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What’s next for Russian foreign policy?
What’s next for Russian foreign policy?
As of late autumn 2016, Russian foreign policy continues to be focused on enhancing Russia’s status as a great power. Moscow is looking for opportunities to convert its growing military capabilities and still considerable economic resources into concessions to Russia by its international counterparts on the range of issues that Moscow considers of key importance for its security and economic prosperity. Russia continues to seek ways to boost its
The Kremlin is convinced that the source of authority in today’s world is predominantly located in Washington. From such a perspective, only the United States can satisfy or deny Russia’s security, economic, institutional, and other aspirations. Interestingly however, China is not perceived by Russia as a source of validation for Russia’s claims, although Moscow is clearly expecting China to evolve into a major balance to US power across the globe.
So far, Russia has not been satisfied with the extent of authority and legitimacy bestowed on Russia by the United States and its allies. As a result, Russia has embarked on risky maneuvering across the board in order to demonstrate its resolve to bring Russia’s status into accordance with its material resources. Over the last three years, this has resulted in a worsening confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine and Syria.
Three main schools of thought popular among Russian and international analysts address the outlook for Russia’s relationship with the outside world, and, in particular, the West.
According to the first school, Moscow will never seriously escalate conflicts with the United States and its allies because of a significant economic interdependence that supposedly exists between Russia and the West
Contrary to the predictions of this school of thought, the controversy between Russia and the West has intensified dramatically in recent months and weeks, while the Russian government has remained unfazed about the impact of Western economic sanctions on Russia. As Russia’s readiness to escalate the siege of Aleppo at the moment when an easing of the sanctions regime was becoming a possibility has shown, Moscow does not consider the annulment of the sanctions its main priority.
The second and probably most influential school of thought on the sources of and prospects for the current crisis claims that Russia is willing to escalate confrontation out of the belief that the United States and its allies have weaker resolve and, in some cases, even a weaker military option. Many in Moscow perceived as a sign of weakness the statement by US President Barack Obama to the effect that Washington would be reluctant to engage in disputes where its opponent has considerably higher stakes.
This school of thought warns that at a certain high point escalation of tensions can spin out of control and possibly even lead to an outbreak of open conflict against the wishes of political leaders. This dynamic is called the
However, this theory of inadvertency does not necessarily take into account the powerful institutional constraints that exist within the governmental apparatuses of the two nuclear superpowers. They both inherited their nuclear policy and contingency institutions and procedures from the Cold War era. These institutions do not allow for tampering with nuclear weapons, while launch authorization requires consent by many officials aside from the president. These constraints prevent runaway escalation as a result of tragic accidents, such as
A third school of thought proceeds from the assumption that Russia and the United States are not fearful of a military confrontation with each other and may even be bracing for such confrontation. For example, this line goes, if Moscow is able to choose a comfortable regional theater, such as Ukraine
This assumption is difficult to verify, and it looks
This overview of the major schools of thought explaining Russia’s motivation in the ongoing conflict with the West suggests that the risk of open hostilities breaking out in Ukraine or Syria will be low over the next several months. A popular view in Moscow, expressed by Foreign Ministry officials is that the bulk of resentment against Russia’s policies by the United States results from the ongoing US election campaign and the corresponding need for the Obama administration to look resolute and assertive in the face of Russian revisionism. Once a new US administration is in place, this logic suggests, the harsh rhetoric will subside, and Washington will become amenable to discussing with Moscow those security issues of mutual concern.
In addition, one can note that some of the most dangerous moments in
And yet, there is definitely more to the
Dire outlook and glimmers of hope
What we are seeing now is the longest ever continuous period of escalation in the
Yet another alarming factor is the asymmetry of media coverage and the respective goals of the sides in the
Even more importantly, the issues currently raising Russia’s strongest concerns and aspirations in relations with the West are largely of
It is difficult to see, for example, how bombing targets in Syria could help to trigger negotiations on Ukraine’s prospects of joining NATO. From the Western perspective, the conflict in Syria needs to be resolved before NATO enlargement, missile defense or regime change become theb subject of substantive discussion between Russia and the West. This disconnect creates clear incentives for Russia to up the ante in the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and for the West to continue refusing to talk about the issues that Russia considers to be of fundamental concern.
As a result, over the months to come, we shall likely see Russia continue testing Western resolve to maintain sanctions and at the same time exploring opportunities for bargains and even
Moscow may decide to bid for a partitioned Syria in which Russia’s military basing rights would be respected by an Assad (Alawite) government controlling the west of the country. While not agreeing formally to take an
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