Re-establishing a superpower
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski has noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not the first moral and political crisis rooted in greed.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has made clear that he sees the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the biggest tragedy in history. Now it appears he is using the Eurasian Union to re-establish a superpower, under Russian leadership, within the borders of the former Soviet Union. This explains the Kremlin’s current policies towards Ukraine, a country that wants to embrace the West and end its corrupt regime. The Kremlin is acting logically and predictably in this context.
There are large Russian-speaking populations in Ukraine which need ‘protecting’. Russia believes its moves are even more justified because Ukraine constitutes Russia’s south western flank and provides Russian access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The pretext – historically incorrect – is that Ukraine was always Russian and therefore Russia’s imperialism is defensible. Many from the West accept these hypotheses. This line of thinking is easy and means confrontation would be unnecessary.
It is worth remembering British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who in 1938, thought he had attained ‘peace for our time’. This ‘peace’ was achieved by allowing Germany’s Adolf Hitler to invade Czechoslovakia and lasted only a few months before the Second World War started in 1939. Unfortunately, Chamberlain’s spirit still prevails. Europe will use rhetoric but stop short of implementing anything which might hurt the Russian leadership economically.
Using the same logic, Russia would be entitled to destabilise and lay claim to the Baltics. The Baltic states were part of Imperial Russia for a long time until 1918, and then became part of the Soviet Union in 1939 thanks to the partnership of Adolf Hitler and Russian leader Josef Stalin. They have important Russian-speaking minorities, control Russian access to the Baltic Sea and land access to Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad.
Russia has issued passports to Baltic nationals for some time. It has also launched cyberattacks against the Baltic States.
Russia deploys armed forces in Kaliningrad, situated on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland. It has about 1,500 troops with 20,000 to 30,000 tons of weaponry and ammunition in Transnistria, a thin strip east of the Dniester River on the western border of Ukraine.
Officially, Transnistria belongs to Moldova but does not recognise the Moldavian government. It is a smuggling paradise and supported by Russia for obvious reasons.
So what is the significance of these Russian ‘beachheads’ to the west and what will happen next?