My article in The New Republic, “Is Russia Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?”
In Collapse of an Empire, Yegor Gaidar, the Russian economist and 1990s shock therapist, wrote that “the identification of state grandeur with being an empire makes the adaptation to the loss of status of superpower a difficult task for the national consciousness of the former metropolis.” Gaidar likened the loss of the Soviet empire to Germany’s defeat in WWI and warned, like Weimar Germany, Russia could thirst for a strong national leader to right the wrongs of the Soviet collapse. Empire, after all, was “an easy-sell product, like Coca-Cola” to a parched population. Gaidar turned out to be premature though prescient. Only now, with the crisis in Ukraine, is the opportunity for Russian revanchism—and the collective trauma that serves as its foundation—fully revealed.
Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea is a reaction to a trauma experienced by millions of Russians: In his speech to Russia’s Federation Council, Putin called Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea to Ukraine a robbery that made Russians on the peninsula feel “they were handed over like a sack of potatoes.” Crimean Russians simply “could not reconcile themselves to this outrageous historical injustice.” This trauma redoubled when the Soviet Union collapsed. “Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” he said.