|14-Mar-2023||Like this? Dislike this? Let me know|
Disclaimer: The author is not an expert in this space.
Why is Russia in conflict with Ukraine? I believe the answer is simple and sadly predictable given the events following the dissolution of the USSR in 1990-1991 for these two reasons:
It is possible to write an entire book on the International Order but to simplify it here, let us define it as a global pecking order based on just two key measurements: economic strength (GDP and trade agreements) and military strength (deployable military assets [especially nuclear assets] and alliances), These are two critical ingredients that drive the influence of a country in both world affairs and internal economic growth.
Until 1990, the International Order was basically the US (NATO) and the USSR
(Warsaw Pact, plus various socialist states around the globe); it was a two
In 1990, the USA had 10 times the GDP of Russia, and France, Germany, and
the UK each had at least twice the GDP of Russia. But perhaps more important
for Russia, it had a nuclear arsenal, an air force, and a navy to rival the
USA including nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. It had a
"border buffer" of Soviet Socialist Republics to insulate it from
an easy land-based attack. The economic superiority of the West, at least
in raw numbers like GDP, could be countered with ideology around socialism
and the collective, fair benefits of a globally harmonized socialist
construct -- albeit slow to fully realize.
The International Order was basically the same group of 10 or 12 countries that had been on the list since reconstruction after World War II; notably, Japan and Iran put up very impressive growth figures -- but they were definitely not military superpowers.
And at the time, although China was nuclear capable, it was only starting down the economic path architected by the great Deng Xiaoping. India? South Korea? Basically not even in the same ballpark.
There were two main new problems with the breakup of the USSR:
It is the author's belief that the USA by itself has very likely never had a good reason to pre-emptively destroy Russia. In short, what is the point? The rationale for invasion is even less. And this has become even more true in the past 40 years with globalization: "trade, don't invade". Trading for resources is vastly less costly, more flexible, and obviously less deadly than fighting for them. And truly, the same could argued about Russia's rationale for doing the same to the USA. Russia struggled to keep their border satellite states fully aligned with Moscow's agenda; how could they invade, subdue, and manage a country on the other side of world that is larger than all of Western and Central Europe plus the Nordics combined? The core historical issue is not about the USA and the USSR, nor capitalism vs. communism; it is about the Concert of Europe and the reduction of global influence of the old Imperial Russia.
But the USA is part of NATO and who is in NATO? France and Germany. And history -- modern history at that -- demonstrates that indeed France and Germany did on more than one occasion initiate war with Russia. So it is not unreasonable that given this military alliance, Russia feared that (for example) if Germany would try it again, or if Latvia challenged an eastern border, this time it might have the backing of the USA. That is a threat that requires a substantial demonstration of a strong retaliation -- nuclear options. The author believes that the probability of this happening, however, has decreased decade-over-decade since 1970s and now, in 2023, the doctrine of "trade, don't invade" -- in a sense, economic war -- has surplanted physical war. Look at what China is doing in Africa. They are not invading; they are making billions in capital investments in return for minerals and other resource rights.
By 2014, both the global economic and military landscapes had changed significantly:
What became abundantly clear is that most "communist" countries reimagined/revised/reevaluated Marxist-Leninist ideals in the framework of a market economy with liberal reforms -- including Russia. Russia and China and Vietnam (c 1975) now bear little resemblance to their "communist" roots. They are now mercantilists, global industry builders, and global traders. The oligarchs of Russia and the many billionaires in China would likely have been an anathema to Lenin and Mao.
The importance of this reevaluation is that the value of the realization of a USSR-led global socialist movement was significantly diminished, if not outright eliminated. This profoundly changed the influence and economic alliance component of post-USSR Russia, enough to change the International Order.
If not for the Euromaidan movement in 2013 and the "Revolution of Dignity" in 2014, Russia might have held back just a little while longer. But with the ouster of a pro-Russian administration and a new administration that was looking for much stronger ties with the West, Russia could not sit still any longer. The fate of the Black Sea fleet in Crimea was at stake. There was no way Russia could not be in 100% control of its only warm water naval base. On the pretext of an abundance of ethnic Russians in that region wishing to unite with Russia (not untrue, but levels of support vary) and "reports" of ethnic violence in the region, Russia annexed Crimea.
An independent Ukraine was marginally acceptable. A West-leaning Ukraine was practically unacceptable. Ukraine as a member of NATO? This would mean that with the exception of Belarus, Russia would be surrounded by the "enemy" border-to-border. A NATO-aligned Ukraine could easily position all kinds of arms to threaten Sevastopol, again effectively denying intended use of the port. This is a non-starter for the Russian military strategic agenda. Russia launched a so-called "special military operation" which under reflection appeared to try to accomplish two things:
Putin did not immediately inherent the situation following the dissolution of the USSR; he came to power 10 years later in 2000. Between 1990 and 2000, the International Order had already changed. China's GDP went from being a somewhat more than half of Russia's to over 4.5X larger. India was 1.8X larger and nuclear capable. Putin was determined not to let Russia slowly slide into being a minor player and in some ways, his oratory especially over the past year with the Ukraine conflict reflects this -- just not directly. He cannot say "We are losing power and influence and face in the International Order and I am not about to lose our warm water port so therefore as a Russian global strategic asset I am taking over Crimea." But he can -- and did -- say "This effort (the 2022 invasion) is a response to an existential threat to the Russian motherland as the West continues to try to dismantle and chip away at our great country." It is up for debate as to whether further change in the International Order is an "existential threat" to Russia itself but the author suggests that Putin and many inside Russia believe so. To them, Russia is a global superpower to be respected and feared, not a country with barely more impact than India (for example). The recent brokering by China of new ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, although irritating to the USA, most definitely is a indicator to Russia that China has superceded them in the International Order.
There are also at least two different opinions about what "chipping away" means. Imperial Russia under Peter The Great in the early 18th century followed by Catherine The Great significantly expanded Russia's borders even after several defeats (ironically including the Crimean War in 1855) so that up to the eve of the Russian Civil War between 1917-1920, the area included what we now know as the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine, and Moldova with probably bits of Romania. Plus Finland and vast areas of Asia which are out of scope for this article. Putin's words make sense if this is the area he is referencing as that which the West is chipping away but most inhabitants of those regions would certainly not agree, "West" or no "West". Certainly the Baltics would assert no, they are not being chipped away from the Russia (or the former USSR) but rather being liberated from occupation by it. "Chipping away" could also mean alliances, not just borders, and military and economic alliances are the main inputs in the International Order.
It is always hard to rally support for major offensive actions that will likely result in large numbers of casualties. Putin reached deep into the national fear reservoir by claiming that the 2022 "special military action" was to "de-Nazify" Eastern Ukraine. Perhaps no other statement could so rally Russian nationals to the cause, reviving images of the invasion of Nazi Germany into Russia to open up the Eastern Front of the European theater which ultimately led to approx. 25 million Russian casualities of which most (upwards of 19 million) were civilian. No country suffered more casualities than Russia.
fission fusion navy missile_subs carriers china 1964 1967 MR 7 2 US 1945 1952 G 14 11 Russia 1955 MR 11 1 (4 decommd) France 1968 LG 4 1 UK 1957 MR 4 2 India 1998 R 2 under cons 2
Country 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2012 2015 2020 2021 -------------------------------------------------------------------- US 5963 7639 10250 13039 15048 18206 21060 23315 Russia 516 395 259 764 1524 2292 1363 1489 1778 China 360 734 1211 2285 6087 11061 14687 17734 Japan 3132 5545 4968 4831 5759 6272 4444 5040 4940 France 1269 1601 1365 2196 2645 2439 2639 2957 Germany 1771 2585 1947 2846 3399 3357 3889 4259 S. Korea 283 566 576 934 1144 1465 1644 1810 India 320 360 468 820 1675 2103 2667 3176 Brazil 390 769 655 891 2208 1802 1448 1608 Italy 1181 1174 1146 1858 2136 1836 1896 2107 Canada 593 604 744 1173 1617 1556 1645 1988 UK 1093 1346 1666 2544 2491 2934 2704 3131 Indonesia 106 202 165 285 755 860 1058 1186 Vietnam 6.5 239 346 366
Top 20 in 1990 US $5,963,100M 1.9% Euro zone [+] 1990 $5,880,688M Japan [+] 1990 $3,196,556M 5.6% Germany [+] 1990 $1,598,640M 5.3% France [+] 1990 $1,272,433M 2.9% United Kingdom [+] 1990 $1,195,372M 0.7% Italy [+] 1990 $1,170,839M 2.1% Canada [+] 1990 $596,089M 0.2% Iran [+] 1990 $581,008M 13.6% Spain [+] 1990 $535,652M 3.8% Russia [+] 1990 $516,814M Brazil [+] 1990 $455,335M -4.2% China [+] 1990 $396,590M 3.9% India [+] 1990 $326,608M 5.5% Australia [+] 1990 $323,815M -0.4% Netherlands [+] 1990 $321,405M 4.2% Mexico [+] 1990 $290,402M 5.1% South Korea [+] 1990 $283,280M 9.9% Switzerland [+] 1990 $265,911M 3.7% Top 20 in 2022 US $25,464,500M 2.1% China [+] 2021 $17,744,640M 8.1% Euro zone [+] 2022 $14,045,493M 3.5% Japan [+] 2021 $4,932,556M 2.1% Germany [+] 2022 $4,072,004M 1.8% India [+] 2021 $3,176,296M 8.7% United Kingdom [+] 2021 $3,131,378M France [+] 2022 $2,782,777M 2.6% Italy [+] 2022 $2,010,339M 3.7% Canada [+] 2021 $1,988,336M 5.0% South Korea [+] 2021 $1,797,810M 4.0% Russia [+] 2021 $1,778,530M 4.7% Australia [+] 2021 $1,635,255M 3.6% Brazil [+] 2021 $1,608,080M 4.6% Iran [+] 2021 $1,589,869M 4.7% Spain [+] 2022 $1,399,355M 5.5% Mexico [+] 2021 $1,297,661M 4.7% Indonesia [+] 2021 $1,187,319M Netherlands [+] 2022 $992,854M 4.5% Saudi Arabia [+]
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