Russia’s intimidation aspires to be treated like a great power

The writer is the author of “ Putin’s Russia ” and a member of the Liberal Mission Foundation

At their conference on the future of Europe, which opened on May 9, EU leaders invited citizens “Participate in the debate” on the way forward. In Washington, President Joe Biden called for “solidarity” as he announces ambitious plans to transform the American economy and society. For the West, the way to manage crises is to build images of a better and shared future.

On the other hand, Russia looks to the past in its search for unity. During a military parade in Red Square, also organized on May 9, President Vladimir Putin said that the Soviet people fought “alone” on the way to victory over fascism in World War II. In this way, he confirmed that Russia and the West are on opposite paths.

Putin’s focus on his country’s past achievements could secure Russia’s stability for some time. His reign takes advantage of the fact that the Kremlin today does not face any serious internal or foreign threats. Why, then, is Putin acting like a geopolitical Alfred Hitchcock and creating suspense in international relations, forcing Western leaders to play “who blinks first”?

As Russia’s top decision-maker, Putin’s personal mood obviously matters. However, the logic of the Russian power system is more important, with its demand for recognition on the world stage of the nation’s great power status. According to this logic, Russia cannot be ignored and must be a member of the world concert of powers. He thinks macho bullying is the ticket to the concert.

Despite the suppression of domestic dissent and the anti-Western rhetoric of state propaganda, the Kremlin’s policy is aimed at preventing Russia from turning into a closed fortress. Because to be a great power, Russia must sit at the same table as its peers. To satisfy its global aspirations and conform to the logic of its domestic power agreements, Russia must be simultaneously with and against the West.

In a sense, Putin gets what he wants. Biden has suggested holding a US-Russia summit, and EU leaders are trying to keep lines of dialogue open with Moscow despite low levels of mutual trust. However, if Western governments hope to find a modus vivendi with Russia, they might be disappointed.

The price the Kremlin is willing to pay for the risks of its policies is greater than the costs the West is willing to impose on Russia for causing disruption. Indeed, the West is pursuing a two-way policy towards Russia of containment and cooperation. In recent times, however, this policy has come up against the problem that cooperation stops whenever the West feels the need to dissuade Russia. If they want their approach to work, Western countries will have to better compartmentalize the two tracks.

There are important differences with the Cold War era of Soviet-Western confrontation. During these decades, the Soviet Union unwittingly consolidated Western unity by behaving in a way that reinforced the West’s commitment to the principles of liberal democracy and the rule of law. Nowadays, post-Soviet Russia is undermining the West by imitating its liberal principles and by penetrating “inside” Western societies through its political and economic elites, its business operations and its powerful machinery. lobbying.

Partly for these reasons, the West is struggling to set clearly defined “price tags” for what it sees as unacceptable Russian behavior. The recent military build-up of the Kremlin on Ukraine’s borders was clearly not a red line for the EU. Yet welcoming Moscow simply encourages assertiveness.

Nevertheless, a bitter irony may be reserved for Russia. Putin’s international intimidation reinforces his image as a strong leader at home. Yet the Kremlin’s continued tests of Western patience serve to undermine Russia in more subtle ways.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow learned to use the West as an economic and technological resource. the Russian elite makes the west his home. But to preserve the West as a resource, Russia needs the trust of Western partners. Instead, the Kremlin’s Hitchcock-style thrillers spark Western suspicion and an instinct to fall back on deterrence.

There is also a potential trap for the West. His two-pronged policies are helping Russia’s power structures, as they evolved under Putin, to limp. The Kremlin and its agencies engage in international behavior that the West finds disagreeable. But the West can hardly try to undermine them without running the risk of Russia plunging into instability. Is the West really prepared for the huge uncertainties of a world in which existing power structures in Moscow are coming apart before a national alternative is available to take their place?

About Thomas Brown

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