Only Place Russia Could Expand Without Disaster Is Northern Kazakhstan – OpEd


Various Russians close to the Kremlin like Vladislav Surkov are suggesting that the territorial expansion of the country is something existential for Russia and Russians. But an examination of the countries around Russia show that the only real possibility for this is in Kazakhstan, Mikhail Khodarenok says.

The retired colonel who earlier worked in the Russian General Staff says that if one considers all the countries around Russia, Russians would find it difficult if not impossible to expand or would have to pay a price greater than anyone is willing to in all directions except Kazakhstan (

Kazakhstan’s comparatively small population and army and its lack of membership in a military alliance means that those who seek to expand Russia territorially could look there. But everywhere else, Russia would have to confront either well-armed nations, states in NATO, or countries that would cost more to support than they would be worth, Khodarenok says.

Those who think otherwise are engaging in “fantasies” that war today is like the conquest of Siberia by Ataman Yermak or the advance of the Russian army to the south under Kaufman and Skobelev, he continues. But the world has changed even if the thinking in the Kremlin seems locked in an earlier century.

Those who talk about expanding Russia should be asked: “Do you have personal experience in solving geopolitical tasks” in this way? Do you understand what the immediate costs would be in terms of military losses? And do you recognize the burdens Russia would be taking upon itself even if it won the first battles?

Those who believe that expansion is easy and justifiable point to the Anschluss of Crimea in 2014. But its situation was “absolutely unique” because it featured so many characteristics not found elsewhere, indeed not found even in the Donbass. And even that move has cost Russia dearly in terms of its relations with the West.

“Russia today is in complete geopolitical isolation: Moscow’s allies at present are perhaps South Ossetia or Abkhazia.” And it faces a world in which its likely opponents not only have bigger and better prepared armies than it does but also economies which form half of the world’s GDP, Khodarenok points out.

Given all this, “the geopolitical dreams and fantasies of our own political analysts about ‘expansion’ and ‘spheres of influence’ do not look very convincing. Whether we like it or not, this rhetoric itself” is working against Russia, leading ever more countries and not just Russia’s neighbors to be ready to fight against it.

The Kremlin today lacks the real financial, economic and even military “levers” needed to change this situation, however much its bombastic language suggests otherwise, the retired military specialist says.

This is the second such article recently in which Khodarenok throws cold water on Kremlin talk. For a discussion of the first, see

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *