Skip to main content

Let Russia Be Russia

In 1947, George F. Kennan argued that the Soviet Union’s hostility toward the US was rooted in deep-seated nationalism and insecurity. The same could be said of the current conflict between Russia and the West: It is a collision between the West’s supposedly universal values and Russia’s quest for a distinct identity.

TEL AVIV – In his famous “X” article, published in 1947, George F. Kennan argued that the Soviet Union’s hostility toward the United States was virtually inexorable, given that it was rooted not in a classic conflict of interest between great powers, but in a deep-seated nationalism and insecurity. The same could be said of the current conflict between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the West: It is, at root, a collision between the West’s supposedly universal values and Russia’s quest for a distinct identity.

A country’s struggle for identity can shape its strategic behavior. The missionary ethos of American civilization helps to explain its conduct as a global power. The resurgence of Islamism is essentially a quest for a fulfilling identity by an ancient civilization overwhelmed by the challenges of modernity. And Israel’s emphasis on its Jewish identity has become a formidable obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

Putin’s defiant foreign policy is a response – mediated by an authoritarian political tradition, the reactionary tenets of Orthodox Christianity, and pride in Russia’s vast geography and natural wealth – to the humiliating loss of an empire. Seeing in Russia’s Cold War defeat the need to extol the non-Western roots of Russian history and tradition, Putin has fallen back on the same conservative values that emerged in response to the Napoleonic invasion of 1812, frustrating Peter the Great’s modernization efforts.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/WZVXtkc;
  1. solana109_robert wallisCorbis via Getty Images_manhittingberlinwall Robert Wallis/Corbis via Getty Images

    The Partial Triumph of 1989

    Javier Solana

    The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 marked the end not of a historical chapter, but of a paragraph. Although capitalism currently has no rival, it has proven its compatibility with illiberal forces.

    0
  2. sachs315_Pablo Rojas MadariagaNurPhoto via Getty Images_chileprotestmanbulletface Pablo Rojas Madariaga/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Why Rich Cities Rebel

    Jeffrey D. Sachs

    Having lost touch with public sentiment, officials in Paris, Hong Kong, and Santiago failed to anticipate that a seemingly modest policy action (a fuel-tax increase, an extradition bill, and higher metro prices, respectively) would trigger a massive social explosion.

    1

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions