Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 14:00 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 14:00 | SYDNEY

Moscow doesn't much like the US script


Raoul Heinrichs

15 August 2008 16:04

Hugh is spot on when he points out that the crisis over Georgia is, in large part, a product of divergent perceptions in Washington and Moscow about the means and ends of post-Cold War US grand strategy.

From Washington’s perspective, the expansion of NATO, the colour revolutions, and the embrace of places like Georgia and Ukraine have all been important components of Washington’s liberal hegemonic strategy, designed to preserve America’s global leadership through the promotion of what it believes to be universal goods — democracy, open markets, strategic stability, and a whole range of international institutions – which accord with everyone’s interests, including Russia’s.

That successive American administrations have failed to take Russian misgivings seriously reflects their sincere belief in the idea that, while Russia may grumble from time to time, as it accrues the manifest benefits that American hegemony affords, it will not only adhere to the guidelines that America sets out for international conduct, but it will accept American hegemony and refrain from balancing – or seeking to circumscribe – American power. 

Of course, as Hugh notes, and as Paul Dibb argues in this typically prescient article from 2006, that’s not how Russia sees it — for some quite appreciable reasons. History has never been kind to Russia when it has not dominated its periphery. In the modern era alone, the legacy of multiple invasions, from Napoleon to Hitler, has created a pervasive and enduring sense of insecurity in the minds of Russian leaders, whose instinctive response has been to forestall such existential crises by expanding Russia’s territorial depth. Thus, while Russia is prepared to take advantage of America’s benevolence, it is not prepared to gamble its own security and vital interests on a strategic system in which the US remains the principal architect, beneficiary and guarantor.

This is not to say, however, that Russia’s latest revival of machtpolitik is risk free. While Georgia has been subjugated, the Ukraine put on notice, and Washington shown up for writing a cheque that it couldn’t cash, it is far from clear whether Putin’s gambit will serve Russia’s strategic interests quite so effectively in the long run. Russian leverage notwithstanding, the real indication of whether or not Moscow has overreached will become clear as Washington re-evaluates and recalibrates its strategic relationship with the Ukraine. That Poland has today tightened its alliance with the US, affirming the right for America to establish a missile defence base on Polish territory in exchange for extra security guarantees, could well be just the beginning of a costly backlash against Russia's revanchist policies in Georgia.