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10 Maps That Explain Russia’s Strategy

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Many people think of maps in terms of their basic purpose: showing a country’s geography and topography. But maps can speak to all dimensions—political, military, and economic.

In fact, they are the first place to start thinking about a country’s strategy, which can reveal factors that are otherwise not obvious.

The 10 maps in this slide deck show Russia’s difficult position since the Soviet Union collapsed and explain Putin’s long-term intentions in Europe.

10 Maps That Explain Russia’s Strategy

  1. 1. 10 Maps That Explain Russia’s Strategy
  2. 2. Russia is almost landlocked.
  3. 3. This map reveals Russia’s major weak point.
  4. 4. The country has limited access to global maritime trade— which overall has a big political and economic impact.
  5. 5. Europe controls Russia’s access to the oceans.
  6. 6. European Russia has three access points to global maritime trade: the Black Sea, St. Petersburg, and the Arctic Ocean.
  7. 7. Europe, however, controls nearly all water passageways from these points.
  8. 8. In other words, Russia is politically landlocked. This demonstrates the country’s vulnerability to NATO.
  9. 9. Russia’s population clusters along its western border.
  10. 10. Russian agriculture is in the southwest.
  11. 11. Russia’s railroad network is oriented toward the west.
  12. 12. Simply put, the core of Russia’s infrastructure is positioned along the western border.
  13. 13. The country has few barriers to stop the enemy from paralyzing its economic activity.
  14. 14. Now, let’s look back at history.
  15. 15. This is Russia’s position in 1914, just before WWI.
  16. 16. The Russian Empire’s penetration into Europe before WWI gave it a significant buffer against the West.
  17. 17. The depth of this buffer allowed the Russians to fend off attacks from Germany and the Austro- Hungarian Empire in 1914.
  18. 18. German-Occupied Europe in 1942
  19. 19. The extent of the German advance in the southeast during WWII posed a big threat to Russia’s sovereignty.
  20. 20. The Germans seized almost all of the European Peninsula and, in their final thrust, moved east and south into the Caucasus.
  21. 21. Ultimately, Russia defeated Germany through depth and the toughness of its troops.
  22. 22. If Russia didn’t have that strategic depth, it would have lost the war.
  23. 23. The Furthest Russia Extended After WWII
  24. 24. No wonder Russia’s strategy at the close of and after World War II was to push its frontiers as far west as possible.
  25. 25. Russia managed to seize the entirety of Eastern Europe during the Cold War, which was an ideal position for the Soviet Union.
  26. 26. However, when oil prices fell in the 1980s, the Russians could not sustain the decline of revenue. This crippled the Soviet Union.
  27. 27. With so few natural and political barriers, today’s Russia is at risk.
  28. 28. After 1991, Russia lost control of nearly all of Eastern Europe. Its border had not been that close to Moscow in a very long time.
  29. 29. The West absorbed the Baltics into NATO, bringing St. Petersburg within a hundred miles of a NATO country.
  30. 30. Ukraine, however, has been the most critical buffer against the West for the Russians.
  31. 31. The Ukrainian border goes through Russia’s agricultural center, as well as large population centers and transportation networks.
  32. 32. Letting a pro-Western regime gain a foothold so close to the Russian heartland would make Russia more vulnerable than ever.
  33. 33. As a result, the Russians are unlikely to leave the Ukrainian question where it is.
  34. 34. Russia has a very diverse yet united society.
  35. 35. Don’t underestimate the power of anti-Western solidarity in Russia.
  36. 36. The inherent support for the Russian nation remains powerful, despite the ethnic diversity and economic difficulties.
  37. 37. It’s not prosperity, but shared idealization that holds the country together.
  38. 38. All of this gives the Russians an opportunity.
  39. 39. However bad their economy is, the simplicity of Russia’s geographic position and cultural character give them capabilities that can surprise anyone.
  40. 40. In other words, now Russia has nothing to lose. That gives them a strong psychological advantage against the West.
  41. 41. SUBSCRIBE George Friedman provides unbiased assessment of the global outlook in his free publication, This Week in Geopolitics. Subscribe now and get an in-depth view of the forces that will drive events and investors in the next year, decade, or even a century from now. Subscribe here