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Exploring the Concept of Russian 'Weakness'

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By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security

As a nation state, Russia is both constantly overestimated and underestimated. Frankly, this is no accident as this image is something that Moscow strives to cultivate. This doesn’t mean that getting a read on Russia’s activities in pursuit of their interests cannot be understood; rather it means that analysts must ensure that their study of Russia must have a unique eye cast upon the elements of Russia that make the state function. Analysis of Russia is often found wanting as it is pursued by media and politicians in the west alike as was demonstrated throughout the 1990’s to Moscow’s adventurism in Georgia, Ukraine, and now Syria. It was deemed early after the fall of communism in the former Soviet state that the new Russia would follow the past of the west. This belief – as it could hardly be considered analysis – complicated policy of many in the west in such a negatively fashion that responding to Russia measurably is still suffering.

Russian weakness, a phrase often used by Russia watchers in both the analytical sphere and media, is rarely if ever adequately defined. Indeed, I’ve been guilty of this as well and I hope to correct my error with this article, though admittedly, I believe my interpretation differs from other analysts. When the phrase weakness, or its antonym strength, is used in any analysis of a nation state or functioning social entity it’s important to remember that all nation states have strengths and weaknesses. When the phrase is used by this author it is meant to say that Russia may be playing to particular strength to compensate for a weakness.

For instance, Russia has been suffering from a rough economic patch, more so than the rest of the world, primarily due to falling energy prices. The actions that Moscow has taken in Ukraine and Syria are complicating that, but Russia has other avenues available through which it can take action in the course of negotiations. Sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea have had an impact, but like it or not, Russia cannot be ignored when facing complicated situations such as Syria. Because of the Ukraine issue and the ensuing sanctions, Russia had been cast aside in dealing with international terrorism and to a greater extent in Syria. But Moscow still had a modern and capable military that it could inject into the Syrian war and force western powers to finally talk with Russia albeit grudgingly. This didn’t remove or shore up Russian weak points elsewhere, but it did return the Putin regime to the negotiating table.

All told it’s important to remember that discussing a nation states weakness isn’t meant to imply, by this author at least, that the subject is either incompetent or unable; rather it’s important to understand how a nation state perceives its own weakness and what strengths they’ll appeal to in order to compensate. Russia is still a modern nation state despite its falling demographics and economic struggles. This will cause substantial issues in the future, but regardless it’s important to analyze Russia as it is and point out trajectories that will impact its future rather than graft wishful thinking onto to a very important issue.

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