What deters Russia

Enduring principles for responding to Moscow
Research paper Published 23 September 2021 Updated 2 March 2023 ISBN: 978 1 78413 489 1
President Putin and Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu view flight data recorder from Russian jet shot down in Turkish airspace in November 2015

Russia continues to use a variety of state and non-state levers of power to cause harm to Western governments, societies and people. Driven by a perception that it is already in conflict with the West, Moscow has progressively abandoned restraint and embarked on ever more damaging actions. This presents Western countries with an enduring challenge: how to deter or dissuade Russia from further excesses.

Repeated Western mistakes in recent years have encouraged, rather than deterred, this aggressive behaviour. The West must demonstrate both the political will and ability to defend itself against such behaviour in the future.

This paper argues that Russian attitudes to the West cannot be altered, because they are based on deeply ingrained notions of hostility that will not be swayed by Western attempts to avoid conflict. But while the misguided foundations of Russian policy are unshakeable, the actions and behaviours by which it seeks to implement that policy can be influenced – and there are successful examples of this throughout both recent and more distant history. The author examines past responses – both successful and unsuccessful – to Russian hostile actions and, from these examples, deduces a number of key principles and practical recommendations for effective deterrence.