Geopolitics (1): Russia’s unfavourable position

Geopolitical analysis, Russia 2This figure is a schematic depiction of the geopolitical configuration of the current (global) System (2017). Only the current Great Powers are shown.

Geopolitics is the study of the effects of geography (human and physical) on international politics and international relations. Geopolitics is a method of studying foreign policy to understand, explain and predict international political behaviour through geographical variables.

Geopolitics focuses on political power in relation to geographic space. In particular, territorial waters and land territory in correlation with diplomatic history.

A closer look at the geopolitical configuration of the System in 1939 – concerning the Great Powers at that point time – reveals that the basic geopolitical configurations in 1939 and 2017 are to a (high) degree similar, on the understanding that different Great Powers now occupy certain positions. Geopolitical analysis, Russia 1This figure is a schematic depiction of the geopolitical configuration of the (European) System in 1939. Only the Great Powers at that point in time are shown.

Russia now occupies German’s (1939) position, the US now occupies Great Britain’s (1939) position. There are similarities between Germany’s foreign policy 1n the late 1930’s, and Russia’s current foreign policy. That is probably no coincidence.

It is no so difficult to understand – especially when Russia’s history is taken into account – that Russia feels encircled by potential rivals and adversaries, and feels forced to recover its sphere of influence and buffers it lost when the Soviet-Union collapsed in 1991.

Russia feels it cannot trust on the good intentions of its neighbours, and actively tries to ‘shape’ its geopolitical position. This behaviour will continue, and probably intensify.

Below figure shows Russia vulnerable position; its neighbors invest heavily in military capabilities; most active conflicts and flashpoints are situated relatively close to – or on – Russia’s borders.

Military spending in 2016

Source: SIPRI

Russia’s active involvement in Syria, its developing relation with Iran, its efforts to estrange Turkey from Europe and NATO, its involvement in Afghanistan, the role Russia tries to play in the current friction between Quatar and its neighbours, its improving relations with China, and developments in its relations with North-Korea, etc. can be better understood when Russia’s vulnerable position is taken into consideration.

Russia’s persistent development – and active use – of cyberwar can be seen as an effort to develop and achieve superiority in this new ‘domain’. In this domain Russia is not restricted by its geopolitical constraints. Smart combined use of the cyber- and physical domains strengthens Russia’s overall position.

To be continued.