International Politics

, Volume 56, Issue 4, pp 427–443 | Cite as

Offensive realism, differentiation theory, and the war in Ukraine

  • Jochen KleinschmidtEmail author
Original Article


In this article, I shall demonstrate that several of the arguments made in favour of an offensive realist explanation of Russian actions in Ukraine as part of a power balancing process are inconsistent both with available empirical knowledge of the conflict in Ukraine and with the structural logic postulated by offensive realist theory itself. Rather than a conflict about power in a material sense, I will argue that the war in Ukraine is better understood as a conflict about the incompatibility of the Russian state structure to cope with the imperatives of functional differentiation as understood by theories of world society.


Russia Ukraine Offensive realism Differentiation theory Conflict World society 



This article was completed in mid-2017 without external funding of any kind. The original idea was based on discussions with David Clay Large in the context of an event at the Institute of European Studies at UC Berkeley in 2015. Further versions of the paper have benefited from critical discussions with Bettina M. E. Benzing, Andrés Peña Galindo, Vladimir Rouvinski, Stephan Stetter and Arlene B. Tickner.


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Political Science, Government and International RelationsUniversidad del RosarioBogotáColombia

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