The War in Ukraine and Russia’s Great Power Status

News | Posted on Monday 28 November 2022

Dr Shane O'Rourke examines the purpose of the Russian invasion.

The war in Ukraine was never just about the Donbass, the status of Russian speakers in Ukraine or even the expansion of NATO.

It was always about the Russian desire for Great Power status. Putin believed a successful war against Ukraine would have guaranteed Russian Great Power status, delivered a crushing blow to the West and established Russia’s right to sit at the same table as the United States and China to decide the fate of the world. It was always fanciful as Russia has neither the economic or demographic basis of a Great Power and we now know that it has no military basis for that claim.

The debacle in Ukraine, however, has not only destroyed Russia’s claim to Great Power status, but it has also undermined its role as a regional hegemon. Already the Pax Russica is crumbling in the North Caucasus and Central Asia as frozen conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan turn hot.

At the September summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Putin experienced a series of very public humiliations at the hands of the Chinese, Indians, Turks and Central Asian republics. All of these were a direct consequence of the military defeats in Ukraine and a recognition of Russian weakness. Putin’s bid for Great Power status has only exposed the hollowness of those pretensions.

The first harbingers of minority nationality unrest within the Russian Federation are now also appearing.

The question now is where does this decline end?