Russia’s Global Ambitions in the Putin Era


  • Ants Laaneots




This article provides a detailed overview of the political and military developments in Russia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The main focus is on examining how and why Russia entered into conflict with Georgia, what were the lessons learned, and how they were implemented. Subsequently, the article provides a similar overview of the political and military developments in Ukraine and offers an explanation as to why Russia decided to and was able to invade Eastern Ukraine and annex Crimea. The author analyses in great detail the Russian mindset under President Putin’s rule, giving the West food for thought about responding to this type of Russian aggression and the potential consequences of inaction. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia went through a turbulent period, experiencing difficulties in the political, military, economic, social, and other domains. Compared to the Cold War era, the Russian Armed Forces were significantly scaled down, resulting in massive degradation of combat capabilities and considerable damage to the overall morale of the force. In combination with the cutbacks in funding, this contributed to the disgraceful losses sustained during the First Chechen War (1994–1996). The situation in Russia, and within its armed forces, began to improve with the arrival of Vladimir Putin. After being appointed as Prime Minister in 1999, he was soon acting in the capacity of and later elected as President in 2000. Putin quickly established firm control over all the aforementioned domains and, among other stabilization efforts, restored the funding, prestige and status of the Russian Armed Forces. However, this proved to be insufficient when Russia provoked an armed conflict in the Georgian region of South Ossetia and subsequently invaded Georgian territory. Although the Russian military was able to achieve its operational goals, it also experienced significant challenges in terms of force readiness and combat capability. With support from Putin, then Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov launched a comprehensive reform of the Russian Armed Forces. The reform aimed to make the armed forces more agile, combat ready and well-equipped. Serdyukov’s efforts paid off years later when the Russian Spetsnaz, under the guise of unidentified troops, was able to seize the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in an expedited manner and practically without any casualties. However, this would not have been possible without the conceptual transformation of the contemporary Russian understanding of modern warfare as described in the infamous 2013 article by General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. Although he did not intend to outline a new strategic doctrine for Russia, many themes reflected upon in Gerasimov‘s article were manifested in striking resemblance during the occupation of Crimea and also during the subsequent invasion of Eastern Ukraine in 2014. Today, the Russian military is gaining valuable conventional experience from the Syrian campaign and valuable unconventional experience from Eastern Ukraine. In both campaigns, the Russian military worked hand in hand with other instruments of state power, conducting a holistic offensive and learning to tailor their responses to the changing circumstances. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia, acting as its heir, has demon strated on numerous occasions its intent to restore the Soviet-era sphere of influence and establish firm control over it. Among other hostile activities towards neighbouring sovereign countries, Russia has used military force to achieve its goals in clear violation of international laws. The 2008 aggression against Georgia was an unpleasant surprise for the West. However, for various reasons, its sobering effect on Russian-Western relations was only temporary. This, in turn, emboldened the Russian regime, enabling them to undertake even more egregious violations of international law and challenging the post-Cold War security order in Europe. The annexation of Crimea and the continuing conflict in Eastern Ukraine serve as prima facie examples of Russian disregard of the current security order in Europe and also in the rest of the world. The five-volume collection of contemporary philosophical thought and theses titled Project Russia, published between 2005 and 2010, presents the modern Russian world view, including the ultimate goals and plans for establishing Russia as the dominant power. The collection was authored by members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, special services and the Russian Orthodox Church. It appears that Russia’s ruling regime has taken these musings to heart and is actively trying to implement its main tenets by conducting a hybrid campaign against the Western world on multiple fronts.


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