Globe: Russian Revanchism and Soviet History
Revanchism, as defined by Marriam-Webster, is the policy of regaining lost territory and status. The world has seen an increase in popularity after the Russian Federation annexed Crimea – the first overt annexation of territory in decades. Analysts and commentators have speculated that Russian president Vladimir Putin is on a journey to resurrect the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, the loss of which Putin described as the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. It is likely that Putin is try to achieve that goal, or at least he is making an effort to appear that way. If true, the history of Soviet statecraft should be a cause for alarm for the West.
Until the Second World War, the Soviet Union had a minimal role in the international community. This was done under the “socialism in one country” policy of Josef Stalin, which gave priority towards securing the “revolution” in the Soviet Union above exporting ideology. There were attempts to recreate the Russian Revolution at first – the revolutions of 1917 sparked mimic revolutions across Europe, as revolutions are always prone to do. Germany, demoralized from the experience of the World War, nearly came to the edge of civil war because of communist activity. Finland did enter a civil war, one that saw communism defeated on the doorstep of the world’s sole communist state.
There were also attempts by the Soviet state to secure their ideology across Eastern Europe before Stalin’s rise and his isolationist policy. The Soviet Union and Poland fought a war immediately following “the war to end all wars,” one which saw the USSR humiliated at the hands of the new Polish republic. The communists were more successful in securing Ukraine, which enjoyed a brief period of separation from Russia before being swallowed up again.
The isolation began to change in the 1930s. the Spanish Civil War presented an opportunity for the Soviet Union to fight not only fascism, but also eliminate the USSR’s own enemies on the left. When Hitler proposed a non-aggression agreement to Stalin, the communist leader took advantage of the temporary peace to reunite the Russian Empire under the banner of socialist anti-imperialism. The Soviet Union quickly took the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and took control of the eastern part of Poland. Stalin also attempted to annex another former imperial province, Finland, but was never able to achieve his objective.
Then came the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. After years of fighting and millions of lives lost, the Soviet Union pushed the Third Reich back to Berlin. Soviet Troops occupied the nations of Eastern Europe. From the Balkans to the Brandenburg Gate, the Soviet Union was in complete control. Despite expressed desires to give democracy to the countries that suffered immensely under Nazi occupation, the Soviet Union decided to replicate its government in the occupied states.
Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany all had governments that were loyal to the Kremlin. The Baltic States remained annexed, despite years of resistance. The states not annexed were influenced by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet sphere of influence matched its predecessor; the Soviet Union crated a communist empire larger and more powerful than the aristocratic empire that came before it.
When there was an occasional uprising, such as the ones in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the Soviet military would intervene without question. Soviet intelligence officials operated in the new communist nations of Eastern Europe and were bound by a defense agreement. The was no question that Russia, recast as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, controlled Eastern Europe. Soviet Russia experienced an age of influence and fear that Imperial Russia never dreamed of achieving.
The influence went beyond Eastern Europe; Central Asia saw almost complete control by the USSR. Asian influence from the USSR would be a defining feature of world history. Two major American wars would be fought in Asia because of Soviet communism, and after the Sino-Soviet split, most Asian Marxist states would side with the USSR over China.
Despite the immense power, the laws of economics proved more powerful. The communist economies proved to be a failure. A series of anti-Soviet revolutions occurred thought Europe, and the Soviet Union did little to stop them. In the end, the USSR would succumb too. In the process, Russia would lose its influence on the global stage. Former Russian territories such as the Baltic States and Ukraine would gain independence. The Eastern European nations that hosted governments controlled by the Kremlin would form new governments designed to repel Moscow. Almost overnight, Russia went from being one of the most powerful countries on the planet to being a near-failed state.
The new Russian Federation would not be not content with this, and as is commonly known, Russia has dedicated the last few years to interfering in the politics of neighbors, annexing lost territory, and launching military interventions. All behavior the Soviet Union capitalized on. Once again, Russia is reverting to the past.
Russia has repeatedly proven to be the epicenter of global nationalism. Nationalism has dominated the politics and statecraft of both imperial and communistic Russian governments. Evidently, it is an idea popular with the Russian people. After Vladimir Putin blatantly annexed Crimea, a former imperial territory of Russia, the approval rating of the Russian head of state only increased. Sanctions were placed on the Russian regime, and the Russian economy slowed, but Putin still retained popularity.
When asked why Putin is so popular, supporters often point to his ability to make Russia a contender on the world stage again. It would figure many would say that. A recent poll in Russia found that former dictator Josef Stalin has relatively high approval rating, considering his efforts to kill off a large portion of the population.
The history of Russia in the world suggest that Russia will not improve its behavior. It will only continue to interfere in the politics neighboring (and far away) states. If it is the objective of the current Russian government to resurrect Soviet influence, they are making no attempt to hide it.