Russia’s mistaken sense of national greatness only heightens threat

Does Russian President Vladimir Putin still adhere to the Soviet-era philosophy of expanding his nation’s sphere of influence and competing with the United States? Military intimidation based on a distorted sense of national greatness is a threat to the international community.

Saturday marked 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the Cold War with the United States, the Soviet Union was unable to keep up with the arms race, and it self-destructed due to the stagnation of the socialist economy and people’s dissatisfaction with the communist party dictatorship.

While the United States and European countries perceived the collapse of the Soviet Union as a victory for the liberal democratic system, Putin has described it as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” He probably sees this as a humiliating history for Russia, which has been a reigning power in Europe since its imperial era.

Russia participated in the Group of Eight summit talks among advanced nations from 1997 to 2013, and at one point took a cooperative path with Japan, the United States and Europe.

However, as Eastern European countries such as Poland and former Soviet Union republics like Estonia joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — the military alliance between Europe and the United States — Russia opposed these moves and shifted to a confrontational stance toward the United States.

Putin believes that Russia’s sphere of influence has been reduced because the United States has strengthened its unipolar dominance as the sole superpower, but this interpretation is incorrect.

Eastern European countries joined the European Union and NATO because they came to understand freedom and democracy and wanted to trade with wealthy nations. They were not forced to do so.

Putin’s obsession with the balance of power among the major powers and his disdain for the sovereignty of individual countries is clearly reflected in his handling of Russia’s neighboring country of Ukraine.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a sign that Putin would not allow NATO to expand any further eastward. The recent large deployment of troops in the border region with Ukraine is probably for the same purpose.

The international community needs to strengthen its military assistance to Ukraine and consider measures to increase the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia, to prevent military actions based on Russia’s self-serving assertions.

The situation regarding the return of the northern territories has worsened over the past three decades. This is not unrelated to Putin’s self-righteous sense of national greatness and his view of history.

In recent years, Russia has come to claim that the northern territories became Russian territory as a result of World War II. This is in keeping with Putin’s glorification of Russia’s history.

Japan must clearly emphasize that Russia’s perception goes against the facts, and resolutely protest such moves as the militarization of the northern territories.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 26, 2021.