PUTINISM, 'STATE INTERESTS' AND WHY JOHN MEARSHEIMER IS WRONG ABOUT UKRAINE
"The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine -- beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 -- were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president -- which he rightly labeled a “coup” -- was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West. Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly."John J. Mearsheimer, "Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin". Foreign Affairs. September / October 2014, in www.foreignaffairs.com.
"From the beginning in the ninth century, and even today, the prime driving force is Russia has been fear. Fear, rather than ambition, is the principal reason for the organization and expansion of the (sic) Russian society. Fear, rather than ambition in itself, has been the great driving force. The Russians as we know them to-day have experienced ten centuries of constant, mortal fear....From the days of Ivan the Great until our own time, a period of five centuries, the history of Moscow is one of steady, continuing expansion. Yet this expansion, in a way peculiar to Russia, is not an aggressive expansion. Right up to our own day it is a defensive expansion, an expansion prompted by the lack of natural defensive frontiers in a world of mortal danger on all sides."Louis J. Halle. The Cold War as History. (1967), pp. 12, 17.
"My task as minister of foreign affairs was to expand the borders of our Fatherland. And it seems that Stalin and I coped with this task quite well."Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. Conversations with Felix Chuev. Edited by Albert Resis. (1993), p. 8. The date of the quotation was 29 November 1974. The flaw, one is tempted to say, the 'egregious flaw' in John Mearsheimer analysis is that it supposes that states have some primordial 'state' or 'national' interest. A point of view which is of course rather common to political scientists and theorists (like of course Mearsheimer). The handbook of international relations theory, Hans J. Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations, is made up of such an analysis 1. Unfortunately, it is completely ahistorical and any rather cursory review of diplomatic history and international history of the past two to three hundred years would quickly show that this is the case. For some examples, think of the fact that from 1180 to 1920, having the island of Ireland under some type of control by the British Crown was the sine qua non of British statecraft. Well the affects of the Great War and the Irish Rebellion of 1918-1922 were sufficient to shake off this truism of British policy. Similarly, it was a cardinal rule of British foreign policy that the Suez Canal and the adjacent portions of Egypt should be ultimately under British control, either de facto or de jure. As the then British Foreign Secretary, Herbert Morrison noted in August 1951 to his American opposite number, Dean Acheson:
"The plain fact is that we cannot afford to leave Egypt entirely, and I can assure you that no British Government, of whatever complexion, could offer to do so and hope to remain in office" 2.And yet within less than six years, British troops withdrew from the Canal zone forever with no negative repercussions domestically. History can easily provide more examples. The point that I am endeavoring to make is that Putin and Putinism hostility towards a democratic & pluralist Ukraine has little to do with some type of primordial Russian 'state interest'. And has everything to do with the fear, yes, fear that Putin and his clique has of a demonstration effect that a fully democratic and Western-oriented Ukraine will have on his own population. That and not some imaginary fear of 'Western expansionism', serves as the explanation for Russian policy. In short, the driving mechanism of Russian policy towards Ukraine is primarily that of primat der Innenpolitik, the primacy of domestic policy and not primat der Aussenpolitik. In short, just like the downfall of Sovietskaya Vlast enabled the vast majority of Central and Eastern European countries to escape the grip of Russian power, so will the downfall of Putinism have the end result of liberating of Ukraine and Russia itself from the death grip of Putin's power clique 3. 1. Hans J. Morgenthau. Politics Among Nations. (1948). 2. Morrison to Acheson, 15 August 1951, in PREM 8 / 1389, in Public Records Office, Kew, UK. 3. The need to look at matters in their specific historical context is brought out in Ivo Lederer's wonderful introduction to this subject matter as it relates to Russian and Soviet foreign policy: "Introduction". Russian Foreign Policy: Essays in Historical Perspective. (1962), pp. xx-xxi and passim. For the idea that current Russian foreign policy is fixated by its domestic aspects, see: Anna Borshchevskaya, "Reflections: view from Moscow." The New Criterion. (September 2014), pp. 37-38.