It is now clear that President Putin’s ‘new model Russia’ cannot be constructively accommodated into the international system. The war in Ukraine, in part the result of the West's laissez-faire approach to Russia, demonstrates the need for a new Western strategy towards Russia.
The Russian Challenge - a major new report by six authors from the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House - argues that a new strategy must recognise that:
- The decline of the Russian economy, the costs of confrontation and the rise of China mean that the Putin regime is now facing the most serious challenge of its 15 years in power. The West has neither the wish nor the means to promote regime change in Russia. But Western countries need to consider the possible consequences of a chaotic end to the Putin system.
- A critical element in the new geo-economic competition between the West and Russia is the extent of Western support for Ukraine, whose reconstruction as an effective sovereign state, capable of standing up for itself, is crucial. This will require much greater resources than have been invested up until now.
- Russia has rapidly developed its armed forces and information warfare capabilities since the war in Georgia in 2008. The West must invest in defensive strategic communications and media support to counter the Kremlin’s false narratives and restore its conventional deterrent capabilities as a matter of urgency. In particular, NATO needs to demonstrate that the response to ‘ambiguous’ or ‘hybrid’ war will be robust.
- Sanctions are exerting economic pressure on the Russian leadership and should remain in place until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is properly restored. In particular, it is self-defeating to link the lifting of sanctions solely to implementation of the poorly crafted and inherently fragile Minsk accords.
- While deterrence and constraint are essential in the short term, the West must also prepare for an eventual change of leadership in Russia. There is a reasonable chance that current pressures will incline a future Russian leadership to want to re-engage with the West.
James Nixey, Head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, said:
'Pursuing these goals and achieving these objectives will ensure that the West is better prepared for any further deterioration in relations with Russia. The events of the last 18 months have demonstrated conclusively that when dealing with Russia, optimism is not a strategy.'