Aiming at Confrontation
BERLIN/MOSCOW (Own report) - In view of the Duma elections in Russia, the German foreign policy establishment is discussing Russia's future foreign policy and appropriate western reactions. This discussion is deemed necessary, given the fact that the institutions analyzing foreign policy had failed to foresee Russian initiatives both in the Ukrainian conflict and the Syrian war, according to a study by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The SWP analysis indicates that politicians and experts were taken in by their own propaganda and their "stereotyping" interpretations "blinded" them to actual developments. In his contribution to the discussion, a well-known Russian expert wrote that, for the time being, Moscow as well as the western powers will most likely continue a confrontational foreign policy, because it is in their respective interests. With this policy, both sides would seek to consolidate their alliances and overcome the growing divisions within their own societies. In the West, this can be seen in the mantra-like "mention of Putin in the establishment parties' elections and other campaigns."
A Perceptional Lapse
In the run-up to the Russian Duma elections September 18, Germany's foreign policy establishment is discussing both Russia's future foreign policy and how Germany, the EU and NATO should react. It has been noted that, several times over past few the years, the institutions analyzing foreign policy had not foreseen Moscow's significant strategic decisions. For example the German Chancellery-financed German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) observes that "in retrospect" it was "clear that the developments in Ukraine or in Syria had not sprung out of a vacuum," but had "rather been based on developments emerging over a lengthy period of time," but "had been insufficiently noticed" by both experts and politicians in the West. Now, this - obviously serious - lapse of perception is supposed to be closed.
Blind to Facts
Various suggestions have been made for the causes of this lapse in perception. The SWP, for example, considers structural reasons to be one of the causes. The foundation writes, "in the period between the Russian-Georgian War in August 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in March 2014" the "inner-EU financial and institutional crisis as well as the Arab Spring" had taken place - "major upheavals," that had blotted Eastern Europe out "of the public and political picture." Other indications suggest that politicians and experts, to some extent, were taken in by their own propaganda. Therefore, the "color revolutions" taking place in the countries bordering on Russia "stereotyped interpreted along the democratic vs. undemocratic and pro-western vs. pro-Russian lines of demarcation," writes SWP. The attribute "democratic - western" or "undemocratic - Russian" has impeded a more nuanced appreciation of the development actually taking place. The "self-description as a transformative force for peace," has made Berlin and the EU "blind to the fact" that "they were slipping ever deeper into East European geopolitical tensions." In "Russland-Analysen," published by the University of Bremen, an expert writes, "leading western powers" had not taken "seriously Moscow's obvious displeasure" - an indication of a feeling of superiority within the western establishment, which lowered its attention on Moscow and hampered an early recognition of important developments.
Rapprochement with the West
The "Russland-Analysen" published a contribution to the current discussion on Moscow's possible future foreign policy. According to the author, the current confrontational policy will continue. Fyodor Lukyanov, Chair of the Presidium of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and Head Editor of the publication, Russia in Global Affairs, explained his belief using a retrospective on the relations between western powers and Russia over the past 25 years. Lukyanov notes that up to 2014, Moscow had "sought to become integrated into the western orbit." The blossoming phase of this effort came from 2001 to 2006, as President Vladimir Putin managed to "stabilize the situation subsequent to the chaos of the 90s, to reestablish a system of state administration and thereby arouse the interest of segments of the western business community." This phase was "marked by a highly ambitious agenda for the relations with the West," recalls Lukyanov. "Cooperation in combating terrorism with the USA, canvassing 'common grounds' with the EU, and even cautious indications of Russia possibly joining NATO."
Emphasis on External Threats
According to Lukyanov, Moscow's attempts to become integrated into western structures were futile, not only due to external reasons, but domestic ones as well. Among the external reasons was the West's "unwillingness" to "treat Russia as an equal," along with "the expansion of western institutions with the objective of 'appropriating' the Soviet legacy" - an example being Berlin and Brussels' lack of willingness to coordinate the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement with Moscow. Even "the NATO transformation from a Cold War defensive alliance to a block in permanent warfare," had also played a role in Moscow's alienation to the West. In addition, Russian efforts - through enterprises or shareholding in western enterprises - to "achieve a full-fledged development of modern technology, ... was met with open resistance." However, there were also significant domestic reasons. For example, over the past 25 years, "not Russia as a nation ..., but rather the upper crust of Russian society" had become integrated into the western dominated world. The Russian population is divided "into an 'advanced' minority, orienting itself on the global environment and a 'national' majority." Russia has been unsuccessful in "assuming its rightful place in the world," and in "working out a promising development model for its economy and society." In this situation, "the necessity to provide a new impulse to domestic development," coupled with "the increasingly difficult international context" has set "in gear the most important mechanism for Russia's consolidation" - "the emphasis on an external threat." This is aimed at "regulating foreign influences on the society," and "the formulating a new model of development."
Instrument of Intimidation
Lukyanov notes striking similarities between developments in Russia and those in western countries. For example, the "steadily widening gap between a cosmopolitan elite," and a growing segment of the population, excluded from economic progress - Lukyanov points to the broad support for Donald Trump in the USA, in Great Britain, where this gap was evident in the Brexit Referendum, and where rightwing parties are gaining support in continental Europe. In foreign policy, western initiatives, such as TTIP, demonstrate a repudiation of the officially propagated "philosophy of universal transparency." It is not for nothing that the western "new quality protectionism" is accompanied by Russia's reinforced quarantine. Western powers have also their enormous "domestic problems;" they too invoke external threats to hold their alliances together and maintain control over their societies. In any case it, "is amazing, the frequency, with which Putin is mentioned in elections and other campaigns of the 'establishment parties' ... against the 'dissidents.'" "The specter of 'Putin' is being instrumentalized to intimidate the electorate, to prevent them from venturing too far from the mainstream."
Whereas Lukyanov believes that "both sides ... have important domestic reasons for resorting to confrontation," that therefore, a continuation of the confrontational policy can be expected and, above all, "risk management" - including military - must be enhanced, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) is speculating on possible Russian offensive measures, in this conflict and considering appropriate counter measures. german-foreign-policy.com will soon report.
For more information on Germany's policy toward Russia see: The West's Two-Pronged Strategy (I), The West's Two-Pronged Strategy (II), Dispute over Sanctions on Russia (I), and Dispute over Sanctions on Russia (II).
,  Sabine Fischer, Margarete Klein (Hg.): Denkbare Überraschungen. Elf Entwicklungen, die Russlands Außenpolitik nehmen könnte. SWP-Studie S 15, Juli 2016.
, , ,  Fjodor Lukjanow: Logik der Konfrontation: das interne Motiv. In: Russland-Analysen Nr. 320, 15.07.2016. S. 2-5.