Will Putin Look to Annex More Territory? Why the Crimea Crisis Is Not about a Greater Russia Project

Stephen Sadieman and R. William Ayres

In a recent post for The Washington Post‘s blog The Monkey Cage, Stephen M. Saideman and R. William Ayres draw on arguments and themes in their book For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism, and War to examine the situation in Crimea and the Ukraine.

More specifically, Sadieman and Ayres return to their book’s focus on irredentism or “the effort to reunify a ‘lost’ territory inhabited by ethnic kin with either a mother country or with other territories also inhabited by ethnic kin (think of Kurds in multiple countries creating a Greater Kurdistan).” While the case of Crimea represents, to a certain extent, a case of Russian irredentism, the authors argue that Russia might not necessarily annex Crimea and is unlikely to engage in similar actions in other areas where ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers reside.

Sadieman and Ayres cite four reasons:

1.) The plight of ethnic Russians in Crimea is not that great.
2.) Russian identity is not clearly defined. As the authors write, “Not all those living in Russia agree that Russian nationalism includes Russophones as members of the Russian nation. Indeed, the existing survey evidence suggests that this crisis is not very popular back in Russia. Those in Russia, especially those who vote in the next elections, may not want yet another basket-case to drain the country’s coffers (Crimean supporters of annexation are unlikely to be future net contributors).”
3.) Putin’s actions do not necessarily seem to be motivated by domestic concerns. His power is secure and he does not have to prove his nationalist credentials.
4.) Even if Crimea is annexed it is a region different from others where ethic Russians live. Sadieman and Ayres explain, “Crimea [does] stand out, as it combined both national interests (the Black Sea fleet) with a group of kin that was more interested than others in the Greater Russia project.”

The authors conclude by writing:

So, this crisis is not about a Greater Russia project, even if Crimea ends up in either a semi-status a la Nagorno-Karabakh or annexed in reality, as the policies focused here are unlikely to play out in other places where ethnic Russians reside, such as the Baltic Republics or even other parts of eastern Ukraine. As other writers at the Monkey Cage have argued, this is really a second-best (if that) effort by Putin to have influence in Ukraine after his preferred non-irredentist one, keeping President Yanukovych in power, failed. While countries containing some of the 25 million lost Russians are concerned, they should not panic as Putin is not Hitler (almost the original irredentist), and he is not even Milosevic of Greater Serbia fame.

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