Though some in the West wonder why Russia would risk its political and economic relationships with Western allies by invading Ukraine, political analyst and author Ben Judah says this should come as no surprise at all.
In fact, Judah maintains that Western countries, particularly those in Europe, may have more to lose than Russia does. With Russia investing billions of dollars in Western economies — including real estate in Paris and London, and millions in European bank accounts — Judah says Russian President Vladimir Putin is confident he has nothing to lose.
He speaks with Here & Now's Robin Young.
Why Crimea is important to Russians
"There are two levels for that. Firstly there’s the historical level and then there’s the personal level. The historical level is that the Russian czarist aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries had ambitions for itself to be a crusading force in the world for all Orthodox Christians, from Russia right down through the Balkans, and dreamed of one day liberating Constantinople, which is now in Istanbul, or liberating Athens from the rule of the then-Ottoman Empire. But the only part of the classical world, the only lands with Roman temples and Greek sites that Russia ever conquered was Crimea. And this is how Crimea occupies more than a special place. It occupies an essential place in Russia's imperial imagination of itself as a great power. The second level is the personal. And Crimea is a place that millions and millions and millions of Russians have actually been. Why? The reason is the Soviet Union turned Crimea into the people’s holiday camp, so Crimea means to Russians their childhood. It’s happy memories, it’s a warm memory in a cold country. Unlike other parts of the former Soviet Union, Russians still go there."
On the significance of Russia's aggression in Crimea
"We live in a Europe where ever since the rule of Adolf Hitler, the international order has been about stopping a major European power redrawing the borders of Europe by force. We've lived in a Europe ever since 1945 where the great powers had an understanding amongst themselves that redrawing borders around ethnic frontiers is the road to violence and blood in a continent which has historically been Earth’s bloodiest continent. And Vladimir Putin has, in moving into Crimea, just broken that. You know Russia, the country who’s greatest achievement was to liberate Auschwitz and to defeat the forces of Nazism has become the first major power since the 1930s to embark on politics of expansion and de facto annexation."
On why he thinks Russia is not afraid of Western sanctions
"You’re correct to say that Russian elites haven’t invested in the United States in such the same way. And the reasons that they didn't is that they were fearful that one day the United States might impose economic sanctions — visa bans, the kind of banking restrictions that the United States has imposed on Iran to bring that economy to its knees. And they choose London, Geneva, Paris, Berlin, Rome, because these are smaller countries, they’re far less economically dynamic countries than the United States, and they have been over the past five years for sure. And the flow of money has been so intense into these places and the pick up has been so intense as well from these elites that this is when Putin decided he should no longer fear economic sanctions coming out of Western Europe, because these elites have become practically dependent on the flow of funds from abroad and of course Russia."
- Ben Judah, author of "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love With Vladimir Putin." He tweets @b_judah.
This segment aired on March 4, 2014.