Continued Conflict in Ukraine
As of late April, Ukraine has now been subject to this most recent military occupation by Russia for about two months. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Russian state continues to invade and occupy areas in the Eastern and Southeastern regions of Ukraine, specifically along the shared border with Russia. In this pursuit, they have utilized tactics often seen used by authoritarian populists: occupying the state by centralizing power through delegation and through parasitizing a region’s existing infrastructure, and then sowing corruption by engaging in informational warfare through means like bribery or the spread of misinformation and propaganda (Müller, Chapter 2). Amidst this conquest by Russia, thousands of civilians and soldiers have lost their lives during violent conflicts in major Ukrainian cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv, and most recently, Mariupol. As atrocities accumulate, the imperial techniques used by Russia can be more easily observed, understood, and hopefully combatted.
Despite crucial demonstrations of resilience amidst violence in Kyiv throughout the month of May, Ukraine still feels the Russian state festering in its Eastern and Southeastern regions. Just recently Russia claimed victory and possession of the major port city Mariupol, which represents an enormous conquest for Russia because it consolidates their authority in Ukraine (BBC). One of the reasons this conquest is so consequential in this war is because it allows the Russian military to create a land bridge between the Crimean Peninsula, which they have illegally occupied since 2014, and their new endeavor in the Donbas region. This geographical link will allow Russia to exploit the infrastructure between Mariupol and Crimea to bolster their effort, essentially becoming a parasite in Ukraine. In addition to this, it is reported that President Vladimir Putin has delegated military oversight of Russian-occupied areas to Aleksandr Dvornikov. Previously, this Russian general oversaw military operations in Syria in 2015 and more recently in southern Ukraine, but now as an effort to further consolidate influence and centralize power he has been given authority over troops in both the South and Southeastern parts of Ukraine (Bloomberg). Of course any and all information originating from either Russia or Ukraine, and perhaps any other nation with geopolitical interests attached to this war, must be accepted with a grain of salt so-to-speak.
Misinformation, disinformation, military and political posturing, and of course propaganda all play an essential role in the objective of the Russian state. One recent event that demonstrates the use of tactics like these was the fallout following the fate of the Russian warship Moskva, or the Moscow, named for Russia’s capital city. On April 14th, the warship undeniably sank, but the precipitating factors are being debated as conflicting stories have emerged on either side of the war. Ukraine claims credit for the ship’s destruction after they allegedly attacked it with missiles, Russia however insists the ship sank after a fire was set aboard but will not disclose the cause of the fire (AP). For Russia, acknowledging any semblance of defeat in this war would damage their prowess– something valued immensely by authoritarian and imperial regimes– especially considering the stature and the symbolism once associated with this particular ship, the Moskva. Beyond speculation, running interference, and misinformation, Russia has also utilized other techniques like ultimatums or threats as well as propaganda in this war. With the northern European nations of Finland and Sweden seemingly lobbying for introduction to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia has responded with shadowy threats of nuclear warfare. Because Finland shares essentially the entirety of its eastern border with Russia, and because Sweden lies parallel to Finland to the west, Russian officials have grown very concerned about their prospect of conquest in the face of a growing NATO. This in part contributes to the notion within Russia itself that the expansion of NATO is actually a global military mobilization against them specifically. They have since responded by threatening nuclear activity in a more or less cryptic fashion. The former executive and current security advisor of the Russian state, Dmitry Medvedev, has announced that the moves made by Finland and Sweden will force Russia’s hand into once again reaching northward, at which point he claims “it will no longer be possible” to imagine a nuclear-free Baltic region (CNBC).
These are just a few examples of how the Russian executive and the Russian military have put to use some of the more common techniques used by authoritarian demagogues when they seek to expand their authority. With tensions rising on a day-to-day basis, understanding the tactics employed by the Russian state becomes more and more important. Without a proper understanding of how Russia’s military and informational agencies operate, defending democracy will become increasingly difficult for the nations in Eastern Europe.
- (Müller) https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/binghamton/reader.action?docID=4674419
- (Bloomberg) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-10/general-who-ran-syria-operation-to-lead-russia-troops-in-ukraine?sref=vxSzVDP0
- (CNBC) https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/14/russia-threatens-new-nuclear-deployments-if-sweden-finland-join-nato.html
- (AP) https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-zelenskyy-kyiv-black-sea-estonia-8ccaa918f813a844321187ed116ff091?user_email=3c9f5e3e14e3d0fdc0868c65e39884e41d6e91f4e8a0cd63164228711e0470c4
- (BBC) https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-europe-61157670?pinned_post_locator=urn:asset:e991afbe-2897-473e-9f22-f72a1173b076&pinned_post_asset_id=62613151b1e16c43aefe6d3f&pinned_post_type=share