The West has yet to absorb the full implications of Russia’s descent into authoritarian nationalism. A new report argues Western governments need to think much more deeply about their level of support for Ukraine; how to respond to future crises; and above all, how Russia can be managed over the long term for the greater security of Europe.
The report's authors discuss their research and recommendations and the stark choices Western governments face in their policies towards Russia.
Summary of recommendations
The root cause of the challenge posed to the West by Russia lies in the country’s internal development, and its failure to find a satisfactory pattern of development following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin and his circle are not the same as Russia and its people, and their interests do not necessarily coincide. The West has neither the wish nor the means to promote, or for that matter to prevent, regime change in Russia. But Western countries need to consider the possible consequences of a chaotic end to the Putin system.
The West needs to develop and implement a clear and coherent strategy towards Russia. As far as possible, this strategy must be based on a common transatlantic and European assessment of Russian realities. In particular, policy should draw on the evidence of Russia’s behaviour, not on convenient or fashionable narratives.
As outlined in more detail in the Executive Summary at the beginning of this report, the West’s strategy needs to include the following clear goals, and establish the near-term means and longer-term capabilities for achieving them:
Strategic goals for the West
To deter and constrain coercion by Russia against its European neighbours, for as long as is needed, but not to draw fixed dividing lines. The door should be kept open for re-engagement when circumstances change. This cannot be expected with any confidence under Putin.
To restore the integrity of a European security system based on sovereignty, territorial integrity and the right of states to determine their own destinies.
To find better ways to communicate to the Russian regime and people that it is in their long-term national interest to be a part of a rules-based Europe, not an isolated regional hegemon.
To explain Western policies consistently and regularly in discussions with China, and to all former Soviet states, most of which have reason to be concerned about Russian policies, whether or not they admit it.
To prepare for the complications and opportunities that will inevitably be presented by an eventual change of leadership in Russia.
Not to isolate the Russian people. It is not in the Western interest to help Putin cut them off from the outside world.
Specific policy objectives
The reconstruction of Ukraine as an effective sovereign state, capable of standing up for itself, is crucial. This requires the input of much greater effort than has been the case up to now.
The EU’s Eastern Partnership needs to be transformed into an instrument that reinforces the sovereignty and economies of partner countries that have proved willing to undertake serious political and economic reform.
The effectiveness of sanctions against Russia depends on their duration as well as severity. Until the issue of the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity is fully addressed, sanctions should remain in place. It is self-defeating to link the lifting of sanctions to implementation of the poorly crafted and inherently fragile Minsk accords.
The West should not return to ‘business as usual’ in broader relations with the Russian authorities until there is an acceptable settlement of the Ukrainian conflict and compliance by Russia with its international legal obligations.
EU energy policy should aim to deprive Russia of political leverage in energy markets, rather than to remove Russia from the European supply mix.
Western states need to invest in defensive strategic communications and media support in order to counter the Kremlin’s false narratives.
NATO must retain its credibility as a deterrent to Russian aggression. In particular, it needs to demonstrate that limited war is impossible and that the response to ‘ambiguous’ or ‘hybrid’ war will be robust.
Conventional deterrent capability must be restored as a matter of urgency and convincingly conveyed, to avoid presenting Russia with inviting targets.
Individual EU member states and the EU as a whole need to regenerate their ability to analyse and understand what is going on in Russia and neighbouring states. This understanding must then be used as a basis for the formation of policy.