Even though there are a myriad of other critical issues unfolding around the world that must be addressed, Russia’s seizure of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea is, unfortunately, the focus of the world’s attention. What is driving the strong reaction to Russia’s decision to provoke this military, not political, conflict is the world’s fear of Russian influence and eventual dominance, along with the need to protect the credibility and the rules of the International Community.
As Russia tends to be a nation that aggressively pursues its interests at the expense of the interests of other nations, instead of striving to balance the interests of competing nations as the US has aspired to do over the last century, this latest reaction to civil unrest in Ukraine and over-reaction to a potential increased security threat, reinforces fears that Russia will use any influence it has over weaker nations to suppress them.
In many respects, Russia’s actions are those of a traditional government. That is, Russia is simply using its power to get what it wants, which is a thoroughly alien concept to the modern political scientist, diplomat, and policymaker. During the Cold War, US power and America’s sphere of influence grew with the support of an ever-increasing number of allies. This is because American power was never predicated on our exercise of our power to force our allies to serve our interests.
In fact, it is when America has used its power to suppress, versus protect, the interests of other nations that American power has been undermined. Because the Cold War forced nations to choose between the US and Russia, America’s balancing of interests approach won out over Russia’s traditional pursuit of one’s own interests as it protected weaker countries from oppression by superpowers. Where America’s poorly justified 2003 invasion of Iraq weakened American influence and ally support, Russia’s invasion of Crimea now weakens Russian influence and drives backlash that helps strengthen Western influence.
Furthermore, Russian President Vladimir Putin is like all highly influential leaders. Nature can create the perfect predator, but that prefect predator is only perfect for a specific kind of environment. Leaders are people who are so good at functioning in their specific environment that they are able to force others to function better. To be blunt, Putin is a man created for a Russia that probably no longer exists, thus his hardliner influence is starting to undermine Russia’s ability to function in our modern world.
Either Putin must adapt or the Russian People must choose between Putin’s vision of returning the world to one where might alone makes right and a world where everyone enjoys the protection of the mighty. Frankly, the world has been Americanized and this means Russia must respect the interests of weaker states in order to function as a world power in this era where we strive to balance the interests of all Nations and Peoples. As such, Putin and the Russian People must decide if they want a Russia adapted to a world that no longer exists or they want a Russia that functions in the modern world.
If they choose the latter over the former, more conflicts are certain to arise as Russia tries to expand its exclusive sphere of influence and Russian influence is certain to fall. The Russian People must recognize that as Putin tries to forcefully expand Russia’s sphere of influence, he will polarize the world against Russia while America and the rest of the West will adapt to Russia’s coercive approach by better balancing the interests of countries that have been neglected by post-Cold War powers. In turn, this will strengthen America’s all-inclusive sphere of influence, thus excluding itself and its friends.