chernenko1_MikhailSvetlovGettyImages_putintalkingtoforeignminister Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

What Russia Thinks About Multilateralism

While many in the West wring their hands over the plight of the postwar rules-based international order, it is often assumed that Russia would welcome a new era of unilateralism and great-power politics. But in reality, the Russian leadership's perspective on multilateralism is more complicated than that.

MOSCOW – When Russians hear paeans to the “rules-based” order, their standard rejoinder is to ask who is actually writing the rules. In fact, that same question now encapsulates the Kremlin’s attitude toward Western-championed multilateralism.

The way Russia sees it, the United States will not hesitate to act unilaterally when it needs to, and it is precisely this double standard that has eroded global rules. Whenever Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appears on the international stage, he tirelessly recounts America’s purported violations of international law, from the 1999 bombardment of Yugoslavia and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, to the 2011 airstrikes that helped topple Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya.

To be sure, when the US wants a legal pretext for its actions, it will turn to multilateral bodies such as the United Nations Security Council. But if its plans meet resistance there from Russia or any other council member with veto power, America can always fall back on the default option: brute force and the mobilization of its allies.

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