On February 24th, Russia invaded the country of Ukraine, in an unexpected escalation of a conflict that began in 2014. It is the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II.
According to an influential analysis of Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine, this is all down to NATO’s overreach in the region, and Russia is simply defending itself from being encircled by Western power. But, pay closer attention to what Putin is actually saying, and a very different explanation emerges. Putin believes it’s his destiny to restore Russia to its former glory.
So how should we interpret the actions of states like Russia? Are they merely driver by power and security concerns, like the realist school of thought claims? Or are the beliefs and worldviews of political leaders, like Putin, as well as the national identities of people like those of Ukraine, the real driving force of events?
Is necessity and structural issues the motor of history, or is it contingency and uncertainty at the steering wheel?
Stathis Kalyvas is the Gladstone Professor of Government at the University of Oxford, and a fellow of All Souls College. He is a political scientist who’s written extensively on civil wars, ethnicity, and political violence. and is the author of, among other books, The Logic of Violence in Civil War.
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Artwork by Nick Halliday
Music by Rowan Mcilvride