Was Soviet Policy Dictated by the Empire's Strength or Weakness? (Worksheet)

U.S.S.R. summary map, 1968. CREDIT: Library of Congress

By 1981, the Soviet Union's economy was stagnant for years, yet it remained a global superpower because of its military might. This seemingly unsustainable combination led Russian-born writers Vladimir Solovyov and Elena Klepikova to ask "What if, today [1981], the last great empire on earth were nothing more than a fiction trying its best to convince both itself and others of its reality? Most important of all, which factor predominates in the Russian empire today—its strength or its weakness?"

To answer these questions, the authors turn to Russian history and culture, which emphasize the importance of empire and military—both as a sense of pride as well as a practical defense phenomenon.

The excerpt attached on the right sidebar serves as a valuable resource for students to understand continuing themes that dictate Russian politics: pride of empire, fear of invasion, and an allergy to the alien. The full article can be found here.

Discussion Questions:
1. In 1981, Solovyov and Klepikova asked "...which factor predominates in the Russian empire today—its strength or its weakness?" How would you respond to this question about Russia today?

2. "What if, today, the last great empire on earth were nothing more than a fiction trying its best to convince both itself and others of its reality?" Do you agree with this statement about the Soviet Union in 1981? Use evidence to support your claim.

3. Can you draw any parallels between how Solovyov and Klepikova describe Russia in 1981 and any other countries policies or military traditions--past or present? Explain the similar themes or actions.

4. "Russia seems in the same condition [in 1981] in which the Marquis de Custine found it in 1839, when he said: 'Today the Russian people are incapable of anything except conquering the world.' Hence the catastrophic contrast between economic and military development." Does this statement still hold true in Russia today? Explain.

This activity works well in a global history, world history, or comparative government class.