Why Russians are supposed to think that Ukraine, Georgia and other close neighbors are “theirs”?

The Russian concept of “Near Abroad”, i.e. former Soviet state around our borders, is aking to the Roman concept of Foederati. We provide benefits to them in exchange for a certain degree of protecting our security and military requirements.

Soon after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the Kremlin launched the concept of “near abroad“. It included all former Soviet republics that had gained independence. Yet, these continued to be connected to us by thousands of ties. This made everything that happened there of particular relevance for too many in the Kremlin, as well as among the rest of the nation.

In the West, they often talk about the “sphere of influence” to describe our approach. However, this is too broad and imprecise. Closer to truth would be the ancient Roman word foederati that described tribal territories outside the Empire. Their relevance to Rome was mostly in the sphere of security. They were too poor to be interesting markets of objects of colonial exploitation but very useful as a kind of cordon sanitaire against external military threats.

  • The Baltics sit pretty awkwardly between us and the Baltic sea, cutting us off from the Kaliningrad enclave. Estonia is also too close to St. Petersburg for comfort.
  • Ukraine is sort of an ex who left and slammed the door with too much broken china and bad blood left behind. If they build their military to the Turkish level, or just join the NATO, it would mean their tanks can theoretically reach Moscow in a matter of one day or two. We never had to live with a neighbor like that.
  • Georgia is more or less a settled case. Putin won’t let them take back Abkhazia or South Ossetia, so his presidential palace in Sochi is pretty safe for some time ahead. Turkey seems to be friendly right now. Yet, if Turkey decide to move in and take Georgia under their wings, then our union with Armenia, and the base there will hang in a very thin thread. No time to relax about Georgia either.

This way, these are not exactly “our” territories, but we need to watch what’s happening there very carefully. This also includes the NATO members, the Baltics. Their decision not to have foreign bases and keep down the concentration of the NATO military is therefore very wise. This makes us less nervous, and reduces the pressure on them.

As to the other former Soviet states, any sign of alienation there signals to us a dangerous breach in the foederati perimeter of security right outside our borders.

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