Sovereignty is a double-edged sword. States strive to protect it at all costs, only to be disappointed that they may no longer infringe upon the territorial integrity of other states—for consistency’s sake. As most of the world is becoming an interest zone, aggressive countries that crave territory need to find convincing pretexts for seizing it.
Such is the fate of our usual suspect—the frequently aggressive Russian Federation. Over the past decade, Russia has played its patriotism card in the international arena better than any other government. It managed to leverage the Russian speaking minorities in Georgia in 2008, and in Ukraine last year to advance Russia’s national interest.
To play the “identity” card, a state must move away from the concept of civil statehood—one based on holding citizenship—to an ethnocentric society. Within 15 years of his rule, Putin managed to transform Russia into one of the most right-wing countries in Europe. Russia’s pro-family and anti-LGBT agenda is an object of desire that is completely out of reach for the British Nationalist Party and the French National Front. Indeed, Putin’s constant critique of Western values make him an attractive ally for far-right elements in Europe, who wish for an end to the West’s moral degradation through “liberalism.”
The demonization of the West is purposeful both within Russia and outside of it. Within Russia, it is much easier to convince the population of a righteous conflict—such as the one in Ukraine. The larger role, however, is to galvanize Russian minorities in other states. Indeed, Putin has turned ethnic Russians elsewhere into a resource that pays high dividends. Shortly after Euromaidan, the protests against Yanukovych, started, Russia began dubbing Ukraine a newly fascist regime, and spreading the idea that its minorities needed to be saved.
The referendum in Crimea is an excellent example of what the mobilization of the Russian minority can do. Even though only 58% of Crimeans are ethnically Russian, over 95% allegedly supported joining Russia. There were several tactics used to garner their support.
The first, most apparent in the war in Georgia in 2008, is passportization. Giving out Russian passports to Russian minorities means it is no longer the this link ethnic Russians that need protection, but actual Russian citizens, living in another buy clomid and nolva hostile country. Prior to the conflict that led to the ostensible departure of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, about 90% of the inhabitants of South Ossetia took up the chance to claim Russian citizenship. This was not a move that South Ossetians sought out; in fact, it occurred right after Russia simplified its acquisition of citizenship, allowing anyone with an old USSR passport to swiftly exchange it for a Russian one. Passportization was happening in Crimea too, long before the events of Euromaidan or the Crimean annexation.
The heavy, yet invisible hand of the dispensary in Moscow can create a sizeable minority in another country’s region to control it. Any step in the wrong direction, whether it is signing an association agreement with the EU or intending to join NATO, will trigger the need to protect the newly naturalized Russian sleeper citizens.
Even in countries where passportization is not an option, due to stricter visa requirements or stronger backing by NATO or the EU, Moscow has a powerful strategy. Utilizing Russian speakers in the Baltic States, prominent Russian TV channels feed misinformation to delegitimize the countries of the West and their governments. Lithuania recently banned a Russian TV channel for showing a movie that lied about the events of January 13, 1991, when the Soviet Army invaded Lithuania in an attempt to reintegrate the country back into the USSR. The propaganda efforts work to some degree: these minorities tend to be disproportionally unhappy with their governments and lend their support to Russia, at least ideologically.
In a geopolitical climate where aggressive invasions have a reputational cost that is too high, defending minorities becomes the strongest game. It is an easy game for Russia in the post-USSR space, with an array of tools at its disposal to “activate” its ethnic Russians abroad. And if the minorities are not willing—prod them; if they do not exist—create them.
Photo – Alamy/Al Jazeera