Politics and Perspective: Thucydides, Russia, and the Intersectionality of Motives

The Scene: A typical 8:30 am lecture

I spend every other weekday morning in a calculus class so the last thing I needed was to spend my day off from math looking at equilateral triangles in a PolSci lecture. Fortunately for my sanity, there was no trigonometry required. Instead, each point of the triangle was labeled as either Fear, Interest or Honor and the exercise was to plot on the triangle where we felt the motivation for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The triangle was set up based on the quote by Thucydides: “Everyone fights for fear, honor, or interest.”

Usually when I struggle to pronounce someone’s name and/or they’re a prominent ancient Greek, then I usually operate under the assumption they know what they’re talking about. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with Thucydides and his use of an exclusionary ‘or.’ The triangle chart in class does help show the intersectionality between these ideas, but it fails to show how motivations and intentions can shift over time or can differ depending on the perspective one takes.

For example, when asked to plot the motivation behind Russia’s actions, many students chose interest, with a slight lean toward honor. These results can be seen below in a graph created by students during lecture


However, this seems to be a better reflection of how Western media viewed Russia’s actions. According to an article that was published by the Moscow Times, “NATO threatened Russia. . . by expanding too far into Eastern Europe.” (Snegovaya) After the fall of the Soviet Union, the loss of formerly Russian land coupled with NATO and EU expansionism has posed a threat to Russia. The common Rusian sentiment is that Russia has only had to fear attack from the West. Further adding to Russia’s case is that Vladimir Putin has been quoted saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “The greatest geopolitical catastrophe” in regards to the 20th century. (BBC news) While Russian media, especially that designed for broadcast to the rest of the world, can carry some bias, these sentiments and feeling do build a case that Russia felt it was reacting to fear. With the potential addition of the Ukraine to the European Union, Russia would lose yet another former Soviet territory with strong eastern ties to western Europe.

The true motivation of Russia may not truly be known, but it is important to consider not only different perspectives held by parties involved, but the intersectionaliy of honor, interest, and politics.

Thucydides, in addition to keeping motives exclusionary of one another, also does not acknowledge that motives can change as actions progress. While Russia may have originally reacted for reasons strongly rooted in fear, now it seems that the successful annexation of Crimea has shifted Russia’s focus from eliminating fear to pursuing Russian interest and honor.

Perspective matters when it comes to examining politics, and unlike Thucydides and his exclusionary ‘or’, actions and reactions can be rooted to more than one cause, and can transition to other causes as they progress.




Polsci 101 Lecture Tools slides

“Putin Deplores Collapse of USSR.” BBC News. BBC, 25 Apr. 2005. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.

Snegovaya, Maria. “Ukraine’s Crisis Is Not the West’s Fault | Opinion.” The Moscow Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2014