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Russia: Now and Then


National Psyche

As the US and EU see a resurgent Russia, the intelligence community (IC) is responsible to identify any potential threats from Russia. The press may present simplistic conclusions in sound bites like "Putin is trying to resurrect the Soviet Union." However, the IC must delve into the genuine driving forces that motivate Russia and, in turn, provide insights for future behavior. To prepare for intelligence analysis tasks, whether strategic or tactical, the analyst needs an intelligence education that supports an in-depth approach for each task.

History records how a Russian national culture evolved along with indelible imprints in the national psyche. The geography of Russia, as the land mass joining Europe and Asia, resulted in a nation that has been ravaged by foreign invaders since the 1200s, including: the Mongols, Japan, Sweden, Germany, France, Lithuania, Vikings, Pechenegs, the Crimean Khanate, Poland, England, and Austro-Hungary, in addition to a 1918 attack on the Bolsheviks by 14 nations and a 1941 attack by the Axis Powers in World War II.1 The Russian climate and topography make warm water ports and hegemony over the border regions the dominating strategic concerns for Russia. A strong central authority under one leader (Tsar, General Secretary, or President) is a consistent feature of Russian domestic politics. Not always the victim, Russia and the Soviet Union have invaded other countries with a record of establishing repression in these nations.2 Therefore it can be said that the essential characteristics of Russian behavior are grounded in a paranoia of invasion by foreign powers, xenophobia, the difficulty of defending Russian borders and the compulsion for strong central control over the nation.

Russian Behavior Is Predictable

Viewed in an overall historic context, the behavior of President Putin during the past ten years becomes predictable.3 President Putin lived as a KGB officer when Russia was one of two superpowers in the world. Putin experienced the downfall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent political and economic chaos that drove a proud country to its knees. Putin presided over the rebirth of Russia, building up the economy on the oil and natural gas wealth and restoring political coherence by suppressing renegade oligarchs, criminal gangs and Chechen Muslim terrorists. As Vladimir Putin stabilized Russia, he focused on the enduring Russian strategic interests including secure borders, geographic depth, warm water ports, and a major political role in the world.

In the context of these historic characteristics, the recent actions by Russia toward the Crimea, Ukraine, the Middle East and the EU are quintessential Russian behavior. The actions are not about communism or reestablishing the Soviet Union; the current Russian actions and likely future plans will reflect strategic concerns that have driven Russia for several hundred years. Thus, the “invasion” of the Crimea and the efforts to extend a hegemony over Ukraine are consistent with the Russian psyche and historic strategic needs.

Looking to the future, the IC should weigh the historic forces that shaped Russia in a contemporary setting in order to account for the evolution of technology and current vulnerabilities. The specter of The Red Army tanks rolling across the European plains is less an immediate threat than the shutting off of the flow of natural gas to the EU or the potentially disastrous consequences arising from massive electronic hacking of US and EU economic and infrastructural Internet targets. Russian interests in the Middle East will continue as Russia wants to block US influence and maintain a Russian presence in this important, yet unstable, region. Intelligence reports and intelligence analysis ranging from a brief SITREP to the broad strategic perspective of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) all must start with an understanding of Russia and the Russian culture.

Intelligence Education as One Key to National Security

Intelligence education is a dynamic combination of principles and focused content that also provides continuous inclusion of improved methods and techniques. Emphasis on detail in the intelligence analysis process is essential, given the challenges of incomplete data and even outright deception. Online schools specializing in security, counterterrorism and intelligence are ideally suited to support US national security needs. These schools provide faculties with practical experience in actual field operations and the understanding of the basic principles of the security trade.


1. Hosking, G. (2011). Russia and the Russians. Belnap Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN:978-0-67406195-8.
2. Allison, G. (2011). Russia and US National Interests. Center for the National Interest. Retrieved: www.belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu
3. Encyclopedia Britannica. (2014). Vladimir Putin (President of Russia). Retrieved: www.britannica.com