The standoff between European pragmatists and skeptics on Russia won’t end here. The pragmatists will now face heightened political risk for a long time, both in the Council of Europe and in their own countries. Any actions or even statements by Russia that could directly or indirectly confirm the skeptics’ fears will now unleash a barrage of criticism not only of Moscow, but also of those who allowed the Russian delegation to return to the Parliamentary Assembly.
A broad public discussion on Moscow’s foreign policy goals and objectives is long overdue. International issues are affecting the interests of Russian society as a whole more and more, making it necessary for private citizens to take a greater interest in their country’s conduct abroad, especially in the single continental space that is Greater Eurasia.
Traditionally, Moscow has insisted on arms control agreements being enshrined in legally binding documents, while Washington has been more open to political deals. Nevertheless, a new, more flexible approach could find support with the Russian leadership.
The Zimbabweans understand that the Russians will not be able to convert the results of their assistance into direct political or economic power, and even the simple monetization of influence is not yet being discussed. Therefore, they willingly accept any form of support from Moscow. Russia, for its part, still lacks the experience, information, and human resources to compete in Africa with the former colonial powers or China. It can, however, comfortably play a role that requires significantly fewer resources: that of a restraining and independent power.
The U.S.-Russia strategic relationship—the only one to have featured strategic arms control—is no longer central to global strategic stability. While Sino-American relations are not nearly as dominant in terms of the rest of the world as U.S.-Soviet relations were during the Cold War. Thus twentieth-century methods of dealing with the issue of strategic stability, such as arms control, are insufficient.
Breaking arms control agreements is much easier than concluding them, but history shows that rejecting arms control agreements never improves one’s security and always damages it, a lesson that Moscow and Washington should heed. Indeed, the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and, in turn, the collapse of the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control architecture threaten to unleash chaos and make not only the two countries but also the rest of the world far less safe.
Strategic arms control has long been a foundation of U.S.-Russia relations, and removing this pillar will have profound consequences for the bilateral relationship. Neither Moscow nor Washington has displayed much political will or persistence to rescue the INF Treaty. Strategic arms control as it has been known for almost half a century is coming to its logical end.
Moscow needs to remain calm and hold back emotions. U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty won’t compromise Russia’s security, which rests on the pillars of nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction.
The Russian security services are not the elite body they were in Soviet times. They see themselves engaged in a struggle with their Western adversaries to fight off recruitment efforts, whatever the cost may be to Russia’s global image.