Sunday, January 15, 2023

Russia Suffers from a Territorial Curse that Only Massive Defeat Can Cure, Epstein Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 12 – Many have suggested that Russia suffers from a resource curse that has allowed Moscow elites to enrich themselves while doing little for the rest of the population, but the true curse is a territorial one, an almost religious veneration of territorial expansion without concern for developing the land the country already has, Mikhail Epstein says.

            The distinguished specialist on Russian culture at Emory University argues that for many Russians, including those in elites, expanding the size of Russia is more important than anything else even though these very same people remain indifferent to developing the land and people they already possess (

            This “territorial curse” predisposes Russians to what others would call imperialism, Epstein says; but it is different from ordinary imperialisms. In most cases, states pursuing imperial agendas do so to benefit their own elites and populations but in Russia, the state seeks to expand as an end in itself, with little or no regard as to whether that benefits Russia as such.

            This Russian impulse carries with it what the Russian scholar says is “a strange law.” Whenever Russia does expand, it stops for a time; but only when it loses its efforts to do so or in fact loses territory does it display tendencies toward rapid, even stormy development of its own territories and population.

            And what that means is this, Epstein says. “Only the bitterness of defeat can remove both an inferiority complex and megalomania from Russian society” and open the way for a better future for Russia and her peoples. Thus what may appear to them to be a victory will rapidly turn into the bitterest of defeats. 

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