By Paul Goble
Western scholars have repeatedly failed to predict key shifts in Russian behavior in large part because they have too often considered Russia within frameworks that may work elsewhere but that clearly do not apply at least all of the time to Russia, according to Andrey Makarychev.
After Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine, the Russian professor of comparative politics at the University of Tartu says, “it became obvious that the old approaches” used by Western analysts to explain Russian behavior are no longer effective and must be replaced by “radically” different ones (http://region.expert/lwb/).
According to Makarychev, “most scholars have not only overlooked the aggressive potential inherent in Moscow’s seemly innocent calls for multipolarity” and they failed to anticipate “the ability of Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian armed forces to resist aggression so effectively.”
“This means,” he says, “that there are significant gaps in the optics used for research and that these need revision.”
Some Western researchers continue to believe that the models they use elsewhere can explain the causes of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Makarychev says. “Their logic essentially boils down to the idea that all behaviors can be explained – and therefore normalized – for one reason or another.” As a result, for such scholars, “deviant behavior doesn’t exist, only different logics.”
“But there is an alternative approach,” he suggests. “Instead of establishing cause and effect relationships,” scholar can “seek to decipher ‘the mental maps’ that guide the Kremlin instigators of the war. That means that while “we cannot say why the criminal became one, we can try to interpret the world in his terms.
Makarychev suggests four options for such a approach. First, he argues, “the leadership of Russia has never acted according to the logical of a nation state in the customary sense. Cultural nationalism, needed for the construction of such a state, in Russia is automatically transformed into imperialism.”
Second, he continues, “the Russian state is not an instrument for administration but a living Leviathan with all of its monstrous aspects and attributes. Its function is to acquire but not administer.” Third, this means that Western scholars should avoid assuming that they can apply concepts developed for Western countries to Russia, such as soft power.
And fourth, and especially important, Western scholars must stop searching for a strategy or an ideology in what Russia is doing. “The era of ‘big texts,’ as the post-modernists tell us, has ended and Putin is a clear indication of this.” Everything is situational and tactical beyond the fundamental nature of the Russian state itself.
With such an understanding, Makarychev concludes, “we cannot give a precise answer to why Russia initially preferred to imitate Russia and then distanced itself from that. But on the other hand, we can show and describe how Russia followed that trajectory which many have preferred not to see and which the war against Ukraine has brought to the fore.”