How Russia seeks to reestablish itself as a global power broker and how the U.S. must respond

— “It took quite a while but the Trump administration, in the recently released National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, is finally talking about Russia as a strategic competitor. But before the national-security bureaucracy gathers a head of steam to wage Cold War 2.0, Washington should take a deep collective breath and approach this challenge with patience, realism, prudence and restraint to avoid overreaching as it seeks to protect core American interests.”

— “Since 2012, Russia has been conducting a sophisticated, well-resourced and generally successful campaign to reassert its global influence at the expense of the West. Still, it is by no means obvious, as the new National Defense Strategy claims, that Russia wants to shape a world consistent with its authoritarian model and gain a veto over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions of other nations.”

[The paper also notes that it isn’t at all clear that the Trump administration is up to the task of strategically countering Russia, alluding to Trump’s alleged deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. I don’t see Trump ‘favoring’ Putin in the sense that those with liberal foreign policy views do, I Trump respecting Putin’s position and his country while believing there may be a way to improve relations. I don’t see Trump giving Putin blanket deference or Russia carte blanche freedom to do what it wishes in contested regions of the world. — JD]

— On what the administration must do: “The first step is understanding the sources of Russian conduct and the challenge it presents. The second is to determine when, whether and how to respond to Russia’s global activities.”

[The paper notes that Russian meddling in the U.S. election is part of a broader campaign to undermine the West’s democracies. It should be understood that paper discusses how Putin’s Russia is behaving much like the former Soviet Union, which also sought to undermine Western political systems, just as the U.S. and the West seek to do in Russia. — JD]

— [The paper notes that Russia is active in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, working to thwart Western influence across a variety of foreign policy fronts. Moscow also wants to reassert trade ties with Cuba and begin using the island as a base of espionage operations once again. Closer to home, Russia seeks to support a Mexican populist presidential contender running on an anti-American platform. And Putin’s government is using loans to prop up the Marxist, failing government of Venezuela.]

— On what Russia wants: “Many of these seemingly disparate activities reflect Russia’s quest for a multi-polar world. This organizing principle of Russian foreign policy was first articulated in the mid-1990s by Russian foreign minister Yvegeny Primakov. It has been echoed in every major foreign-policy speech Sergei Lavrov has made since 1994, first as Russia’s ambassador at the UN and for the last fourteen years as Russia’s foreign minister. Putin punctuated this theme in his lament in 2005 that ‘the breakup of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century’ and at his speech at the 2007 Munich security conference when he railed against ‘the United States’ monopolistic dominance in global relations.'”

— “Over the past decade, Putin has harped about the ‘lawlessness of American exceptionalism’ and its poor stewardship of the liberal based international order.”

— “Thus, Russia’s global activism is deeply rooted in Putin’s vision of what he wants the world to look like and Russia’s global role and position in this world. Moscow is not doing this, moreover, just because it resents the West’s power and wants to undermine Western democratic, security and economic institutions, although it certainly does. Russia is also going global because of its lackluster economy at home and desire for more business abroad—and because being seen as the U.S. equal on the global stage and standing up to America is good politics.”

— On what the Trump foreign policy team can do: “Now that the Trump administration has recognized Russia as a major national-security priority, it should not go out in search of dragons to destroy, but start by asking the following questions: what U.S. interests are threatened by Russian actions and how likely is it that Russia can achieve its goals; what is the objective Washington hopes to achieve by pushing back on these activities and why do we expect the proposed measures to achieve it; what are the likely cost and consequences of those measures and how might they be managed or mitigated; and what should we do if our measures fail to advance our preferred outcomes.

“In answering these questions, it is important to remember that the Kremlin is not operating from some master plan and we are not watching Cold War, the sequel. The Kremlin doesn’t want to run the world. Putin understands the limits on Russian power and the costs and risks of being the big dog on the block; he wants instead to accelerate the transition from the post–Cold War unipolar world led by Washington into one with multiple poles in which Russia has a secure place at the table. The Kremlin offers no viable alternative to the existing order.”

— [To accomplish his vision, Putin is not creating problems but exploiting those created by U.S. and Western miscalculations and underestimations, the paper noted.]

— “Although Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election fueled political dysfunction, it also created a political firestorm that has weakened Trump’s ability to reset relations with Moscow, strengthened rather than removed sanctions against Russia, and helped firm up European resilience to and awareness of Moscow’s tactics and growing political and economic footprint in several EU or NATO countries.”

— “Thus, the United States should not conflate Russian activities with success—not all of its actions will yield the results Moscow wants or damage important western interests. When this is the case, the West should be careful to avoid overreacting, because doing so only builds up Putin in the eyes of the Russian public and confers the global status he craves, handing him cheap victories.”

— “The Kremlin will not abandon its global strategy and when Russian activities threaten core western interests and values, such as its attempts to undermine democratic processes and transatlantic security and economic institutions, the United States and its allies should seek to roll back, contain or minimize the impact to these interests. But the heart of the U.S. response to Russia’s global activities should revolve around more targeted sanctions and sharing information about what Russia is doing in allied and friendly countries and exchanging best practices for shoring up the resilience of their societies, political institutions, financial sector and cyber infrastructure.” [source]

The above paragraphs are relevant excerpts from a recently released policy paper by the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace about how Russia is once again posing a strategic threat to the U.S. and NATO and what Washington can and must do to counter Moscow’s moves. 

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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