Visiting Assistant Professor of Government David Rivera was recently the featured speaker at a session in George Washington University’s DC Area Postcommunist Politics Social Science Workshop. Participants discussed his paper, “NATO Expansion or Putin’s Psyche? The Insignificance of Military Insecurity to Russia’s War in Ukraine.”
According to Rivera, “a prominent account of both U.S.-Russian discord and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea attributes these developments primarily to a fear of encirclement and perception of military threat from the West.”
He said that “this perspective unjustifiably privileges one causal factor — NATO expansion — when in fact close to a dozen others have contributed to both Russia’s estrangement from the West and its aggression against Ukraine to an equal or greater extent.
“Much more central,” Rivera noted, “are Western criticism of Russia’s political system and Moscow’s desire to reintegrate as much of the former Soviet Union as possible as a means of preserving great power status and Russia’s traditional culture and identity.”
He contends that it is not fear that is at the core of Russian aggression against Ukraine, but rather “anger over the disregard shown to the Kremlin’s desires and the thwarting of its plans.
“Overall,” he said, “cold war 2.0 is the product of ideational factors and the psychological idiosyncrasies of its powerful president more than of systemic pressures.”