Russia has throughout its history been the victim of brutal invasions. From the east across the steppe came the hordes of Genghis Khan in the 13th century, and from the west the armies of Napoleon and Hitler in the 19th and 20th centuries. One can easily appreciate its concern about security.
But armies have gone both ways. As Russia has been invaded so has it invaded. It has swept east, conquering and absorbing lands all the way to the Pacific Ocean and even across the Bering Sea into North America. And it has swept west, appropriating territory from the Baltic states to Ukraine. On balance, Russia’s neighbours have had more to fear from it, than it has had to fear from them. One can easily appreciate their concern about security as well.
Russia today may be diminished from the peak of empire but now has little to fear from anyone. In recent years it has developed the ultimate security blanket—nuclear weapons.
Even a ratty little nation like North Korea need not fear invasion now it has nukes. Sanctions yes, but invasions no. And Russia is no ratty little nation. On the contrary, it is a rich country of 146,000,000 people with more nuclear warheads than any other nation on Earth.
Its impunity has been well-illustrated by Putin’s “special military operation.” It has invaded Ukraine, bombed its cities into rubble, killed thousands of its people, and yet need fear no bomb dropping on Russia. It need fear no retaliation. Ukraine and its allies would be perfectly justified in bombing military bases in Russia but they dare not. The nuclear deterrent is a red line no sane government would cross.
Russia’s neighbours have no such security. Ukraine did have but gave it up. After the Soviet Union crumbled, Ukraine became the world’s third largest nuclear power with approximately 1,700 warheads. It probably could have established full operational control within a couple of years; however, Britain and the United States helped it negotiate the Budapest Memorandum with Russia. In return for releasing the weapons to Russia, Ukraine received a guarantee from Russia “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.” That was pre-Putin. University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer presciently predicted that Ukraine without a nuclear deterrent was likely to be subjected to aggression by Russia.
And this explains why Russia’s neighbours have sought the protection of NATO and why Putin disapproves.
Russia has been an imperialist nation since the 17th century and, under Putin, apparently intends to maintain the tradition. The torch of Lebensraum has been passed from Hitler to Putin.