OPINION: Princeton Professor Recommends Recognizing Crimea as Russian Territory

Professor Stephen Kotkin, pictured in 2015, discussing his book Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. Wikimedia Commons.

Professor Stephen Kotkin, pictured in 2015, discussing his book Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. Wikimedia Commons.

As the United States grapples with its relations with Russia in a changing world order, academics have been giving widely diverging views. Professor Stephen Kotkin of Princeton University addressed guests at the Cato Institute on November 1. His talk was titled “Stalin’s Propaganda and Putin’s Information Wars,” although the actual focus was on present day Russia policy in the United States.

Kotkin began his talk in a college lecture hall style, explaining what he considers the components of modern authoritarianism. According to Kotkin, the modern authoritarian state has the following elements:

  • A repressive apparatus that is too inefficient to allow for an internal coup

  • Economic liquidity

  • State control over life chances (i.e. education, employment, housing, etc)

  • Propagation of persuasive stories about fear of different groups, blocked hopes and dreams, complaints, and other emotionally motivating narratives

  • An international system that is conducive to authoritarianism

He went on to identify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current regime as notably authoritarian but quickly moved to explain the weakness of Putin’s current position. He pointed to Russia’s lack of technological infrastructure—the center of Russian technoculture is in Tel Aviv, Israel—and their hemorrhaging of intellectual property. He stated that the image of Russia as a great adversary to the United States was an idea propagated by the Democratic Party; whereas, Republicans portray China as the new Cold War adversary. Given Russia’s incompetence, American problems with Russia are purely American: Kotkin explained that the “circus in Washington is the business model of American media now” and that Facebook is at fault for their vast, exploitable vulnerabilities.

With these ideological foundations, Kotkin then put forth policy recommendations for the United States when it comes to Russia. He began by saying that the U.S. should have a measured Russia policy; none currently exists. According to Kotkin, the policy should not be one that actively focuses on Russia but instead approaches it calmly and discretely. His tone was not one of deference to Russian power; rather, he painted the Russian state as a bumbling survivor, not an active player on the global stage.

His two primary policy propositions for the United States were 1) recognizing Crimea as a territory of Russia instead of Ukraine in an effort to appease and bargain with Russia via a renegotiation of the 1991 Settlement and 2) shooting down Russian planes that buzz American military vehicles for affirmative deterrence.

Kotkin’s policy advice comes out of a Princeton tradition of white, male scholars that do not prioritize human rights in the global order. His Crimea recommendations, in particular, show little regard for past humanitarian results of appeasement. It was a lecture typical of the Cato Institute’s provocative output.