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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #350

Lest we think that Ukraine can be costlessly abandoned to a Russian imperial fate, we must understand that Russian imperial pretensions have never been limited to the territories formerly known as the Soviet Union. Rather the Russian Empire has waxed and waned through the centuries, and understanding the relentless logic of Russian imperial expansionism, and efforts by European powers to push it back, is essential properly to comprehend the nature of the conflict currently underway. Russia has never been a country satisfied with her own borders and has never really embraced the concept of Westphalian sovereignty embodied in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 signed in the twin German cities of Münster and Osnabrück. These treaties ended the Thirty Years War and brought peace to the Holy Roman Empire, by each statelet within the Holy Roman Empire respecting the concept of sovereignty of the others and recognition of their borders as beyond dispute. It is the beginnings of all international law: that there are principles of mutual recognition and respect between states, and that it is illegitimate for the political borders between states to change without the consent of all the states involved in the amendment. Virtually every European conflict that has taken place ever since has been by reason of violation of the principles of Westphalian sovereignty and disregard for international borders. And the problem we face with modern Russia is the same problem as we have always faced with Russian imperialism, whether in Soviet-era disguise or otherwise: Russia was not a party to the Westphalian peace and does not recognise these fundamental concepts of international law as legitimate guiding principles of inter-state relations.

Russia has traditionally been less of a country and more of a region of sprawling, low population density tundra, much of it uninhabitable, with a history of shifting lines of demarcation and control. According to a 1745 officially commissioned map of the Russian Empire, Finland was included within Russia whereas Kyiv was a border outpost and the rest of what is now Ukraine was under the control of rival foreign empires (the Sublime Porte and Austria-Hungary). At that time the Caucasian mountains served as a sort of natural border beyond which there was only wilderness and barbarism. By 1910 the Russian Empire had reached a pre-Soviet maximum extent, which included most of what is now Ukraine, chunks of what are now Poland, Romania and Moldova, the Baltic States, Finland, parts of Sweden and Turkmenistan. Russia was also fighting perennial territorial battles out east, with the 1905 war with Japan being a good example. After World War I the Russian Empire diminished in size with the Peace Treaty of Versailles. The Soviet Union replaced the Russian Empire in ideology but not in terms of foreign policy territorial determination to seize as much land as possible. The communist concept of global revolution fitted with Russian foreign policy impeccably, because it involved relentless imperial acquisition of still more land whenever the Russian Armed Forces (renamed the Red Army) could seize further territory.

The Soviet Union under Josef Stalin at the end of World War II embraced the maximum extent of Russian imperialism, taking the borders of the Russian Empire as far as Berlin and East Germany and absorbing whole swathes of Eastern Europe into the Russian yoke. This was portrayed as the advance of communism, a sort of ideological movement based on wholly fallacious principle of economics and political history; but really it was just another extension of the Russian Empire relentlessly ploughing on to absorb as much of Europe as she could. Communism was a perfect ideology for Russian imperial sentiment precisely because it embodied dictatorship combined with militaristic foreign domination of other countries to make them more “communist” - in other words, to make them more Russian and to force the rest of Europe to speak Russian and adopt Russian institutions and political values. Stalin was the greatest Russian imperialist of all time, and Vladimir Putin has every intention of following him.

This is why modern Russia is understood by genuine Kremlinologists as so pervasive and existential a threat to modern Europe. The history of Russian imperialism, including the history of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pac satellite states, is an imperial history that never went away; the Russian Empire, unlike other European empires, was never really broken up as it should have been and arguably the Russian Empire has been the most successful empire of all time simply because it has no regard whatsoever for principle and it has never stopped pushing its borders forward whenever military or political expediency provided it with an opportunity to do so. Russia is incredibly dangerous, because it is the historical empire that was never dismembered and to whom the principles of the Westphalian peace were never applied. Russia never cared about these values, whereas the rest of Europe and indeed the world came in time to absorb them into their understanding of international law. This is what makes Russia so extremely dangerous; she is an empire in need of pulling apart into constituent nations, like all other empires have undergone at some point but the intervention of Soviet communism somehow caused the rest of us to overlook in the case of the Russians. The Soviet Union’s official ideology purported to be anti-imperialist but in fact it was the quintessential epitome of Russian imperialism, disguised in the nonsensical writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin in their pseudo-scientific philosophical tracts.

Now Ukraine is the frontier of the battle against Russian imperial expansionism, and she is taking the strikes so that the rest of Europe may remain free. For make no mistake: Russian foreign policy has no principle whatsoever and there is no particular attachment of Russia to Ukraine; Russia will not stop there. Her foreign policy ambitions are relentless, and they always have been. Only brute force will stop the Russian Empire from continuing to expand; and right now Ukraine is the embodiment of military might that is stopping Russia from carrying on her expansion. Russia now is strong but she is not the strongest country in the world; she is strong only because her political despotism allows her to waste relentless resources and lives upon perennial struggle and war. The United States and her European allies need now not just to win the war in Ukraine but also to break the Russian Empire up so that a permanent stop is put in place to Russia’s imperialist sentiments. There is no room in the modern world for empires, and Russia can be no exception.


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