Russia's limits of action

Occasionally the notion of ritualised Western warfare pops up in discussions, contrasted by a supposedly less restricted Russian way of war.

I see little evidence for this, and in fact it sounds to me like the ages-old theme of criticising the own society for becoming weak, limp, unprepared against external threats. Many people just love to delve in such opinions, which are usually only loosely rooted in reality.

Russia has been doing different foreign policy under Putin, but it still participated in what could be called "rituals": It's participating in many UN peacekeeping missions (though only at military observer strengths) and calls its own troops in troubled areas such as South Ossetia, Abchasia, Transnistria "peacekeepers", and used this ritual / farce to delay a disadvantageous conclusion of conflicts (particularly in South Ossetia).

Russia is also participating in arms export games, such as offering S-300 air defence systems to Iran as a counter to Israeli and U.S. pressures and threats, but then delaying the delivery as a means to pressure Iran itself.

Its coalition-building is largely below the radar of Western observers except very few professionals, but Russia has a very close military integration with Belarus and lots of permanent coalition- and alliance-building efforts in the CIS.

Russia doesn't shy away from exploiting calls for ceasefires as a means to interrupt advances of hostile powers in a far away conflict, similar as to how the West just loves the idea of imposing a ceasefire on Assad whenever Assad is making progress (we saw this exploitation of ceasefires as a delay of undesired conflict solutions on the battlefield at least since the war in Bosnia). Nor is the West more above rejecting such ceasefires when its favoured conflict party is making progress.

Some Western powers (particularly the U.S., UK and France) are notorious for violating the Charter of the United Nations and treaties at will whenever their head of government (or head of state in France) really wants it. There's little evidence that they're truly bound by "rituals" or conventions.

Overall, I see no merit in considering Russia as less bound by rituals than the West or in trying to interpret its actions in this framework. I greatly prefer to consider Putin's foreign policies as driven by a quest for Restoration of the Russian Empire within the freedom of action offered by commodity prices and foreign powers.
Western countries are in no comparable quest (not counting Turkey as Western here), and thus the Russian behaviour looks more daring, aggressive and also quite alien to us in the West.



  1. Why do you think that Putin wants to rule over Tashkent?


    1. I suspect he would prefer indirect rule through CIS inregration for the former Asian SSRs, and direct rule only over the former European territories.

      Some people think of a state as a fiction that serves the people, while others think of state and nation as an entity in its own right. The greatness and power of the state are important to the latter group, even beyond the utility of greatness and power to the people.

  2. A picture is worth a thousand words
    Restoration of the Russian Empire and/or neo-Soviet influence?
    What is interesting with this 2008 map, is to see how the situation have evolved in some countries: Georgia, Libya, Moldova, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, normalization of relations between US and Cuba, the double game of Russia in Armenia (vassal State, recipient of Russian military aid) and Azerbaijan (planning the construction of a new Voronezh-DM early-warning radar for 2017?), and the regular Kremlin’s threat to deploy nukes in Kaliningrad and Crimea to counter NATO’s expansion.
    I have some doubts that the 2008 comments on Iceland and Algeria (because of its special relations with France) could still apply today.

  3. I read a book written by a native american (can't remember the name) when asked how he lost his land he sat on a bench with the questioner and slowly inched along the bench till the questioner fell off. The indian said "thats how i lost my land". If one can see the meaning behind that statement i think it would explain russia's 'aggesive and daring' behaviour concerning the baltic and various southern borders.

  4. There are different kind of rituals. Western Ritualised warfare today means especialliy strict ROEs, which the russian armed forces do not respect in the real practical warfare although the respect them rethorical. The diffference between the show outwards and the real acting in place is a advantage for the russian armed forces in comparison to western european armies.

    1. Tell me about how the Russian air power was and is unrestricted in the Donbass conflict.

  5. Slightly related:
    "Most Europeans see Russia as a 'minor' threat compared to Islamic State (IS), the refugee crisis or other issues, a survey suggests.

    Roughly seven out of 10 people in the EU named IS, the jihadist group which recently carried out attacks in Paris and Brussels, as a 'major' menace in a new study by US think tank Pew, out on Tuesday (14 June)."