John J. Mearsheimer is probably the best known scholar of the self-ascribed "realists" -- political philosophers purporting to view the world through the lens of military balance of power at the expense of all other priorities. In some sense they are intellectual heirs of the "realpolitik" school of political science, which studies politics as competition of interests without judgement on values.

Mearsheimer has long been putting forward the proposition that Russia is honest about its priorities with respect to containing NATO "expansion" because NATO has indeed been accepting new members. He claims to have "predicted" Russia's invasion of Georgia and Ukraine.

The elevation of military balance of power over all other considerations (economic, social, political, etc.) has been the traditional Russian doctrine. So in that sense the "realists" views maybe predictive.

Other reasons explaining Russia's actions

Russia has other pressing priorities which can explain its actions, without blaming them on the the balance-of-military-power issues.

  • the invasion of Georgia resulted in destruction of the oil pipeline connecting Azerbaijan and Turkey, which was in direct competition with Russia's own oil deliveries;
  • and the invasion of Ukraine advances Russia's most pressing priority -- delaying Russia's decreasing-population problem and all the socioeconomic problems that follow from it. Obviously Ukraine is the largest source of Russian-speaking population that Russia could find.

Collapse of the realists' view

Further debunking the realists' view, Russia's has accepted Finland and Sweden gaining NATO candidate status without any military response.

Finland's border with Russia is actually comparable to Ukraine's border with Russia (1340km vs 1975km). And Finland's border lies much,much closer to Russia's key population center of St. Petersburg than Ukraine is to either Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The fact that Russia simply doesn't care about Finland being part of NATO is a fairly clear indication that Russia doesn't really fear an attack from NATO territory.

There are historical reasons, too. Neither Russia, nor the Soviet Union, has ever been attacked by a NATO-member country. So there is at least some evidence for the theory that the structure of the NATO alliance actually discourages, rather than enables, an attack on Russia.

Cause or effect: the question

Professor John J. Mearsheimer very well known. His YouTube videos have been seen by millions and he's written a number of well-received books.

There is, in my view, a very good chance that Russia's top brass has actually adopted his talking points. Mearsheimer could have, in effect, unwittingly enabled Russia's doctrine through the course of his scholarship. This is not the same as Mearsheimer being a Russian agent, or anything along those lines.

It looks to me that the relationship between the realists and the Russian propaganda is like that of applied mathematicians and physicists. While the former study the constructs presented by the latter in the abstract, they also enable the latter by creating for them a more rigorous structure.

But I have no evidence that the Russians looked at the realists and decided that they were a good Western intellectual framework on which to base their propaganda.

Does such evidence exist? Did Mearsheimer receive any (above-boards) grants from any Russian foundations or Universities? Has he lectured in Russia? Is he a member of any think tank sponsored by any Russian government interests? Anything like that?

I accept that the answer maybe "No." So, please, don't tell me that I am trying to prove something without evidence. I don't know the answer to the question. That's why I am asking it.

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    The middle two sections where you are discussing your own views rather than the main question should probably just be deleted to be on topic here. After that, the question may well just sit here unanswered, or only get bad answers. If your supposition is true, then maybe you'll get an answer presenting evidence. But (especially if it's not true), it seems quite plausible that no public evidence exists at all on whether Mearsheimer influenced Putin; in that case nobody will be able to give an answer with actual evidence, so the only thing people could offer would be speculation.
    – Ben
    Jun 15 at 1:46
  • @Ben the question doesn't make any sense without showing that the "realists" view is no longer tenable. I took myself out of the wording of the question. And rephrased it to say that the alternative view makes more sense. As for whether the answer "no" is possible, I think it's still possible by someone who is very familiar with Mearsheimer's work. And this is a site which asks for expert opinions. I am only asking about public evidence. Grants and such are public knowledge. They are given to support and honor scholar's academic endeavors.
    – wrod
    Jun 15 at 2:38
  • @wrod Does the question really not make sense without that? In those two sections you are putting fourth an argument about the conclusions we should draw from some facts (namely that the realists are wrong); it's not necessarily "opinion", but it's not a question either. And it seems to me you could ask your question (whether Mersheimer has influenced Russian doctrine) whether or not realists are correct about Russia's true motives. So I don't think the question needs an argument that the realists are wrong?
    – Ben
    Jun 15 at 2:45
  • @Ben I think the question would be too speculative without the middle sections. In other words, if you don't know that the Russian doctrine has turned on a dime like that, then why would you suspect that Mearsheimer's work has shaped the doctrine rather than described it? Then the counter question would be "anything is possible, so why would you suspect that this one thing is what happened?" But I do have an actual motivation for the question. So why not list it?
    – wrod
    Jun 15 at 2:51
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    FWTW, if you're curious where M gets some money, it's apparently the Koch brothers popular.info/p/koch-funded-analyst-raises-doubts?s=r NYT said the same a while back nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/10/magazine/…
    – Fizz
    Jun 15 at 5:15

1 Answer 1


On the Wikipedia page about the Georgian oil pipeline there's nothing about it being damaged during the 8/8/8 Georgia-Russia war.

Even if it was, the entirety of the pipeline is on Georgian controlled territory so there's no reason why it won't be repaired on the spot.

Finally, both Turkey and Azerbaijan are important Russian diplomatic partners and Russia would not be able to "just" disable their pipeline even if it wanted.

The question seems to greatly oversimplify the politics and as such does not have an answer.

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