The return of the octopus. The new geopolitical strategy of Russia

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The purpose of this study is to seek a deeper understanding of Russia’s current geopolitical behaviour in Europe, and to shed light on the extent to which this behaviour differs from the period of the Cold War. Drawing a connection between the theoretical debates around the politicisation of borderscapes – created or shaped (‘scaped’) spaces – and around the omnipresence of borders, shows that the character of Russia’s geopolitical behaviour has changed in contrast to the period of the Cold War and earlier times. Today, Russia’s geopolitical behaviour is characterised by doing strategic injections into foreign societies, consciously creating fuzziness, as it is unclear when or where the next small dose of fear will be injected. This fuzziness in turn, can have a destabilising effect as it often causes anxiety. In conjunction with this changed character, the circumstances have changed. As a consequence of digitalisation and the related rise of social media, the medium has become radically dispersed and ownership has become radically distributed among everyone, allowing people to spread and easily make such small injections of fear bigger than they are. This can create the idea that Russia’s geopolitical agency can emerge everywhere. Notably, the destabilising effect only requires very little agency from Russia. The story of fear is no longer imposed (‘we are powerful, and you will fear us’), but made and spread by the other himself (‘we have to fear them’). What happens then is a shattering not as a result of force majeure, but as a result of self-doubt. Altogether, the changed character in conjunction with changed circumstances make the octopus as spatial metaphor to cartographically represent the geopolitics of Russia more relevant than ever.
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