Russia’s conduct toward Ukraine and other formerly Soviet states in Eurasia reflects the lack of a cohesive grand strategy on the Kremlin’s part. A critical flaw is that the logic of confrontation inherent in its doctrine of protecting Russian-speakers living abroad contradicts President Vladimir Putin’s intention to forge Eurasia’s economic integration.
When empires collapse, disputes over new borders – both political and cultural – are inevitable. Such disputes are especially acrimonious, and often turn violent, when the territory in dispute involves what the eminent French historian Pierre Nora called lieux de memoire – “places of memory” that are revered by citizens of a nation.
Scenes of Russian troops taking control of Crimea might well lead one to believe that Russian leader Vladimir Putin holds most, if not all the cards in the unfolding Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Yet the Russian leader’s Crimea gambit should be seen as a reflection not of his strength, but of his feelings of insecurity.
In the post-Soviet age, Russia has relied on military muscle and energy dominance to help it achieve its foreign policy goals. Soft power, meanwhile, is something that has always been missing from Moscow’s diplomatic arsenal. But Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin’s resident macho man, now seems intent on putting a kinder, gentler face on Russia.
Now that Vladimir Putin has dispensed with the formalities of reclaiming presidential authority, Kremlinologists can focus on the more substantive question of how Russia’s paramount leader intends to define his third term. In particular, many are wondering how he will proceed with his pet project -- the creation of a Eurasian Union.
Dmitry Medvedev’s and Vladimir Putin’s apparently amicable decision to swap jobs is being touted by the Kremlin as a way to ensure Russia’s stability. Yet if Russia’s historical tradition is any guide, changing places is a move fraught with uncertainty.