Understanding the Ukraine Crisis Through Putin Doctrine


'Russia Is Not Angry; It's focusing.' This is a Russian aphorism put forward by Alexander Gorchakov, the Foreign Minister of the Russian empire, in 1856, after Russia lowered its international profile following its defeat in the Crimean War. Indeed, Russia is a country that has had its ups and downs but has the ability to renew itself by 'focusing' every time. ...

'Russia Is Not Angry; It's focusing.' This is a Russian aphorism put forward by Alexander Gorchakov, the Foreign Minister of the Russian empire, in 1856, after Russia lowered its international profile following its defeat in the Crimean War. Indeed, Russia is a country that has had its ups and downs but has the ability to renew itself by 'focusing' every time.
To understand Russia's recent rise and Russia's behavior in today's Ukraine crisis, we need to understand policy priorities of Putin Doctrine, which managed to transform Russia in the post-Soviet era.
In this context, the historical geopolitics of Russia, the transformation of Russia in the post-Soviet period, this transformation and the policy priorities of the Putin Doctrine that guided Russian Foreign Policy will be examined first. Then, in line with this doctrine, what the Ukraine crisis means and finally Russia's current and future role in Europe and Asia will be examined.
Russia's Permanent Geopolitics
For 500 years, the momentum behind the Russian grand strategy and the most prominent character of Russian foreign policy can be expressed as 'rising ambitions'. With this ambition, starting with the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century, Russia managed to expand for hundreds of years, eventually covering one-sixth of the earth's land mass. But this remarkable Russian progress has been up and down.
Peter the Great's victory over Charles XII in the early 1700s, which placed Russian power in the Baltic Sea and Europe, alexander I's victory over Napoleon, who brought Russia to Paris as the arbiter of great power affairs at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Stalin's victory in World War II. Its victory over Adolf Hitler in World War II, which gave Russia a central role in shaping the postwar global order.
In contrast, Russia lost the 1853-56 Crimean War, lost the 1904-5 Russian-Japanese War, lost World War I, and this defeat led to the collapse of the imperial regime. Most recently, he lost the cold war , which resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet regime.
During this ups and downs, some emotions developed that shaped Rusia's perception of itself and the outside world. The first is the belief in Russia's 'special mission'. The Russians have always been a people with a sense of living in constant harmony with a 'special mission' dating back to Byzantium, which Russia claims as an inheritance.
In fact, many of the great powers exhibited similar feelings of exceptionalism. Germany and Japan's feelings of exceptionalism were suppressed by bombing in World War II. But Russia's is extremely resilient. The third Rome, the Pan-Slavic kingdom, the communist international's world headquarters are successive special missions, and today's version of Eurasianism is a movement that fuses them all into one degree and imagines Russia as neither European nor Asian.
The sense of having a special mission proudly equips Russia's people and leaders, but also fuels resentment to the west by emphasizing Russia's uniqueness and importance. Thus, relative economic backwardness is second to none, and psychological alienation is added to institutional disintegration. This feeling also contributes to the scarcity of Russia's official alliances and its reluctance to join international bodies. As a result, the Russian elites are oscillating between the search for closer ties with the West on the one hand and the anger of the insults they feel on the other.
Another emotion that shapes Russia and the Russian mind is due to the unique geography of the country. Fueled by turbulent developments in East Asia, Europe and the Middle East in this great geography, Russia has always felt 'vulnerable' throughout its history and has exhibited a kind of 'defensive aggression' with this feeling.
The real reason behind Russia's expansion, many of which were unplanned, has been the belief in the country's military and political class that further expansion can secure previous expansions. Russian security has therefore traditionally been shaped to move outward to prevent external attacks .
Today, smaller countries on Russia's borders are seen more as potential enemies than as potential friends, and this conviction was strengthened by the Soviet collapse.
The last and perhaps most important emotion shaping the Russian mind is always the search for a strong state. In this sense, the only guarantor of Russia's security is a strong state willing and able to act aggressively in its own interests, and a squeaky state is seen as the guarantor of the internal order.
However, efforts to establish a strong state have always led to the weakening of institutions and the prominence of leadership. This unbridled leadership tends to make the fundamental characteristic of the decision-making of the Russian grand strategy capricious and unpredictable.
Russia is a great civilization spread over an enormous geography. However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, Moscow was forced to largely withdraw from Central Asia, Europe and the Caucasus.
These losses after the Cold War caused major traumas that still had implications for the Russian elites with a sense of special mission and in the minds of the Russian people in their perception of Russia's place and mission in the world.
Russia is right to think that post-Cold War settlement was unstable. But this result is not due to intentional humiliation or betrayal. It is the inevitable result of the decisive victory of the West in its rivalry with the Soviet Union.
Dissolution of the Soviet Union; Bir Trauma With Effects Still Ongoing
After World War II, the Soviet Union lost in the political, economic, cultural, technological and military global competition between Western powers and the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev's Kremlin chose to bow gracefully.
In January 1992, about a month after the official dissolution of the Soviet Union, U.S. President George H. W. Bush said in his State of the Union address : "By God's grace, America won the Cold War." But Russian officials have never been clearer about exactly what happened from their point of view.
But this result was something that post-Soviet Russia never really accepted. All Russian leaders agreed on one thing: the "New World Order", which emerged after 1992, was unlike what Mikhail Gorbachev and other reform-minded Soviet leaders envisioned as the best possible way to prevent the worst consequences of the Cold War.
In this sense, the tension between Western powers and Russia stems not only from the events in Syria and Ukraine, but also from an ongoing dispute over what the collapse of the Soviet Union meant for the world order.
For The Americans and other Westerners, the meaning of Soviet collapse is simple: the United States won the Cold War and took its rightful place as the world's only superpower, while post-Soviet Russia was unable and resisting self-integration into the postwar liberal international order led by Washington.
The Russians, of course, see things differently. In their view, Russia's current situation is the illegitimate result of a never-ending campaign by the United States to hold Russia back and prevent it from regaining its worthy status.
The resulting "New World Order" no longer meant an arrangement between equals. According to Western powers, this meant the victory of the West, even the 'End of History'. And so in the 1990s, Western powers launched an ambitious process to bring the rest of the world to what they see as the "Right Side of History".
The US-led Gulf War of 1990-91 brought a new dynamic to this process: without the constraints of superpower competition, Western powers were encouraged to use direct military force.
Soon after, NATO expanded towards countries that formed a buffer zone around Russia during the Soviet era. In terms of the Russian security strategy, which was based on expanding the area around the core to avoid being caught off guard, NATO expansion meant crossing the red line.
But amid economic collapse and political disorder in the post-Soviet era, Russia was able to do little in response to EU consolidation and NATO enlargement. Starting in 1994, Boris Yeltsin and other Russian leaders have repeatedly expressed deep dissatisfaction with these actions.
Western powers, however, considered such criticisms from Russia as a reflection of an outdated imperial mindset , mostly directed at domestic politics. For Russia, NATO's intervention in the Kosovo war in 1999 was a critical turning point. Many Russians were appalled by NATO's bombing of Serbia, which has close ties to Moscow.
The success of the intervention, which also led to the direct collapse of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic the following year, set a precedent for NATO and provided a new template. Since 2001, NATO or its leading member states have launched military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. All three campaigns led to the deterioration of the state order.
In this sense, it was not only NATO'S expansion that alarmed Russia, but the transformation of NATO. According to Russia, NATO has now become not a defense alliance, as the allies argued during the Cold War, but an alliance of defenses.
As the United States flexed its muscles and NATO became a more aggressive organization, Russia found itself in an awkward position. As a country that had almost all of the capacities of the Soviet Union, a superpower, but also depended on the mercy and financial support of its former enemies, it had to overcome a systemic decline.
During the first decade of the post-Soviet era, Western leaders assumed that Russia could respond to its pre-situation by adapting to what they presented as "Wider Europe". What was touted as a wider Europe was a theoretical field that in essence encouraged countries that stood out from the EU and NATO but were also not members of these organisations to voluntarily adopt norms and regulations.
In other words, Russia was offered a limited space within the expanding architecture of Europe. This was not Gorbachev's dream of a 'Common European House', in which he would become the co-designer of the Soviet Union. But, was faced with the option of giving up moscow's global ambitions and agreeing to abide by rules in which it played no role in designing.
This formula was best stated by European Commission President Romano Prodi in 2002: Russia would share "everything but institutions" with the EU. Clearly, this meant that Russia would accept EU rules and regulations but could not influence decision-making.
Moscow appeared to have accepted this proposal for a while and made minimal efforts to expand its global role. However, neither the Russian elite nor ordinary Russians refused to accept the status offered to them.
But after a while, unipolar U.S. domination disappeared, but a multipolar world brought more uncertainty to international relations. In the Pacific region, China has begun to rise as an assertive power. Under these new circumstances, when trying to reshare rols, the only thing the parties are sure of is that perhaps the other side has overstepping the mark.
In this process, the Russians faced their own past and losses, and at the end of this confrontation they were able to make peace with the fact that they had lost their status and special missions in the world first. But was then able to transform themselves by refocusing on their special missions and status, as they had done before. However, during this difficult time, a Russian leadership was required that would allow the public to first accept this step back and 'transformation' and then 'focusing' again. Putin has taken on this role and successfully fulfilled it.
Russia Seeks Its Place in the Global Balance; Putin Doctrine
In his annual address to the Russian parliament in 2005, Putin called the disappearance of the Soviet Union a "major geopolitical tragedy" This statement accurately expresses the sense of loss that many Russians are associated with in the post-Soviet period.
The United States and Europe have repeatedly refused to accept Kremlin complaints, especially based on the breakup of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's secession from Russia, even before Putin. When Putin called the Soviet collapse "a great geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century," he actually lamented that after 1990, 25 million Russians suddenly found themselves out of Russia.
In this context, he has repeatedly criticized the finding of 12 million Russians in the new Ukrainian state. His article titled "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians", published last summer, was recently distributed to all Russian troops. Putin previously wrote in an article that 'Ukraine has been turned into a springboard against Russia'.
This narrative of loss depends on a particular concern of Putin : the idea that NATO can not only accept or help post-Soviet states, but then threaten Russia itself. Putin routinely complains that the global order ignores Russia's security concerns.
Given history, this concern doesn't seem unwarranted. After all, Russia has been repeatedly invaded by Western powers. Putin attributes this history to current concerns about NATO infrastructure approaching Russia's borders and Moscow's demands for security guarantees.
From the beginning until now, the behaviors of the Russian President is mainly driven by a series of foreign policy principles, which were initially not very clear but developed more over time, in order to eliminate the consequences of the dissolution of the Soviets.

The Future of Russia's Search for Global Power
According to Russia's perception, the United States is currently less capable of pursuing a weak, divided and coherent foreign policy. Europe, on the other hand, is economically strong but politically and militarily weak and focused on its domestic problems in general. Despite the current risks and weaknesses, Russia sees this as a window of opportunity and has mobilized all its power to make good use of this window of opportunity.
In China, which sees the weaknesses of Western powers led not only by Russia but also by the United States as a window of opportunity, it is on the offensive in line with Xi's new global grand strategy, which he has revised as the "central stage of the world."
Seeking to restore deteriorating global balances in line with their own goals, these two major powers are now exchanging technical and financial support by forming a strategic partnership to focus their resources on competing with the United States and Western countries, not with each other.
The effect of this collaboration is greater than the sum of its parts. When the success of the Russian-type authoritarian, strong leadership and the model of capitalist development under Chinese one-party rule is added to the failures experienced by democratic states especially in the face of the pandemic, the trend towards populist and authoritarian administrations in many countries rises significantly.
European countries, which had a period of strong economic integration during the Cold War but failed to show the same military and political capacity, are not reacting adequately to this new and challenging competition.
The United States, which has largely withdrawn from Asia and the Middle East and has serious social economic problems in itself, is having serious difficulties in dealing with Russia on the European front and China on the Pacific front at the same time. One indicator of this is the Security Strategic Guidance, released in March as one of the Biden administration's first national security analyses. In this document, the United States dealt with China significantly in depth, while leaving only a few sentences to Russia. When the Biden administration talks about its approach to Russia, he likes to say that the United States can "walk and chew gum at the same time." But it's not as easy to do as to say.
As a Result; The main goal of the Putin Doctrine is to change the liberal, international order established by Europe and the United States after the Cold War and to re-establish the Global order. Putin sees dividing Europe and ultimately ensuring the US withdrawal from Europe as a crucial step towards the fundamental goal, and the Ukraine crisis is a specially designed crisis for that purpose.
Given the confusion between the United States and NATO over Russia's strategy in the Ukraine crisis, there is a possibility that Russia will get the result it wants.
If Russia's Ukraine strategy is successful, it could also succeed in removing the United States, whose position will be weakened, from Europe and rebuilding its influence over Europe,.
In this case, it will focus on the Asia-Pacific region to achieve its ultimate goal of permanently changing the architecture of the global order.
In such a scenario, they could join forces with China, overwhelmed by the strong U.S.-led alliance, to neutralize the United States in the Pacific region. Such a scenario would mean the end not only of the post-Cold War balances, but also of the liberal global order based on Western leadership and supremacy, paving the way for a new global order.
This new global order, in which Moscow is divided into the spheres of influence of the world by Russia and China in its mind, could become a new version of the Yalta system.
Even if they don't like each other very much, it is not clear at this time, whether the two powerful autocratic partners, who are now joining forces in the face of their common enemies, will begin a struggle for influence among themselves, dividing the world into their own spheres of influence when they capture the chance to reshape the global order; but is very clear that Ukraine is the keystone of the faltering global order. If this keystone moves, there is a possibility that the entire structure will collapse.
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