As World War II was coming to an end, the soon to be victorious allies met in Crimea to discuss the reorganization of Europe’s postwar order at the Yalta Conference. Conference attendees included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin.
During the conference, the allies discussed the fate of Germany, Eastern Europe, and Northeast Asia. And now, almost 72 years later, President Putin is seemingly trying to assert a new reorganization of Europe, and a new sphere of influence.
On February 21st, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “We have reiterated our high opinion on the policy of Sweden and, also, Finland that adhere to the nonaligned course in military affairs … We see it as an important token of regional stability in the Baltic region and Europe in general.”
Whether Sweden and Finland choose to remain nonaligned is not as important as Russia’s belief that it has a sphere of influence, or a say in the sovereignty and decisions of Nordic states. Additionally, Mr. Lavrov’s statement suggests that should Sweden and Finland join NATO, it will provoke instability in the Baltic and Nordic region. This is particularly unnerving, especially if one looks at the recent history in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. Any threatened ‘instability’ from Moscow likely means another theatre for Russia to justify intervention under yet another false flag.
Of course, despite President Putin’s preference for a shoulder-to-shoulder meeting with President Trump to discuss the fate of other sovereign countries; there will be no new Yalta for Putin.
But what are spheres of influence?
A sphere of influence is geographic region in which a stronger state uses its power or authority to affect the policies, culture or economic developments of those within its ‘sphere.’ Most importantly, a sphere of influence means that no other state will interfere with those under the influence of another. A classic example of a sphere of influence is the US’ Monroe Doctrine during the 19th century involving South America.
But, a sphere of influence is not always a negative term. In fact, a sphere of influence can be mutually accepted between 2 states. For example, when countries reform their domestic political and/or military institutions to conform to NATO’s standards or in the case of Europe, the EU, these countries are willing participants in those forms of influence (also known as soft power). The acceptance and internalization of various reforms to join economic and military organizations are recognized as appropriate types of soft power or influence. But what is not accepted, is the unilateral declaration from one sovereign state to another dictating its allowed behaviors.
Statements and actions such as those by Mr. Lavrov make it increasingly clear what Russia wants, a region of non-intervention by Western powers; a region near its borders where it can harass and threaten those at will to achieve its goals.
Russia’s growing preference to limit outside interference in non-NATO/ formally Soviet counties based on de-facto rights and not so slightly veiled threats of ‘instability,’ is as apparent as ever.
It will be important that Russia’s perceived sphere of influence is not recognized or acknowledged by any major power. Instead, Russia’s interests should be noted and monitored in order to better understand the motives of future Russian foreign policy abroad.