Why Russia may not be as strong as most people think

Historian Timothy Snyder, author of “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America,” explains that Russia is not a powerful nation when measured in terms of traditional indicators like technological innovation or gross national product. Instead, Russia uses subjective measures like feelings to generate fear and distrust among its people and around the world. Following is a transcript of the video.

Timothy Snyder: When we think about power, we often think about it in terms of traditional, twentieth century indices, like for example, gross national product or capacity for technological innovation. Russia’s definitely not a great power by either of those measures. So what the Russians try to do is to change the subject, change the rules of international competition away from those more objective things to more subjective things like feelings, like fear, like anxiety.

When we turn our own attention away from the real world, the three-dimensional world, and we pay more attention to the internet and to what feels good or bad to us, in effect, we’re making life easier for Russia. What they can mobilize very efficiently, very economically actually, are psychological resources over cyber. They choose that because it’s easy for them. They have a plan for the world. They have a plan for Europe. They have a plan for us. But, it’s not about imposing some kind of positive vision. It’s about bringing us back to where they are.

What President Putin does is he replaces domestic policy of which you can’t have any, with foreign policy. He can’t have domestic policy because he’s an oligarch at the head of an oligarchical clan, and he’s running a country which can’t have the rule of law. Hence, Russia is locked into place for the foreseeable future where it is. But, if he can convince Europeans and Americans that oligarchy is normal, that the rule of law is a joke, that democracy is fake, and so on, he can bring us to where Russia is. And if he can do that, then Russians will look around the world and say, “It’s all just a joke. Everything’s corrupt, everywhere. So, why don’t we just prefer our own corruption to other people’s corruption?”

So, this is a strategy. And, it’s at work; it’s what we’re up against, now. There’s a very important difference, I think, between a nationalism, which always turns you back on yourself, and a patriotism, which says, “I wanna hold my country up to a certain set of standards.” Nationalism will generally say, “We have always been innocent. “We are always the innocent victims.”

So, for example, if you’re Russia and you’re the biggest country in the world, nevertheless, you’ve somehow always been on the defensive. If you attack Ukraine, nevertheless, this is somehow a defensive rather than an offensive operation. Nationalism will say it’s always somebody else’s fault. The way it works politically is that you do things like this. You attack Ukraine. You support the far right in Europe. You support a presidential candidate in the United States. Eventually, there’s gonna be some kind of reaction. That reaction comes. Then, you say to your people, “Well yes, look, “this just proves that we were the victim. “We were always the victim.”

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