Friday, September 5, 2014

Backed In a Corner?

One of the memes of the past few months is that Russia has been "backed into a corner."  It was repeated again in today's Ottawa Citizen.  Oh, those poor Russians, completely devoid of agency.  They have no choice but to mess with Ukraine... otherwise their country will be destroyed or something.

Of course, the NATO enlargement process went a bit far when it proposed Ukrainian and Georgian membership, but the idea that Russia has little choice but to conquer parts of Ukraine is just dumb.  Why?  It ignores some basic realities:
  • Putin has engaged in much behavior that is similar to, if not identical, what Russia was doing in Transnistria, Abkhazia and elsewhere before the first rounds of NATO/EU enlargement.  Supporting separatism in neighbors, using various stalking horses to destablize those that do not submit, and so on.  
  • Russia only grabbed Crimea and started fomenting separatism in Eastern Ukraine after they lost their favorite guy in Kiev.  Last winter, there was no immediate likelihood of Ukrainian membership in NATO as Germany and France and others were dead-set against it despite the occasional rhetoric.  What does it matter for Russian security for Ukraine to be friendly with the European Union?  
  • Russia has a boodle of nuclear weapons.  Mutual Assured Destruction is the status quo, and it is not going anywhere.  Russian security is not dependent on whether neighbors join NATO or not, but on the reality that the US and its allies will not attack Russia.  I still am confused about what balancing means in a nuclear world since countries really don't need buffer zones or allies if they have a nuclear arsenal that can survive a first strike. 
Sure, the US and its allies could have played things better over the past ten or twenty years, but the idea that Russia has no choices, that Russia has not picked some of the very worst choices, that Russian leaders are not responsible for  the damage they are doing to their country, to their neighbors, and to the civilians flying nearby (forgetting about the Malaysian airliner, are we?) is just wrong.  Russia has agency, Russia has choices, Russian politicians have chosen to drive their country into a ditch--there have been and will be economic costs for this effort--capital flight, having to subsidize Crimea, sanctions, and the rest.

So, please, if you think that Russia is in a corner, you have a very limited view of the situation and of International Relations in general.  Absolving Putin and his pals of responsibility and agency may be your choice, but I have enough agency to suggest otherwise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All having driven into a corner or a ditch means is that the driver didn't look at a map, know where he was going, or drive carefully.

Obviously, such a careless driver has to consider how long he will keep his job, particularly if he admits he's driven into a ditch or down the wrong road to a population that he hopes to convince otherwise.