists including Marine Le Pen, Golden Dawn, Ataka and Jobbik, as well as advantageous energy deals for Berlusconi (Foer, 2016). The plan it is claimed is to install governments which will be acquiescent to Russia’s main goal: ‘supplanting the values-driven, rules-based international system with what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently called a “post-Western world order” wherein might makes right’ (Kirchick, 2017). Essentially it all can be reduced thusly: ‘Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO’ (Foer, 2016).

It might be presumed that such views are limited to journalists and journalistic sources. However, this is not exactly the case. While journalists reach a larger audience and almost certainly have more impact on public opinion, academia also seems to hold Putin in high regard as a leader with a plan and a vision. Mearsheimer (2014) described Putin as ‘a first-class strategist who should be feared and respected by anyone challenging him on foreign policy’. In the same article it is argued that the West has encroached on areas which have historically been under Russian control and such a reaction is to be expected. Braun (2014) warns of the larger danger of tolerating Putin’s actions, stating that: ‘what is presently taking place in the region may seem self-contained but there is actually a great deal at stake politically, economically, and strategically for the international community’. He continues to say that the West must do something to oppose Putin and ‘disabuse him of his delusional and dangerous imperial ambitions’ (Braun, 2014).

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