Russia’s Future and the West

In international politics, one side’s strength often reflects the other side’s weakness. The weakness of the US and Europe today is an open invitation for Russia to return to its old imperial politics, which would be particularly dangerous for Europe.

Russia is again seeking a role as a global power and is therefore flexing its muscles. Signs of change in Russian foreign policy have been mounting ever since President Vladimir Putin delivered a confrontational speech in Munich last February.

Since then Russia planted its flag on the seabed below the North Pole to demonstrate its claims to the Arctic and its natural resources; announced its intention to build its own missile defense system and issued repeated threats against Europe because of the planned deployment of a small American defense system; exploded a “stray” missile or bomb in Georgia as a warning signal to the government in Tbilisi and its Western friends; buzzed America’s military base on the Pacific island of Guam with surveillance aircraft; blocked a decision on the final status of Kosovo in the UN Security Council; and launched a hacker attack against computer systems in Estonia. In addition, each winter there is a repeated threat of “problems” with oil and gas deliveries to Europe.

High oil and gas prices, America’s self-inflicted global weakening due to its misadventure in Iraq, and the rise of China and India obviously have prompted Moscow to change its foreign policy. Yet none of this amounts to a fundamental change in Russia’s strategy, because Russia continues to adhere to its fundamental decision, made in the early 1990’s, to open itself to the West. Still, the style of Russian politics has changed from cooperation to confrontation. And, as history has shown, a change of style in foreign policy may quickly lead to a change in strategy.