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Research Report

The New East-West Discord: Russian Objectives, Western Interests

James Sherr
Copyright Date: Dec. 1, 2015
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 76

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-3)
  2. (pp. 4-4)
  3. (pp. 5-5)
  4. (pp. 6-8)

    The events set in motion by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine have obliged both NATO and the EU to abandon a paradigm of East-West partnership that has long been under strain.¹ Over the years, Russia has demonstrated that it is a proud, resentful, apprehensive and ambitious power. It has now annexed the territory of one NATO partner six years after dismembering another; it has provoked and baited NATO allies and, far from its borders, it has thrown its weight behind one of the most reviled regimes in the world. Yet the sources, dimensions and goals of its policy defy easy categorisation,...

  5. (pp. 9-20)

    To understand Russia’s actions, one must understand Russia’s interests as its leaders define them. Twenty five years of Western dominance have instilled an abiding sense of grievance in the country. As Dmitri Trenin has noted, Boris Yeltsin’s team expected that Cold War inter-bloc confrontation would be replaced by a ‘benign world oligarchy’.⁴ No one of note believed that juridical independence for former Soviet republics would transform them into fully sovereign states. The first official report on the subject by the MFA stated that Russia had to be ‘leader of stability and security…on the entire territory of the former USSR’.⁵ There...

  6. (pp. 21-31)

    The most striking feature of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is its brazenness. Russia is not the only country to have used force against a sovereign state in post-1991 Europe. But the Crimea operation marks the first time it was used without plausible justification and without efforts to resolve the dispute by other means. NATO’s 1999 intervention over Kosovo, which Lavrov compares to Crimea’s annexation, was preceded by exhaustive diplomatic efforts in which Russia played a key role.39 Although NATO’s Operation Allied Force was not authorised by the UN Security Council, it was preceded by the displacement of over 230,000 persons...

  7. (pp. 32-55)

    Throughout its modern history, Russia has been a country in which the frontiers between nation, state and empire have been difficult, if not impossible to draw. Its internal order has tended to be in a state of tension with its international surroundings. In part for these reasons, Russia has brought to Europe a security dilemma that has caused injury to itself as much as others: a set of security ‘needs’ out of kilter and scale with those of most European powers. These needs issue from an amalgam of factors that have operated in malign reinforcement: a tendency to resolve geopolitical...

  8. (pp. 56-72)

    Putin’s Russia is the legatee of doctrines, disciplines and habits acquired over a considerable period of time in relations with subjects, clients and independent states. Its view of the world and its culture of influence pose as great a challenge to other countries as any particular tool or method that it employs.

    Static indices of national capacity offer little insight into this struggle’s dynamics or potential. Conflicts are not decided by GDP ratios, but by the ability to convert economic, social and other national endowments into usable power.122 Many of the ‘powers’ of a liberal democracy are latent or dormant....

  9. (pp. 73-75)

    Russia today is waging what Lenin termed a ‘persistent struggle—bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative’.166 The Ukraine conflict is the pivot of what has become a struggle over the future of the security order in Europe and beyond it. Several principles should guide Western policy:

    1. Policy must be based on Russia as it is, not on ex cathedra beliefs, however reasonable they are. Russia is not an ‘existential enemy’, but it is an antagonist, and its self-declared interests in Europe diverge from those of the vast majority of European states. It might be...

  10. (pp. 76-76)