More than a few conspiracy-minded observers like to talk about a big evil plan in the Kremlin to recreate the Soviet Union and annex its neighbors. The goal, they say, is to swallow up more territory and power while toppling any independent governments – an argument that does not sound so paranoid following the invasion of Georgia and the possessive embrace of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Although it has been a historically uncomfortable position to find yourself located between Europe and Russia, I don’t find the big conspiracy arguments very convincing – which is not to say that the Kremlin’s conduct in the near abroad is harmless. Very few can speak with much authority about what the future will bring for Russia and her neighbors, and fewer know what the ultimate aims of its foreign policy are, but the physical conquest of sovereign territory doesn’t quite fit the M.O. in many respects. Recent conduct shows a greater interest in an informal empire – ownership of the critical strategic industries and influence in the capitals, rather than incorporation into the Federation. Hidden behind the great power ideology and quest for “respect” are some fat bank accounts of the siloviki which need padding. And of course there are others who say that even if Russia wanted to do these things, they lack the power.
Still, there are those who think that beyond ownership and control, that Russia wants to usurp entire nations like Ukraine. Paul Goble has a new blog post featuring comments from Yuri Shcherbak, a former Ukrainian ambassador, which takes the extreme view on Moscow’s ambitions. Shcerbak says that Russia views Ukraine as a “failed state” which may require intervention and seizure: “The idea of the division of Ukraine into parts is completely seriously being worked out at various levels of the powers that be in Russia.” He also points to comments made about Ukraine by Vladimir Putin at the Bucharest Summit (when the PM said that Ukraine is not a country) which “are called in military language the ideological-propagandistic preparation of a future operation for the seizure of the territory of a sovereign state.“
I think everybody hopes that he is proven wrong.