As I read here at Booman Tribune defenses of Russian and Putin against claims of hacking and trying to manipulate elections–and I will not be promoting those claims here–one thing that has struck me is what seems to be a rather uncritical acceptance of Russian nationalist stances, coupled with an unwillingness to consider that Russia’s neighbors might have their own world views that are not a priori wrong just because they don’t mesh with the Russian stance. Maybe, just maybe, Russia’s neighbors have legitimate historically based reasons to be concerned with their much larger neighbor’s intentions.
It would be interesting to consider how Russia came to be a continental power by conquering and largely assimilating dozens of other peoples–I think we can agree this was an imperialist project, and Russia’s rulers certainly thought so, too–but instead, let’s just look at Russia’s neighbors to the west. Take the case of Poland, for example. Poland was the great power of central and eastern Europe in the medieval era, but by the 18th century, it was being carved up and finally extinguished altogether by Austria, Prussia and Russia. The Polish state was recreated out of the ashes of World War I, then was dismembered again by Germany and the USSR as part of the latter two countries’ non-aggression pact. Well–nonaggression towards each other, nominally. The eastern border of the present Polish state largely conforms to the line dividing the territories gobbled up by German and Soviet (non)aggression in 1939. The Polish territory seized by the Soviet Union in 1939 was tacked on to the Belarusian and Ukrainian SSRs, and the Poles who happened to live there were eventually expelled for the most part–sent packing to the west. And as we all know, post-WW II Poland was a Soviet client state host to Soviet military bases. Given that history, gosh, the idea that post-Communist Poland might want allies protecting it from Russia–after close to three centuries of being dominated by Russia–seems pretty rational and reasonable.
In other words, the unforgivable (to some FP commenters) act of Poland joining NATO–this so-called aggressive act aimed at “encircling” Russia–was entirely sensible from the Polish perspective.
A similar discussion applies to the Baltic States, but with an additional twist: unlike Poland, the Baltic States were annexed to the USSR and henceforth colonized: ethnic Russians were sent to live in the Baltic States as part of an overall program of Russification. Upwards of 25% of the population of the Baltic States at the time of the Soviet collapse were Russian colonists. If you’re Lithuanian, Latvian or Estonian and wish not to become subject to Russian whims again, seeking a powerful protector makes a world of sense. Joining NATO made a world of sense. Were the Baltic States thereby “encircling” Russia?
There can be more than one historical narrative. We all know that the Mexican historical narrative about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo isn’t the same as the American one. Well, the same dynamic exists in eastern Europe.
I’m not writing to tell you that one historical narrative about Poland, say, is absolutely correct and on the side of the angels, while the other is wrong and on the side of dark forces. What I am saying, however, is that if you’re uncritically accepting the Russian narrative, you really ought to think more expansively.