The war in Ukraine started by Vladimir Putin is shaking up the world. Contrary to the prediction that Russia will win quickly, Ukraine’s stubborn resistance has turned it into a war of attrition. Eurasia and Western phobia are deeply rooted in the background of the invasion. Geopolitist Helfard John Mackinder proposed the theory that in the early 20th century, the state that ruled Eastern Europe, the central axis of Eurasia, would claim global hegemony. In the 1930s, Hitler and Stalin viewed Ukraine as a land that determined the success or failure of their power and global strategy. Its large territory, population, and abundant food and energy resources are a huge attraction. The Toxin War that broke out in 1941 was a planned step towards seizing European hegemony. Eurasianism is a modern version of imperialism, a patriotic authoritarian nationalist ideology. It is a concept consistent with Russia’s efforts to restore lost territory and authority. It greatly appeals to the pride of the wounded nation. Lev Gumilev, a leading Eurasian theorist, asserts that “only Russia survives as a major power in Eurasia”.
Putin believes that Russia and Ukraine cannot be separated. Since the two countries are one, he cannot recognize the independent sovereignty of Ukraine. Recognize this war as a holy war for Russian exceptionalism and glory. It is to practice the Russian ideal of being given a special mission by God. Putin, who regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century, can be seen as a step toward revitalizing the Russian Empire.
The geopolitical value of Ukraine cannot be ignored. Zbignyu Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter, stressed the need for stable management of Ukraine in order to control Soviet imperial ambitions. Putin believes that Russia as a religious and patriotic land power is inevitably confronted with an Atlantic maritime power that imposes liberal and democratic values.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) eastward policy promoted during Yeltsin’s reign stimulated Russia’s unrest. As Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, the sense of crisis that Russia is a ‘besieged fortress’ has deepened. At the 2007 Munich Security Conference, Putin strongly criticized the dangers of the US unipolar system. Ukraine’s accession to NATO poses an existential threat to Russian security. It is regarded as a violation of Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.
The vigilance towards Western Europe also played a significant role. The long-established feeling of inferiority to the West led to hostility and distrust due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the deterioration of the state’s status. Exports of oil, gas and natural resources have greatly increased national power and improved living conditions, but distrust of the West has not been overcome. The Russian leadership is unable to shake off the Western phobia that it is being surrounded and attacked by Western allies.
The energy market has been shaken by the invasion of Ukraine. The European gas market, which Russia has monopolized due to Western sanctions on Russia, will be opened to the United States, and China, which purchases Russian gas at cheap prices, will also benefit. Eastern Ukraine is the second largest natural gas producer after Norway. Luhansk and Donetsk regions are rich in shale gas. Crimea has many marine energy resources. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel believed that the energy trade between Europe and Russia would increase interdependence and contribute to peace-building. The illusion that strengthening exchanges can transform Russia has led to an overreliance on Russia’s energy. It relies on Russia for 55% of its gas and 35% of its oil. Treasurer Christian Lindner admitted that Russia’s overreliance on energy was a mistake.
The retreat from Kiiu wiped out the empire’s dreams, but Putin’s popularity within the country is soaring. His approval rating plummeted due to fatigue from his long tenure and resistance to pension reform, but his approval rating has recently risen to nearly 90%. President Joe Biden’s remarks about regime change stimulated Western phobias and siege sentiments. The middle class, which has grown since Putin came to power, has strong patriotism and conservatism tendencies. This is a unique phenomenon unique to Russia. Even the Russian elite are refraining from criticism. The global community is interested in whether Russia will reproduce the dream of a superpower or become a reactionary regional power.
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