Why Russia want to expand?

Why Russia want to expand?

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The Radical Outlook

Kremlin Red Square


This Episode briefly discusses the actual geopolitical and strategic reasons behind Russian expansion.

Russia has been dealt some major blows over the years, after World War II and the Cold War left Russia weak and surrounded by NATO alignments. The only real way for Russia to survive would be to expand its territory, but with the rest of the world keeping a close eye on Russia, can they really expand without fear of starting a new Cold War? Watch our new video to find out all about Russia’s plans expand its reach and reclaim some dominance as a world power.


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Real Reason Why Russia Wants To Expand Its Territories

Sadiq Raza

Today the US-Russia relationship is murky at best, and many fear that a new Cold War is dawning. The real question is how it got to this point though, and why does Russia now seem so eager to expand both its physical territory and its foreign influence?
When World War II ended, the Soviet Union’s primary concern was ensuring that it could never again be invaded by a European power. Non-Russians may easily forget or not be aware of the fact, but Russia has suffered multiple times throughout its history at the hands of European nations, and as World War II drew to a close, Stalin vowed that his nation would never again be faced with another Hitler or Napoleon.
Of course it sadly turned out that having Stalin as a leader was as bad or worse than being invaded by Hitler or Napoleon. The reason why Russia has been invaded by European powers so many times in the past lies in the unfortunate geography of the nation.
It sits on the eastern end of the great European plain, a lowland area with few natural obstacles, and even less naturally defensive features. The European plain extends deep into Russian territory, and historically has been used as an easy highway for invading armies straight into the political and economic heart of Russia.
The only possible way to secure its border against invaders would be for Russia to build a series of prohibitively expensive defensive fortifications across that vast plain, absolutely bankrupting the nation.
By sitting on the eastern side of the great plain, Russia’s borders force it to defend a large number of possible invasion routes, thinning its military manpower as it’s forced to spread forces across a wide region.
This is the reason why Napoleon and Hitler’s armies were both able to penetrate so deeply into Russian territory, and had the machine gun not fundamentally changed the nature of fighting in World War I, Germany too would have likely been able to invade deep into Russia as well.
For Russian military planners the answer was obvious: to protect itself Russia needed to aggressively expand westward across the European plain, thereby reducing the number of possible invasion corridors.
American and western leaders at the end of the second world war fundamentally misunderstood the Soviet Union’s intentions though.
At first, Stalin was happy to let the governments of eastern European nations largely dictate their own affairs, as long as they swore fealty to Moscow of course. But when the United States launched the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Stalin believed that the west was once more preparing for a confrontation with Russia and immediately cracked down on Soviet bloc nations and their governments.
Stalin would tolerate no dissent in the ranks, and no chance of rebellion- stopping NATO’s expansion at Germany was critical to Soviet national security. As the Cold War drew to a close, the Soviet Union made several overtures to the US and NATO, in hopes of transitioning to a more friendly and relaxed state of affairs.
When revolutions swept across the old Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union agreed to the US’s request that it not use military force to quell them. The Soviet union even eventually allowed German reunification with the request that NATO’s expansion stop west of Germany, so that the country would forever remain a buffer between the west and Russia.
The new Russia also wished to retain its influence on its neighbours, as it had done so for nearly half a century. By keeping its neighbours close politically, Russia could feel safe from another European invasion or the effects of another major Euro war. Though Russia would soon learn its neighbours wanted little to do with the oppressive Soviet nation.
Soon after reunification, German membership into NATO was approved, and President Bill Clinton eyed an even greater NATO expansion, with countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary being brought into the fold.
This was a strategic disaster for post-Cold War Russia, which suddenly saw the critical buffer it had enjoyed for almost half a century erode overnight.
For their part, these nations were more than eager to join NATO, as it offered them the protection to chart their own course. For decades they had been ruled in proxy by their Soviet handlers, and now NATO offered protection from Russian interference. It would be easy for westerners to view Russia as paranoid, yet not only has the nation been invaded multiple times, but its geography actively works against it even during peacetime.
Russia has few year-round ports from which to operate commercial and naval fleets from, as most of its ports are subject to winter freezes or are far from major population centres.
Russian access to the oceans is easily blockaded by Western navies, such as by the British during the 17th and 18th centuries, and this geography drives much of its desire to expand.
The current US-Russia relationship is the centrepiece to its desire to expand geographically and influentially. Russia believes that the US has betrayed it and acted against its interests numerous times over the last thirty years, and these claims are not without merit.
Despite the end of the Cold War and the fall of Communist Soviet Union, American foreign policy towards Russia has changed little.
While Russia initially sought reconciliation- on the basis that the US leave eastern Europe alone and under Russia’s influence- the US continued its policy of containment that it had pursued during the Cold War.
Russia’s attitude had changed, but the US’s had not, and this set the new Russia on a collision course with the US ideologically.
Russia also feels that the world has treated the US favourably despite America acting hypocritically on the world stage.
While its invasion of Afghanistan in the 80s and war in Georgia was condemned by the international community, the United States saw little consequence after fabricating the evidence for an invasion of Iraq.
The American invasion of Iraq was not just possibly illegal, but continues to be baffling nearly twenty years on as it becomes clearer all the time that America gained little from the invasion.
Yet the world turned a blind eye while at the same time condemning Russia for similar actions. As NATO continued to add countries further east to its ranks, Russia once more saw itself being boxed in by Europe. Unable to counter the eastward creep militarily, Russia took to manipulation and sabotage of Western democracies in a bid to weaken the resolve of NATO as a whole.
Russian agents actively tried to prevent nations from joining NATO, such as the Montenegro coup in 2016, where Russian operatives coordinated a coup meant to stop the small nation from joining the international group.
Russian intelligence also attacked the very foundations of western nations: their democratic election processes. Russian money went to financing right-wing nationalistic parties, who often embraced xenophobic and racist agendas and could be manipulated into opposing institutions such as the European Union and even NATO itself.
Eventually Russian influence spread even to American elections. A weak Europe, and a fractured relationship with America, was bad for both and good for Russia.
Russian expansionism however is also driven by more relatable concerns. When violence erupted in Syria, Russia was immediately alarmed- Syria is after all a very short distance away from Russia and the last thing Russia wanted was a terror-state in its backyard. Russia immediately moved to back Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, preferring the stability of Syria’s dictator over the chaos and uncertainty of revolution.
After all, the United States’ efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan had both been far from successful, and left behind an even greater mess than when the US first entered those nations.
While the west tends to act ideologically, Russia more often acts pragmatically, and Russian leadership is more than willing to tolerate a dictator if it means their borders remain secure.
Americans would do well to ask themselves whether they rather have Mexico ruled by a dictator, or in revolution with the possibility of a Taliban-like group taking over. Geography, as is so often the case, allows America an idealism that Russia can’t afford.
Russia’s interest in Syria however was not just about regional stability, as Syria was and remains a critical military outpost for the Russian navy. From bases in Syria, Russian ships have access to the Mediterranean, and can bypass the Bosporus Strait which is firmly controlled by Turkey, a tenuous, but still currently NATO member. Without Syrian bases, Russian ships and subs would be completely bottled up in the Black Sea, a strategic disaster.
Syria also affords Russia greater access to the rest of the Middle East, a region which due to its oil wealth remains one of the most strategically important in the world. For their part, many Middle East powers have warmed in their relationship with Russia, driven in part by Russia’s tolerance of dictators and human rights abuses.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman especially has been growing closer to Vladimir Putin, largely due to the shunning of the crown prince and Saudi Arabia by many Americans over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a staunch critic of the Saudi royal family and advocate for democracy.
Many Americans are currently questioning why they support a nation that kills journalists, and why they have routinely subsidized the defence of this oil-rich nation with American taxpayer money. An increasing alienation from the US has driven Saudi Arabia closer to Russia, and gradually increases Russian influence in the region.
Russian expansionism is, in Russian minds, all about national survival. Having suffered catastrophic invasions throughout its history, as well as economic and military blockades, Russia has often been a victim to European powers. Only by expanding do Russian leaders believe that they can ensure their survival and prevent future disasters.
Yet while such expansion seems aggressive to western observers, Russia has on occasion actually offered an olive branch of sorts to its greatest rival, the United States, though it has always been refused, at least in practical terms.
In part, this refusal was due to the unfortunate continuation of Cold War mentalities by American leaders and the population as a whole, and their perceived hostility of Russia to the west.
A hostility which is itself ironically, at least partially the product of Western actions towards Russia.
As a nation, Russia wants to exert regional influence over its neighbors, and even sees this at its right given its great-power status. This influence is seen as vital for keeping Russia geographically and economically safe, as well as for protecting Russian political power.
With NATO’s expansion also came a growing backlash against traditional Russian political systems and even cultural ideals, as the West sees Russia’s homophobic laws, assaults on journalists, and its close ties with dictators as affronts to human rights.
With growing liberal values at home and increasing opposition from the Russian people themselves to authoritarian leadership, now more than ever Russian leadership believes it’s critically important to limit NATO and western influence on itself by pushing back as hard as possible.
Our only hope is that these misunderstandings don’t result in a tragic war between Russia and the west that neither side truly wants. Russia may be misunderstood, and at times a bad actor, but in the end it simply wants what any other nation does- security.

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