Russia - Foreign Relations
"By illegally annexing Crimea, waging an undeclared war in eastern Ukraine, and occupying large swaths of Georgia’s and Moldova’s territory, Putin’s Russia has torn up the international rule book and firmly established itself as a revisionist power, undermining the basis for cooperation on European security.... Putin defines Russia’s interests in opposition to the West and isn’t interested in compromising on the issues of concern to us. His hostility is driven, first and foremost, by domestic politics. Moscow fears the encroachment of Western ideas and values and their potential to contaminate Russia itself and ultimately undermine the regime."
Trump’s ‘grand bargain’ with Russia is an illusion By Alexander Vershbow - 21 June 2018
"Russia continues to be accused of meddling in the U.S. elections and a host of other Western countries. Moscow has annexed Crimea from Ukraine, pushed into the Middle East and seemingly pushed the U.S. out of Syria. Its mercenaries have been spotted as far out as Venezuela, and it is moving into Africa. Why, then, are we suddenly seeing three conflicts - in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh - raging on its periphery, with Russia seemingly doing little to resolve them? ... Since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and interfered militarily in Ukraine to prop up the pro-Russian separatist states of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, Moscow has come to be regarded as aggressively imposing itself on the world. Its foreign policy escapades since then - the 2016 interference in U.S. elections, its military backing of Syria's Bashar Assad, its unsuccessful coup attempt in Montenegro in 2016, and its support of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela - all fall within that narrative. ... Putin's foreign policy has been about "ticking boxes," of having various agencies, both public and private, establish a presence in foreign countries either to disrupt or influence, but without a coherent strategy for an actual end...." according to Anna Arutunyan
Catherine the Great is credited with saying that the only way to secure the borders of the Russian Empire is to expand them continuously. Under Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the great power competition has re-emerged with a vengence, though Russia is punching well above its weight. This new Cold War revived the centuries-old conflict between autocracy and democracy. The strategic culture of the Kremlin is much less militarized than in Soviet times. Warplanes and ships are used mainly for bluffing and provocations. Russia is a weak country, so Russia seeks to level the playing field by weakening everyone else. Moscow is confident that Russian willpower in the pursuit of its own interests will prove stronger than the forces arraigned against it. This stems from a belief that the Kremlin under Putin is effectively a rational unitary actor, that can quickly and decisively undertake an advantageous course of action. In contrast, the West is seen as a congery of incoherent bureaucratic actors, beset by gaggles of squabbling interest groups, more inclined to dithering than acting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is indeed adhering to a global grand strategy, which aims to achieve the following goals:
- Reclaim and secure Russia’s influence over former Soviet nations
- Regain worldwide recognition as a “great power”
- Portray itself as a reliable actor, a key regional powerbroker, and a successful mediator (Katz; Borshchevskaya) in order to gain economic, military, and political influence over nations worldwide and to refine the liberalist rules and norms that currently govern the world order
Putin's statements constantly assert that the so-called ‘liberal’ idea has become ‘obsolete’ and ‘outlived its purpose’. Such remarks also come at a great time for the Russian president. It showcases how the liberal ideology tends to become divorced over time from the main interests of the people. Such assertions however, embody another calculation. By constantly arguing that liberalism is ‘dead’, Putin’s motives are aimed at carving a leadership role over the international, something that is gaining traction. As the far-right sentiment in Western society gains dominance, the contest against the left, and the idea of liberal moral superiority underscored over the past century - by the West itself - has begun to wane or at the very least be contested.
Brian Whitmore noted that Russia’s authoritarian domestic political system "is based on webs of informal patronage networks, unwritten codes, and complex kleptocratic clan structures. The corruption flows abroad too, through monopolistic oil and gas exports, preferential trade deals, money-laundering and organized crime. This weakens public confidence in government in neighboring countries and also creates direct opportunities for the Kremlin to influence decision-making. Not only is kleptocracy a vector of influence for Russia’s imperial expansion, but the Kremlin views good government in ex-communist countries as a threat to the regime’s internal stability. A key goal of Kremlin policy, therefore, is to undermine good governance within its neighbors and beyond. Democracies on Russia’s borders that espouse transparency and accountability represent an existential threat to the sustainability of a regime dependent on corruption.... The conflict between Russia and the West is at its essence a standoff between two normative systems; a Western one based on institutions, transparency, accountability, the rule of law, individual rights, and the sanctity of contracts; and a Russian one based on the subordination of law to power. The struggle pits a system that plays by the rules against one that plays with the rules."
Another ideological posture of Putin is the patriarchal relationship between Church and State, continuously highlighting their relation to the glorious imperial past. This can also be observed as the president continuously highlights the meaning of ‘morality’ and ‘spirituality’ in society through his speeches. Conditioning religion with Russia is also in alignment with the polarisation of European public opinion over LGBT issues, where the Kremlin has chosen to emphasise the state as a saviour of Christian values. The Kremlin believes in the traditional family system; emphasis on having children as a basis for individual life but also for the country’s demographic health.
John Mearsheimer in his book The Great Delusion, argues that liberal hegemony—the foreign policy pursued by the United States since the Cold War ended—is doomed to fail. The costs of liberal hegemony begin with the endless wars a liberal state ends up fighting to protect human rights and spread liberal democracy. The United States has become a highly militarized state fighting wars that undermine peace, harm human rights, and threaten liberal values at home. The liberal order seems addicted to war, militarism and ‘democratising’ the globe.
The story is by now familiar: a series of disastrous engagements in the Middle East and Afghanistan, as well as the rise of nationalism in Europe due to the back-to-back Euro and refugee crises, and in the US in response to immigration and an ascendant China have discredited the prevalent liberal consensus of the 1990s on international relations, based on universal human rights and international institutions, and buttressed by economic interdependence through global trade codified in multilateral agreements.
After the collapse of the USSR, it was normal to think that Russian foreign policy would be, if not the same as in other countries, then at least it would be different from the Soviet style. It seemed that Russia wanted friendly relations with the West and its former colonies. However, this turned out to be an illusion. The strategic culture of the Soviets — militarization, paranoia, and Messianic manners just went into hibernation for a while, but were never obsolete or replaced by something else. This Soviet-style in a slightly modified form re-appeared in the mid-1990s, when Yevgeny Primakov rose to the high post. Under him, the era of cooperation with the West was over, and a cautious, grumbling attitude began. The phrase of that time is a “multipolar world,” based on the fear of a “unipolar world,” which America rules over. In this pursuit of "multipolarity", Russia is trying to bargain with certain countries in order to "dilute" American influence. A comprehensive understanding of the political intersection between Russia, Europe, and the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union only emerged by 2016 - the year of BREXIT and Trump. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West sought to remake Russia in its own image. A quarter of a century later, Russia is well along the road of remaking the West in the image of Russia. There is once again an "irrepresible conflict" between Russia and the West. In the past, Moscow might have been content with autarky, defended by censorship at home and a bit of Communist subversion abroad.
But Russia can no longer be completely isolated from the West [unlike the DPRK], and so must proactively render the West less attractive and less threatening. Today’s propaganda coming out of Russia is quite post-modern in its hostility to "fake news" and the use of “alternate facts” to divert attention. The facts do not matter for Russian propaganda [witness the high proportion of stories on outlets like Sputnik which are manifest fabrications].
Putin's Russia was kept in eternal crisis with the outside world. This included frozen conflicts in Transnistria, Georgia, and now Ukraine (“fascist” to prod Russian memories of the Great Patriotic War), and the “cultural conflicts”, for "traditional" values of authoritarian religion and against homosexuality, that the Putin administration consistently emphasizes with Europe and America.
Russia rather ingeniously used national paranoia, racism, fear, anger, and social media-driven madness. Russia found allies among nationalists, oligarchs, and radicals everywhere, and its drive to dissolve Western institutions, states, and values found resonance within the West itself. The rise of populism, the British vote against the EU, and the election of Donald Trump were all Russian goals, but their achievement reveals the vulnerability of Western societies - deceitful, greedy, underhanded, ignorant, anti-democratic leaders and insufficiently regulated cybertechnologies. The the rising level of inequality, the death of local news, gerrymandering, and the Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations and those with enough money to buy political influence - all have rendered America more vulnerable to Russian subversion.
A new multipolar order, driven by economics and history, is emerging in the world and Western attempts to stop or to slow it down are unlikely to succeed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told UK’s Channel 4. “I think that we are in the post-West world order,” Lavrov told the British Channel 4 in an interview on 29 June 2018. “It is a historical epoch, if you want. Certainly, after five or so centuries of domination of the collective West, as it were, it is not very easy to adjust to new realities that there are other powerhouses economically, financially and politically,” he added, pointing to China, India and Brazil. Asked if Russia was shaping this world order, Lavrov replied it was rather the product of history and “development itself.”
“You cannot really hope to contain [these] new powerful, economically and financially, countries. You cannot really ignore their role in world trade and world economy,” despite attempts to slow down the process with sanctions and tariffs, the top Russian diplomat said. The European Union is “certainly a very important pillar of any world order,” Lavrov added, but it needs to decide whether to remain reliant on the US or become more self-sufficient. By way of illustration, Lavrov brought up the migrant crisis, which the EU is currently struggling with. “NATO bombed Libya, turned Libya into a black hole through which waves of migrants, illegal migrants, rushed to Europe. Now EU is cleaning the broken china for NATO,” Lavrov said.
On 18 February 2017 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the world was at a moment of change. “The responsible leaders have to make a choice. I hope that they will choose a democratic and fair world order. You might want to call it a post-West one,” he said. “If you wish, you can call it a post-West world order when each country, based on its sovereignty within the rules of international law, strives to find a balance between its own national interests and the national interests of its partners.”
“The tensions of past years between the US, Europe and Russia are unnatural,” he went on, clearly seeking to reduce tensions over his country’s recent actions in Crimea and Ukraine. “Russia is not looking for a conflict with anyone, but will always be able to protect its interests,” he added, saying he wanted to see a “common space of good neighborly relations, from Vancouver to Vladivostok.”
Larry Diamond observed that "Since the end of World War II, the most crucial underpinning of freedom in the world has been the vigor of the advanced liberal democracies and the alliances that bound them together. ... Under the shrewd and relentless assault of a resurgent Russian authoritarian state, all of this has come under strain with a speed and scope that few in the West have fully comprehended, and that puts the future of liberal democracy in the world squarely where Vladimir Putin wants it: in doubt and on the defensive.... We stand now at the most dangerous moment for liberal democracy since the end of World War II."
On 15 February 2017, Adam Garrie - political commentator and The Duran [a Russian front operation] contributor - suggested that "increasingly, people throughout the world, including in the West, are looking to Russia as an example…in things like promoting stability, promoting a country with moderate conservative values, but one that's functional, modern, technologically moving forward every day, defending the interests of her people, and in the case of Syria, actually fighting the war against terrorism in a more meaningful way than any other power outside the Middle East."
Gordon M. Hahn wrote January 23, 2017 [REPORT: Towards a Realist American Russia Policy (Part 1)] "Russia's regional-global power status is rooted in several positions. First, its nuclear weapons forces and potentially other mass destruction capabilities (biological and chemical) make Russia a potential global threat. This buttresses Russia's strong military and intelligence traditions, founded under the tsars and supplemented by Soviet 'commissars.' Second, Russia's position as one of just five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council gives Russia a kinetic global power role. Third, Russia's geopolitical (geographic position plus concomitant military and trade capabilities) position gives Russia a competitive edge in pivotal Eurasia and more importantly affords Moscow the comparative advantage over all other powers of bordering every key global civilization: the Euro-Atlantic West, Confucian Asia, Islam, Hindu south Asia, and Buddhist southeast and south Asia. Its Orthodox Christian heritage puts it at the center of another global civilizational pole. These geopolitical realities makes it possible for Russia to more easily than might seem plausible to establish itself as Eurasia's predominant power and as a global power."
In July 2014 Alexei Kudrin, the former finance minister credited with repairing Russia fiscally after the country’s financial crisis in the 1990s, said Russia's current approach could isolate the nation and derail its modernization. "There are forces in the country who have long wanted to distance us, who have wanted isolation, perhaps some kind of self-reliance,” ITAR-TASS quoted Kudrin as saying. “All this has fallen onto fertile ground and I'm just surprised at the scale of the anti-Western rhetoric which has emerged here,” Kudrin added.
Kommersant daily reported 29 October 2014 that oil giant Rosneft had offered President Vladimir Putin an entire series of measures to support the economy during the sanctions and in the event of a crisis. The list of Rosneft's measures was mindboggling, according to the newspaper's sources. It included limiting international cooperation in the use of Russian modules on the International Space Station, the ban on the final storage of nuclear waste from the US and EU countries and the possible seizure of these countries' and their citizens' property on Russian territory as an interim measure for unfulfilled contracts.
The list also suggested introducing the requirement for Russian oil and gas companies to repay their debts to European and American banks based exclusively on the decision of the Russian Central Bank. The most extravagant idea, however, was the one to introduce a moratorium on returning foreign oil and gas equipment, which was banned from being used in Russian projects by the sanctions, regardless of how it entered Russia, that is, to expropriate technology from Western service and oil and gas companies.
In total, about 200 pieces of military equipment were on Red Square, both of historical and modern design, for example, war machines on the platforms "Armata", "Kurganets" and "Boomerang", armored vehicles "Tiger" and "Typhoon", as well as the newest armored vehicles of the Airborne Forces – the airborne assault vehicle BMD-4M and armored personnel carriers "Rakushka". Spectators and viewers saw the guided weapon systems Iskander, S-400 Triumph, Yars and self-propelled artillery, including the installation Coalition-SV. 140 planes and helicopters could also be seen.
Among those present were about 30 heads of states and governments of foreign countries and the heads of international organizations. The parade also has great political significance, occurring little more than a year after Russian special forces helped annex Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and began supporting rebels with troops and weapons, according to Kyiv and Western governments. European and Western leaders who normally attended such ceremonies, including Germany and the former Soviet Union's World War II allies Britain and the United States, declined this year's invitation because of the situation in Ukraine.
By 2015 there was little intellectual framework in the West to understand Russia's foreign policy and, more broadly, to the structure of international power. Previously, Germany has been the intermediary state that could help Russia and the West find common ground. But Berlin seemed to have been disappointed by Russia's reluctance. The special relations between Russia and Germany for the time being are over.
For the authorities to maintain the strong anti-Western sentiment they had manufactured, they must now take the conflict to the next level, and that is dangerous and extremely expensive. Turning back is impossible. Russia has entered a "frozen conflict" with Europe and the United States that none of the parties like, but that they all prefer to more open conflict. The confrontation is moving into a phase of "peaceful coexistence."
By the end of 2016, The EU's influence over its eastern periphery seemed to be rapidly waning. Up until recently the EU used to be a center of gravity for many Eastern European countries, now this center was shifting to Russia. Moscow is capitalizing on the Soviet legacy, using its old ties with the former Eastern European bloc. Russia is bolstering its relations with the Balkan countries. In Bulgaria, a Socialist who was campaigning for the abolishment of EU sanctions against Russia wins the presidency. In the Republic of Moldova, the new head of state is pushing for a more radical change: to shift away from the EU and turn to the Eurasian Economic Union, an alliance of former Soviet republics. Bulgaria may establish closer relations with Russia, in the same manner as Serbia or Hungary have done.
Robert Coalson, an RFE Senior Correspondent, noted in February 2019 that "It is undoubtedly true that Russia needs peace to develop, but it is less clear whether Putinism needs peace to survive. Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has often legitimized his authoritarian methods by stoking fears of external enemies surrounding his supposedly beleaguered country. "In the Russian case, the primacy of the state has been legitimized with reference to real or (more often) imagined threats, both internal and external," analyst Lilia Shevtsova wrote in a 2010 monograph for the Carnegie Endowment. "Those threats had to be severe enough to justify the militarization of everyday life in Russia and the subjugation of the very foundations of society to militarist goals. In short, Russia developed a unique model for the survival and reproduction of power in a permanent state of war. This situation was maintained even in peacetime...." "
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