Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Leonid Bershidsky

A NATO of the Mind Limits Putin's Sphere of Influence

Negative attitudes toward NATO may define the Kremlin's potential sphere of influence.
Superpower status again?

Superpower status again?

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

The future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization may be in question thanks to U.S. President Donald Trump's dismissal of it as "obsolete," but NATO is still useful in at least one sense. Attitudes toward it form the most obvious border between the so-called "Russian World" -- a construct used by Russia to describe its desired sphere of influence -- and that part of the post-Communist world that no longer looks to Moscow for guidance and may never do so again.

A quarter of a century after the Soviet breakup, Russia is laying claim to superpower status again, using many of the same methods perfected during the Cold War. In some ways, it's too late to the party. Its old empire -- both the czarist version and the two-speed Eastern Europe built by the Communists, in which some nations were absorbed into the Soviet Union and others supported as its closest Comecon satellites -- has decomposed too much to be revived. President Vladimir Putin's Russia needed a new idea for restoring Russian power, and it appeared to find one in the "Russian World" idea espoused by the Russian Orthodox Church.