The Russian authorities refrain from engaging with the West’s military and political intellectual elite at the Munich Security Conference and similar forums because they’re convinced that the Russophobe audiences there will never change their minds. This belief is more a reflection of the Russian political system, in which the government doesn’t really consider expert and public opinion when formulating its foreign policy. This approach is to a large extent responsible for the miscalculations and errors that led to the current situation in Russia’s relations with the West.
Virtually all of Italy’s political forces want to increase cooperation with Russia. But the Kremlin would be unwise to read too much into this. Rome values preserving mutual understanding with the European Union and the United States over advocating for lifting sanctions. A positive relationship with Italy is an important asset for Russian foreign policy, but it isn’t a game-changer.
Putin’s goal is now neither to recreate the USSR, nor to become part of the West. Rather, the ambition is to build an economic and technological “West” inside Russia, while continuing an aggressive posture towards the West on the outside.
Washington has accused Moscow of violating the INF Treaty. The Kremlin has threatened to withdraw. Without new agreements and measures to ensure compliance with INF amid changing technological and political realities, arms control is in trouble.
Spain is a member of both the EU and NATO, yet its stance on Russia remains surprisingly benevolent. Even rumors of Russian interference in the Catalan crisis have not changed this. Moscow’s ties with Madrid could provide a valuable foundation for future engagement with Europe.
Much like Europeans do not fully grasp the angst generated by prospects of Western-incited regime change in Russia, Russians dismiss far too easily how toxic in the EU is Moscow’s political and financial backing of European extreme right-wing movements. Both are viewed as direct threats to existential interests. So long as that deep-seated mistrust regarding each other’s destructive intent toward one another prevails, channels for cooperation will remain limited, and cooperation at the global level will be ad hoc and transactional.
Even under the best of circumstances, the relationship in the Balkans between Russia, on the one hand, and the EU and the United States, on the other, is bound to be contentious. However, decisionmakers on both sides can craft policies to dial tensions down and pursue common interests where they do exist.
Many of the threats and missions identified in the 2018 National Defense Strategy Summary are similar to those of earlier defense strategies. But the priorities have changed dramatically. The 2018 NDS declares that “interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary national security concern,” and the United States is in a “long-term strategic competition” with its main adversaries Russia and China.
The most memorable developments in Russia’s foreign policy in the past year include a breakthrough in the Middle East; a further escalation of the confrontation with the United States; continued alienation from Europe; and a tactical advance in Asia. Russia has significantly expanded its foreign policy arsenal, but there is still a sharp contrast between the country’s foreign policy ambitions and the limited capabilities of its economy.
Russia should do its best to stop being one of the threats that the EU takes into account when determining its development trajectory. Long-term modernization and reform programs are long-term specifically because they structure cooperation for decades ahead, building paradigms that are difficult to escape from, even for the mutually beneficial improvement of relations.