Closer monitoring of developments between once brotherly Slav nations of Ukraine and Russia demonstrate an unblemished nostalgia for empire that has long been craved inside the Kremlin corridors of power. The craving can be summed up in the notion of velikoderzhavnost–or “great power.” This notion is informed by a feeling of national superiority in dealing with foreign countries–and is separated by only a thin line from chauvinism. Russia’s recent moves in Ukraine show that it is quickly and boldly transforming its own state ideology based on velikoderzhavnost–a kind of Manifest Destiny a-la Russia. The strategy that serves the velikoderzhavnost ideology involves three key actions: further consolidate its diverse and fragmented political and ethnic entities, attempt to culturally assimilate the yet-to-be-integrated peripheral regions, and push forward and enter expansively into post-Soviet spheres of influence. No matter how nuanced it may sound, the conceptual framework of velikoderzhavnost is, at its core, an attempt to resurrect its deconstructed identity of the past. It is a push by Russia to compensate for its complex about not having a fully integrated posture in the current world order.
The conundrum of the current Ukrainian situation reveals the unstable nature of newly independent states like Ukraine and the existence of perpetual risks due to external factors that hamper these countries in following their own chosen paths of development. Ever-growing imperial nationalism propagated by Moscow in recent years clearly poses a great threat to newly independent post-Soviet states that appreciate their hard-won sovereignty above all earthly values. Moscow’s ambitions are fraught with controversial and mostly misinterpreted norms of international law that disconcertingly could open up room for more denials about the inviolability of internationally recognized borders. The revitalized velikoderzhavnost also shows that Russia has been caught between past imperial glory and Soviet syndrome. Russia has not yet come to grips with the idea of forfeiting of its glorious Soviet-cum-Imperial past that each and every country in the world–both its comrades in arms and adversaries in the arms race–feared, and thus in some ways also respected.
Dr. Zabikhulla S. Saipov is an Associate Professor, World Politics reader at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy (UWED) in Tashkent. He holds a PhD in Political Science from UWED and a Master of International Affairs from SIPA, Columbia University as an Edmund Muskie Fellow.