september 13–17, 2017

Russia – International Perspective:
Putin’s Foreign Policy:
Making Russia Great Again

Mark Galeotti, PhD

Senior Researcher
Institute of International Relations Prague

Dr. Mark Galeotti has been researching Russian history and security issues since the late 1980s. Educated at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics, he is now a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and coordinates its Centre for European Security. Dr. Galeotti described Mr. Putin’s objectives to “Make Russia Great Again,” the country’s capabilities to fulfill those objectives, the policies undertaken to implement these plans, and the likely long-term outcomes of these policies.

In the Russian view, the West does not honor Russia’s proper place in the world, and this spurs Russian desires to assert their voice in international affairs and fosters sovereignty displays such as the Crimea invasion. Russia wants to push back the influence of the world on Russia. “This Russian drive to world power could unravel the whole fabric of post-World-War II Europe,” Dr. Galeotti said.

In fact, the failure to adapt to globalization and stagnant economic growth, resulting from old industries and a failure to diversify to new technologies are the real challenges facing Russia. But Russia blames the West for its weak economy and will seek security through the geopolitics of extortion, seeking to exploit the fault lines between countries in the constellation of democracies that is Europe, instigating crises of legitimacy through misinformation, intimidation, and manipulation, Dr. Galeotti said.

Issues Facing Russia

Inaccurate assumptions, limited advice from ill-informed advisers, and policies based on a sense of threat are the factors that drive Russian political action, Dr. Galeotti observed. Russians have inaccurate assumptions and perceptions of the outside world. For example, they believe that the US political scene is as shady and dark as their own, and that outcomes are “arranged.” They do not believe that the US is democratic; in fact, they believed the US political establishment would never allow Donald Trump to win the Presidency.

Russian leaders fully expected to face Hillary Clinton as the next US president with an agenda aimed at causing a regime change in Russia. They used disinformation and media manipulation with the goal of creating so much trouble for Mrs. Clinton in her first term that she would leave Russia alone. Instead, they were surprised by Mr. Trump’s win, who they perceive as unpredictable and willing to trample on the “other guys,” Dr. Galeotti said.

Furthermore, Russian policy is formulated by a tight circle of poorly informed advisors who are hand-picked friends of Mr. Putin and will give advice to stay in power.  Policy arises from a sense of threat, for example, the Russian leadership asserts that all the uprising of the Arab Spring were engineered by the CIA. The post-Olympics (2014) softening of rhetoric was short-lived, and then the shutters came down, Dr. Galeotti observed, as more repressive measures were taken in Russia. He warns that “Russia has entered a new phase of national mobilization. The Kremlin clearly considers itself threatened by − and in a kind of political war with the West − a war started by the West.”

Make Russia Great Again

Mr. Putin’s objective is to “Make Russia Great Again.” This greatness is not about territorial acquisition, but rather about being a “great power” on the world stage with a strong voice, including veto power, in all major international decisions. To be great, Russia’s sphere of privilege and influence must extend to the former Soviet states, who should recognize Moscow’s leadership and domination. Membership by those states in NATO or the EU is not acceptable; therefore, the Russian invasions into Georgia and Ukraine to break newly emerging connections with NATO and the EU were inevitable.

In Mr. Putin’s view, sovereignty must be asserted. If a country cannot stop Russian troops from invading, then it is not sovereign, a belief that powered the Ukraine invasion. Furthermore, no country has the right to tell Russia what to do, and Mr. Putin is determined to push back the influence of the world on Russia.

“We cannot allow this,” Dr. Galeotti warned the Forum. “Such actions will unravel the whole fabric of post-war Europe. If the international community allows the Ukraine invasion, then ‘Might makes right,’ and this becomes the ice-breaker for future incursions by Russia.” In fact, Mr. Putin wants a re-run of the Yalta Conference, re-establishing the Russian sphere of political influence in Eastern and Central Europe as an essential aspect of Russia’s national security strategy.

Federation of Russian Republics (2017)

Russia’s Economy is Weak

The problem with Russia’s thirst for power is that the country is fundamentally weak. Its economy is smaller than that of New York State, and by GDP, it ranks twelfth in the world, similar to Brazil and Italy. Its outdated industries are stagnating without diversification and modernization.  Russia has few friends in the international community and is not considered a model for a prosperous future.

Russia’s Military is Weak

The weak economy also has effects on Russia’s military capability. Certainly, with their 7,000 nuclear war heads, they have the capacity to blow up the world seven times, “but what else is such power useful for?,” Dr. Galeotti asked. While Russia’s military has been improved since the 1990s, as demonstrated in Ukraine and Syria, only 50% of the military has been modernized. Today, there is a two-tier army, with 150,000 trained leaders and soldiers, supported by 125,000 untrained conscripts who, while serving a nominal 12 months, are only functional for 3 months, Dr. Galeotti reported. Russia’s reserve system has collapsed, and it can deploy only 50,000 troops at a time. “The Army is good for bullying its small neighbors,” Dr. Galeotti observed, “But not for taking on NATO.” The Russians understand that NATO’s Article V, “an attack on one is an attack on all,” would be enforced.

Russia’s Pride is Strong

Mr. Putin believes his own press, that Russia is the great power it was under the Czars and as the Soviet Empire. The Russian perception is that the West does not honor Russia’s proper place in the world as a power. The US is in a political war with Russia, a war the Russians believe the US started. The belief is that, since the 1990s, the West has been squeezing Russia off the world stage and that everything that goes wrong in Russia is a CIA plot. Restoring Russia to its rightful place as a world power is the aim.

The Means to the End

Because Russia is actually weak economically and militarily, it exploits the geopolitics of extortion to assert power. It is fighting alliances, NATO and the EU, that are much stronger. Therefore, Russia works to exploit the natural fault lines that divide the constellation of democracies that is Europe. Russia carries out and encourages ‘active measures’ in Europe to destabilize and confuse governments and societies. There is no grand strategy beyond weakening the EU and NATO and creating a more conducive environment for itself.

The tools for domination Mr. Putin uses are intimidation and manipulation. This involves a wide range of actors, from officials and the media, through military threats, to business lobbies and spies. Russia sees ‘active measures’ – from supporting populist parties through disinformation and espionage campaigns, all the way to incidents such as the attempted coup in Montenegro – as an essential part of its efforts to influence Europe. Russia will support both sides in other countries’ internal struggles to spread dissension and weaken other countries. Along with the usual instruments of foreign influence, such as diplomacy and economic levers, Russia is especially active in using covert and non-traditional means, from intelligence operations to military pressure and even organized crime.

Conclusion

Mr. Putin began his regime as a pragmatist, looking to engage with the West. However, the combination of policy in the West, which is perceived as denigrating Russia, and Mr. Putin’s acceptance of his own mythology, which is orchestrated by his advisors feeding him what he wants to hear, has now committed Mr. Putin and Russia to a struggle with the West. Ultimately, the real interests of Russia, to participate in the economic and security benefits of globalization, are better served by working with the West. For now,  though, the free world must cope with Mr. Putin, until the next change emerges.

Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR) and Presenter Mark Galeotti from the Institute of International Relations, discuss  the implications for the States of Russia’s foreign policies.

Q&A

Q: Sen. Kevin Grantham (CO): What were the US policies in the 1990s that threatened Russia?

A: Mr. Galeotti: Western support for “shock therapy,” the radical economic reforms aimed at rapid economic stabilization, liberalization, privatization and the opening of the economy to international trade, had disastrous social effects on Russians. It led to poverty and serious shortages in Russia, as well as the emergence of “crony capitalism.” These effects persuaded the Russian people that successful capitalism and democracy required a “dog-eat-dog” philosophy, which was unpalatable to the former Communist populace.

In the 1990s, President Yeltsin was not able to define the new country emerging from the Soviet Union. The 1993 Parliament was filled with old Soviet-style members, who allowed Mr. Yeltsin to rewrite the Constitution to remain as President. In 1996, it was clear that the Russian elections were rigged. However, the US did not oppose any of these non-democratic maneuvers. Furthermore, during 1989 negotiations on the unification of Germany, Mr. Gorbachev believed he had negotiated an agreement that NATO would not expand. Then NATO did expand, compromising this trust.

Russians believe that no governments are truly democratic, and they expect similar manipulations to occur everywhere. The lack of US response to these non-democratic actions confirmed these suspicions for the Russian people. All these factors have fueled anti-US sentiment in Russia.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): Russia seems to be pursuing a guerrilla war of journalistic disinformation in Europe and the US. What can the US do to address and defend against this?

A: In the short-term, the US should address the issues of Facebook and political advertising. One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

Furthermore, the US populace will believe wild stories because they are alienated from the elite and feel they lack power in the political process. Russia is exploiting this by questioning the “legitimacy” of US institutions, for example, amplifying the message that “Congress doesn’t work.”

Two things US leaders could do is, first, defend the legitimacy of US institutions and show that, in fact, this is democracy at work; and second, teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Fighting terrorism is a global problem, but Russia seems to be supporting terrorists in Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria.  Is Russia both fighting terrorism and stoking it?

A: Mr. Galeotti: It is a shared goal to fight terrorism, but Russia also has an objective to get the US out of the Middle East. There is a pragmatic relationship between Russia and Iran, but Russia is concerned about jihadists and ISIS. While the US and Russia have lately been less cooperative, they continue to share information on terrorism.

Mr. Putin’s first call after 9/11 was offering help through an alliance of joint forces. But he got no takers on this offer. In a 2007 speech in Munich, Mr. Putin said that Russia was standing alone to combat terrorism and no nation was working with them. The façade portrayed by Mr. Putin is confrontational, and this is not likely to win allies.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): Russia disappeared from the US news for several years as the focus shifted to the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, and the Iraq War. Now Russia is the hot new topic. Is this fake news? Should we be concerned?

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): After Mr. Putin, who is likely to emerge as the next leader, when and what kind of leader should we expect?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Who is uncertain. There will be a new person, someone arising from the sistema, who is already on the circuit, but is a Dark Horse. In Russia, one must never express Presidential ambitions.

When is likely to be in 2018 at the next elections. Mr. Putin has not yet announced his interest but is “waiting for the call.” The next President will serve six years through 2024. Mr. Putin is tired and is not having fun anymore; however, if his health holds up, his mission to “Make Russia Great Again,” his sense of his historic imperative, and the financial interests of himself and his friends may compel him to hold onto power.

Speaker Biography

Mark Galeotti, PhD

Mark Galeotti has been researching Russian history and security issues since the late 1980s. Educated at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics (LSE), he is now a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and coordinates its Centre for European Security. He is also the director of the consultancy firm Mayak Intelligence and author of the blog In Moscow’s Shadows.

Previously he has been a professor of Global Affairs at New York University; an adviser on Russian foreign and security policy at the British Foreign Office; and head of the History department at Keele University in the UK, where he was also director of the Organised Russian & Eurasian Crime Research Unit. Mark has been a visiting professor at MGIMO (Moscow), Charles University (Prague), and Rutgers (Newark), as well as a visiting fellow with the  Oxford University’s Extra-Legal Governance Institute.

Mark’s books include the edited collections The Politics of Security in Modern Russia, Russian & Soviet Organized Crime and Spetsnaz: Russia's Special Forces. He is a regular contributor to Jane’s Intelligence Review, Oxford Analytica and many other outlets. He is a contributing editor to Business New Europe. Mark wrote the column “Siloviks & Scoundrels” for the Moscow News until the newspaper was closed, and is now a regular columnist for magazine Vox, Russia! and for the Moscow Times.

One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

... teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

Tom Finneran

Sen. Kevin Grantham (CO)

Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR)

Sen. David Long (IN)

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR)

Mr. Putin’s objective is to “Make Russia Great Again.”

If not restrained, Russian aggression could unravel the whole fabric of post-war Europe.

The problem with Russia’s thirst for power is that the country is fundamentally weak.

The Russian Army is good for bullying its small neighbors, but not for taking on NATO.

The US is in a political war with Russia, a war the Russians believe the US started.

The tools for domination Mr. Putin uses are intimidation and manipulation.

Mark Galeotti

CONTACT

Senate Presidents’ Forum

579 Broadway

Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706

 

Tel: 914-693-1818

Copyright © 2018 Senate Presidents' Forum. All rights reserved.

september 13–17, 2017

Russia – International Perspective:
Putin’s Foreign Policy:
Making Russia Great Again

Mark Galeotti, PhD

Senior Researcher
Institute of International Relations Prague

Dr. Mark Galeotti has been researching Russian history and security issues since the late 1980s. Educated at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics, he is now a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and coordinates its Centre for European Security. Dr. Galeotti described Mr. Putin’s objectives to “Make Russia Great Again,” the country’s capabilities to fulfill those objectives, the policies undertaken to implement these plans, and the likely long-term outcomes of these policies.

In the Russian view, the West does not honor Russia’s proper place in the world, and this spurs Russian desires to assert their voice in international affairs and fosters sovereignty displays such as the Crimea invasion. Russia wants to push back the influence of the world on Russia. “This Russian drive to world power could unravel the whole fabric of post-World-War II Europe,” Dr. Galeotti said.

In fact, the failure to adapt to globalization and stagnant economic growth, resulting from old industries and a failure to diversify to new technologies are the real challenges facing Russia. But Russia blames the West for its weak economy and will seek security through the geopolitics of extortion, seeking to exploit the fault lines between countries in the constellation of democracies that is Europe, instigating crises of legitimacy through misinformation, intimidation, and manipulation, Dr. Galeotti said.

Issues Facing Russia

Inaccurate assumptions, limited advice from ill-informed advisers, and policies based on a sense of threat are the factors that drive Russian political action, Dr. Galeotti observed. Russians have inaccurate assumptions and perceptions of the outside world. For example, they believe that the US political scene is as shady and dark as their own, and that outcomes are “arranged.” They do not believe that the US is democratic; in fact, they believed the US political establishment would never allow Donald Trump to win the Presidency.

Russian leaders fully expected to face Hillary Clinton as the next US president with an agenda aimed at causing a regime change in Russia. They used disinformation and media manipulation with the goal of creating so much trouble for Mrs. Clinton in her first term that she would leave Russia alone. Instead, they were surprised by Mr. Trump’s win, who they perceive as unpredictable and willing to trample on the “other guys,” Dr. Galeotti said.

Furthermore, Russian policy is formulated by a tight circle of poorly informed advisors who are hand-picked friends of Mr. Putin and will give advice to stay in power.  Policy arises from a sense of threat, for example, the Russian leadership asserts that all the uprising of the Arab Spring were engineered by the CIA. The post-Olympics (2014) softening of rhetoric was short-lived, and then the shutters came down, Dr. Galeotti observed, as more repressive measures were taken in Russia. He warns that “Russia has entered a new phase of national mobilization. The Kremlin clearly considers itself threatened by − and in a kind of political war with the West − a war started by the West.”

Make Russia Great Again

Mr. Putin’s objective is to “Make Russia Great Again.” This greatness is not about territorial acquisition, but rather about being a “great power” on the world stage with a strong voice, including veto power, in all major international decisions. To be great, Russia’s sphere of privilege and influence must extend to the former Soviet states, who should recognize Moscow’s leadership and domination. Membership by those states in NATO or the EU is not acceptable; therefore, the Russian invasions into Georgia and Ukraine to break newly emerging connections with NATO and the EU were inevitable.

Mr. Putin’s objective is to “Make Russia Great Again.”

In Mr. Putin’s view, sovereignty must be asserted. If a country cannot stop Russian troops from invading, then it is not sovereign, a belief that powered the Ukraine invasion. Furthermore, no country has the right to tell Russia what to do, and Mr. Putin is determined to push back the influence of the world on Russia.

“We cannot allow this,” Dr. Galeotti warned the Forum. “Such actions will unravel the whole fabric of post-war Europe. If the international community allows the Ukraine invasion, then ‘Might makes right,’ and this becomes the ice-breaker for future incursions by Russia.” In fact, Mr. Putin wants a re-run of the Yalta Conference, re-establishing the Russian sphere of political influence in Eastern and Central Europe as an essential aspect of Russia’s national security strategy.

If not restrained, Russian aggression could unravel the whole fabric of post-war Europe.

Federation of Russian Republics (2017)

Russia’s Economy is Weak

The problem with Russia’s thirst for power is that the country is fundamentally weak. Its economy is smaller than that of New York State, and by GDP, it ranks twelfth in the world, similar to Brazil and Italy. Its outdated industries are stagnating without diversification and modernization.  Russia has few friends in the international community and is not considered a model for a prosperous future.

The problem with Russia’s thirst for power is that the country is fundamentally weak.

Russia’s Military is Weak

The weak economy also has effects on Russia’s military capability. Certainly, with their 7,000 nuclear war heads, they have the capacity to blow up the world seven times, “but what else is such power useful for?,” Dr. Galeotti asked. While Russia’s military has been improved since the 1990s, as demonstrated in Ukraine and Syria, only 50% of the military has been modernized. Today, there is a two-tier army, with 150,000 trained leaders and soldiers, supported by 125,000 untrained conscripts who, while serving a nominal 12 months, are only functional for 3 months, Dr. Galeotti reported. Russia’s reserve system has collapsed, and it can deploy only 50,000 troops at a time. “The Army is good for bullying its small neighbors,” Dr. Galeotti observed, “But not for taking on NATO.” The Russians understand that NATO’s Article V, “an attack on one is an attack on all,” would be enforced.

The Russian Army is good for bullying its small neighbors, but not for taking on NATO.

Russia’s Pride is Strong

Mr. Putin believes his own press, that Russia is the great power it was under the Czars and as the Soviet Empire. The Russian perception is that the West does not honor Russia’s proper place in the world as a power. The US is in a political war with Russia, a war the Russians believe the US started. The belief is that, since the 1990s, the West has been squeezing Russia off the world stage and that everything that goes wrong in Russia is a CIA plot. Restoring Russia to its rightful place as a world power is the aim.

The US is in a political war with Russia, a war the Russians believe the US started.

The Means to the End

Because Russia is actually weak economically and militarily, it exploits the geopolitics of extortion to assert power. It is fighting alliances, NATO and the EU, that are much stronger. Therefore, Russia works to exploit the natural fault lines that divide the constellation of democracies that is Europe. Russia carries out and encourages ‘active measures’ in Europe to destabilize and confuse governments and societies. There is no grand strategy beyond weakening the EU and NATO and creating a more conducive environment for itself.

The tools for domination Mr. Putin uses are intimidation and manipulation. This involves a wide range of actors, from officials and the media, through military threats, to business lobbies and spies. Russia sees ‘active measures’ – from supporting populist parties through disinformation and espionage campaigns, all the way to incidents such as the attempted coup in Montenegro – as an essential part of its efforts to influence Europe. Russia will support both sides in other countries’ internal struggles to spread dissension and weaken other countries. Along with the usual instruments of foreign influence, such as diplomacy and economic levers, Russia is especially active in using covert and non-traditional means, from intelligence operations to military pressure and even organized crime.

The tools for domination Mr. Putin uses are intimidation and manipulation.

Conclusion

Mr. Putin began his regime as a pragmatist, looking to engage with the West. However, the combination of policy in the West, which is perceived as denigrating Russia, and Mr. Putin’s acceptance of his own mythology, which is orchestrated by his advisors feeding him what he wants to hear, has now committed Mr. Putin and Russia to a struggle with the West. Ultimately, the real interests of Russia, to participate in the economic and security benefits of globalization, are better served by working with the West. For now,  though, the free world must cope with Mr. Putin, until the next change emerges.

Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR) and Presenter Mark Galeotti from the Institute of International Relations, discuss  the implications for the States of Russia’s foreign policies.

Q&A

Q: Sen. Kevin Grantham (CO): What were the US policies in the 1990s that threatened Russia?

A: Mr. Galeotti: Western support for “shock therapy,” the radical economic reforms aimed at rapid economic stabilization, liberalization, privatization and the opening of the economy to international trade, had disastrous social effects on Russians. It led to poverty and serious shortages in Russia, as well as the emergence of “crony capitalism.” These effects persuaded the Russian people that successful capitalism and democracy required a “dog-eat-dog” philosophy, which was unpalatable to the former Communist populace.

In the 1990s, President Yeltsin was not able to define the new country emerging from the Soviet Union. The 1993 Parliament was filled with old Soviet-style members, who allowed Mr. Yeltsin to rewrite the Constitution to remain as President. In 1996, it was clear that the Russian elections were rigged. However, the US did not oppose any of these non-democratic maneuvers. Furthermore, during 1989 negotiations on the unification of Germany, Mr. Gorbachev believed he had negotiated an agreement that NATO would not expand. Then NATO did expand, compromising this trust.

Russians believe that no governments are truly democratic, and they expect similar manipulations to occur everywhere. The lack of US response to these non-democratic actions confirmed these suspicions for the Russian people. All these factors have fueled anti-US sentiment in Russia.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): Russia seems to be pursuing a guerrilla war of journalistic disinformation in Europe and the US. What can the US do to address and defend against this?

A: In the short-term, the US should address the issues of Facebook and political advertising. One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

Furthermore, the US populace will believe wild stories because they are alienated from the elite and feel they lack power in the political process. Russia is exploiting this by questioning the “legitimacy” of US institutions, for example, amplifying the message that “Congress doesn’t work.”

Two things US leaders could do is, first, defend the legitimacy of US institutions and show that, in fact, this is democracy at work; and second, teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

... teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Fighting terrorism is a global problem, but Russia seems to be supporting terrorists in Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria.  Is Russia both fighting terrorism and stoking it?

A: Mr. Galeotti: It is a shared goal to fight terrorism, but Russia also has an objective to get the US out of the Middle East. There is a pragmatic relationship between Russia and Iran, but Russia is concerned about jihadists and ISIS. While the US and Russia have lately been less cooperative, they continue to share information on terrorism.

Mr. Putin’s first call after 9/11 was offering help through an alliance of joint forces. But he got no takers on this offer. In a 2007 speech in Munich, Mr. Putin said that Russia was standing alone to combat terrorism and no nation was working with them. The façade portrayed by Mr. Putin is confrontational, and this is not likely to win allies.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): Russia disappeared from the US news for several years as the focus shifted to the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, and the Iraq War. Now Russia is the hot new topic. Is this fake news? Should we be concerned?

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): After Mr. Putin, who is likely to emerge as the next leader, when and what kind of leader should we expect?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Who is uncertain. There will be a new person, someone arising from the sistema, who is already on the circuit, but is a Dark Horse. In Russia, one must never express Presidential ambitions.

When is likely to be in 2018 at the next elections. Mr. Putin has not yet announced his interest but is “waiting for the call.” The next President will serve six years through 2024. Mr. Putin is tired and is not having fun anymore; however, if his health holds up, his mission to “Make Russia Great Again,” his sense of his historic imperative, and the financial interests of himself and his friends may compel him to hold onto power.

Speaker Biography

Mark Galeotti, PhD

Mark Galeotti has been researching Russian history and security issues since the late 1980s. Educated at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics (LSE), he is now a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and coordinates its Centre for European Security. He is also the director of the consultancy firm Mayak Intelligence and author of the blog In Moscow’s Shadows.

Previously he has been a professor of Global Affairs at New York University; an adviser on Russian foreign and security policy at the British Foreign Office; and head of the History department at Keele University in the UK, where he was also director of the Organised Russian & Eurasian Crime Research Unit. Mark has been a visiting professor at MGIMO (Moscow), Charles University (Prague), and Rutgers (Newark), as well as a visiting fellow with the  Oxford University’s Extra-Legal Governance Institute.

Mark’s books include the edited collections The Politics of Security in Modern Russia, Russian & Soviet Organized Crime and Spetsnaz: Russia's Special Forces. He is a regular contributor to Jane’s Intelligence Review, Oxford Analytica and many other outlets. He is a contributing editor to Business New Europe. Mark wrote the column “Siloviks & Scoundrels” for the Moscow News until the newspaper was closed, and is now a regular columnist for magazine Vox, Russia! and for the Moscow Times.

september 13–17, 2017

Russia – International Perspective:
Putin’s Foreign Policy:
Making Russia Great Again

Mark Galeotti, PhD

Senior Researcher
Institute of International Relations Prague

Dr. Mark Galeotti has been researching Russian history and security issues since the late 1980s. Educated at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics, he is now a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and coordinates its Centre for European Security. Dr. Galeotti described Mr. Putin’s objectives to “Make Russia Great Again,” the country’s capabilities to fulfill those objectives, the policies undertaken to implement these plans, and the likely long-term outcomes of these policies.

In the Russian view, the West does not honor Russia’s proper place in the world, and this spurs Russian desires to assert their voice in international affairs and fosters sovereignty displays such as the Crimea invasion. Russia wants to push back the influence of the world on Russia. “This Russian drive to world power could unravel the whole fabric of post-World-War II Europe,” Dr. Galeotti said.

In fact, the failure to adapt to globalization and stagnant economic growth, resulting from old industries and a failure to diversify to new technologies are the real challenges facing Russia. But Russia blames the West for its weak economy and will seek security through the geopolitics of extortion, seeking to exploit the fault lines between countries in the constellation of democracies that is Europe, instigating crises of legitimacy through misinformation, intimidation, and manipulation, Dr. Galeotti said.

Issues Facing Russia

Inaccurate assumptions, limited advice from ill-informed advisers, and policies based on a sense of threat are the factors that drive Russian political action, Dr. Galeotti observed. Russians have inaccurate assumptions and perceptions of the outside world. For example, they believe that the US political scene is as shady and dark as their own, and that outcomes are “arranged.” They do not believe that the US is democratic; in fact, they believed the US political establishment would never allow Donald Trump to win the Presidency.

Russian leaders fully expected to face Hillary Clinton as the next US president with an agenda aimed at causing a regime change in Russia. They used disinformation and media manipulation with the goal of creating so much trouble for Mrs. Clinton in her first term that she would leave Russia alone. Instead, they were surprised by Mr. Trump’s win, who they perceive as unpredictable and willing to trample on the “other guys,” Dr. Galeotti said.

Furthermore, Russian policy is formulated by a tight circle of poorly informed advisors who are hand-picked friends of Mr. Putin and will give advice to stay in power.  Policy arises from a sense of threat, for example, the Russian leadership asserts that all the uprising of the Arab Spring were engineered by the CIA. The post-Olympics (2014) softening of rhetoric was short-lived, and then the shutters came down, Dr. Galeotti observed, as more repressive measures were taken in Russia. He warns that “Russia has entered a new phase of national mobilization. The Kremlin clearly considers itself threatened by − and in a kind of political war with the West − a war started by the West.”

Make Russia Great Again

Mr. Putin’s objective is to “Make Russia Great Again.” This greatness is not about territorial acquisition, but rather about being a “great power” on the world stage with a strong voice, including veto power, in all major international decisions. To be great, Russia’s sphere of privilege and influence must extend to the former Soviet states, who should recognize Moscow’s leadership and domination. Membership by those states in NATO or the EU is not acceptable; therefore, the Russian invasions into Georgia and Ukraine to break newly emerging connections with NATO and the EU were inevitable.

Mr. Putin’s objective is to “Make Russia Great Again.”

In Mr. Putin’s view, sovereignty must be asserted. If a country cannot stop Russian troops from invading, then it is not sovereign, a belief that powered the Ukraine invasion. Furthermore, no country has the right to tell Russia what to do, and Mr. Putin is determined to push back the influence of the world on Russia.

“We cannot allow this,” Dr. Galeotti warned the Forum. “Such actions will unravel the whole fabric of post-war Europe. If the international community allows the Ukraine invasion, then ‘Might makes right,’ and this becomes the ice-breaker for future incursions by Russia.” In fact, Mr. Putin wants a re-run of the Yalta Conference, re-establishing the Russian sphere of political influence in Eastern and Central Europe as an essential aspect of Russia’s national security strategy.

If not restrained, Russian aggression could unravel the whole fabric of post-war Europe.

Federation of Russian Republics (2017)

Russia’s Economy is Weak

The problem with Russia’s thirst for power is that the country is fundamentally weak. Its economy is smaller than that of New York State, and by GDP, it ranks twelfth in the world, similar to Brazil and Italy. Its outdated industries are stagnating without diversification and modernization.  Russia has few friends in the international community and is not considered a model for a prosperous future.

The problem with Russia’s thirst for power is that the country is fundamentally weak.

Russia’s Military is Weak

The weak economy also has effects on Russia’s military capability. Certainly, with their 7,000 nuclear war heads, they have the capacity to blow up the world seven times, “but what else is such power useful for?,” Dr. Galeotti asked. While Russia’s military has been improved since the 1990s, as demonstrated in Ukraine and Syria, only 50% of the military has been modernized. Today, there is a two-tier army, with 150,000 trained leaders and soldiers, supported by 125,000 untrained conscripts who, while serving a nominal 12 months, are only functional for 3 months, Dr. Galeotti reported. Russia’s reserve system has collapsed, and it can deploy only 50,000 troops at a time. “The Army is good for bullying its small neighbors,” Dr. Galeotti observed, “But not for taking on NATO.” The Russians understand that NATO’s Article V, “an attack on one is an attack on all,” would be enforced.

The Russian Army is good for bullying its small neighbors, but not for taking on NATO.

Russia’s Pride is Strong

Mr. Putin believes his own press, that Russia is the great power it was under the Czars and as the Soviet Empire. The Russian perception is that the West does not honor Russia’s proper place in the world as a power. The US is in a political war with Russia, a war the Russians believe the US started. The belief is that, since the 1990s, the West has been squeezing Russia off the world stage and that everything that goes wrong in Russia is a CIA plot. Restoring Russia to its rightful place as a world power is the aim.

The US is in a political war with Russia, a war the Russians believe the US started.

The Means to the End

Because Russia is actually weak economically and militarily, it exploits the geopolitics of extortion to assert power. It is fighting alliances, NATO and the EU, that are much stronger. Therefore, Russia works to exploit the natural fault lines that divide the constellation of democracies that is Europe. Russia carries out and encourages ‘active measures’ in Europe to destabilize and confuse governments and societies. There is no grand strategy beyond weakening the EU and NATO and creating a more conducive environment for itself.

The tools for domination Mr. Putin uses are intimidation and manipulation. This involves a wide range of actors, from officials and the media, through military threats, to business lobbies and spies. Russia sees ‘active measures’ – from supporting populist parties through disinformation and espionage campaigns, all the way to incidents such as the attempted coup in Montenegro – as an essential part of its efforts to influence Europe. Russia will support both sides in other countries’ internal struggles to spread dissension and weaken other countries. Along with the usual instruments of foreign influence, such as diplomacy and economic levers, Russia is especially active in using covert and non-traditional means, from intelligence operations to military pressure and even organized crime.

The tools for domination Mr. Putin uses are intimidation and manipulation.

Conclusion

Mr. Putin began his regime as a pragmatist, looking to engage with the West. However, the combination of policy in the West, which is perceived as denigrating Russia, and Mr. Putin’s acceptance of his own mythology, which is orchestrated by his advisors feeding him what he wants to hear, has now committed Mr. Putin and Russia to a struggle with the West. Ultimately, the real interests of Russia, to participate in the economic and security benefits of globalization, are better served by working with the West. For now,  though, the free world must cope with Mr. Putin, until the next change emerges.

Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR) and Presenter Mark Galeotti from the Institute of International Relations, discuss  the implications for the States of Russia’s foreign policies.

Q&A

Q: Sen. Kevin Grantham (CO): What were the US policies in the 1990s that threatened Russia?

A: Mr. Galeotti: Western support for “shock therapy,” the radical economic reforms aimed at rapid economic stabilization, liberalization, privatization and the opening of the economy to international trade, had disastrous social effects on Russians. It led to poverty and serious shortages in Russia, as well as the emergence of “crony capitalism.” These effects persuaded the Russian people that successful capitalism and democracy required a “dog-eat-dog” philosophy, which was unpalatable to the former Communist populace.

In the 1990s, President Yeltsin was not able to define the new country emerging from the Soviet Union. The 1993 Parliament was filled with old Soviet-style members, who allowed Mr. Yeltsin to rewrite the Constitution to remain as President. In 1996, it was clear that the Russian elections were rigged. However, the US did not oppose any of these non-democratic maneuvers. Furthermore, during 1989 negotiations on the unification of Germany, Mr. Gorbachev believed he had negotiated an agreement that NATO would not expand. Then NATO did expand, compromising this trust.

Russians believe that no governments are truly democratic, and they expect similar manipulations to occur everywhere. The lack of US response to these non-democratic actions confirmed these suspicions for the Russian people. All these factors have fueled anti-US sentiment in Russia.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): Russia seems to be pursuing a guerrilla war of journalistic disinformation in Europe and the US. What can the US do to address and defend against this?

A: In the short-term, the US should address the issues of Facebook and political advertising. One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

Furthermore, the US populace will believe wild stories because they are alienated from the elite and feel they lack power in the political process. Russia is exploiting this by questioning the “legitimacy” of US institutions, for example, amplifying the message that “Congress doesn’t work.”

Two things US leaders could do is, first, defend the legitimacy of US institutions and show that, in fact, this is democracy at work; and second, teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

... teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Fighting terrorism is a global problem, but Russia seems to be supporting terrorists in Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria.  Is Russia both fighting terrorism and stoking it?

A: Mr. Galeotti: It is a shared goal to fight terrorism, but Russia also has an objective to get the US out of the Middle East. There is a pragmatic relationship between Russia and Iran, but Russia is concerned about jihadists and ISIS. While the US and Russia have lately been less cooperative, they continue to share information on terrorism.

Mr. Putin’s first call after 9/11 was offering help through an alliance of joint forces. But he got no takers on this offer. In a 2007 speech in Munich, Mr. Putin said that Russia was standing alone to combat terrorism and no nation was working with them. The façade portrayed by Mr. Putin is confrontational, and this is not likely to win allies.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): Russia disappeared from the US news for several years as the focus shifted to the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, and the Iraq War. Now Russia is the hot new topic. Is this fake news? Should we be concerned?

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): After Mr. Putin, who is likely to emerge as the next leader, when and what kind of leader should we expect?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Who is uncertain. There will be a new person, someone arising from the sistema, who is already on the circuit, but is a Dark Horse. In Russia, one must never express Presidential ambitions.

When is likely to be in 2018 at the next elections. Mr. Putin has not yet announced his interest but is “waiting for the call.” The next President will serve six years through 2024. Mr. Putin is tired and is not having fun anymore; however, if his health holds up, his mission to “Make Russia Great Again,” his sense of his historic imperative, and the financial interests of himself and his friends may compel him to hold onto power.

Speaker Biography

Mark Galeotti, PhD

Mark Galeotti has been researching Russian history and security issues since the late 1980s. Educated at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics (LSE), he is now a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and coordinates its Centre for European Security. He is also the director of the consultancy firm Mayak Intelligence and author of the blog In Moscow’s Shadows.

Previously he has been a professor of Global Affairs at New York University; an adviser on Russian foreign and security policy at the British Foreign Office; and head of the History department at Keele University in the UK, where he was also director of the Organised Russian & Eurasian Crime Research Unit. Mark has been a visiting professor at MGIMO (Moscow), Charles University (Prague), and Rutgers (Newark), as well as a visiting fellow with the  Oxford University’s Extra-Legal Governance Institute.

Mark’s books include the edited collections The Politics of Security in Modern Russia, Russian & Soviet Organized Crime and Spetsnaz: Russia's Special Forces. He is a regular contributor to Jane’s Intelligence Review, Oxford Analytica and many other outlets. He is a contributing editor to Business New Europe. Mark wrote the column “Siloviks & Scoundrels” for the Moscow News until the newspaper was closed, and is now a regular columnist for magazine Vox, Russia! and for the Moscow Times.