Wednesday, 12 December 2018
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With renewed Russian movements across multiple fronts, it is clear that the EU-and specifically the UK's-Appeasement-style policy has failed entirely to contain a revived Russian aggression, and it stems from a complete misunderstanding of president Putin's intentions. In order to form an appropriate and adequate response to the Russian threat at Europe's doorstep, a reassessment of Russia's motivations is necessary, says Cory Turner.

The assessment of Russia's intentions in Ukraine have largely speculated that Russia is taking steps to realise its dream of a 'Eurasian Union', coordinated and lead by an ever-more powerful Russian Federation to solidify its position. Indeed, this has some merit; not only has the collapse of the old Soviet Union left the country in a shadow of its former power and influence, but other nations have stepped in to fill the vacuum. China's rise appears to be doing this, and Russia's objective is now to match - though it is incapable of superseding -it, to become an equal partner in what it could hope is a united partnership against 'the West' (a term now quickly becoming out-dated).

However, this implies that Russia's motivations are part of a grander strategy. Analysts speak of a 'hybrid warfare', the foundational basis of which is based on a calculated mix of 'hard' and 'soft' power to confuse the enemy. However, this concept relies on the assumption that Russia's intentions fall into a larger plan. This is completely at variance with the actual political situation within Russia.

In fact, whilst Russia may want to actualise its dream of reclaiming the influence it once had, its actions today do not reflect those of a nation wishing to do so. Instead, it demonstrates how the actions of President Putin are simply a reaction against forces outside of his own control and that is gradually turning their backs on Russia - a reality neither Putin, nor Russian politicians, are accustomed to. Its further actions today perpetuate a mechanism that President Putin has constructed to keep him in power. Indeed, for what might be a first for Russia - not being a recognised or legitimised liberal democracy - the systemic bias of its political system is dictating its rulers' actions, not the other way around, and explains Russia's reluctance to back down.

Russia's invasion of Crimea exploited the tensions between Eastern and Western Ukraine. Putin's policy at the time was to immediately neutralise the new perceived threat to Russia; one which could have toppled his regime. This was a new, burgeoning, free democracy on its very doorstep, formed by popular action through the Maidan Revolution. The chance of this revolution succeeding as a nation state could not be allowed, and so Putin panicked and attempted to pacify the threat by scuttling its navy, made direct action on land futile, and stirred up pro-Russian nationalism in the east of the country, taking advantage of underlying tensions already present.

Indeed, Yanukovich's fall was but a trigger to the wider context of regional politics. What sprung Putin to action was not specifically Yanukovich's ousting, but the very nature of how he was overthrown. He could not allow a popularly-led movement to succeed and have its influence potentially be imprinted on those within Russia, especially when we take into account the geo-political issue here; Ukraine borders Russia to the west, near Putin's seat of power and with areas of fairly dense populations.

Ever since the Maidan Revolution, President Putin has incrementally stepped-up the pace of Russian aggression. It would seem paradoxical to any 'Western' observer, in many of which countries are cutting Defence budgets due to economic constraints, among other factor, that any leader would continue such actions, even as sanctions are put in place, leaving the country diplomatically isolated and the economy in a delicate state at best. However, such a perspective ignores the political situation within Russia itself, which is the problem with Europe's response - they think from a completely out-dated idea of the existence of dying power blocks and think within their own political terms.

President Putin's predicament is one he has accidently created for himself. Were he to retreat any of his actions - undo anything he's done-or even dare to simply halt any further provocation into and near the sovereign territory of other nation states, even his own propaganda machine - all that has kept him in power for so long, and is responsible for his popularity - would not be able to protect him. He would look weak, undermining the image of a strong, renewed Russia that must tackle the collective threat of 'the West' (the propaganda machine also believing entirely in terms of old power blocks) that supposedly seeks only the destruction of the country.

To avert his personal downfall, he slowly but surely continues Russia's military action. Whilst Putin would rather the country be in a continual and constant state of war, without having to make any further escalation, with the effect of destabilising Ukraine whilst feeding his popularity, his propaganda machine demands to be fed with stories of Russia's strength against 'the West', and he must follow it, as it is all that is holding him in power.

To perpetuate this war, President Putin has sparked pro-Russian nationalism within Ukraine itself. This has allowed Russia a viable excuse that the propaganda machine can utilise to prop-up Putin's regime. The divisions within the EU, a lack of willingness and capability to use 'hard power' to decisively and clearly defend its Member States' borders, and a confused, blind response using only 'soft power' techniques allow Russia to enjoy dominance in the region.

Ultimately, Russia has no real strategy in Ukraine, with President Putin backed into a corner by his own propaganda. The absence of a physical, unified and distinctive European opposition forces him to steadily arm for an inevitable war due to the vacuum created by the Appeasement policy. The EU needs a new strategy to physically and decisively defend its borders to provide an excuse for Putin domestically simply to not escalate too far.

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