Russian vs Ukrainian Strategic Culture: The Nuclear Weapons Perception
The Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy hosted Dr. Polina Sinovets on January 30th for a discussion on the strategic cultures of Russia and Ukraine. Particularly, Dr. Sinovets noted the differences of each state’s strategic culture regarding their perception of nuclear weapons. Each state’s strategic culture has firm roots in history, coupled with its current interests, and given Russia’s long-standing status as a great power, the Russian people perceive themselves as a center of civilization and thus have a right to utilize these weapons. Ukraine, on the other hand, has existed for long periods of time under the rule of other empires, and for this reason, Ukraine sees itself as a partner rather than a leader. The legacy and identity of both Russia and Ukraine played a firm role in the nuclear disarmament of Ukraine after the U.S.S.R dissolved. Ukraine believed it could be a faithful partner to both Russia and the other states of the world by actively surrendering their weapons, while Russia was more than happy to bear the burden of possessing these weapons because represented the importance and power Moscow aims to represent.
Dr. Sinovets explained that the current crisis largely owes itself to the same differences in identity and strategic culture. Ukraine’s culture has been largely evolutionary throughout history, much like Germany, and as Ukraine has attempted to establish partnerships with Western countries, however, Russia feels threatened. This is because Moscow largely views Ukraine as part of the greater Russian/Slavic sphere, not as an independent state. Therefore, it isn’t totally unexpected that Russia will seek to prevent Ukraine tilting away from their interests. The resulting hybrid war has had such a profound effect on the day to day interactions of citizens from each country as well. For example, Dr. Sinovets described how Ukrainians may no longer take direct flights into Russia, but must connect through other countries. While the end may not be in sight for the Ukranian conflict, the differences in strategic culture between Russia and Ukraine must be taken into account for any future interactions or interventions.
Dr. Sinovets is the head of Odessa Center for Nonproliferation (OdCNP) at Odesa I.I. Mechnikov National University, Ukraine (ONU). She is currently a Fulbright Scholar at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies based in Washington DC. Dr. Sinovets previously served as a Senior Research Associate at Ukraine's National Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and NATO Defense College. She is an expert in nuclear weapons policy and has published articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Russia in Global Politics, NATO Defense College Research Papers, etc.