Historically, Russia’s indefensibility has led it to the conflicting needs of securing its borders from attack through expansion and managing the internal affairs of its enlarged domain. In the process, Russia frequently struggles to allow for economic and political progress while keeping a firm hold on domestic security.
Russia’s geopolitics has historically been one of empire management and maintenance of internal security. The former is the result of a lack of natural defenses; the latter is the result of the acquisition of territories whose inhabitants are characterized by ethnic and religious diversity, creating the risk of conflict.
How Is This Research Useful to Practitioners?
In efforts to create strong defenses, Russia has expanded over time to the east, west, and south. Otherwise, the only natural protection had been forests and, at times, the inhospitable climate. But the expansion has brought its own set of geopolitical challenges: an ethnically and religiously diverse population scattered over a large landmass and a lack of strong infrastructure and transportation for the country to feed and support itself. Facing these geographic challenges, Russia has been and continues to be in a struggle to expand its empire and coexist with its new or potential inhabitants, who may be resistant to serving as buffers. Part of this endeavor comes from within—for example, through the government’s use of such youth groups as Nashi and Young Guard to inculcate a strong sense of civic duty and nationalism in its young people. Such efforts are meant to counteract the effects of the shifting political landscape during the Putin years, during which the nation has had to recognize its own factious nature and overseas challenges in order to juggle political forces and allow for reform.
Although greatly diminished in size after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is now pursuing a policy of expansion through economic and defense alliances with some of its neighbors. Russia is also seeking coexistence with Western Europe. Unfortunately, Europe’s economic and defense interests may well be contrary to Russia’s own needs.
Investors interested in Russia need to be aware of the political and economic risks that Russia poses as an emerging market. Strong internal security has led to a powerful center that has facilitated urbanization and industrialization, but it has come at a great cost. Geography has defined Russia’s existence for centuries and will continue to do so.
How Did the Author Conduct This Research?
Stratfor is a global intelligence think tank whose researchers have studied Russia’s historical challenges and their impact on present-day events. The compilation of Stratfor’s articles and its insights clearly show a country attempting to defend and expand its empire while increasing its standing in global affairs. Although it retreated to its seventeenth-century borders after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia today manages a complex web of relationships with its Baltic, central Asian, Asian, and Western European neighbors.
Russia’s imperial challenges seem to expand and diminish. Glasnost, a policy calling for increased openness and transparency in government, is a telling example of how Russia has attempted to manage political freedoms as part of its perennial struggle. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the territories gained during 1945–1989 that had helped to create man-made defenses to compensate for the lack of natural ones were lost. Russia today struggles to reassert itself by leveraging economic and military power over its disparate regions, with varying degrees of success.