The Ukrainian Crisis: Theory vs. History

Armed with history Professor Mearsheimer would immediately recognize that his abstract constructs and imagined systems echo eerily Vladimir Putin’s propaganda. Moscow is never tired of repeating how the West has encroached upon its sphere of interest and how it thus provoked Russia into defending its interests.


By Marek Jan Chodakiewicz l September 15, 2014

John J. Mearsheimer’s geopolitical game theory tells him that the West has provoked Russia into invading Ukraine. Moscow behaves rationally, you see, and Washington should have understood that before it expanded NATO eastward and stepped on the Kremlin’s toes. It is logical and legitimate to defend one’s sphere of interest. Why provoke Moscow?

In Mearsheimer’s telling, Russia is a wholly reactive power. It moves only when the balance of power is threatened. Neither ideology nor personality nor history influence the game. So long as the balance of power is maintained, there is no conflict.  For his proposition to be valid a complete stasis would have to obtain in international affairs, in the post-Soviet zone in particular.

It is, however, mischievous to suggest that had the West remained perfectly still in the wake of “the collapse” of Communism and the implosion of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin would have never moved against Georgia or Ukraine, and it would have benevolently allowed them to enjoy their internal freedom. Everyone would live happily ever after in the post-Soviet zone if the West churlishly did not volunteer to assist the local people to safeguard their newly won freedom by expanding its influence eastward, including through NATO, but also via the European Union. This is silly.

History amply demonstrates that Moscow is bent on domination and it does not even wait to be provoked before it endeavors to re-impose control on the people who temporarily manage to slip its leash. Further, any attempt by any former Soviet component part or satellite to remain aloof from Russia’s sway only expedites the inevitable Russian expedition, whether the West is involved or not.

Thus, the eminent American political scientist got only one bit right: Putin did invade Ukraine. That is plain to see for anyone. But the dynamics behind the invasion have little to do with sexy game theories of ivory tower professors and everything to do with the imperialist logic of the Muscovite state and the Russian President’s endeavor to reintegrate the post-Soviet zone, or, to put it bluntly, to restore the empire, as explicated in my book, Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas.

Armed with history, Professor Mearsheimer would immediately recognize that his abstract constructs and imagined systems echo eerily Vladimir Putin’s propaganda. Moscow is never tired of repeating how the West has encroached upon its sphere of interest and how it thus provoked Russia into defending its interests. And the Kremlin studiously eschews admitting that “its interests” happen to be sovereign nations who shook off the USSR’s tender embrace two decades ago and are unwilling to submit themselves to such delights ever again. This small detail has escaped the U.S. international relations theorist who has no room for real human beings in his abstract ruminations. Mearsheimer is further blissfully unaware that this line of reasoning was deployed by Stalin to charge the West with provoking him into defending his interest that resulted in the Cold War, which was entirely the fault of Washington and its allies, of course. This was a canard repeated by generations of agents of influence and useful idiots in Western academia and now it apparently resurfaces in Mearsheimer’s fairy tale. Neither conversant with their past nor with their present, the scholar pontificates on topics that defy sexy academic conjectures.

Blaming the West for Russian aggression against Ukraine is tantamount to holding the rape victim’s mini-skirt responsible for the sexual assault. Intimate knowledge of solid facts of history trumps abstract political science conjecture anytime.


Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is author of Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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