By Abraham H. Miller, Originally published in American Spectator
you want to understand the foreign policy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, you might begin by looking at a map of Russia. It is a vast country that spans the globe from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean at latitudes that make winter a series of omnipresent challenges. One of those challenges is the need for warm water ports.
Access to the sea is vital to Russia’s prosperity. Russia’s quest for warm water ports has dominated its policy of expansionism since Ivan the Terrible, and it guided the policies of Peter the Great when he wrested what became known as St. Petersburg from Sweden.
There are only three places through which Russia can trade by sea with the wider world — St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, and Crimea. Vladivostok is thousands of treacherous miles from the hub of the Russian economy and requires icebreakers four months of the year, making Crimea and St. Petersburg all the more important.
When Russian President Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea back to Ukraine, it was at a time when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. To reestablish Russia as a military and economic power, Crimea is essential. Putin could no more leave Crimea to the Ukrainians than Barack Obama could give Pearl Harbor back to the Hawaiians.
No matter who governs Russia, every head of state must pursue, acquire, and defend warm water ports for Russia’s merchant and military naval fleets.
Like nature, strategic interests abhor a vacuum. President Obama has decided to withdraw from the Middle East and develop Iran as the regional hegemonic power.