Beyond Sanctions: What’s the West’s Strategy on Russia?

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Summary
The escalating sanctions have served as a warning shot to Moscow. But sanctions can only become meaningful if they are part of a wider strategy.
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Western sanctions against Russia appear to have a fairly narrow, tangible goal: to punish Moscow for supporting pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. But to what end? Sanctions need to reinforce a wider strategy designed to change Moscow’s behavior so that it starts respecting the sovereignty of all post-Soviet states.

Ukraine is just the latest example in a long series of attempts by Russia to control its neighborhood and to reduce the sovereignty of countries that were controlled by Moscow in Soviet times. The conflict did not start in Ukraine, and it will not end there. The tensions that have erupted in Ukraine will subside only if Russia finally understands that it can have a prosperous future as a nation-state alongside others when it respects the rules of the post–World War II and post–Cold War international system.

Changing Russia’s Behavior

The West’s larger strategic goal must be to change Russian behavior in the post-Soviet space, including Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and elsewhere. Russia needs to accept that principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty apply to all members of the United Nations, not only the powerful ones.

In the society of states designed by the UN charter in 1945, sovereignty depends on the mutual recognition of states as equals. This is also one of the principles of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which the Soviet Union signed and now binds Russia as its successor state. In a wider sense, Russia must accept that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 is definitive, and that there is no way back to the times of empire.

One way to send this message to Russia is to impose sanctions: if you break the rules, you will be punished. But the aim of sanctions should not be to isolate Russia permanently or to make it a pariah state.

Ultimately, the West wants to alter Russia’s external behavior to give its neighbors the space to build their own nations without being permanently under pressure from Moscow. Beyond sanctions, the West can highlight the importance of state sovereignty by offering support to those neighbors―to make them strong, resilient, and capable of defending themselves against Russian revisionism. And this is exactly what the EU is attempting to do with its European Neighborhood Policy.

While the West is increasingly ready to disrupt commercial and other interaction with Russia through sanctions, it should clearly demonstrate that its objective is not to make this disruption permanent or to initiate a Cold War-like freeze in relations. On the contrary, the current clash should ultimately be about reengagement, but reengagement that is based on a new definition of relations. The message should be clear that to the extent Russia starts to respect the full sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors, the West will reengage and be ready to deepen and broaden ties.

In the first half of 2014, the West’s internal confusion over how to deal with a more aggressive Russia allowed the Kremlin to perceive the West as divided, confused, and weak. It is important now not just to raise the pressure on Moscow by toughening sanctions but also to send an unambiguous message to the Kremlin about the West’s goals.

The West’s larger aim should be to overcome the current tensions by moving toward a new framework for relations with Russia. Such an agreement must take into account Moscow’s goals and the West’s priorities―and what the United States and Europe are willing to compromise on.

Russia’s Foreign Policy Goals

Moscow has three major foreign policy goals. Its first aim is to make sure the material foundation of its regime is safe. That means assuming as much control as possible over the production and distribution of oil and gas, ideally by owning the entire infrastructure―pipelines, storage facilities, local utility companies, and so on.

Russia’s second goal is to retain control over the post-Soviet neighborhood. The Kremlin sees the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a low point in Russian history, a consequence of the country’s weakness. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to reverse this perceived failure by rebuilding a kind of “Soviet Union lite” in the form of a Eurasian union. Initial steps have been taken, and Belarus and Kazakhstan are already on board.

Based on Russia’s “energy empire” and a Eurasian bloc under Moscow’s leadership, Putin’s third goal is to rebuild his country as a global power that can see eye to eye with the United States. That would give Moscow a similar role to the one it played during the Cold War.

But in contrast to the days of the Soviet Union, modern-day Russia’s relationship with the West can be described as at least half-cooperative, and not fully competitive. The Kremlin understands that Russia cannot create its own world, given its massive dependency on the outside world as a buyer of commodities and a provider of high-tech goods. Autarky is not an option. But what Russia certainly wants is to have a bigger say in the global order and the ability to act largely unchecked by others.

Reassessing Western Objectives

The West’s goals toward Russia are much more modest today than they were in the first two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For years, the West’s strategy was to support Russia in its supposed transformation toward liberal democracy, which would have turned Moscow into a responsible stakeholder in the international system. That approach led the West to focus on Russia much more than on the other post-Soviet states. As a side effect, the West granted Moscow a relatively free hand in its neighborhood.

Now, the West must recognize the failure of that policy (which was largely designed by Germany). Instead of moving toward liberalism, Russia has become more autocratic internally and much more aggressive toward its neighbors.

The West has no choice but to accept that it cannot change Russia’s character, at least not for the time being. The United States and Europe should therefore change their strategy and place their primary focus not on Russia, but on the post-Soviet countries that are interested in Western support as they try to build stable, liberal democracies.

With the Ukraine crisis as a catalyst, this is actually starting to happen. The West’s main objective now is to support Europe’s eastern neighborhood against Russia’s attempts to subordinate it. Ending the conflict in Ukraine has become more important than ties with Russia, as the West cannot accept that basic principles of the international system are being undermined in Europe.

Scope for Compromise?

How, then, can the two sides agree to a deal? The West can afford to compromise on Russia’s first and third goals: energy dominance and global status. Russia can remain the key provider for European energy, in accordance with the EU’s market rules. Moscow can be allowed back into the G8 club of industrialized nations, and the West can end all efforts to isolate Russia and weaken its global role.

But in return, Russia would need to pay a considerable price: to accept its neighbors’ full sovereignty and to start to work with the West to solve the many “frozen” conflicts in the region, in which Moscow is deeply involved.

The chances of achieving such a compromise certainly do not look good at the moment. But ultimately, Russian foreign policy is about regime stability. The Kremlin depends on a constant flow of income from commodities that it can redistribute, thereby positioning itself at the center of economic and political life. Russia today is much more dependent on oil and gas than the Soviet Union once was. And the country craves international recognition as a major player.

On both fronts, Russia needs some kind of agreement with the West. A permanent conflict with Europe and the United States and escalating sanctions would undermine the regime, as it would lose the ability to deliver on the “social contract” it relies on.

Sending the Right Message

The biggest challenge to such a strategy may lie with the West. Only if there is a clear, united Western front will Moscow understand that the EU and the United States are ready for a standoff that the Kremlin simply cannot win.

The more credible the West is, the more likely it is that Moscow will opt for an agreement. As long as the West sends mixed messages, its ability to influence Russia’s behavior is low. Uniting behind sanctions is a big achievement—it’s an important demonstration of Western resolve that considerably raises the West’s credibility and therefore the chances of achieving its goals.

Given Russia’s dependency on the West, lack of real friends and allies, and absence of attraction beyond its borders, Moscow certainly cannot win a new Cold War. Indeed, Europe and the United States have much better cards than Russia in the conflict that Moscow has forced upon them. The balance of power is overwhelmingly in the West’s favor.

The escalating sanctions have served as a warning shot to Moscow. But sanctions can only become meaningful if they are part of a wider strategy. Western leaders should use this momentum, agree on a strategy, and communicate their expectations clearly to the Kremlin.

End of document

Comments (16)

 
 
  • rw
    Putin will not stop his prendre sa revanche. His new Putin doctrine says it all.
    He'll sign anything to get the heat off . But, Putin will continue on his way toward military dominance and economic control near-abroad nations.
     
     
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  • XTX
    The West will be sending mixed messages about Russia for decades in future, because of one simple fact. And that fact is that center of world power is stationed in Asia, not in the West! Russia is building Eurasian Union and interfering in post-soviet countries simply because People’s Republic of China needs vast resources, materials and markets from Eurasia and post-soviet area and the West cannot do anything against that! The West is not powerful enough to stop this process, and people in Washington and Brussels know that very well!
     
     
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  • Ted Seay, BASIC London
    Why not start by removing some 180 militarily and politically useless nuclear weapons from NATO Europe, where they needlessly provoke a Russian Federation already uncomfortably close to paranoia?

    These weapons are a strategic liability, not an asset -- their unilateral removal from Europe by Washington would be a very good starting point for discussing European security with Moscow...
     
     
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  • Constitutionalest@gmail.com
    Russia is not to blame for Putin. Putin is to blame. Focus on him and strangle every one of his oxygen lines until he folds.
     
     
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  • Kiev
    The tensions that have erupted in Ukraine will subside only if Russia finally understands that it can have a prosperous future as a nation-state alongside others when it respects the rules of the post–World War II and post–Cold War international system.

    Dear Ulrich Speck, Russia`s goal is not to be prosperous. Russia`s goal is to be superpower. If You do not get it, You will offer wrong solutions
     
     
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  • Chatham H. Forbes Sr.
    A credible analysis. Everything depends upon Putin's capacity for statesmanship. That quality requires wisdom in the public interest, rather than mere shrewd chess playing. Is he obsessed to the extent of tunnel vision with a dream of returning to absolute authoritarian hegemony over the former Soviet empire? That would be disastrous, ultimately, for Russia as well as many other actors.
     
     
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  • Rocky
    Russia is an orphan state it needs a friend and it needs to realise the former soviet union can never be. A strategy of economic growth would make Russia a key player once again in the modern world. Cooperation with the West is a good step. Look how prosperous China has become. Look to the future not the past.
     
     
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  • meyerj2921
    I agree with much of the analysis, especially in adjusting Western objectives. Although the Putin regime is not Communist, much depends on whether it is just authoritarian or whether there is an ideology that seeks an alternative set of values to the West. If the second is true, there will be continuing conflict. But whichever is true, a firm stand and as much support to the nationhood of Ukraine, Georgia and other countries formerly in the Soviet Union is the correct course. I think it is necessary to develop some serious plans for Europe to have alternative energy sources so as to reduce Russian power over Europe, but the desirable outcone is to continue a reasonable percentage of energy purchasing from Russia. It would be best if Russia were to join in the world oil market and move away from long-term contracts, but this probably won't happen.
     
     
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  • Peter
    Russia is actually fighting for its own independence. It is primary from West influence such as USA that invaded many countries and destroyed many societies. Iraq is the most recent example. Many people were killed, people’s destinies destroyed by these actions. The author of this article is just making an attempt to destroy Russian cultural society. The West wants to see Russian society is quite similar to Iraq. The society could be easy to manage from outside.
     
     
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  • Fernando
    The key question is for Europe and Western Europe in general. During the Cold War it was clear for most Europeans that the USA represented the best version of the western culture and the USSR a terrible one. Today, the truth is very different. Russia still has overreaching power of its state. However, compared to the overreaching power of the key private interest in the USA (the 1%, multinationals, big banks) and the use of government power to enforce the Patriot Act means the USA does not seem as a lot better in this sense. It is also a question that depends on who you are. Germany has greater interests in developing relations with Russia, while the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal would benefit from trade partnerships with the US. Even countries like Poland still fear a Russo-German encroachment and wish the US to remain the key force in Europe. France goes alone it seems between the US and Russia.
    American policy was to prevent the development of relations between Russia and Europe, create political conflicts between Russia’s neighbors and Russia. Use the billions poured into NGOs made for socio-political engineering and exploit Ukraine’s many problems to change the government. One of the many reasonable demands of the protesters was that no oligarch was to rule Ukraine, well now they have Poroshenko and a ton of IMF money has flown into oligarchs banks. A newly formed bought democracy will fight against the rebels of the east, while not engaging Ukraine in either trade with Russia (this made the east richer than the rest) or with Europe (the west would have benefited) because it will not be accepted as an EU member. Help will be given just to maintain the state from collapse as long as it serves this purpose. Hence, Ukraine will not improve its position which is worse than in 1991. Ukraine is a natural land bridge between Russia and Europe and with good trade relationships with both it would grow its economy fast. So, I think it is not just about a West vs. Russia problem and mad Russian aspirations to control, dominate and enslave everyone in Europe eventually.
     
     
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  • Fernando
    I will post more than one comment due to the length of them. I wish that my comments will engage the author and anyone else interested in an informed, intelligent discussion. I apologize for any omissions or errors which can happen to anyone. But here are my ideas about the issue from the limited sources of knowledge I dispose of.
    I will like to question many of the assumptions and conclusions of this article. First of all, it presents the problem as a case of Russian modern imperialism not conforming to the UN structure of states. This is missing the main point in my opinion. The issue at first has always been about Russia creating political and economical structures that compete with the unipolar dominance of the world by a US led system. This was sought for through three main components: the creation of the Eurasian Union of which Ukraine was considered a key, developing greater relations with Europe and creating a BRICS alternative to the IMF and institutions of the kind.
    In particular, a recovered Russia would have a preeminent place in securing the creation of land-trade routes between Europe and China; making this space the center of economic relations of the world (avoiding US control of sea routes that constitute 90% of world trade).In 2010, Putin expressed it as a creation of trade partnerships from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Hence, Russian resources would be linked with the world’s biggest economy, Europe (he will do this with China, but China doesn’t have the culture affinity with Russia that Europe does). It is clear Putin understands the role of interdependence and adheres to it obviously a lot more than the US (which doesn’t due to its greatest power status). However, Russia always holds a danger of becoming too dominant and demanding around its periphery, and we’ve seen recent examples. In this respect I agree with you that Europe should counterbalance that influence, although each conflict is very complex and hard to deal with in reality. Fairy tales of bad bear Russia and good enemies are useless.
     
     
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  • Fernando
    The key question is for Europe and Western Europe in general. During the Cold War it was clear for most Europeans that the USA represented the best version of the western culture and the USSR a terrible one. Today, the truth is very different. Russia still has overreaching power of its state. However, compared to the overreaching power of the key private interest in the USA (the 1%, multinationals, big banks) and the use of government power to enforce the Patriot Act means the USA does not seem as a lot better in this sense. It is also a question that depends on who you are. Germany has greater interests in developing relations with Russia, while the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal would benefit from trade partnerships with the US. Even countries like Poland still fear a Russo-German encroachment and wish the US to remain the key force in Europe. France goes alone it seems between the US and Russia.
    American policy was to prevent the development of relations between Russia and Europe, create political conflicts between Russia’s neighbors and Russia. Use the billions poured into NGOs made for socio-political engineering and exploit Ukraine’s many problems to change the government. One of the many reasonable demands of the protesters was that no oligarch was to rule Ukraine, well now they have Poroshenko and a ton of IMF money has flown into oligarchs banks. A newly formed bought democracy will fight against the rebels of the east, while not engaging Ukraine in either trade with Russia (this made the east richer than the rest) or with Europe (the west would have benefited) because it will not be accepted as an EU member. Help will be given just to maintain the state from collapse as long as it serves this purpose. Hence, Ukraine will not improve its position which is worse than in 1991. Ukraine is a natural land bridge between Russia and Europe and with good trade relationships with both it would grow its economy fast. So, I think it is not just about a West vs. Russia problem and mad Russian aspirations to control, dominate and enslave everyone in Europe eventually.
     
     
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    • Kolibri replies...
      Excellent post,

      The article fails to mention the NATO factor lead by the US. As an analogy , bears are scaired of people and they will run away however if you corner or surprise a bear with cubs he will strike very hard. NATO is a threat to Russia and NATO is encircling Russia therefore one can not write on this conflict without mentioning the role of NATO
      The article states that "the Kremlin depends on a constant flow of income from commodities". With all of the Russian gas being piped through Ukraine perhaps Russia needs to look after its interest and use all means necessary since an economical war is being conducted on Russia's infrastructure and the South Stream being blocked by the US Russia sees the full picture.
      This conflict could end by a war and therefore countries in the EU and especially Germany should stop doing as told by the US plain and simple.
      Like any investigation, one must look for the motive of the US with NATO on Russia. Basicalyy who has much to gain and loose. The EU and specially Germany has much to loose. Who has much to gain, obviously the US would not have spend 5 B $ if it was not to gain and they will gain BIG.
      Much of this conflict is about energy and again the US has much to gain by disrupting Russia's energy flow.
      The Ukraine conflict is only the beginning.

       
       
  • Мартин Калиньюк
    This analysis is actually much fairer than most anti-Russian assessments one reads.

    Some criticism.

    1. Why is the Russian Federation's desire to foster closer cooperation between former Soviet Republics forever seen as some sort of diabolical and unacceptable initiative?

    I have never actually seen this argued through. Seems like a perfectly natural and reasonable Russian interest. The only cause for objection I can see is that the EU and NATO believe they have a hegemony in the region that must not be contested.

    I also think it stems from a carry-over of the West's attitude toward Russia during the Cold War, to treat Russia as an enemy and so interpret anything Russia does in such terms so that even a humanitarian convoy is a weapon. (?!)

    Europe and the US have always seen Russia as something to be "contained". This is why in Russia (as Dmitry Danilov has recently noted) the Eurasian Customs Union is seen as a means of connecting East/West and promoting international trade in the post-Soviet space, while in the West it has been seen only as a challenge.

    2. Why should Russia's character "change"? What right has any country or collection of them to dictate to any other what their character should be?

    I am increasingly confused by the regular repetition that Russia deserves sanctions (maybe worse) because they don't want "liberal democracy". There is no legitimate alternative? And, in any event, it is not within the right to self-determination of a country to choose whether they want a Western-style liberal democracy?

    3. Russia has no real friends or allies? Do Google BRICS.

    Russia's friends and partners (we don't like talking about the world in terms of "heroes and villains" and "allies and enemies") cover 25% of the world and make up 2/5 of it's population. Many of these friends and partners are or will be economically stronger than the EU and the US.

    The West is increasingly over-estimating it's importance to Russia and the international community as a whole.
     
     
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    • Kolibri replies...
      "Russia's friends and partners"
      The US does not like the fact that Russia will sell gas to China for 30 years a relatively low price. This will compete with energy from Canada and other US friends and may lead to cancel the Keystone pipeline from Alberta to US.
      This is the exact reason why the US want to isolate and even start military conflict with Russia especially if the conflict will take place in Europe.
      The US are far more interested in the Russian energy than the media want to tell and Russia know that to well after what NATO did to Libya.
       
       
    • Fernando replies...
      Speaking as a western European that has no emotional stake in the current conflict I would like to add a few things. This whole thing seems as a competition for the development of resources, trade routes, economies and obviously the political conditions for them to be viable. It is about what shape the future will be like.

      In each case I try to ask myself what does any particular position or force contribute to the future of a country in relation to what is possible to imagine that could be done. In the case of Ukraine as I stated it seems from a far away position that as a land bridge between Russia and EU the key issue for its development now and for decades to come will be how it integrates itself with these areas. Its economy is based on agriculture, mining, tourism, aircraft manufacturing and special vehicles (tractors etc). However, only the east grew its economy over the past years due to trade with Russia. It is obvious that the east would gain from more trade with Eurasian bloc and the west with more trade with the EU (Poland, Central Europe). The ideal situation would be for Ukraine, the EU and Russia to agree to a special situation in this sense: perhaps on geographical demarcations or cutting through sector by sector. Its economy should reach GDP levels of Poland and Russia in a decade of recovery. Also, the eastern regions should have an autonomy status within Ukraine, hence unity and regional interests would be both respected.

      The question for me is how do the real people dealing with the issue relate to these goals? We can question the IMF, NATO, EU, each EU country, US, Russia, Ukraine's government and each political party, the eastern separatists...etc.

      I also think too much of what comes out of this conflict is by definition biased information, we need more neutral people considering the facts.
       
       
Source http://carnegieeurope.eu/2014/08/01/beyond-sanctions-what-s-west-s-strategy-on-russia/hjho

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