The Sources of Russian Conduct

The New Case for Containment

An onlooker waves a Russian flag during a military parade in Belgrade to mark 70 years since the city's liberation by the Red Army, October 16, 2014. Djordje Kojadinovic / Courtesy Reuters

As the West searches for an adequate policy response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine, American and European policymakers would do well to reread George F. Kennan’s famous “X” article, published in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs. Compelling then, Kennan’s case for containing Russia makes just as much sense now.

Kennan’s central claim was that “the political personality of Soviet power as we know it today is the product of ideology and circumstances.” On the one hand, there was messianic Marxism, which rested on a Manichean view of the world and promised victory over capitalism to the socialist proletariat. On the other hand, there was a genuine belief that the rest of the world was hostile—antagonism that justified Russia’s pursuit of absolute power at home.

The policy consequences of “ideology and circumstances” were twofold. First, Soviet Russia would have to expand, as

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