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Saddle up Ukraine, the Grizzlies are Coming!

What are the geo-political reasons for Russia to establish control over Ukraine?

All is normal between the West and Russia. Freedom is being spread. Vodka is being poured and bears are being ridden into Ukraine from Russia with love. But it is important to point out, the riders of these bears are not Russian! They are obviously Eastern Ukrainian rebels rising up against the Western government in Kiev…or so that is what Putin argued for some time.

After the toppling of Vladimir Yanukovych (Putin’s Ukrainian puppet) in February of 2014, chaos, confusion, and actions unanticipated occurred. In mid-March, Putin and his Soviet cowboys saddled up and stormed into Ukraine on their pedestals of liberation and self-determination for the Russian peoples of Crimea. With the intent of annexation of the conflicted peninsula, Crimea would become a part of the Motherland…again. Both the EU and US refused to recognize this new development even though the Crimean legislature held a referendum that claimed 99.9% of Crimea’s population wanted to return under Russian control. Totally legitimate, right? But in all seriousness (or not), why did Russia feel the need to establish control in Crimea and eventually Eastern Ukraine as well?

Daniel Treisman offers three theories to explain the Kremlin’s motives. First, he considers “Putin as Defender.” To explain it simply, Putin annexed Crimea to not only curb further NATO expansion east but also to secure its control of the port in Sevastopol for its Black Sea Fleet. Overall this makes sense. To protect Russian national security interests, Putin responded as all Statist/Realists do in times of trouble… with force. However, is this truly a credible explanation? According to Treisman, Ukraine’s membership to NATO was postponed indefinitely after the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. In 2013, the NATO Secretary General said explicitly that Ukraine would not join NATO in 2014. Nevertheless, whether it was a lack of trust or more to promote security, Putin annexed Crimea regardless. For Putin, offense is his best defense. Since the collapse of the USSR in the nineties, the buffer between NATO and Russia continued to shrink until presently, NATO is practically waving to Putin from across the Ukrainian parking lot. Some would argue that in order to maintain the current buffer, a show of force was necessary in order to strike fear into the West (a fear that could lead to a much larger war with Russia).

A more probable hypothesis is the latter. Putin felt that the security of his naval base at Sevastopol was threatened after Poroshenko was elected in Kiev. Treisman argues that Putin among other key military officials feared that the new pro-western government would evict the Russians from their base in Crimea. For Putin, this would be an unacceptable loss, since other than Tartus in Syria, it is Russia’s only efficient and strong warm water port for its naval fleet. Not only this, but it is also strategically located in the Black Sea where it could address military action in the Mediterranean rapidly through the Turkish straits. Currently the relationship between Russia and Turkey is not so good (due to the Russian plane downed over Turkish airspace) and because of this, Sevastopol is a strategic necessity for Putin to react accordingly if deemed necessary. If this base was lost at the hands of pro-western Ukraine, the Russians would be forced to move to Tartus, which as explained by Treisman is small and in poor condition for operational use. If this is a valid hypothesis, then Putin’s control of Crimea at the least is geo-strategic.

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Treisman’s second theory labels Putin as “the Imperialist”. It is fair to say that realist power promotes imperialist intentions. However, is it appropriate to label him this way? Some scholars have suggested that Ukraine is only the beginning. The reason why he annexed Crimea and started further conflict in Eastern Ukraine is because he intends to return the USSR to its former glory and restore the lost satellites back under Russian control. Upon collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin declared it to be “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Because of this, Putin is determined to restore the lost territories and expand Russia’s borders. For Alexander Dugin, Putin’s imperialist nature is based on a continued competition between the US. He labeled the US as the ‘Eternal Carthage’ while Russia, ‘Eternal Rome’ and the conflict between the two powers would not cease until one was completely eliminated or defeated as Carthage eventually was in 241 BC. Dugin’s newly identified ideology, ‘neo-Eurasianism’ has shaped Putin’s actions in Ukraine to some degree. By offering what appeared to be simply civilizationist motives, Dugin deems it necessary to birth a Eurasian Union where all former Soviet satellites belong including territories as far east as the Great Wall. He further believes that Putin should continue his actions in Eastern Ukraine and move south. According to one poll, 65% of the Russian population support Russia’s actions in Ukraine and believe these territories to be “basically Russian.” If this is the mentality of the majority of the Russian population (given that the statistics are correct), then what would stop Putin from further conquest in the Baltic states for example? NATO. That is what will stop him. In my opinion, I do not think Putin wants war, but only incites the fear of it to show off Russian strength. He has no problem instigating small conflicts like in Eastern Ukraine since they make him more popular at home with the ‘rally around the flag’ effect. So, to conclude with the second theory, as an imperialist, he desires control over Ukraine to exert power against the West while also distracting the Russian populace away from domestic/economic instabilities. By establishing this distraction, he can maintain and secure his position as an authoritarian leader.

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Treisman’s third theory labels Putin as the “improvisor.” This simply means that in response to the ousting of Yanukovych, Putin responded reactively to the situation without much strategic consideration. Although this may sound convincing due to how chaotic the whole incident started, the military action was well-organized despite political complications. The day after Yanukovych fled, Putin declared that he wanted to start the process to return Crimea to Russia. However, when the referendum arrived at the beginning of March, it was rescheduled for March 25th to give time for the Crimean government to establish whether or not they were a self-sufficient state separate from Ukraine. This argument swiftly shifted from autonomy to annexation. With Russian troops, already on the ground in defense of Sevastopol, Putin felt “trapped” according to Treisman. He could not simply pull the troops out as that would symbolize weakness on Russia’s behalf. This not only would affect his international standing, but also his domestic popularity which at this time was exceeding 80%. Also by pulling out the troops, he leaves Sevastopol in the hands of Kiev who would most likely revoke Russia’s lease on the port. It should be noted that this could have been avoided altogether if Kiev had agreed to extend the port’s lease into the 2040s’.  For the third theory, Putin desires to maintain his presence in Ukraine primarily for political reasons and to save face in front of his own people.

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Another very common theory that is addressed is Putin’s declaration to protect the rights of those Russians living in Ukraine and Crimea specifically. Although I doubt this was a primary motive for intervention in Crimea, it provided a justification for the military intervention which eerily looks similar to Hitler’s action in the Sudetenland. By no means is it the same problem, but offers dangerous parallels that have yet to be addressed. After the collapse of the USSR, Russians (Soviets) were spread out across the former satellites and could no longer be protected by Russia satisfactorily. Therefore, Putin has now used this idea of self-determination to justify the means to his actions in Crimea. He is there to protect the oppressed Russian peoples and it is his duty to do so adequately by whatever means he deems necessary. Since Kiev had transformed to a pro-western government, according to Putin, those Russian sympathizers were in immediate danger and needed protection. Therefore, for a realist, this is a valid justification. Whether its Lebensraum or protection from possible threats, Putin would intervene if necessary on behalf of the Crimean Russians. Even if this is just a ploy, it definitely makes for a convincing story as it paints a shirtless Putin as an angel looking over Crimea. Nevertheless, where does this leave us?

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Does Putin have an end game in mind? Will violence eventually consume all of Ukraine and spread across borders or will this limited conflict continue for years to come? Since Kiev is now a pro-western government under Poroshenko, I believe Putin will continue to use power as a means to influence Ukrainian policy. Since Russia does not have the ‘ear’ of the Ukrainian government anymore as they did with Yanukovych, Putin is expected to go to all lengths to remind them who neighbors who. Arguably, I could see multiple provinces in the East fall under pro-Russian control which could substitute as the buffer Putin wants between Russia and further Western expansion. With control over parts of Ukraine, Putin can continue to extend his grasp over the port at Sevastopol and influence Western policy making. A world war will not develop over continued aggression but may divulge into a more prominent proxy in which Cold War like sides will back their representative allies.

For the West, there needs to be a reevaluation in policy towards Russia. Pressuring Putin through sanctions, physical expansion, and in some cases military strength only provokes further tensions with the nation. Therefore, the West must coherently identify the geopolitical reasons why Russia remains in the Ukraine and what can be done to alleviate this conflict and restore a form of peace. For this to occur, the West must put down its ongoing suspicions and fears of Russian power and constructively explain what has to now happen to cooperate and collaborate as international partners. Through exclusion and punishment, the West only continues to push Russia away from the negotiating table and in times provoking it to do something drastic as we have seen in Crimea. We are no longer in a Cold War and we need to stop setting the stage to reenter one. Through policy reevaluation and a better understanding of the transformative adaptability of Russian foreign policy, the West will be able to better address international relations with the Russian bear.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2016-04-18/why-putin-took-crimea: Daniel Treisman

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2014-03-31/putins-brain: Alexander Dugin article

From “Allies” to Enemies…

I. What were the conditions and factors that transformed the WWII allies into enemies of the Cold War?

The year is 1917. An armored train has left Zurich’s main train station. Destination: Russia. Who is on board? A mastermind, a man of exile, a man who would transform Russia into the Soviet Union (USSR). His name was Vladimir Lenin.

The West had never been fond of communism or the idea that these Red Bolsheviks were trying to overthrown Czar Nicolas II. Nicolas was a bro. A cool cat that the West needed in power to maintain stability in the East. But Lenin had to mess that up. With the surrender of Russia to WWI Germany, the Russian people hit a boiling point and workers rose up in a revolution to make Russia great again. What does this have to do with the relationship the USSR had with the West after WWII? Everything. Many people do not know this, but the Czar’s military force also known as the White Army engaged the Bolshevik Red Army when the revolution began. This White Army was funded and supported logistically by Western powers including the USA (USSR major rival after WWII). Lenin and Trotsky were both staunch civilizationists. They wanted to spread communism’s greatness around the world and share their perfect ideology with everyone. But before that could be accomplished, Lenin died, and Stalin (the new guy in town) was extremely paranoid about being undermined by Western ideology. As a Statist, he believed in making Russia great again first (while screwing over everybody else including his own people) and then combating the West effectively. Trotsky was hunted down and ice picked in Mexico City in 1940 just as Stalin had finished purging his entire military administration. All who were suspected of being Western sympathizers were eliminated or imprisoned.

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With all of this being said, ideology was a major part of the problem. Communism, Capitalism, Dictatorship, and Democracy were on the opposite sides of the economic and political spectrum. Cooperation would never seem plausible and the fact that Stalin was incredibly paranoid did nothing to help the problem. Come 1938, the West demonized Stalin for making a pact with the Devil himself (Hitler). That alone made him look even more like a threat to Western civilization. I think some historians refer to this pact as “Satan’s Alliance”.

The problem with Western policy makers is that they could not decipher who Stalin was and what his purposes were. They pictured him as erratic, dangerous, and untrustworthy. But Stalin was just playing his hand like a strategist would as Kissinger describes. Organizing the Pact with Hitler gave the USSR time to reassemble the decimated/purged Red Army and with the invasion of Poland in 39 established a buffer between him and the Nazis (later on being the West). This idea of the buffer would remain important through the ignition of the Cold War.

As WWII raged on, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. After the US joined the War in late December of that year, the USSR and Stalin had just become “allies of convenience” with the US and Roosevelt. The quote “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” could not symbolize this relationship more perfectly. Although the US hated the Russians and the Russians vice versa, they both hated the Nazis more and they were going to deal with them first before attacking each other.

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Distrust continued throughout the war. Stalin became more and more frustrated the longer the West waited to open a second front in Europe. Rightfully so, Stalin was fighting Hitler on a single front by himself. Millions of Russians were becoming bullet fodder because as Roosevelt told Stalin at the Tehran Conference: “We are not ready.” Stalin was so paranoid at the time that to make sure FDR was not lying to him, he had the embassy in Tehran bugged so he could listen in on the Western plan. A second front to Stalin’s relief was opened in June of 1944 which by this time the Soviets had turned the offensive from Stalingrad and headed west. Of course Stalin thought this was staged by the Western allies.

This idea of “allies of convenience” posed another problem. Unlike the Tripartite Alliance in WWI, the Allies of WWII did not have post war settlements established which created another controversy. At Yalta, in 1945, FDR’s poor health led him to make decisions that benefited Stalin. Stalin basically could wrap him around his finger, twirl his mustache and get what he wanted which included half of Germany and all of his holdings in Eastern Europe where he would permit “free” elections. Critics argue that Roosevelt “sold out” to the Soviets at Yalta.

rusyaltaCome the end of the war in the European theater, Stalin was the only leader left among the Big Three. FDR had died in April and Churchill was voted out of office. I think this gave him a sense of power (I’m the only one left standing). At the Potsdam Conference, Stalin met with the new British PM Atley and of course the heavy hitter and hardliner Harry Truman. Truman hated everything there was to hate about communism, the USSR, and Stalin. This immediately made the situation more tense. At Potsdam, Truman got word of the success of the Manhattan Project and left knowing that the US had a weapon superior to that of the USSR and could use it as a means of leverage. What Truman did not know is that Soviet spies had infiltrated the Project as well. Stalin knew of this new super weapon and was not surprised to see it used on Japan in August of 45. Some argue that the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a means of deterrence to end the war before the Soviets could lay claim in the surrender of Japan. This alone is an example of the West trying to limit Soviet expansion around the world.

Stalin did not hold up the end of his agreement to hold free elections in the Soviet occupied Eastern European countries. Instead he appointed Soviet sympathizers to office in these countries, therefore, not only spreading communism, but expanding the buffer zone between the USSR and the West. With the creation and inevitable threat of NATO in 1949, and later West Germany’s entry in 1955, led to the creation of the Warsaw Pact as a means to balance the alliances between the two super powers.

The creation of the spheres of influence only worsened relations between the West and the USSR. The US was the only power that remained strong and practically untouched after the War. The industrial might pulled it out of the Depression and created a booming economy to which it would use to help rebuild Europe in the Marshall Plan. You can only imagine how Stalin felt about this extremely capitalistic plan. As a result, he ordered all Eastern European countries under Soviet control to refuse any kind of economic aid from the West. As Stalin deemed Russia secure, he began trying to use his spheres of influence to spread the communist ideology especially in Turkey and Greece for example. This was put down and controlled by the US with issue of the Truman Doctrine in 1948.

Truman was able to manipulate Stalin in the early years after WWII in which his actions can be seen as strength against oppression. The success of the Berlin Airlift for example floored Stalin as he was not able to consume all of Berlin behind his “Iron Curtain” as Churchill labeled it. Truman’s grip over Stalin would not last long as the USSR detonated their first atomic weapon in 1949.

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The detonation of the Soviet bomb in 1949 changed things. The USSR and the US were now on equal playing fields. Since there was no more leverage, the arms race launched to see who could have the stronger weaponry (a sign of superiority). A thus truly begins a long history of the Cold War. It was not questioned “if” there was going to be nuclear Armageddon… the question was when?

To bring this all together now, why did these allies transform into enemies?

The simple answer? They were never allies to begin with. They both shot Nazis together, but that did not mean they were friends. Hostilities since the Russian Revolution and constant clash between the two ideologies made it impossible for there to be a friendship or cooperation between the two super powers. Both wanted domination and control over the world from two very different perspectives. The US wanted to spread democracy, freedom, liberty, and capitalism to all. They wanted to give everyone an opportunity to become something better. This idea of Manifest Destiny and spreading the American Dream through economic freedom was true even if some countries did not want it like North Vietnam for example. The USSR wanted to spread socialism and communism. They emphasized realist power and fear as the tools of success. Leaders should be ruthless and strict in their faith to communism/socialism. And for some, Stalin was successful. China under Mao created his own version of socialism as well as North Korea who is still a threat today.

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These “allies” became enemies because there was no one worse to fight. They both deemed each other their worst enemy. It was a power struggle over which ideology was superior. Proxies were fought all over the globe to prove this: Korea, Vietnam, Israel, among others. Stalin was blinded by realist power and the desire to create the world’s destiny under the hammer and sickle. Forcing people to change their belief through violence, fear, destruction would not work. The ruins that lay behind the Iron Curtain prove this. The revolts against the Soviet Union prove this. Berlin as a divided city symbolizes this. The Berlin wall and “No Man’s Land” demonstrate this.

I will admit that without Soviet support in WWII, the outcome would have been very different. If Hitler had respected the Pact and they remained neutral allies, the US would have severely struggled. The hate for Nazism and Fascism drove deep into both the hearts of Americans and Soviets which is why we were probably more like “associates” or “soldiers in arms”. The competition between Liberalism and Socialism was to be decided and with the collapse of the USSR in 1989, Liberalism and democracy was victorious. The economic and political instability that is created through socialism and communism created chaos and an untimely demise for the USSR. It is important to note that “history has not ended” as Fukuyama argued. I offer a quote from JFK.

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”
John F. Kennedy, December 14, 1962.

Socialism and Communism still survive the Cold War and we must be vigilant not to let us go to war again.

“The threat of a world war is no more.”
Mikhail Gorbachev, farewell speech signifying the end of the USSR and the Cold War, December 1991.

As long as we do not allow greed and selfishness get the best of us. Some may argue that a new Cold War is emerging from the tensions between Putin and Trump, Syria and Ukraine etc. There may be parallels and similarities that historians can relate to but I believe in this day and age we will not see two super powers clash head to head militarily. Arguably so, North Korea remains a nuclear thorn in America’s hind side and China is economically competitive with the US. The difference is that North Korea is no super power and China’s markets are capitalistic. US-Russian relations remain tense and will continue to be. Historically they always have been. If anything happened today between the US and Russia it would definitively be a hot war.

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A Realist, Liberal, and Constructivist Walk into a Bar…

I. Which of the theories of international relations better describe the ideological schools in Russia and how?

It was a warm Saturday night in Russland and all schools of thought have gone out for a drink at the Russian Bar of Thinking. Raymond the Realist strolled through the door to see a group of his buddies threatening the bartender for more drinks. It almost appeared as if they would try to take over the bar if their beers did not come any faster. Maybe they felt that their security was threatened? Lisa the Liberal and her gang of idealists crowded the couch and gossiped about the unjust way the realists were treating the bartender. They believed his civil liberties were being threatened and that they should do something to contain the realists. Playing pool away from all the commotion, Charlie Construct and his boys were evaluating the situation from both sides. They were trying to understand the effectiveness of power while also considering the importance of shared ideas.

Already sitting at the bar were the three Russian Schools of Thought. Sofia the Statist was impressed by the way the realists were using power to impose their will. Wasilei the Westernizer is sickened by the way the realists were acting and wanted to stand up for the bartender. In the darkest corner of the bar, you have Cesar the Civilizationist  puffing on cigarette. Humored by the realists actions, he ignored the liberal commotion and fantasized about the superiority of Russian values over the West. He also thought the realists’ actions were petty as he intended to take over not only the bar, but the parking lot as well.

The realist group acted fast. From their perspective, the bar was in anarchy. They had to act sooner rather than later to ensure their survival. When the bartender was not looking, they hopped over the counter, hit him over the head and started serving drinks to themselves. They set their own price and only served those that supported them. The Statists immediately started flirting with the realists behind the counter. The statists and the realists have very similar viewpoints. From the realist point of view, a show of power and national security is of top priority. To have both economic and military superiority over regional groups/other pub customers is their ultimate goal. Everything should be competitive and global powers should compete for “great power status.” Hans Morgenthau once said, “international politics is the struggle for power…the struggle for power is universal in time and space”. Therefore, the realists believe that they must retain their power over those in the bar to protect their national security and thus promote survival.

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The Statists of Russia find these beliefs extremely attractive and because of this flirt with those realists that had just taken over the bar. Since realists’ usually need a strong military to impose their will, the state often has the most power regarding decision making. Statists believe that one must support the state’s ability to govern and recognize it as the most influential. Although both realists and statists disagree with the beliefs of the West, they are not “anti-Western” per say, but simply desire recognition through the emphasis of economic and military strength as argued by Tsygankov. Since the focus of the state for both statists and realists emphasizes security; human rights and other freedoms are not priorities.

From the perspective of the bar, the realists are simply competing for “great power status” over the rest of the customers to ensure their own security. This action is most likely state driven and therefore, favorable in the eyes of the Russian statists.  However, it should be noted that within the Statists, there is a divide between the social and liberal activists. The social statists believe in the firm control of the state under the Communist party to address the “capitalist threat”. Nevertheless, in favor of a balance of power, these groups prefer a “coexistence with the West” (Liberal) despite the dangerous implications of the capitalist way. On the other hand, the liberal statists believe in the construction of a strong state via a market economy and political democracy. This group does recognize the historically proof that a strong state is effective, and therefore, refuses to sacrifice the values that Russia stands for under the idea of “great power status.” Realism and Statism are incredibly similar regarding the importance of power and state security in an anarchic world. Thus, realism describes the concepts of statism. As parents say “boys will be boys!” And “power will be power”! Realists tend to disregard any change that alters the international scene.

The liberals at the bar are fed up with the realists’ actions against the bartender. Idealistically, for them the world (pub) would not be in anarchy and the idea of economic/military superiority would be overridden via democratic ideals (free market, civil liberties, democracy). For them, securing the necessary civil liberties and natural rights for all is the most important aspect of liberalism.

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Russian Westernizers emerged during Peter the Great’s reign as he desired to mirror the Western perspective in Russia to reverse its backwardness as stated by Tsygankov. The belief at the time was to adopt Western technology and institutions to therefore make Russia a stronger player in an evolving Europe. The Westernizers and Liberals essentially come from the same school of thought as they both value the importance of constitutional freedom and political equality. Russian Westernizers struggle to prove to the statists and civilizationists the value of adopting Western values because it would either threaten Russia’security or challenge traditional cultural values. Post-USSR historians argue that men like Gorbachev tried to reverse the “distortion of Stalin’s reign” and purify the nation through the implementation of democratic ideals. Only then, as Westernizers argue, could Russia reverse its backwardness in the world. The backwardness that was birthed upon the October Revolution in 1917. Idealistically, as Gorbachev portrayed, a “common European home” could be created where all nations could live under the successful ideology of social democracy. To put it simply, the Westernizers are basically the adopted children of the liberal school of thought. Unfortunately for them, these two schools tend to ignore the concept of power which is why they never get along with the realists.

The social Constructivists are a very interesting group. As opposed to placing the school of thought on the state, this school focuses on the individual as a means of influencing social identities through ideas, norms, and discourses. They tend to identify the problems with both liberals and realists and reason that it is better to respect the beliefs of both to promote cooperation. In the case of the bar, Charlie would act as a middle man of sorts and prevent them from throwing chairs at one another. Instead of looking at the opposition from one’s own perspective, identify what the actor is thinking from his or her perspective. Only from here, can an individual make a rational choice on how to proceed that would cause little provocation. The idea that the international environment constructs state actions and interests helps better explain the global situation between power and democracy. Since social constructivism is so new in the international school of thought, it is not easy to compare it to a Russian school of thought.

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The typical Russian Civilizationist is essentially an extreme realist with a very strong anti-Western sentiment. Dating back to the age of Ivan the Terrible, a civilizationist believes that Russian values are critically different from that of the West. These ideas and beliefs must be spread in order to challenge the Western system. For example, Lenin-Trotsky’s plan to spread communism globally was a civilizationist point of view. It is a radical school of thought and emphasizes the importance of “culturally distinctiveness” from the West. You can compare bits of the realist ideology to the civilizationist school of thought in regards to power and expansionism, but not in regard to its distaste for Western culture. One could argue that social civilizationists like Lenin could have slight constructivist beliefs in regards to the spread and shaping of ideas. Other than that, this school of thought is very independent from the rest hence why Cesar is sitting alone in the darkest corner of the bar plotting his next move.

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Why it matters: Understanding how the contemporary IR schools of thought relate or compare to their Russian counterparts is the key to understanding the Russian perspective in world affairs. Using this knowledge, diplomats and other high level officials can properly address Russian actions based on whether it is a statist, western, or civilizationist response. There is a problem though. Those who are unfamiliar with Russian schools of thought most likely immediately label Putin as a realist (which he is)…BUT they treat him as realist instead of a statist which leads to continued friction in places like Ukraine and Baltic States. If they understood that he just wanted recognition for his economic and military power, then potential solutions may be addressed. If they could identify what kind of statist he is, (social or liberal?), the West may be able to compromise.

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As of today, I believe that constructivism in IR theory will provide a universal and comprehensive understanding and approach when dealing with the struggle between realists and liberals. A constructivist can also provide an overview of better understanding regarding the Russian schools of thought because of its ability to examine both sides of the spectrum respectively from that actor’s perspective.

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At this point in time, I conclude that understanding the similarities between IR schools and Russian schools of thought are of utmost importance to understand the global positions and “competition” between the West and Russia. By knowing what nation or individual (constructivist) follows what school, decision makers will be able to predict how their counterpart will respond to certain events and therefore, plan for future interaction in the international community. In times where tensions are high as they are in Ukraine now, policy makers must return to the roots of the schools of thought before making any rash or regrettable decisions. Russia’s action in Ukraine are most likely a form of statism and realism in which Putin has the power to make essential decisions while imposing his will amongst his neighbor as a show of great power pragmatism. With NATO’s continued expansion, a realist Russia feels that its national security is threatened and in order to survive in must expand and strengthen its diminishing buffer zone between it and the West. Although his actions seem purely offensive, in a sense it is also defensive which is what the west fails to comprehend. As a statist, Putin is not anti-Western, but merely wants to maintain Russia’s national security by whatever means necessary. His approach may not be sound, but this is why policy makers must understand the differences between the schools of thought. If Obama, Ivan the Terrible, Putin, Peter the Great, and Donald Trump all met up at a bar do you think anything would be agreed upon? Probably not. So now you know… if all the schools of thought show up at the pub, its time to leave and go to the club.

 

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The Unexpected “Ally”

The reasons behind Stalin’s decision to join Hitler instead of the West (satirical)

-What were the driving factors making Russia resist the cooperation with Britain and France and to ally with Germany before WWII?

The monster of Moscow, the “cold blooded strategist”, Josef Stalin ran his fingers through the luxurious carpet under his nose. After a fellow dictator with a less luxurious mustache rose to power in Germany in 1933, Mr. Stalin had been dealt one of the most difficult hands he had faced since his escape from Siberia 25 years prior. Germany was rising up, becoming ‘bold’ again, and itching to redeem what was ‘rightfully’ its own. The democracies of the West were unsure exactly how to respond to a potential renewal of German militarization and decided to wait and watch. The League of Nations and their feign ‘collective security’ policies were to be tested. Taking a sip of his Leninade Vodka, Stalin knew it was necessary to be patient and tread carefully amongst a fascist war machine and appeasing democracies. He knew war was on the horizon.

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The First Factor: Stalin shuffled his favorite deck of commune playing cards and dealt himself a hand. As both a professional poker player and brutal dictator, Stalin had the ‘poker face’ that no one could see through. It was his duty to uncover the hands of his fellow European leaders. In the first hand, Stalin played first. He knew that both France and Britain were trying to abide by the fresh idea of collective security. It was 1935 and Stalin would sign a pact with France as well as Czechoslovakia a year later. He went as far as committing the Soviet Union to peace and collective security for all that year. This decision would falter quickly. He was disappointed by the French response. Although maintaining political ties, France refused to commit to any kind of military collaboration with the USSR. According to Kissinger, Stalin took this as a invitation for Hitler to attack the motherland first. Responding in kind, Stalin placed his Queen on top of the French’s Jack which only committed the Soviet Union to the defense of Czechoslovakia after the French became involved. This allowed Stalin to abandon the West if he saw fit, strategically giving him the advantage over future actions.

The idea of collective security did not sit lightly with Stalin nor his bear Nikolai. The historical periphery areas of the Russian Empire had been taken by force which basically negated the concept behind the creation of the League of Nations. The USSR could not be a part of said League as its desire to expand into its former territories was of primary concern. As Kissinger elaborates further, without the USSR participating in collective security in Eastern Europe, it could not function militarily. With it as a member, it could not function politically.

The Second Factor: After the failure of potential cooperation militarily with France, relationships only stiffened. Stalin enjoyed three things: Parties, Purges, and Pacts and if he was left out of one, there was going to be a problem. In late 1938, a “party” was held (conference) in Munich and no one thought to invite the hairy Russian. Was it because he forgot to take shower the night before? No. It was purely because of his ideology. The allies appeased Hitler without the consent of Stalin completely changing the Soviet’s strategy. As a result, Stalin decided to become a business dictator and open his own Soviet Bazaar. To all relevant actors: Stalin was now taking bids for a Soviet Pact. Whoever was more serious about making an offer with the USSR would be welcomed. This included Nazi Germany. As Kissinger explains, Stalin saw both the democratic and fascist ideologies as having similar social structures and therefore, did not care who made an offer of alliance first. In 1939, Stalin addressed his newly purged Party Congress announcing of a new strategy. This strategy did not include collective security as it had before 4 years prior. It was a call of a Soviet neutrality for he found no need to be pulled into the Capitalists’ war. Stalin warned the Party Congress ominously: “to be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them.” This was definitively directed at the West and basically invited Hitler to make an offer at the Bazaar. No chestnuts would be wasted due to capitalist incompetence today. A German roasted chestnut with a dash of National Socialism was about to be served to the hairy Russian leader.

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Hitler: “The Scum of the Earth, I believe?” Stalin: “The Bloody Assassin of the Workers, I presume?”

Third Factor: Soon after Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, Britain took a hardliner’s, non-appeasement approach to prevent further Nazi aggression. The decisions were made chaotically and under apparent pressure and urgency. Britain decided to offer unilateral protection to Poland, Romania, and Greece. This rash and rushed decision pleased the Russian dictator as Britain indirectly had just entered a defacto alliance with the USSR. This British declaration now acted as the condom of the Soviet frontier. Stalin did not have to worry about potential Nazi aggression in Poland since the British would declare war and save the day. What made him even happier was the fact that it was a purely one-sided agreement. The USSR did not have to reciprocate since they were once again left out of the decision making process. Collective security would fail. I do not know what tea Chamberlain was drinking through this period, but unfortunately, his Cabinet made four extremely faulty assumptions about Poland and the USSR.

  1. Poland is militarily stronger than the USSR. (Tell that to the Polish horsemen fighting German Panzer Tanks)
  2. France and Britain could defeat Germany without Allied support… (If the Americans did not jump in on your side in 1918, you’d all be speaking German)
  3. The Soviet Union had an interest in maintaining the status quo in Eastern Europe. (Since when? Have you read your Russian history Chamberlain?)
  4. Communism and Fascism could never unite. Stalin will eventual join the “right” side. (Think again!)

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These four assumptions are quite surprising considering what was at stake. Under diplomatic terms, you should never assume and always confirm. If you cannot confirm a potential hypothesis, then it is not true. To justify these assumptions so rashly left the Brits even more unprepared come September, 1939.

Stalin desperately wanted to overturn the settlements established by the Versailles Treaty as this would give the Soviet Union a vast territorial gain. With this in mind, it is clear that as Kissinger argues, Stalin wished to receive the benefits of war without actually participating in it. With war, Stalin could occupy the necessary real-estate he desired in Eastern Europe. Without it, well, he wouldn’t have taken that kind of risk. In the eyes of Mr.  Josef Mustachio Stalin, making a land grab without war at that time was like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded pistol.

Being the last to “pick” a side, Stalin had all the patience in the world and awaited the best offer. He was the epitome of wise dictator monk. Patience was and still is a virtue. In April of 39, the British threw a unilateral agreement into Stalin’s lap hoping that they could trap the elusive Russian bear. The agreement essentially compelled Stalin to come to the aid of any country on his border that is blitzkrieg-ed by the German beer machine… I mean war machine. He declined this offer like a smart little Russian dictator and offered his own terms which included an alliance among the three allies, a military convention to give it effect, and a guarantee for all of the countries between the Baltic and Black Sea. The democracies were not thrilled to hear of this counter proposal, but eventual conceded on most points. It took them almost three months to finally establish a draft, one of which Stalin could now compare with a potential German offer. It was as if he was selling his services over Ebay and collecting on the person who would offer him the best deal. Other than being an evil dictator, Hitler was the complete opposite of his Russian counterpart. Both impatient and desperate for proceeding with his war plans for Poland, Hitler finally “blinked” (late July, 39) as Kissinger describes and contacted Moscow. Unlike the potential agreement with the democracies, Stalin did not have to spill blood or vodka if he aligned himself with Hitler. Hitler’s foreign minister Ribbentrop made the pilgrimage to Moscow in mid-August. This also pleased Stalin as no democratic power dared to travel farther than Warsaw. Stalin, by waiting so patiently, had wrapped Hitler right around his finger as he received everything he demanded. This included land grabs in Eastern Europe, partitioning of countries including Poland, and the infamous Non-Aggression Pact. Bluntly said, the Western democracies entered the talks too late. Furthermore, they lacked motivation to cooperate with the Bolshevik dictator which soured relations further and pushed Stalin towards a German relationship.

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My thoughts: As a political and military leader, Stalin was the ultimate strategist of World War II. He took note of his surroundings, situations, and dilemmas and addressed them with patience, shrewd decision making, and was by all means an implacable realist. Among further research, I believe you can argue that Stalin knew of Hitler’s eventual motives and that war would become a reality in time on the Soviet front. He told Molotov that he needed two years to prepare the Red Army for a German incursion and sure enough by June of 41, the USSR was attacked. Disregarding the factors above, Stalin strategically positioned himself in a way that would allot him control of further Soviet periphery areas without a condition of collective security in Eastern Europe. Strategically, Stalin knew that he could only obtain his goals through a mutual pact with Hitler. The West would never allow him to crush the Eastern European republics, as Hitler was already in the process of doing. \ Without abandoning everything Great Britain stood for since the end of WWI, its leadership could not comply with Stalin’s terms. It desperately wanted to protect those small countries of Eastern Europe from further Nazi aggression, but could not allow the USSR to do the same under their blessing. Furthermore, after the purges of 37-38, the Red Army was in no position to fight, and therefore, needed the Hitler Pact to buy time. Moreover, Stalin acted as one of the factors that led the world to war. Relieving Hitler of a potential two front war made war inevitable. Greed overcame the hairy Russian dictator, as he simply wanted a piece of Hitler’s spoils of war. As Kissinger said it best, Stalin led the Soviet Union with an iron fist and this iron fist was through the brutal manipulation of his Bazaar. The Western democracies stood for what was right and just in a peaceful Europe. Hitler must be stopped. Stalin as a realist power simply declared “I will make the Motherland great again!” Using power to ensure his will across the Soviet Union was at the time more important than stopping Hitler. With the partition of Poland alone, Stalin established a 600 mile buffer between him and Hitler. If he would have sided with the west, Stalin would not have likely acquired any territorial gain “legitimately” and would have been forced into war immediately with the remnants of a purged army. This is why for his purposes, “allying” with the Nazis was better for the Soviet national interest.

How to prepare for war… the Russian dictator way:

  1. Drink a bottle of the finest Stalingrad Vodka
  2. Purge your closest officers, only trust yourself
  3. Saddle up and mount your bear
  4. Give your bear vodka
  5. Declare War on the man with the worst mustache
  6. Ride into battle under the most inspirational war music the Soviet Union has to offer

Skip to 1:18, Remember Reznov,   Soviet Anthem: Pompous American EditionLenin: A Secret WeaponHitler Turns on Stalin

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