Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Sources of Russian Conduct

NEW YORK – No set amount of time must pass before journalism gives way to history, but normally historians write with the advantage of perspective that reflects the passage of years, decades, or even centuries. Time is necessary for information to come to light, memoirs to be written, and the significance of events to reveal itself. What seems relatively trivial now may prove to have been anything but, just as what appears to loom large can fade in importance.

But, for better or worse, the West does not have the luxury of waiting to make sense of recent events in Ukraine, simply because there is no assurance that what occurred in Crimea is unique. Thousands of Russian troops remain on Ukraine’s eastern border; every day, there are new reports of unrest inside Ukraine, many allegedly instigated by Russia.

We thus need to move quickly to understand what recent events imply about Russia, its president, Vladimir Putin, and the international order. It is no less important to apply the lessons swiftly.

Putin wants to restore Russia to what he regards as its rightful place in the world. He is genuinely angry over what he views as the humiliations suffered since the end of the Cold War, including the Soviet Union’s breakup and NATO’s enlargement – though he will never admit that Russia actually lost the Cold War.

At the same time, Putin is preoccupied with perpetuating his rule and ensuring that he does not suffer the same fate as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who had been his proxy in Kyiv. And he clearly recognizes that the restoration of Russia’s former greatness is a goal shared by many of his countrymen. Foreign policy can make for good domestic politics.

As a result, Putin can be expected to continue to interfere in Ukraine for as long as he can – and so long as it serves his aim of strengthening his grip on power at home. Western policy should seek to frustrate this strategy.

Countering Russian interference in Ukraine does not warrant incorporating Ukraine into NATO. Doing so would either require coming to Ukraine’s defense militarily, which would entail enormous risks and difficulties, or not making good on such a commitment, which would raise substantial doubts worldwide about the United States’ credibility. US President Barack Obama was correct in describing Russia as a regional rather than a global power – on its periphery, it is strong, and it has a substantial stake in Ukraine’s future.

Still, the West has several options. One is to strengthen Ukraine politically (helping with elections and getting a new government up and running) and economically. The recently agreed two-year, $27 billion financial-aid package, largely funded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, will help. Security assistance should emphasize intelligence and policing so that Ukraine is less vulnerable to Russian attempts to sow discord and cause unrest.

Another option is to prepare a new round of economic sanctions against Russia – far stronger than those introduced following Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. The new measures should target Russian financial institutions and limit what may be exported to Russia, and the US and EU should communicate their agreement on such sanctions to Putin, so that he understands the full price he will pay for destabilizing Ukraine.

A public-diplomacy dimension to Western policy is also needed. Russians might think twice about supporting their government’s foreign policy if they came to appreciate its impact on their standard of living. And they might be surprised to learn the full extent of Putin’s personal wealth, a matter that should be documented and publicized.

Steps can also be taken to weaken Russia’s energy stranglehold on Ukraine and much of Western Europe. The US, for its part, can begin exporting oil and increase its capacity to export natural gas. Europeans can take steps to introduce the technologies that have led to the boom in US gas production, and Germany can revisit its position on nuclear power.

Recent events should also serve as a wake-up call for NATO. People and governments need to rid themselves of the comforting illusion that countries’ use of military force to acquire territory is an anachronism. European defense spending and capacity needs to increase, as does America’s presence in select NATO countries – something that can be achieved even as the US increases its presence in Asia.

The strategy needed to resist Putin’s efforts to expand Russia’s influence beyond its borders – and to induce change within them – resembles nothing so much as the “containment” doctrine that guided Western policy for the four decades of the Cold War. Russia, a country of only 143 million people that lacks a modern economy, should be offered the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of international integration, but only if it acts with restraint.

This is not to suggest the advent of Cold War II. But there is a strong case for adopting a policy that has proved its effectiveness in confronting a country with imperial pretensions abroad and feet of clay at home.

Read more from "Putin's Risky Games"

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    1. CommentedDavid Morgan

      A Russian friend told me that Russia gets the Ruler they deserve. ON this occasion a POISON DWARF.

    2. CommentedDavid Donovan

      Russians never truly thought that they lost the Cold War. They always thought that they stopped it. Good to know that the West views it differently.

    3. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Mr. Richard Haass says: "the West does not have the luxury of waiting to make sense of recent events in Ukraine, simply because there is no assurance that what occurred in Crimea is unique". Indeed, when it comes to Ukraine and Putin's obsession with the revival of his "Novorossiya" - a historical term denoting the area north of the Black Sea which was conquered by the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great at the end of the 18th century, we may not see an end to his clandestine activities in Ukraine's eastern regions. This threatens to disrupt the "international order".
      Putin no doubt "is preoccupied with perpetuating his rule", but there is no risk that he would "suffer the same fate as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who had been his proxy in Kyiv". The latter was meek and a good-for-nothing, whose vacillation between Brussels and Moscow had proven his undoing and been largely responsible for the crisis today. Putin on the contrary has one goal in mind: "the restoration of Russia’s former greatness". In a speech on March 18, he justified the Crimea annexation and said: "Russia and Ukraine are one nation and Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities". Although it is "a goal shared by many of his countrymen", it is doubtful if they agree to Putin's military means to achieve an end.
      It is true that Putin will "continue to interfere in Ukraine for as long as he can". It has less to do with "his aim of strengthening his grip on power at home", than more with his vindictiveness. He is determined to settle a score with the leadership in Kiev, for ousting Yanukovich and derailing his plan of forming the Eurasian customs union - an EU equivalent. His devious plan is to create chaos, so that the presidential elections in May wouldn't go ahead. This would have an impact on Kiev receiving the IMF loans. Without them, the country will go bust and see more unrest. Even if he can't get Ukraine back to Russia's fold, he doesn't want to see it thrive and prosper.
      As the situation in Ukraine is fluid, much could happen until May 25. So the West has to ensure that the Kremlin can't frustrate this electoral process. All the rest like strenthening Ukraine "politically and economically" and the option of a Finlandisation, that would keep Ukraine out of Nato, are just plans of the future. Whether tighter sanctions will follow, all depends on the people and governments in Europe to redefine their security issue by shrugging off "the comforting illusion that countries’ use of military force to acquire territory is an anachronism".

    4. CommentedStephen Mack

      Mr. Richard Haass as President of the Council of Foreign Relations unsurprisingly tows the American Party Line on Putin, although it lacks the hysterical tone of the more virulent commentaries, from the lesser beings, who write for the popular press.
      First, Mr. Haass mentions the role of history but then ignores those facts of history by using the high flown rhetoric of the Foreign Policy Expert, that masks those inconvenient facts:
      Neo-Con Victoria Nuland and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies spent billions to incite the overthrow of a duly elected government in Ukraine. The facts on the ground were that the fomenting of this mob attracted both dissatisfied citizens, Neo-Nazis and paid demonstrators. The Nuland alliance didn't count on an indigenous resistance to American and E.U. political machinations. The active agents of the Coup continue, to this moment, their subversive work by propagandizing, about an invented Russian Antisemitism in Ukraine
      Adding to this dismal scenario, the clueless assertion by President Obama that Russia is a 'regional power' . A 'regional power' with nuclear parity to the U.S.A., one marvels at this obtuse notion, or just call it by it's real name, outright provocation. I always thought President Obama a rather level headed politician, yet a question needs to be asked: Is Obama a captive of Neo-Con and Neo-Liberal R2P zealots, Susan Rice, Victoria Nuland and Samantha Power?
      Regrettably, Mr. Haass addresses none of those questions, but simply produces a high sounding rhetoric equal to maladroit apologetics,all this while sagely warning against a Cold War II, or is this Foreign Policy irony?

    5. CommentedIgnatich Ignatich

      Russians never truly thought that they lost the Cold War. They always thought that they stopped it. Good to know that the West views it differently.

      As for sanctions, they won't do much. Not because Russia is so strong, but because it doesn't really control what transpires in South-East of Ukraine. There is no credible political power in Ukraine that present their views so they turn to Russia to support them, even if some of them aren't ethnically Russian and don't like Putin and Russia that much. For them - Russia is still a better alternative than nationalists and criminals in Kiev. It's not about Russian agents or Putin pulling the strings, believe it or not.

    6. CommentedDerrick Baragwanath

      The real tragedy of what is transpiring is not the effect on the Ukraine, but on Russia. History is replete with populist leaders like Putin that appeal to the inner prejudices and aspirations of its people. The consequences, however, are short term gain, long term pain. Putin is opening a Pandora's Box. Hitler did exactly the same and the German people initially loved him. But like Hitler, he may not be able to control the events that follow. The effect of economic sanctions and ostracism from the West may be problematic but the implications on Russia's relationship with China is far more serious. Russia's far east is experiencing uncontrolled immigration from China. What if these people eventually want to be reunited with Mother China? Historically, China has a reasonably strong claim to a good segment of Russia's eastern region. What if China ferments trouble in these areas using the same argument that Putin is using in the Ukraine? I suspect when Putin or his successor cries out for help and support from Europe and America the appeals will fall on deaf ears.

    7. CommentedR Lubman

      So let’s have a show!
      First the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and follow it up with a show of force vs a neighbor that is completely disorganized and is wholly dependent for energy on the aggressor.
      This from the great, moral beacon of a country that has “demographic indicators resemble those in many of the world's poorest and least developed societies. In 2009, overall life expectancy at age 15 was estimated to be lower in Russia than in Bangladesh, East Timor, Eritrea, Madagascar, Niger, and Yemen; even worse, Russia's adult male life expectancy was estimated to be lower than Sudan's, Rwanda's, and even AIDS-ravaged Botswana's.”
      –see -

      Rather than put in the hard work on roads and human welfare outside the magnificent urban centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the time and attention would yield tangible results, let’s show our greatness by beating up our neighbors.
      One could come to the conclusion that Russia today is all about display.
      Kind of like pretending to work in exchange for pretending to get paid.
      Same as it ever was?
      Ukraine isn’t a Nato member, and we should react a bit. But any sane leader in the near-abroad will know what needs to be done. I’d guess the cost of this adventure will far outweigh the benefit.

    8. CommentedPaul Daley

      We're certain to lean in the direction Haass indicates given our commitments in Europe, but there comes a point at which "tried and true" tactics become too predictable to be useful. Does anyone really believe that Russia has not anticipated (and completely discounted) a response along just these lines?

      It might be more useful to underline the risks facing all of Ukraine's neighbors (including Russia), if Ukraine fails as a state, and to begin scoping out roles for Russia, the EU and the U.S. in a common effort to stabilize the region.

    9. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      I think as long as the West keeps talking about Putin and Russia, without looking in the mirror, they will keep missing the mark, and drive themselves and the whole world towards the brink of something terrible.
      If the "Western alliance" does not stop and think, Ukraine could turn into their Stalingrad.
      Yesterday unarmed civilians, without any problems disarmed trained and ready soldiers.
      So far Russia is "occupying, and invading" Crimea and Eastern Ukraine without actually invading and killing people, with seemingly full support of the local population.
      But we could also look back at what happened in the Middle East and Afghanistan, where the Western alliance appeared to remove vile dictators, terrorists to establish and export the glorious free and democratic Western system. But it did not work, and as soon as the "liberators" leave, the places turned into much worse chaos than they were before.
      The Western alliance is too busy preparing their own economic, military invasion around Russia or in the Middle East and everywhere else to notice that maybe those "savages", "poor, oppressed people" living there do not want this glorious "free and democratic" system.
      Maybe this glorious system is not so "free and democratic" any-more, and lost all its attraction to those who still do not have it.
      We read articles from countries previously "liberated" warning the Ukrainians before they blindly run into the arms of the "free and democratic" Western liberators based on their own, not so glorious recent experiences.
      Obviously Communism, the previously tried Socialism is not the answer either, nor is fundamentalist religious regimes.
      But the truth is the present form of "free and democratic" Western economic and political system has failed, it washed away any moral, cultural, humane norms in the name of money and profit.
      We created a dark and empty swamp without any humane values.
      We are actually entering the "modern dark ages".
      And here we are at very delicate and dangerous crossroads.
      If we continue in our present instinctive and blind manner, we will ignite explosions we will not be able to handle. In that case we are not writing the script and we endanger our future.
      For the first time in our history we have to rise above our inherently self-centred and egoistic human nature and try to build connections not for our own sake, not purely based on self-calculations, how to exploit everything and everybody for our own gain, but to benefit the whole.
      Because this "whole" now comprises the whole, global human population, in a globally interconnected and interdependent network.
      We are all sitting on the same boat and the boat is sinking and with every hole we try to drill under each other we sink the boat even further.
      We entered the age of mutual responsibility and mutual collaboration on a global scale. We are in unprecedented times where we have to learn, mutually together, how to build a truly sustainable human system.
      It is "one for all and all for one".
      If we fail to understand this historical moment and act accordingly we will not survive evolution.

        CommentedGunnar Eriksson

        ,but the adoration of money and the present paradigm that if it is profitable for the 1 % it is GOOD is a "fundamentalist religious regimes."
        The primary challenge is to reclaim the public message