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Intervention as Virtue, Obligation and Moral Duty

The Meaning of Russia’s Rhetoric on Responsibility during the Georgian and the Crimean Crises

Anatoly Reshetnikov

During its 2008 intervention in Georgia, Russia justified its actions by appealing to its responsibility to protect compatriots, civilians and soldiers. At the international level, such justification was refuted on both legal and normative grounds. However, during the Crimean crisis of 2014, Russia yet again resorted to the same kind of rhetoric, even though the Crimean case provided even less grounds for making such justification convincing for the international audience. I argue that Russia’s rhetorical choices, instead of being a mere smokescreen for the Kremlin’s realpolitik, are symptomatic. They stem from the tensions in Russia’s political identity. Out of three semantic clusters in Russia’s responsibility discourse, only one – responsibility as moral duty – enjoyed overwhelming support among its main target audience (domestic population). I suggest that the continued references to its legal and international systemic responsibilities, puzzling for international audience, were epiphenomenal to Russia’s successful appeals to its moral duties at home.