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“Russia’s Military Revival” by Bettina Renz Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Aug 1st, 2021

Since the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and military campaigns in Syria, Russia’s foreign policy has drawn public attention. Most of the current country leaders, especially those of the West and the USA, voice their concern about the growing military enforcement of the Russian Federation. Many political scientists commenced a series of studies trying to define and calculate Russia’s next steps in terms of foreign policy regarding the recent precedents. The main concern, however, was to identify the Russian government’s incentives behind all the military actions. One of the most outstanding authors in this field is Bettina Renz and her study called Russia’s Military Revival. In the book, Renz made a serious attempt to explain the philosophy and motivation of Russian governmental bodies to a broad audience. The purpose of this paper is to examine and analyze Russia’s Military Revival as well as to express some personal attitudes and ideas on the given topic.

For the past years, most politicians were convinced that the fact of the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and military intervention in the Syrian civil War served as catalysts for further campaigns. Such convictions caused concern among governmental bodies of Western Europe and the USA. However, Russia’s Military Revival, published in 2018, allayed all the beliefs in Russia’s potential uprising. While the vast majority of people were convinced that in 2014, the Russian Federation began to lay the foundation for the upcoming riot, Renz gave strong arguments to dispel these doubts. To counter this position, she stated that all the aforementioned actions were nothing but a display of its self-realization (Stent 230). Her main objective was to put all the recent events concerning Russia’s military campaigns into the context of its overall history and the army development since the existence of the Russian Empire.

In doing so, the author managed to single out four main tendencies of Russia’s foreign policy. According to Renz, they are “great power status, sovereignty, imperial legacy, and multilateralism” (15). These factors, to her mind, along with the overall world perception and mentality, have led to such behavior. Regarding these arguments, the author has concluded that the governmental bodies of world-leading countries should as well put all the actions into a perspective of historical background.

Considering all the arguments mentioned above, the attitude to this research is quite controversial. On the one hand, the amount of effort put into the study is impressive, and all the arguments given have reasonable proofs. It goes without saying that every military action should be examined from the historical point of view because world history tends to repeat itself. On the other hand, however, to study the situation only from a perspective of its historical preconditions is not objective. Even though patterns of political behavior are crucial in terms of research, they still do not guarantee that the situation will not go beyond the limits this time. So, without excluding possible overestimation of Russia’s military potential, the world community should still be very attentive to its further behavior.

As it was mentioned in the previous paragraph, to define the roots and the scope of an issue, a researcher needs to understand the context. Among all the points singled out in the book, a huge part of a narrative is devoted to the problem of Russia’s historical development. Although it appears to be extremely beneficial, the idea of context importance in this discourse might be slightly over-emphasized.

For instance, the thesis about Russia’s military resources and their capabilities can become a ground for a continuous discussion. According to Renz, from the historical point of view, the military equipment is not ready for an expansionist policy because it has not undergone severe modifications since the Soviet Union (103). Although this argument is substantialized, the facts of the rapid development of military armament and the impressive amount of human resources should not be neglected. Until the late 20th century, the Russian Federation had been struggling with significant economic issues, and hence, had not had the opportunity to rebuild its military. However, about 20 years ago, Russia started a serious policy towards military reinforcement, and this tendency of rapid development should be more interesting for the researchers than the events that happened a century ago.

When compiling a book, Renz decided to take the key assumptions regarding the “timing, purpose and scope” of Russia’s eagerness to the realm and then dissolve them in the context (24). The first assumption is based on the idea that this eagerness serves as a signal to a paradigm shift in Russia’s foreign policy. The second assumption claims that Russian governmental bodies pay much attention to the rearmament for further expansionist policy. The last premise bears the idea that the military resources of the Russian Federation are now equal in force to the resources of the West. Thus, the main objective of the author was not to establish some key points and develop their argumentation in the following chapters. She has taken already existing stereotypical statements instead and tried to counter them with an impressive load of arguments. Choosing such an approach was a beneficial idea in terms of the readers’ engagement and the availability of information.

These statements create the foundation of Russia’s Military Revival, and they were followed throughout the whole narrative. It goes without saying that historical context is only one perspective from which the development of Russia’s resources and potential foreign policy approaches could be analyzed. Along with the historical aspect, the author could have developed the idea of the governmental structure that has not changed since the beginning of the millennium. However, mostly because of the long existence as a sovereign state, almost all the patterns of foreign policy tend to repeat themselves because they are already integrated into the overall federative system. Hence, even if the fundamental assumptions regarding the topic of foreign policy were changed, the conclusions would not undergo resonant modifications.

In today’s rapidly changing world, any expressed thesis can become outdated within a year or even a month. The major issues discussed in the book included Russia’s military involvement in the Syrian War and invasion of Ukraine. Even though the events discussed are still relevant, the discourse of these precedents is significantly different in 2019 due to the appearance of new country leaders and countries involved in conflicts. With an ongoing Syrian conflict, the concept of the “new Cold War” between the US and Russia has also changed and become a more evident threat for world leaders (Rotaru 12). Thus, it is quite hard to establish firm arguments on a specific idea with the constant appearance of new concepts and points of view.

Some articles published two or three years ago express different ideas on the topic of Russia’s rearmament and military invasions. According to Becker et al., the annexation of the Crimean peninsula serves as a catalyst not only for Russia but also for other countries to commence the invasions in terms of their foreign policy (127). Nowadays, this idea is no longer relevant because, since 2016, there are no further invasion examples to support this thesis. Trenin’s article, which was published the same year, on the contrary, totally corresponds to the idea of Russia’s Military Revival about Russia’s armament potential. The author notes that the Russian Federation needs a lot of time and resources to rebuild its military to the level of its major rival – The USA (Trenin 29). Regarding the examples above, it might be noticed that no publications connected to politics can be considered stable. All these sources are very beneficial in terms of contrastive analysis of certain political issues, but they cannot remain reliable for a long time. Thus, while Russia’s Military Revival describes the events still happening in the world, the attitudes to them may change rapidly.

Conclusion

Bettina Renz, in her book Russia’s Military Revival, tries to reveal the major motives and ideas standing behind Russia’s military actions that took place during the past few years. The primary purpose of the book is to show that different media and political resources exaggerate the military potential of the Russian Federation as well as to counter the idea of Russia’s further invasion policy. The discussed book, by all means, serves as a valuable tool for understanding the historical patterns of Russia’s behavior towards foreign policy. However, the way of conveying information cannot be regarded as totally objective and unbiased. Hence, the reader should keep in mind that the data provided requires further analysis.

Works Cited

Becker, Michael E., et al. “Reviving the Russian Empire: The Crimean Intervention Through a Neoclassical Realist Lens.” European Security, vol. 25, no. 1, 2016, pp. 112-133.

Renz, Bettina. Russia’s Military Revival. Polity Press, 2018.

Rotaru, Vasile. “Instrumentalizing the Recent Past? The New Cold War Narrative in Russian Public Space After 2014.” Post-Soviet Affairs, 2018, pp. 1-16.

Stent, Angela. “Russia and Eurasia. Survival.” Global Politics and Strategy, vol. 61, no. 1, 2019, pp. 226-232.

Trenin, Dmitri. “The Revival of the Russian Military: How Moscow Reloaded.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 95, no. 3, 2016, pp. 23-29.

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