For instance, China has also put importance on military muscle, but not with the price of the economy.

The following graph shows that Russia's GDP is falling and China's GDP has rocketed.

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The following graph shows that Russia's GDP/capita is sharply declining.

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I would say Russia is the only permanent member of UNSC that trades military muscle with the economy.

Why does Russia always put importance on military muscle and world dominance rather than economic development?

  • 3
    Arguably, Russia is not the only country of this nature. Consider "North" Korea, "Islamic State", "Transnistria", Donets'k/Luhans'k "republics", "Abkhazia" and "South Ossetia", or numerous countries of the kind in the past, including the entire "Soviet Bloc" in Europe, Mid East, Latin America, Africa, and Asia/Pacific regions. Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 7:39
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    @bytebuster, the countries you have listed, do not have military bases in Syria or elsewhere, do not have aircraft carriers, and spend very little on defence.
    – user4514
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 7:46
  • 2
    @Taladris, Graphs clearly shows that Russian GDP and GDP/capita are declining. And, even if Russian GDP/capita is stable, it is much lower than that of USA/France/UK. When a country's GDP is on the decline, it shouldn't have been spending money in Syria. And, if Syria was so profitable, why is China not waging wars, suppose, in Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia?
    – user4514
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 8:42
  • 8
    The traditional answer is that Russia does not want "world domination" but a buffer large enough to protect themselves; historically Western invasions in Russia suffered a lot from the lack of logistic so far away from their bases. Having a (hypotetical) invasion start from Ukraine or Belarus would negate that advantage.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 8:54
  • 7
    What Russia (i.e., the Russian people) wants and what Vladimir Putin (i.e., the strongman currently on the Russian throne) wants are two very different things.
    – Vikki
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 3:09

3 Answers 3


Stratfor has about 200,000 articles and podcasts explaining this.

The problem with your question is that your premise is wrong. Russia isn't putting importance on "world domination" per se (and hasn't been since Khruschov). It's putting importance on military strength, rather, with two distinct goals:

  • Primary goal: strategic in-depth defense.

    The basic geopolitical premise here, is obvious when you look at topographic maps.

    Russia proper has absolutely no natural defensible borders in the West and South-West. From Ukraine, or Belorussia, or Baltics, you can strike at the main part of the country, and roll through it without any natural defensive positions right up to Moscow - which, it should be noted, was already done by both Napoleon's France in 1812 and Hitler's Germany in 1941, as well as earlier by Poland in 1610 and even earlier by Western knights (Google "Alexander Nevsky") - as well as unsuccessful attempt by Swedes and Poles during Great Northern War.

    Map showing the Napoleonic invasion of Europe Operation Barbarossa map

    The same is pretty much true in the South, with earlier attacks by Ottomans, and of course Mongols under Subedai's command and on.

    The ONLY reasonable way to overcome this geopolitical deficiency is defense in depth - you create a set of buffer territories in the West and south-West and South that at best, allow you to trade more space for defense, or at best, have West or South-West facing natural defenses, as well as having a large strong army.

    The problem is that controlling this belt of satellite buffer territories requires military power and/or economic power - the latter of which, Russia lacks, partly due to having expensive intra-country navigation.

  • Secondary goal When feasible, weaken the primary opposing hegemonic power that is a threat to Russia.

    Prior to 1939, that was Europe.

    Past 1945 it was the West/NATO, with United States in its lead.

    Which leads us to Syria.

    Syria is just an effective way to weaken US/NATO.

    • Syria is a part of heavily-anti-US Shiite axis (Iran, Al-Assad's Shiit(ish) Alawite led Syria, Hezbolla-dominated Lebanon).

    • Syria offers Russia a cheap way to project power in Middle East, thereby affecting the regional geopolitics, thereby raising the price of oil - which benefits Russia's economy. (America's main strategic goal in Middle East is stability, to promote lower oil prices). Both as a client state, as well as basing rights (Tartus base).

    • Less importantly, Syria offers a way to test military doctrine, tactics, training and hardware, in a way no fake military excercise can.

Now, if it gets world domination as a side deal of this, they obviously wouldn't object, as they can leverage that into things that benefit Russia, ultimately. But that's not an outright goal.

  • 2
    You could mention that economic benefits are enjoyed among the general population while political power is concentrated in Russia and enjoyed by the few (or the one). Putin is sometimes thought to be among the top richest people in the world. What does he care about the peasants?
    – user9790
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 13:53
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    Is it really necessary? What is the risk that Poland will decide to annex Russia? What is the risk that the USA will decide to annex Russia? Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 11:34
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    @user253751 - as always, to get "risk" value, you should multiply the probability of event by amount of expected loss. So while the probability of USA deciding to annex Russia may be small - [citation needed] - the catastrophicness of outcome makes the risk pretty big.
    – user4012
    Commented Mar 2, 2022 at 6:26
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    @user253751 - oh, and (leaving aside the differences between probability and risk), the probability that Poland will decide to annex Russia is pretty high if you pay attention to your priors (like, the fact that Poland not only repeatedly tried to annex Russia, but actually bloody well succeeded - in 15th century if my memory serves me well). Not to mention, Poland isn't the only threat from the Western direction, and not much of a barrier, as 1939-1941 proven.
    – user4012
    Commented Mar 2, 2022 at 6:28
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    To a historically-educated Russian, it's a big, big, tangible threat, given the particulars of Russia's centuries old history, and that's baked deep into Russians' culture and psyche, in a way Americans or Brits don't really get. Obviously, doesn't excuse Russia/USSR/RE's behavior, but it explains it.
    – user4012
    Commented Mar 2, 2022 at 6:32

There are several reasons why Russia put importance on world dominance, or more diplomatically said "being of a big player in global politics".

  1. Historically, Russia has been an important country with lots of influence. Tsars were strong rulers, with great military power (e.g. they stopped Napoleon's expansion), and cultural influence. During the Russian Enlightenment in the 18th century, the Russian government (notably, Peter and Catherine the Great) encouraged the development of art and science. More recently, in the 20th century, Russia's USSR was competing with the USA to be the leading nation in no less than the military, economic, scientific, and cultural domains: it produced the second major economical philosophy (communism) and was the first nation to have a man in space! Being considered a country in decline has a bad effect on the population's mood and trying to restore your international prestige has certainly a lot of weight in interior politics. Someone just got elected with the "Make America great again" motto...
  2. It is also well-known that one of the main purposes for going to war is to directly get strategic resources. And Russia has a terrible resource problem. One of the crucial ones is access to the sea, with the main objective of exportation. Russia has currently two main accesses to the sea: the North which is frozen most of the year, and the Vladivostok area, which is far in the East. That's why Ukraine was pivotal in the USSR, and probably why Russia recently invaded Crimea.
  3. Also, you may consider Russia to be "aggressive" because you look from the wrong perspective. Another point of conflict is Georgia and more generally Eastern Europe countries. That's maybe an old concept but many countries consider that having neighboring countries integrating the sphere of influence of other global powers has a bad sign. And what did Russia see in the recent past? Baltic countries integrated the EU, and Ukraine was considering it. The same Baltic countries also integrated NATO and Georgia has a Partnership Plan (no Membership Plan) with NATO. Remember that NATO was founded with the promise that it will not act in a threatening way to other powers. China is also very active in the East.
  4. What about Syria? According to Wikipedia, Russia wants to protect its naval base in Tartus. Another reason is that Syria is the strongest ally of Russia in the Middle East, a very sensible region in the global chess game. Russia wants to protect Assad to keep its position in the region. This answer to a question on Quora suggests also that Russia tries to meddle with the perceived US plans in the Middle East. What is clear is that Syria is used as a way of "political meddling" with Western nations. For good or bad reasons, Russia and China acted as a counter-power to the USA (and the UK and France) in the Security Council of the United Nations. Most of the time, it was by vetoing resolutions of the Security Council, but Russia may have felt that direct intervention was needed this time.
  5. Also, Russia has a direct economical motivation to be in Syria, since they sell weapons to Syria. I guess it does not fare high compare to the involved military expenses though. However, this article explains that Russia actually sold "advanced weapons" (whatever it means) to Syria in part of the deal to use Tartus.
  6. The real economical reason, as explained by the Quora answer, is indirect. There is one resource that Russia has plenty of: gas. And they sell their gas (through the company Gazprom) to European countries (30% of the UE consumption in natural gas in 2014). Realizing this dependence on Russia (Putin used the threat of blocking the gas provision in the Ukrainian conflict), European countries are constructing a pipeline from Qatar via Syria. Putin cannot just let this happen.
  • "Tsars were strong rulers, with great military power (e.g. they stopped Napoleon's expansion)" - wasn't it winter that actually stopped Napoleon's expansion? I mean, if I remember history correctly...
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 6:44
  • @virolino This is such a simplistic and primitive explanation... No, you do not remember history correctly. Napoleon didn't manage to force Russia to negotiate. Also he could not defeat the Russian army. So he had to retreat from Moscow. He took that decision before the winter. And it was during that retreat that winter hit him. Also Russian army went all the way to Paris.
    – CITBL
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 8:58
  • @CITBL: I am not a historian, so I must have been stuck in the urban myth.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 9:03

Why does Russia always put importance on military muscle and world dominance rather than economic development?

could it be that your analysis is flawed?

if you put any economy to the chinese economy, you would find that it lags seriously. what happened in china is nothing short of a miracle.

The following graph shows that Russia's GDP/capita is sharply declining.

that's because of their heavy dependence on energy export.

what is a trade-off between military muscle vs. economic development is quite subjective. I would argue that some measurements along the lines of defense spending vs. gdp, defense spending vs. deficit, ..., presumably over a period of time to iron out inter-period kinks, would be a good starting point.

those figures are fairly easily obtained so you can do a much better and more comprehensive analysis.

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