A guest post on the Crimean crisis from Prof Peter Rutland, who is currently visiting the department from Wesleyan University.
The Russian invasion of Crimea blindsided international observers. Just the week before US Congressional leaders received a briefing from the Director of National Intelligence in which they were assured that Russian military action was unlikely. The British understanding was no better. Sir Tony Brenton, British ambassador to Russia 2004-08, wrote in the Financial Times on February 24 that the idea of a Russian military response was a ‘dark fantasy’.
It is not just spies and diplomats, but also scholars, who are scrambling for answers. Putin's efforts to derail Ukraine's integration with the European Union directly contradict liberal institutionalists who argue that globalization has made the nation state redundant. Cue complaints that Putin is living in a ‘19th century time warp’. Make that 18th century, since Catherine the Great seized Crimea in 1783 (and that is why she is called 'Great').
But Realists are also left with egg on their face, since as I discuss in this article, it is hard to argue that invading Crimea is beneficial to Russia's national interests.
So one is left I guess with psychological explanations, of Putin as a wounded and frustrated soul. More promising perhaps is a bureaucratic politics approach, unpacking the decision making of Russian elites, in the tradition of Jack Snyder's work on the origins of World War One, Myths of Empire. Putin's waning popularity at home left him vulnerable to a push by the security elites (siloviki) to increase their influence at the expense of the market liberals (who still control some key economic policy-making institutions).