June 2, 2022No Comments

Tracey German on the Human Security implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Dr. Tracey German is a Professor in Conflict and Security at King's College London, focused on Russian foreign and security policies, particularly Russia’s use of force in the post-Soviet space.

In this podcast interview, Dr. Tracey German explores the human security dynamics and implications of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Interviewing Team: Esther Brito and Réka Szabó.

May 31, 2022No Comments

Lisa Gaufman on Russia’s Information Warfare in Ukraine

Dr. Lisa Gaufman received her PhD from the University of Tübingen, Germany, in 2016. She then joined the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies at the University of Bremen as a postdoctoral research fellow. She is the author of "Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and the Ukraine Crisis" (Palgrave, 2017). Her research interests centre around the intersection of political theory, international relations, media and cultural studies.

In this podcast interview, Dr. Lisa Gaufman explores in-depth the development of Russian strategy of information warfare in Ukraine.

Interviewing Team: Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.

May 19, 2022No Comments

The Consequences of Ukrainian War on U.S.-China Relations

Author: Francesco Cirillo.

The war in Ukraine is shaking the European security system and also influencing Washington's strategies in the Indo-Pacific. With the focus on Europe, the US has slowed down its diplomatic and political activity in Asia while keeping a close eye on Beijing's moves. The latest moves such as Beijing's ratified security agreement with the Solomon Islands has alarmed Canberra, a close US ally, as well as the Americans. For Washington, the move is seen as an attempt by Beijing to strengthen its diplomatic and politico-military position in the South Pacific. Another hot dossier concerns the thorny issue of Taiwan. With the Russian invasion Washington is analysing how it can support Taipei in terms of military aid without bothering the People's Republic of China.

In recent months, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, there have been growing concerns that in the near future Beijing might attempt an armed attack to occupy and annex Taiwan, which Beijing calls one of its 'rebel provinces'. At the moment, however, there seem to be no signs of a possible Chinese attack. The war has been a total game changer, causing concern within Xi Jinping's leadership. According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese big tech companies are scaling back their business in the Russian Federation market, as they are intimidated by possible sanctions that the US and the West might apply against them. But recently a War Game was broadcast on NBC news, simulating an invasion of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China and a subsequent military confrontation with the US in the Pacific.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/mao-zedong-mao-tse-tung-chairman-mao-15983/ 

In fact, within the US federal agencies, preparations are being made for a possible war confrontation with Chinese forces. Despite the tension within some Chinese academic circles, it is theorised that a kind of competitive coexistence could be found with Washington, which would aim to exclude a warlike confrontation. In January 2022, Professor Wang Jisi , lecturer at the School of International Studies and President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, wrote and published an essay entitled 'A Hot Peace: Is a Paradigm in U.S.-China Relations Emerging?'. In this short essay, the academic theorises that despite the mistrust between Washington and Beijing on various dossiers ranging from the Hong Kong issue to the mistrustful view of international relations via Taiwan, it is necessary to maintain and consolidate a channel of communication between the two leaderships in order to cooperate when the interests of both the People's Republic and the United States converge. According to Wang Jisi, this would lead the current status of Sino-US relations not towards a new 'Cold War' but towards a so-called 'Hot Peace', in which Beijing and Washington, despite competition in various fields, mutual mistrust and different visions concerning the status quo of the international chessboard will necessarily have to cooperate in certain dossiers of global importance.  

The war in Ukraine puts Beijing in front of a dangerous strategy: on the one hand it publicly pushes both Moscow and Kiev to find a point of convergence to open a diplomatic mediation table; on the other hand it wants to avoid being included in possible economic sanctions. Moreover, it adds that there could be a remote hypothesis that is at the moment difficult to realise: with a severely weakened post-war Russia, China, in exchange for financial aid, would ask the Kremlin for possible access to military technology in the experimental phase in order to study it and acquire know-how.

At the moment, however, China is focused on other dossiers and preparing for the Party Congress, but with an eye on the economic consequences that the conflict could bring globally. 

April 13, 20221 Comment

Enlargement of NATO to Eastern Europe: Reasons and Consequences for European Security

By: Alessandro Spada.


Today, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) is an intergovernmental military alliance among the US, Canada and 28 European countries – but it has not always been this  large. Indeed, when Nato was first conceived in 1949 it was made up of just 12 members: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US. The creation of the Alliance pursued three essential purposes: “deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration”. The accession process is regulated by Article 10 of the Treaty and other European Countries can be invited to participate. The aspiring member countries must meet key requirements and implement a multi-step process including political, economic, defence, resource, security and legal aspects. In case they are experiencing any issue, they can request assistance, practical support and the advice by a NATO programme, which is called the Membership Action Plan (MAP)

Image Source: The Expansion of NATO Since 1949

Past enlargements

After the end of the Cold War, we can witness four different waves of NATO expansion to Eastern Europe. The first important wave of expansion to the East was launched by the reunification of Germany in 1990. On 12th September 1990, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, commonly known as Two Plus Four Treaty, was signed by the foreign ministers of  the Federal Republic of Germany, the GDR, France, Russia, the UK and the USA. The Treaty regulated all the foreign policy aspects of German reunification, including the membership to Nato, and imposed the withdrawal of all the foreign troops and the deployment of their nuclear weapons from the former East Germany and also the prohibition to West Germany’s possession of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. On October 3rd 1990, the  German Democratic Republic and Federal Republic were reunited again.

As to the second wave, the new member countries were Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. First, on 15th February 1991 they formed the Visegrad Group. Then, on 1st January 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries: Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 1997, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary took part in the Alliance’s Madrid Summit and on 12th March 1999, the three former Warsaw Pact members joined NATO. The main reasons were: “to ensure thecountry’s external security”, to impede “the possibility of a great war in unstable Central Europe” and for Poland also “to advance its military capabilities”.

In May 2000, a group of NATO candidate countries created the Vilnius Group (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia). The Vilnius Group resorted to the Membership Action Plan which was introduced by NATO for the first time at the 1999 Washington Summit. In addition, Croatia joined the Vilnius Group in May 2001. The Summit of the NATO Aspirant countries “Riga 2002: The Bridge to Prague” started the path towards the alliance’s membership which took place in Riga, Latvia, on July 5-6, 2002, where the leaders of NATO member and aspirant countries gathered for the last time before the NATO 2002 Prague Summit in November. On 29th March 2004, the largest wave of enlargement in alliance history materialized, except for Albania and Croatia. For Baltic states and Bulgaria, NATO membership symbolized their wish to be part of the European family. NATO was perceived not just merely as a military alliance with security guarantees under Article 5, but as a symbol of higher development, where Baltic states could find their proper place. Moreover, it was the attempt to escape Russian influence, in favor of the protection provided by the American strategic nuclear umbrella and a collective defence.

The same path of the Vilnius Group was followed by the Adriatic Charter of European  countries. The Adriatic Charter was created in Tirana on 2nd May by Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and USA for the purpose to obtain their North Atlantic Alliance admission. Albania and Macedonia were previous participants of MAP since its creation in 1999, while Croatia joined in 2002. Moreover, Macedonia also took part in Nato's Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1995. On 1st April 2009, the North Atlantic Alliance officially annexed Albania and Croatia after their participation in the 2008 Bucharest Summit. Macedonia accession was postponed because of a dispute on the formal name with Greece. Macedonia became NATO's 30th country on 27th March 2020. Montenegro emulated the same path of the latter, but joined three years before on 5th June 2017, after the Accession Protocol signature in May 2016. For Montenegro itself, the major incentives to join NATO were the future eventuality of EU membership, the highest prestige of the Atlantic Alliance and to achieve “Nato’s security guarantee”.

Future enlargements

Bosnia Herzegovina is the only potential candidate which joined the Membership Action Plan on 5th December 2018.  In spite of Georgia and Ukraine expressing the will to start their path to the North Atlantic Alliance, their situation is still uncertain. The primary reason remains the need to meet all necessary requirements through important reforms focused on key areas; and, the current Russia-Ukraine war.

Consequences for the European Security

On one hand, many consequences, which were the main reasons for NATO expansion to the East, materialized in reality. For example, the inclusion of Eastern Europe nations in the military agreement have promoted democratic reform and stability there, provided stronger collective defense and an improved ability to address new security concerns, improved relations among the Eastern and Central European states, fostered a more stable climate for economic reform, trade, and foreign investment, and finally, improved NATO's ability to operate as a cooperative security organization with broad European security concern,” as stated in the clear purposes contained in a prepared statement of the Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on 23rd April 1997.

On the other hand, in spite of NATO's open door policy with Russia, the latter constitutes  the largest threat for European security once again in the energy, political and military field. Indeed, the current conflict in Ukraine shows the evident ambition to create a new Russian empire by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Many warnings about Russia’s reaction were expressed in the declarations of Biden’s CIA director, William J. Burns, when he worked as counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995. On 26th June 1997, a group of 50 prominent foreign policy experts that included former senators, retired military officers, diplomats and academicians, sent an open letter to President Clinton outlining their opposition to NATO expansion”In the end, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine, George F. Kennan described the NATO expansion as a “tragic mistake”.


The current Russian invasion in Ukraine puts in clear evidence the necessity for the EU countries to accelerate the formation process of the European Army. They will have to achieve energy independence by using Russian gas, diversifying their own supplier countries and to invest massively in the green economy. Moreover, the EU must strengthen its common foreign policy, implementing an effective diplomatic action and speaking with one voice to cope with the great tensions around Europe and the rest of the world. If not, the European project will risk crumbling. 

April 11, 2022No Comments

Maxim Alyukov on Russian Media, Autocracy and Information Control

In this interview, Dr Maxim Alyukov explores how political engagement in authoritarian states affects the ways in which its citizens interpret the news, particularly focussing on the Russia-Ukraine War. How does the media in Russia document the conflict in Ukraine? What is the response from the Russian community? This discussion centres on research by Dr Alyukov on how citizens living in authoritarian regimes interpret political information in a heavily regulated media landscape.

Dr Maxim Alyukov is a postdoctoral fellow at King’s Russia Institute, King's College London. He is also a researcher with Public Sociology Laboratory (St Petersburg). His research has been published in a variety of disciplinary and area studies journals, such as PoliticsQualitative Psychology, and Europe-Asia Studies. He holds a PhD in social sciences from the University of Helsinki and an MA in sociology from the European University at Saint-Petersburg. 

Interviewers: Leigh Dawson, Julia Hodgins, and Sofia Staderini.

March 31, 2022No Comments

ITSS Verona 2021/22 Webinar Series: “The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict: What’s Next?” with Tracey German (KCL)

For its forth event of the 2021/22 Webinar Series, entitled "The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict: What's Next?", ITSS Verona members Ludovica Brambilla, Davide Gobbicchi and Fabrizio Napoli (from the Russia and Post-Soviet Space Team) discuss with Dr Tracey German (KCL) - one of Europe's main experts on Russian affairs - the status of the conflict in Ukraine, narratives, strategies, winners and losers, and political, social, cultural, economic implications for all actors involved.

Do not miss on the other ITSS Verona webinars, which are available at the following link: https://www.itssverona.it/activities

March 21, 2022No Comments

Russia-Ukraine War Fact Sheet

By: Sofia Staderini

The Russian tactic is that of a pincer encirclement of entire Ukraine – from Russian territory and occupied Crimea, Donbas, and Belarus - and inside they follow the same tactic as Kyiv's focus, methodically destroying civilian infrastructure and nuclear power plants. The attempt is to demoralize and coerce Ukrainians. Yet morale is rising and these same civilians are becoming soldiers. Such support somewhat offsets the quantitative advantage of the Russian army in manpower and equipment. Now, Russian troops make advances into Ukrainian territory only at the cost of hundreds of soldiers every day, failing for now to take control of any regional center.

Their qualitative advantage is very reduced, as can be inferred from the high level of losses, which seems to be well above 5%, in men and materials. Russia could take control of the territory, but only with long times and high destruction. Reservist and conscript call-ups, as well as the ongoing shipment of Syrian and Chechen militants to Russia and Belarus, will not be able to affect the balance of troops around Kyiv in the coming week, slowing down the Russian tactic as it is momentarily unable to conduct simultaneous attacks.

Image Source: https://it.depositphotos.com/folder/La%20verità%20sulla%20guerra%20della%20Russia%20in%20Ucraina-299150880.html?offset=200&qview=551211048&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ntf_ruby_war&utm_term=100_images

Russia is now deploying maneuverable Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, reported by Russian state news agencies as a “next-generation weapon”. While it is very unlikely that the deployment of Kh-47M2 missiles will have a major impact on the current stall of the invasion, It could likely point out a shortage of other weapons and a propagandistic effort to distort Russia’s military failure.

However, after an end of decades of deterrence orthodoxy, the danger of a possible escalation involving nuclear weapons is real. Indeed, Putin has used nuclear threats to create a wide perimeter in which he may pursue a conventional war in Europe. NATO countries are doing everything to avoid escalations, complying with a policy of non-intervention for avoiding direct contact with the Russian military.

While not directing intervening in Ukraine, NATO countries are deploying significant military aid to the country while drastically raising defense spending, reclaiming the alliance's historical role as a protective haven against Moscow's military activities. Germany in particular is now increasing its defense spending to more than 2% of its economic output: a historic departure from its postwar commitment not to transfer armaments to combat zones. Moreover, the European Union's recent investments (€500 million) in arms and other aid to the Ukrainian military mark a “watershed moment” in its history.

Image Source: https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/russia-now-global-economic-pariah-ruble-worth-less-than-one-penny-us-2811892

However, many countries are starting to be bitten by the economic effects of the war, especially those with currencies linked to the rubble. More sanctions implications are quite likely to emerge in the coming weeks, particularly in a case like the EU-Russia energy partnership, where dependency is significant. Indeed, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is now serving as a geopolitical catalyst on key strategic, economic, and societal issues and will certainly bring to consider re-alignments, particularly in Post-Soviet countries and the Middle East. NATO's deterrent posture must be strengthened as well as cooperation and dialogue with the various regional actors in order to figure out the next evolutions in the geopolitical chessboards.

March 16, 2022No Comments

Russian Military Doctrine: An Overview

By: Danilo delle Fave and Marco Verrocchio.

The Russian Military Reform of 2014

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has now skyrocketed among the news and masses of people are expressing their disapproval for the war through marches and protests worldwide. However, intelligence services and scholars had warned that a regional conflict between the two countries was foreseeable. To better understand the reasons behind Putin’s decision, an analysis of Russia’s 2014 military doctrine is fundamental. A military doctrine is essentially a public document that summarizes in strategic and theoretical terms the military capabilities in defending, offending and retaliating against threats. While Soviet-era doctrines were unpublished, the Russian federation documents are public, and they describe the political direction of Russia in military affairs. The 2014 version is divided in: generic provisions, the military dangers and threats, the military policy and the military economic-defence support. In comparison to the Soviet era, Russian military doctrines emphasize the defensive approach, and they profit from lessons learned from military conflicts and analysis of different scenarios. In the ethos of Russian “Motherland”, Russia is perceived as an object to be protected and a subject capable of reacting.

Military offensive operations are justified under a defensive provision which aims to prevent threats towards Russia. United Nations and international treaties are invoked in supporting this theory. Russia’s allies and partners are clearly mentioned. Belarus is the closest ally, with fully integrated armed forces, infrastructures and coordination. CSTO, CIS and BRICS countries are mentioned “to strengthen the system of collective security”. In comparison to the 2010’s military doctrine, the EU is perceived no longer functional to pursue national security, but an equal partner to maintain a status-quo.

The 2014 version also abandons all possible cooperation with NATO as well. The Russian ambition to pursue a regional defense policy guarantees that border states do not adopt an approach that threatens the Russian Federation. A specific section that implicitly was dedicated to the case of Ukraine mentions that overthrowing of legitimate governments in bordering states is a serious menace for Russia. Another reference regards 2011-12 Russian protests, declaring that anti-nationalistic information led by external parties is a menace. In some issues, Russia has a dualist approach, perceiving an issue both as a threat and as a mean. For instance, the use of private military contractors (PMCs) is a military danger but it is an inevitable component of contemporary warfare. The same idea is applied to the militarization of the information, which undermines Russia from abroad but is also a novel area of improvement. The 2014 also reflects a much more reliance on Russia in using tools of hybrid warfare. While the 2010 version made a generic use of hybrid warfare, the 2014 version highlighted that Russia would rely on military means only after political, diplomatic, judicial, economic, information and other non-kinetic means have been used.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/monument-to-minin-and-pozharsky-177843/

Gerasimov’s Doctrine and Hybrid Warfare

During an event in the Russian Academy of Military Sciences in 2019, the Russian Chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov described Russian military strategy as “Active Defense”. What does he mean by “Active Defense”? It is a strategic concept integrating preemptive measures to prevent conflict and wartime concepts of operations that seek to deny to the enemy a decisive victory in the initial period of war, degrading and disorganizing its effort, while setting the conditions for a counteroffensive or attaining war termination. The strategy privileges a permanent standing force, arrayed as high readiness operational formations in each strategic direction, prepared to execute operations jointly.

At the beginning, the Russian military needs to manipulate an opponent through the demonstration of his readiness, deployments, exercises, weapon tests and demonstrative actions and, if it is necessary, they can include a demonstrative use of force and limited strikes. After the period called “Pre-War”, the aim of the “Active Defense” is to inflict disorganisation on the opponent via long-range strikes against critically important objects at operational depths and beyond, in order to reach the goal of disorganizing the enemy’s effort, degrading his ability to sustain operation and affecting his political and at the same time maximize the survivability of the Russian units and preserve the force.

The “Active Defense” is based on two main tenets: Maneuver Defense and Non contact Warfare. Unlike World War I and World War II, the idea of using their own main effort to create a potential defense and a massive manned front, is totally obsolete in the eyes of the Russian strategists. Maneuver Defense for the Russian Military means that fires and strikes systems will attrit the opponent’s forces as they advance, and his aim is to destroy an opponent’s initial operation plan and buy time for reserves or follow forces to arrive, exhaust the opponent’s forces, and subsequently seize the initiative. Turning to Noncontact Warfare, the term is somewhat muddled, as there is a commonly held Russian military belief that modern warfare will feature forward operating sensors, fires, and precision strike systems. War will be driven by information, command and control systems, and precise means of destruction. However, non contact speaks more to the employment of longer-range capabilities to attack critical objects at substantial operational and strategic ranges.

With the Georgian and Ukrainian crisis of 2008 and 2013, the Russian armed forces have developed the so called New Generation Warfare, 4th Generation Warfare, or Hybrid Warfare. Hybrid warfare does not aim to victory through the defeat of the enemy on the battlefield but regime change and the achievement of the Kremlin’s goals. Therefore, the military became one element of a much larger set of foreign policy instruments aimed to reach political gains. The Hybrid force is composed of conventional forces and special corps, like the Spetsnaz, that operate in coordination with a militarized local population, like Donbass separatist militias. The militias are usually formed not directly by Russian forces, but by contracted forces from outside the area of operations which serves along militias, usually binded by a contract. Moreover, in the Hybrid force is also fundamental the role of Private Military Contractors (PMC), like the Wagner group, that can aid the efforts of regular forces and militias. It is the formalization of war by proxy, which is cleared witnessed by the praxis of Russian armed forces in Syria, Ukraine and Georgia.

The Russian military doctrine emphasizes therefore the political aspect of warfare, and the link between military operations and its ideological and foreign policy aspects: in all the three major fronts (Syria, Ukraine, Georgia), the Russians have carefully prepared the public affairs and the narrations in all their conflicts. They always claimed that their intervention was the result of a request for help, Ossetians and Abcazians in Georgia, russophone separatists in Ukraine, the Assad government in Syria. They deployed their PMCs in Africa, which helped them to further their influence on the Continent, with the successful coups in Mali and Central African Republic. The difficulties in improving their capabilities have inevitably shaped Russian military doctrine from conventional warfare of the Soviet era to a new form of warfare that can be defined as “non-linear”.

March 8, 2022No Comments

Taras Kuzio on the Russia-Ukraine Crisis and the War in Donbass

Professor Taras Kuzio from Henry Jackson Society and Kyiv Mohyla Academy shares his insights on the Russo-Ukraine crisis, Russian invasion of Ukraine, the conflict in Donbass and Ukraine’s membership of NATO and EU. 

Interviewers: Igor Shchubetun, Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.

March 2, 2022No Comments

Understanding Putin’s Russia

Authors: Davide Gobbicchi, Igor Shchubetun and Fabrizio Napoli.

After months of diplomatic efforts and mutual misunderstandings between Russia and the West, Vladimir Putin finally invaded Ukraine. Although the attack was predicted by experts throughout the world, its ferocity and scale did surprise the majority. Most analysts expected Moscow to enter the Donbass region, conquer it rapidly, and grant it independence from Kiev, in a repetition of what happened to Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Yet on the 24th of February, Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing the biggest military attack that Europe has witnessed since WWII. After 4 days of fighting a tougher-than-expected Ukrainian resistance and an increasingly involved West, on February 27th Russia’s president put nuclear forces on high alert, in what could be seen as a propagandistic attempt to “flex muscles” at a conflict whose duration and ending seem increasingly uncertain. 

To assess the strategic significance of Ukraine for Russia and motivation behind Putin’s actions, it is imperative to understand how Russia perceives itself. Historically, it has been afflicted with two existential dilemmas. First,  with regards to its position in the East-West dichotomy, where Russia’s geographic position between Europe and Asia creates a unique culture which is neither of both, and allows the country to shift between periods of affinity to the West and periods of closeness to the East; as Dostoevskij famously said, “In Europe we were Tatars, but in Asia we too are Europeans”. Second, the debate of nation-state vs. multinational state, where Russia’s size creates a highly heterogeneous country in which the Russian majority needs to coexist more or less peacefully with the many different minorities having separated languages, religions, and cultures. 

Historically, the Imperial Era, beginning with Peter the Great and ending with the Russian Revolution of 1917, solved the first dilemma by promoting Europeanism. This was represented with the shift of the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. The second dilemma was resolved by choosing between Russianism and multi-nationalism, i.e., Pan-Slavism.Imperial Russia therefore perceived itself as a European power deeply rooted in its orthodox tradition. 

The Soviet Era (1922-1991) provided different solutions to the two dilemmas. The East/West dichotomy was solved by assigning Russia (now USSR) the unique role of Eurasian superpower in between the two worlds, belonging to neither of the two and yet extending its influence on both. The second dilemma was addressed through the policy of коренизация (korenizatsiya), because of which USSR became, at least officially, a multi-nation state of equally important nations. The victory during the WWII further strengthened these two discourses of a Eurasian, multinational state. 

However, the early post-Soviet years of Yeltsin (1991-1999) once again changed Russia’s approach to the two dilemmas, orienting Russia towards the West and promoting Russian identity over that of the minorities (causing backlashes in the Caucasus and central Asia such as the Chechen War and the quasi-independence of Tatarstan). Modern Russia now had to become a Western, nation-state. 

When Putin took power in 2000, Russia in the midst of a strong identity crisis. Its rapid westernization did not grant it the role of equal partner to the USA, but instead relegated Russia to a vassal state which faced economic hardships. The loss of its status in the international arena and the absence of perceived economic gains deriving from it created a resentment throughout the population that a portion of the Russian elite started channeling towards the West; Putin was the leader of such a group. Being a former KGB spy whose childhood had been marked by the horrors of WWII-besieged Leningrad, Vladimir Putin used his private life and the growing popular sentiments to rebuild Russia’s identity from scratch, mainly on two pillars.

First, the worship of WWII (The Great Patriotic War – in Russian); the ultimate expression of Russia’s greatness.  The war was previously used by the Soviets to keep the USSR together (for everyone, from Bishkek to Vilnius, fought in the war). Putin, influenced by his own childhood, continued “exploiting” the war to promote conservative and patriotic values able to legitimize his political orientation and to keep the country together. This is why Putin tried to legitimize the Ukrainian invasion by claiming to “denazify” the country. 

Second, the soviet Nostalgia. Putin’s bittersweet feeling towards the USSR reflects that of a wide portion of the country’s older generations (of which the president himself is part) and derives from the too-rapid transition of Russia from “protagonist in a bipolar world” to “supporting actor in a multipolar one”. This sentiment is used by Putin to promote the reappropriation of Russia’s great power status and justify the actions that “need” to be taken to achieve this goal. Several of Putin’s speeches regarding Ukraine reflect this, where he focuses on Ukraine’s role as “little Russia” and “founding member of the USSR”. 

The two historical dilemmas that afflicted Russia throughout the centuries were reframed by Putin to his own advantage. The East/West dichotomy was deconstructed into two parallel positions, Russia’s relations with the West and the East.

With the West, it changed from an inferiority complex to a principle equality in which Russia no longer had to imitate the West, but could follow its own path of values (those produced by the worship of WWII and Soviet Nostalgia). Hence granting Putin more freedom of action. This was proven in a speech given by Russia’s president in 2013, where he stated that “it is evident that it is impossible to move forward without spiritual, cultural and national self-determination...We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual.” With the East, it shifted from perceiving Asia as a place to teach European values, to perceiving it as a place from which to learn alternative ones. This change helped Putin justify Russia’s approach to China and its simultaneous shying away from the West. 

The multinational state/nation-state dilemma was solved by orienting the country towards becoming a nation-state, promoting discourses aimed at homogenizing the country (such as “Russia for Russians”) and reviving pre-Soviet Russian cultural traits (an example is the gradual social prestige that Putin has granted to the Patriarch of Moscow in the past 15 years). The importance given to Russian ethnicity allows Putin to intervene in foreign countries with Russian minorities without the risk of appearing illegitimate in the eyes of Russian society (the 2014 invasion of the Donbass serves as the best example). 

Having illustrated the pillars of Putin’s conception of Russia, it’s easy to understand the importance of Ukraine to him: Ukraine is currently the transfiguration of WWII Europe that needs to be saved from an enemy whose ideals and values are rotten - that is, the West. Keeping Ukraine away from the West would then be morally tantamount to winning WWII, and it would not only provide Putin’s discourses new strength, but also validate Russia’s identity of a great power by preventing (even if momentarily) the post-Soviet space from disintegrating. 

Vladimir Putin has spent the last 20 years slowly shaping his country into what he believed “Mother Russia” to be, and it is highly unlikely that any agreement will stop him from pursuing his ideals. This however, does not mean that this is what Russia needs to be, and it is for the Russian people to prove.