Stratfor on the Geopolitics of Russia




A friend of mine sent me the article by Stratfor, The Geopolitics of Russia: Permanent Struggle. I remember Stratfor in its early days, before George Friedman monetized it by making most of its content available only to subscribers (this article is free to non-subscribers, by the way). A Stratfor article is typically a mishmash of genuinely good ideas, naïve sociology, and plain wrong facts. It’s usually interesting to read, and can be thought-provoking, but I wouldn’t base any business decisions on Stratfor analysis.

The article on Russia is a good illustration of all these qualities. Let’s look at some of the bloopers in the article.

The Mongols were horsemen who dominated the grasslands with their fast-moving cavalry forces. Their power, although substantial, diminished when they entered the forests and the value of their horses, their force multipliers, declined. The Mongols had to fight infantry forces in the forests, where the advantage was on the defender’s side.

This passage greatly overstates the effect of forest terrain on the Mongol ability to conduct military operation. In fact, the Mongols (actually a mixed Turkic-Mongolic horde, in which Mongols were a small minority) under Batu Khan were much better adapted to a conquest of Russia than the French under Napoleon, or the Germans under Hitler.

French in Russia

Napoleon’s Retreat From Moscow by Adolf Northern

As any student of Russian history knows, during the campaigns of 1237-40 the Mongols preferred to conduct military operations in winter. They used the frozen Russian rivers as convenient highways to reach deep into the forested Russian lands.


Vasily Maksimov (1844-1911). Mongols at the Walls of Vladimir

The Russian forests, lack of good roads, and the famous Russian winter were no defenses against the Mongol hordes.

But they worked very well against the French and the Germans. Listen to this song, The Russian Road by the great Igor Rasteryaev (in Russian, but with English subtitles).

To continue with the Stratfor article:

The second phase of expansion was far more aggressive — and risky. In the mid-16th century, Under Ivan IV, Russia finally moved to seal off the Mongol invasion route. Russia pushed south and east, deep into the steppes, and did not stop until it hit the Urals in the east and the Caspian Sea and Caucasus Mountains in the south. As part of this expansion, Russia captured several strategically critical locations, including Astrakhan on the Caspian, the land of the Tatars — a longtime horse-mounted foe — and Grozny, which was soon transformed into a military outpost at the foot of the Caucasus.

Only a person deeply ignorant about the Russian history (and literature!) could write this passage. Russian expansion along the Volga resulted in a nearly simultaneous capture of Kazan and Astrakhan (1552 and 1554, respectively). Yet, the Russian push into the Caucasus came much later – in fact, 300 years later. Grozny was never “captured.” If the author bothered to check Wikipedia, then he/she would discover that Groznaya Fortress was founded in 1818 as a Russian military outpost during the Caucasian Wars of 1817-1864.


Russian-Circassian-War by Grigory

Clearly, unlike all Russian schoolchildren, the author never read The Prisoner of the Caucasus by Lev Tolstoy.

Here’s another blooper:

Expansions to the Baltic and Black Seas did end the external threat from the Cossacks and Balts of ages past

The Cossacks were not a threat, quite the opposite. They were the Russian frontiersmen who defended Russia’s inner lands from the Tatars, the Ottoman Turks, and other enemies. The “Balts”? After the short-lived Lithuanian empire was subsumed by Poland in the sixteenth century, Lithuanians were not a threat. Neither were the Latvians or Estonians – these Baltic people were too busy to be oppressed by their German and Scandinavian overlords to think about presenting a threat to Russia. The threat on the western frontier of Russia came from those German and Swedish overlords, in fact.


Battle on the Ice  (Source)

today Russia is dealing with the fact that Russians are barely a majority in their own country

I actually know where this blooper came from. The author probably vaguely remembered the fact that Russians were barely a majority in the Soviet Union. But in Russia today (that is, the Russian Federation), the ethnic Russians are over 80 percent of the population.

I can continue in the same vein, but it becomes wearisome. The question is, how could the “leader in Geopolitical analysis” produce articles with such shoddy scholarship? Couldn’t they get somebody who is not deeply ignorant about the history of a country to write the analysis? And checking facts with Wikipedia (at the very least) doesn’t take that much time.

Next: Russia: Geography and Empire

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Daniel Hoyer

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Few people know that besides Crusades directed against Muslims in the Holy Land, there were Northern Crusades against pagans (Baltic peoples) and Orthodox Christians (Russians).

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