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Tue. October 16, 2018
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Russian Adventurism, or Maintaining the Status Quo?
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By Danny Hawkins

Russian so called “aggression,” specifically the recent intervention into the Syrian conflict and the annexation of Crimea, tends to breed contemptuous speculation from The West. “Adventurism” is a term used to describe Russia’s recent forays into Eastern Europe and the Middle East, respectively. This is a loose narrative put out by the West to defend its own adventurism.

Ukraine has remained fixed within Russia’s sphere of influence since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a significant proportion of inhabitants in the Eastern half of Ukraine are of Russian decent (Russian is the most common first language in the Donbass and Crimea regions). A majority of Eastern Ukrainians have traditionally supported pro-Russian parties and policies in recent history, and are far more ethnically and culturally similar to Russia than they are to the western influences who appear keen on trying to ensure the erosion of Russia's sphere of influence.

Russia’s advancement into its old Republic of Ukraine is the result of the noise coming out of the western half of Ukraine, who seek to move politically towards Europe, and of the direct encouragement given by Western powers for the whole country to move away from Russia's influence. It is a well-known Red-Line of Putin’s; Ukraine becoming engulfed into the Western sphere of influence, and potentially being recruited as a NATO member. Putin will do all in his power to maintain influential control over states on his doorstep, because history shows how vulnerable Russia is through the Northern European Plain, which includes Ukraine. He cannot let Ukraine join NATO, and surrender such a broad, strategically advantageous area to his foe (NATO). It would be akin to a force hostile to the US gaining control of regions in Southern Canada. Putin has repeatedly categorized the breakup of the Soviet Union as a mistake, and classes the ex-Eastern Bloc countries as a regrettable loss both culturally and economically. It would serve the West well not to push too hard against Russia in this theatre.

Western sanctions being handed out to Russia, coupled with the line of commentators waiting to slam Putin for aggressive adventurism, actually says more about Western powers playing the geopolitic/imperialist game. Russian adventurism seems positively weak in comparison, who appear to seek only to maintain the status quo in the part of the country that wish to remain within Russia's sphere of influence. Similarly in Syria, Russia has had direct interests and a military presence in this near neighbor of theirs for decades. It is now merely attempting to maintain the status quo on behalf of its ally, in light of very clear imperialist adventurism and interference from distant powers. 

The Russian intervention into Syria has slight echoes of the Gulf War in 1991, when the U.S. showcased its new, technologically advanced armaments to the world, with waves of cruise missiles fired from battleships in the gulf, and bombing formations over Baghdad and Basra. One could draw similar parallels with Russia, to a much lesser extent, firing its new cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea and the targeted bombing campaign. In 1991, the United States showcased to the world how powerful they were, and begun a period of enforced hegemony. Complaining about another regime’s strategy of a related nature seems foolhardy.

When the United States can send weapons half way around the world to improve a government's effectiveness in its armed conflict with some of its own citizens, who would rather refrain from being dragged with the rest of the country into the sphere of influence of Western powers, and then accuse another regime of imperialist adventurism, it smacks of “richness.” Russia is neither the aggressor, nor the adventurist in either theatre, but the defender attempting to maintain the existing order in its sphere of influence in the face of interference from distant opportunists, wishing to reduce Russia's influence.

Danny Hawkins, Master of Arts in International Security from the University of Sussex. 

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