On February 20, 2014, the army of Federation of Russia invaded the Crimea in Ukraine. The next few years have consisted of failed diplomacy, nerve agent attacks, and plenty of confusion as to what exactly is going on. News outlets have stopped reporting about Ukraine, and the public consensus is that things are quieting down. The truth could not be more different.
The Not-So-Great Bear
Firstly, why is Russia invading Ukraine? The answer is that their borders are indefensible. They have 12,000 miles of land that is completely flat and barren, with nothing to separate itself from its neighbours. This makes it very easy to invade with tanks and troops. In recent history, Russia has given many countries a reason to do just that. As a result, Russia must spend millions on a huge land army to protect itself.
However, Russia’s problems don’t end here. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, the Federation’s birth rate has dropped dramatically. It currently stands at 1.75 children per couple. The birth rate needed to sustain a population is 2.33, so Russia’s demography may never be the same again. Combined with the third-worst HIV epidemic and the most common heroin usage in the world, Russia’s future looks nothing short of apocalyptic.
Survival of the Fittest
So where does Ukraine come into this? As we’ve already established, Russia’s borders require a huge army to be defended. However, Russia’s birth rate is drastically low, and it’s riddled with drugs and disease. This combination means that very soon, Russia won’t have a military age large enough to maintain itself. As you can imagine, this is a calamity.
But Russia hasn’t always been like this. From 1917-1991, Russia wasn’t Russia — it was the Soviet Union. And it was huge. Russia is still the biggest country in the world, but the USSR stretched all the way to the Baltic Sea, the Balkan Mountains, the Lesser Caucasus, the Karakum desert, and East Germany. All these places were natural defences that protected the Kremlin from attack. It would be long, strenuous, and almost impossible to march from Berlin to Moscow. This meant that Russia had to defend 600 miles of vulnerable borders compared to the 3,000 miles they currently have. If Russia could regain at least some of these footholds, it would survive a little longer. This seems to be exactly what it’s doing in Ukraine.
The countries that stand between Russia and the Balkan Mountains are Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. These are the most vulnerable nations that need to be annexed in the Russian expansion, so it makes sense that the Kremlin chooses to start here. Additionally, Ukraine is the first country Russia would need to conquer in its western expansion, making it doubly important. After Ukraine, Russia will probably go on to annex much of the Balkans and begin expanding in central Europe. Previously, the Soviets went right into Germany, and they may do so again, directly threatening the West. However, even expansion to the German border will be a cause for concern among Europe and America.
As a rule of thumb, big navies create superpowers. To have a big navy, you must have secure borders, so you don’t have to spend money and resources defending them, allowing you to spend more on your navy. If Russia managed to secure itself, it could do just that, and threaten the global hegemony once again. Well, sort of. As we’ve established, Russia has an irreversibly low birth rate meaning that its army and its navy will only ever become smaller and weaker, so how could they threaten the West? Well, Russians may be dying, but Russia is not. The geographic piece of land is not going anywhere, and as one ethnicity leaves, another takes its place, inheriting all the problems faced by the previous owners.
It seems as if these new people will be either the Chechens, or Tatars. They are the largest minorities in Russia and they have growing populations. They’re also not exactly thrilled to be living in the Federation or very impressed by Western efforts to help them. If Russia secures itself, there will be people who can use this to threaten the West, even if they’re not Russian.
The UK seems to have already established its position on Russian expansion, highlighted by the deterioration of relations between Downing Street and the Kremlin. In early 2018, Britain accused Russia of poisoning a spy in Salisbury, and things have gone from bad to worse. It seems like the UK will resist Russian expansion any way it can.
The United States is also seeing a rise in hostility towards Moscow. Accusations of meddling in the presidential elections have deeply divided the country. Despite what even the most vehement Trumpsters may say, very few Americans would like to see the Russians threatening their position once again.
Conclusion: Russia and the Future
With a birth rate beyond the point of recovery and a whole host of enemies ready to pounce, Russia will certainly not go gently into that good night. Moscow sees nothing short of an apocalypse on the horizon, and if there’s one thing that the twentieth century has taught us, it’s that there is nothing Russia won’t do to survive. However, the twentieth century has also taught us that there is nothing the US won’t do to maintain its position as the only global superpower. As the Great Bear claws itself back onto the world stage, only time will tell how much tyranny the West will tolerate.