Information Warfare: The Russian List of Unfriendly Countries


August 21, 2023: Russia recently added longtime neighbor Norway to the Russian list of Unfriendly States. The addition of ancient friendly neighbor Norway increases the number of official Unfriendly States to 49. Most nations on the list wonder why they are considered unfriendly to Russia, despite years, or even centuries, of friendly relations. The only nation on the list that has a reason to be unfriendly to Russia is Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, in an effort to absorb Ukraine into Russia. Ukraine prefers to remain independent and points out that, as a member of the UN, Russia agreed, in writing, to respect the independence of other UN members. There are over a dozen other nations on the unfriendly list that used to be part of one Russian empire or another. Russia thinks of these nations as unfriendly just because they openly oppose becoming part of Russia.

Ukrainians are less surprised about Russia invading them. Ukrainians have been fighting foreign domination for about 1,500 years, ever since the first “Ukrainians” appeared. If you define a nationality as a collection of people with common language and cultural customs then that also defines why Ukrainians feel independent of Russia. The Russians disagree, in part because Ukrainians showed up at the same time a unified Russia appeared. Russia was willing and able to expand more rapidly than Ukraine so that today there are six times more people speaking Russian than Ukrainian. Forcing others to adopt your language is a common tool for linguistic expansion. Ukrainians had much less ambition for imperial expansion. This means that the continued existence of the Ukrainian language and nationalism is something of an achievement, one that Russia hoped to eliminate with a successful invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

What is now known as Ukraine evolved from a number of Slavic tribes speaking a common language (proto-Ukrainian) who united after Swedish Vikings traded and raided into what is now Russia via major rivers like the Neva and Vistula, both of which allowed Viking longboats to travel deep into Russia. The earliest of these Nordic raiders were known back then as the Rus (old Norse for “rowers”) and Rus eventually became Russians. This began 1,200 years ago when the Rus captured Kiev and used it as the center of a Rus kingdom that came to include Kiev, portions of modern Belarus and Russia. This was the first Russian state, and after about a century, Swedish influence declined and was replaced by Slavic customs. The locals maintained some Nordic words and customs for centuries after that. The Kievan Rus empire was composed of many distinct Slavic tribes that all recognized the city of Kiev (to northern Slavs) or Kyiv (to the southeastern and southern Slavs) as the cultural and commercial capital of this empire that lasted about three centuries.

Russian and Ukrainians differ on the importance of the Kievan Rus empire. Russia sees it as the cultural source of Russian/Ukrainian culture which Russia came to dominate. Ukrainian see the Kievan Rus empire as the origin of modern Ukraine. Russia evolved differently after the devastating Golden Horde (Mongol) invasion in the early 1200s shattered the unity provided by the Kievan Rus. After the Mongols were gone there were separate efforts to reunify what had become two separate states - Russia and Ukraine. In the north a more successful effort was aided by the dominance of Eastern Orthodox Christianity while Ukraine always had a large number of Roman Catholics as well.

Russians concentrated on achieving access to the sea, in this case the Baltic Sea. The Ukrainians had to fight various groups of Mongols, Turks and even Italian colonies to gain access to the Black Sea. Mongol power was slowly diminished by local Russian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian princes, who ruled small principalities that sometimes fought as allies of the Mongols. By 1400 Mongol power was in decline and Ukraine and Belarus were a major component of the Polish-Lithuanian confederation, which defeated the Golden Horde as well as Germans advancing from the west. While powerful, the Polish-Lithuanian empire was surrounded by enemies and subject to frequent internal conflicts.

Ukrainian history also honors the Ukrainian Cossacks, a frontier mounted militia that first appeared in the 1500s to protect southern borders from Turkic Kazaks and Tatars. The term Cossack came from an ancient Slavic work kozak, which meant a free man or adventurer. The need for kozaks arose when Ukraine established claims on lands in the south and southeast of what is now Ukraine but then was largely controlled by small numbers of mounted Tatars and Kazars. In return for official recognition and support (of individual land claims), bands of Cossacks emerged. Initially anyone could join, including Turks, as long as they swore allegiance to Ukraine and the elected leader (hetman) of each Cossack group (“host”). Sometimes the Polish nobles tried to renege on their promise of land title, and that led to the Cossack reputation for often being rebels, and effective ones on their own land. This led to a Ukrainian hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky leading a rebellion against oppressive Polish nobles that led to brief (1649-1657) independence from Polish control.

Polish and Lithuanian power was reduced in the 1700s by wars with a unified Russian kingdom (tsardom), persistent German attacks from the west and growing Turkish power in the south. Emerging in the early 1300s, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1452, ending the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) empire and giving the Ottomans control over access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean. That control lasted until 1922, when an international treaty established limits on Turkish control over access to the Black Sea. In Russia, access to the sea (the Baltic Sea) was achieved in 1709.

The first (in 1547) tsar of Russia, Ivan Grozny, is known in the west as Ivan the Terrible. In Russian, "Grozny" means fearsome, menacing or, to many Russians, “dreaded”. Tsar Ivan spent most of his 37 years in power leading his armies against various enemies, as well as reforming the Russian government. He was largely successful against Turkic enemies that occupied what is now much of southern Russia and Ukraine. Ivan was ruthless and went full Grozny against his Turkic foes. Then he sought to take Livonia (Latvia and Estonia) to provide landlocked Russia with access to the Baltic Sea. At first Ivan was successful, but Poland and Sweden intervened and turned Russia back into a landlocked empire until 1709 when tsar Peter the Great finally defeated the Swedes and created his new city on the Baltic, Saint Petersburg, which became the new Russian capital. Earlier (1686) Russia gained control of much of modern Ukraine, including Kyiv, via a treaty with Poland and Lithuania that was mainly about joint operations against the Turks. That campaign lasted until 1774 when Russia took over and the Ottomans renounced their claims to the Crimean Peninsula and a long-alliance with the Turkic Tatars. Earlier the Tatars had allied themselves with the Golden Horde and had long been a problem for Ukrainians. In some respects that is still true because the current Russian claim on Crimea traces back to their victory over the Ottomans and Tatars in 1774.

The Cossacks largely disappeared during the two world wars because they were seen as fighting for Nazis (against Russians) or for the Tsar (against rebels in general and communists in particular). Some fought for the Russians during World War II but after that they were outlawed everywhere. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 some Cossack groups reformed, pledging to serve the new Russian government. Some of these fought against Ukrainians in the Donbas.

In the 1800s nationalism became a major movement in Europe, with ethnic components of empires and large countries demanding independence. Russia had more of these independence movements than anyone else and Ukrainians demanded autonomy within the Russian empire. During World War I (1914-18) the Russian empire began to fall apart, and by the end of the first World War a civil war was underway in Russia that enabled the Ukrainians to declare independence in 1917 as the UNR (Ukrainian National Republic). Ukraine was a major battlefield for the civil war which the communists (Bolsheviks) won. Sensing that, the UNR allied itself with Poland and because of that Ukraine lost some territory as most of Ukraine became part of Soviet Russia.

During World War II many Ukrainians welcomed the invading Germans as liberators. The Germans disagreed and treated the Ukrainians as not worthy of self-rule. In response the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) formed in 1943 to fight both Germans and Soviets. After 1945 the UPA received some recognition, but little support, from the West and ruthless efforts by the Soviets eliminated the UPA by 1955. Russia did manage to convince the new UN (United Nations) that Ukraine was eligible to be a member of the UN. This gave Russia an additional vote in the UN general assembly, much to the disgust of most Ukrainians.

This violent history with Russia and the Soviet Union played a major role in Ukraine (and Belarus) insisting on independence when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. Many Russians saw this Ukrainian independence as a temporary condition, something they went war over in 2022 and openly declared they will do to other unfriendly nations that were once part of one of the many Russian empires. Several of those unfriendly states are now members of NATO. This organization has 31 members, soon to become 32 when Sweden joins. Ukraine wants to be member 33.

The concept of NATO began at the end of World War II in 1945. At that time the United States had the largest and most capable military force in what came to be known as the Western alliance. This group consisted of the industrialized nations of Europe and North America. The United States has always had the largest military and the one with many specialist capabilities European nations lacked. For example, the U.S. had the largest fleet of military air transports and these were backed up by large numbers of cargo and passenger aircraft owned by American airlines and available to the military in an emergency. The American army, navy and air force possessed special aviation capabilities no other NATO nation could muster. For example, when NATO nations were called on to operate in some distant area they depend on the large American fleet of aerial refueling aircraft and specialized aerial surveillance and electronic warfare aircraft. English has become the common language between the air forces of nearly every nation. When a NATO member requires specialized aircraft support, a French, Italian or German pilot can talk to the American aerial tanker or air traffic control aircraft in English and quickly get what they need. This capability has enabled European nations to send aircraft of ground forces long distances on short notice because the specialized American support aircraft are always available. Some European nations have a few of these support aircraft that handle most peacetime needs. But in a military crisis, like supporting Ukraine against the invading Russians, the Americans not only supply most of the military aid, but also make U.S. transportation and communications capabilities available to their NATO allies. Unless there is some major political dispute between the U.S. and European nations, this support is made available quickly and in whatever quantities are required. This makes the military forces of the entire NATO alliance more flexible and effective. In military terms these American logistic and specialist capabilities are a “force multiplier” for the troops, ships and aircraft of NATO allies.

This dependence on American resources has been criticized since NATO was founded, but none of the nations depending on that support have come up with an alternative. There were some efforts in that direction. NATO nations have a joint force of AWACS (air traffic control) aircraft and a pool arrangement for medium range air transports. European nations can gather a larger number of commercial ships for an emergency than the United States itself can. All this complements similar American support and is considered an example of how beneficial NATO cooperation is. Ukraine has benefited from this since 2022 and that is one reason Ukraine wants to join NATO as soon as the war with Russia is over. NATO policy does not allow a new member to join if they are currently involved in a war.

Russia claims it invaded Ukraine to prevent the expansion of NATO rather than seeking to rebuild the Russian Empire. The lost empire was a common complaint made by Russian leaders. Ukraine realized NATO membership would keep the Russians out. By invading Ukraine, Russia triggered substantial economic sanctions on Russia and huge NATO support for the Ukrainian military. Russian leader Vladimir Putin insists that Russian forces will keep fighting even if the Ukrainians push all the Russians out of Ukraine. Putin believes NATO countries will soon tire of spending all this money on Ukraine and reduce support. At that point Putin believes Russia will have a better chance of taking Ukraine. This is an endurance contest. Can Russia keep fighting while its economy is starved for resources by the sanctions? Can Putin survive long enough to keep Russia fighting? Will NATO nations keep spending a lot of money on military support for Ukraine? The Ukrainians have made it clear that they will keep fighting because to surrender means the end of Ukraine as an independent country and the return of Russian rule, not to mention suffering all the usual atrocities the Russians inflict on new subject populations, and did in portions of the Ukraine they conquered in this current war.

While NATO remains dependent on the Americans when large amounts of military and economic support are needed, the NATO members adjacent to Ukraine or Russia are not without resources and are spending a lot more on weapons and military equipment since the Russians invaded Ukraine. This invasion was a clear example of why NATO was needed. The Russians admit that they don’t want to fight NATO directly and are dismayed at how enormous NATO contributions of military material, but not troops, to Ukraine helped cause the Russian invasion to fail with huge military and economic losses for Russia. The NATO alliance worked and Russian aggression was halted without triggering a nuclear war.

The NATO alliance worked because its members, collectively, constitute the largest economic and military capabilities on the planet. Russia, especially leader Vladimir Putin, feared that NATO would somehow become a military threat. That was never NATO’s intention and the coalition has lasted so long because it stuck to its role as a defensive alliance. Some Russians, like Putin, see NATO’s ability to constrain Russian attack options as a form of coercion and hostility towards Russia. Similar misconceptions are common throughout history and often a cause of war. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Russian justification for that is one such example of this perverse logic. The expansion of NATO membership after the Cold War ended was seen as essential for nations near Russia to survive and that assessment proved correct. That’s why long-time neutrals like Sweden and Finland suddenly sought to join NATO. Collectively, NATO is a huge organization in terms of population and military capabilities and becomes more useful the larger it becomes. As a defensive organization it reduces military spending for members and increases national security. The cost of running NATO is miniscule, as is the annual cost to members. Efforts to establish a similar defensive organization in East Asia have increased as the Chinese military threat grows. China is not seen as unstable and prone to aggression as Russia, but neighbors of China detect ominous changing attitudes inside China that warrant considering an Asian version of NATO.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close