Project: Russia and Eurasia Programme

Senior Research Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme

The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated the effectiveness of the Russian power vertikal, but it also reflects the difficulties the leadership faces in creating that power.

Russian builders repair a part of the Kremlin wall at Aleksandrovsky garden in Moscow on 25 September 2014. Photo by Getty Images.Russian builders repair a part of the Kremlin wall at Aleksandrovsky garden in Moscow on 25 September 2014. Photo by Getty Images.

This paper explores the question of whether there is a Russian ‘grand strategy’, with a focus on strategy as the creation of power, and examines the link between the Russian leadership’s consistent but increasingly obvious commitment to strategic planning and its ability to have those plans implemented.

  • The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated the effectiveness of the Russian power vertikal, but it also reflects the difficulties the leadership faces in creating that power.
  • Moscow does not appear to have anticipated such a crisis in its policy planning. Although the assumptions and outlines of the top-level planning documents remain broadly consistent and coherent, the plans themselves are often either overtaken by events or too vague to gain traction in implementation.
  • Security questions dominate the agenda, placing significant pressure on the coordination of resources. The economic slow-down makes it hard for the leadership to match available resources and targets. There is considerable inefficiency in state expenditure, which is poorly balanced between projects, and widespread corruption places a heavy additional burden on the budget.
  • Blurred lines of responsibility and differences in priorities are creating friction and disagreement. The leadership has long faced serious problems in the implementation of its instructions – except through direct personal intervention of the most senior authorities themselves.
  • President Putin’s attempts to reinvigorate the vertikal and create a unifying process of coordination to counteract this trend reveal an increasing sense of urgency, but there is no ‘grand strategy’; power is created only unevenly and adaptability is limited.