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Threats to Euro-Atlantic

Views from the Younger Generation Leaders Network

Edited by
Andrew Futter
New Security Challenges

Series Editor
George Christou
University of Warwick
Coventry, UK
The last decade has demonstrated that threats to security vary greatly in
their causes and manifestations and that they invite interest and demand
responses from the social sciences, civil society, and a very broad policy
community. In the past, the avoidance of war was the primary objective, but
with the end of the Cold War the retention of military defence as the cen-
trepiece of international security agenda became untenable. There has been,
therefore, a significant shift in emphasis away from traditional approaches
to security to a new agenda that talks of the softer side of security,
in terms of human security, economic security, and environmental security.
The topical New Security Challenges series reflects this pressing political
and research agenda.

More information about this series at
Andrew Futter

Threats to Euro-
Atlantic Security
Views from the Younger Generation
Leaders Network
Andrew Futter
School of History, Politics
and International Relations
University of Leicester
Leicester, UK

New Security Challenges

ISBN 978-3-030-19729-2 ISBN 978-3-030-19730-8  (eBook)

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The Younger Generation Leaders Network on Euro-Atlantic Security

(YGLN) is a unique initiative that was established in 2014 at a time
when relations between Russia and the West were rapidly deteriorating
over Ukraine and a host of other contentious issues. Since governments
found it increasingly difficult to engage in meaningful dialogue, and even
non-governmental experts and former officials were stymied in their
efforts to conduct consequential meetings, several non-governmental
organizations, led by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (USA), the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace (USA), the European Leadership
Network (UK), the Russian International Affairs Council (Russia),
and the Latvian Institute of International Affairs (Latvia), organized
a network of emerging young leaders from the United States, Russia,
Ukraine, Europe and Eurasia to seek their perspectives and insights, to
engage in dialogue, and to create linkages that could have a long-term,
positive impact on their ability to address contemporary challenges facing
the Euro-Atlantic region.
In the four years since it began the YGLN has developed into a
dynamic network with 77 participants from 28 different countries.
Network members are committed to dialogue, to jointly exploring new
solutions to existing and emerging problems, and to fostering posi-
tive changes to their respective societies and government policies. As
it continues to grow, the YGLN is expanding the scope of its activities,
is encouraging publication of the members’ research and analysis, is

vi    Foreword

promoting engagement with civil societies in their respective countries

and is furthering greater dialogue with leaders in governments and inter-
national organizations throughout the region.
This book, Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, is the first effort of
the Network to publish the diverse views of its members in a volume
devoted to Euro-Atlantic security. It reflects the discussions, debates and,
at times, arguments among the members of the YLGN’s security work-
ing group who represent the broad geographic and political diversity of
this region but who are all committed to a Euro-Atlantic region that is
secure and at peace.

Washington, DC, USA Robert E. Berls Jr., Ph.D.

Robert E. Berls Jr., Ph.D. is Senior Advisor for Russia and Eurasia at the
Nuclear Threat Initiative. He is one of the original sponsors of the YGLN and
has been the principal coordinator and organizer of the Network.
Praise for Threats to Euro-Atlantic

“At a time when relationships between and cooperation among nations

in the Euro-Atlantic region have deteriorated to the point of crisis, a
group of extraordinary young men and women have forged a new and
inspiring bond centered on respect, engagement, tolerance and problem
solving. Their shared understanding that true peace and security requires
work, and work requires dialogue, dissent and debate, is a model that
their governments must adopt today—before crisis leads to a new and
even more dangerous European conflict.”
—Steven Andersen, former US National Security Council

“This volume of essays should become required reading for those with
responsibility for defining the future of the Euro-Atlantic world. The
authors, all from the post-Cold War generation, have come together to
grapple with that era’s legacy. They bring to their dialogue a life lived
in the cyber environment, a globalized economy, an emerging Asia, and
a time crying for definition of a new international order. Their think-
ing, views, ways of seeing the future, and ability to engage one another
offer insight about how this generation sees the issues it will face, its role
in addressing them, and their hope that a more peaceful future can be
achieved through the dialogue, mutual respect, and focus on a shared
future that they represent. These are voices that need to be heard.”
—James Collins, former US Ambassador to Russia


“This book reflects the diversity of the authors’ perceptions of the key
security challenges across the Euro-Atlantic. It is intended to challenge
thinking and to reflect the experiences of the authors who represent a
new generation of security leadership from across that space. For four
years, in the YGLN, they have been working together in respectful dia-
logue with the aim of fostering positive change within their respective
countries and in the wider region. These impressive young people bring
a new vitality to the challenges which are defeating their elders. Their
views should be compulsory reading for those who have an interest in
shaping the world that they will inherit.”
—Lord Desmond Browne of Ladyton, former UK Secretary
of State for Defence

“This wonderful collection of essays by some of the rising stars of Euro-

Atlantic security policy brilliantly reflects the strength and richness of
the inspirational community they represent—the Younger Generation
Leaders Network. It also reflects some of the diversity of issues that this
new generation of leaders will have to tackle if they are to build better
security in wider Europe. The way they have come together here makes
this book a landmark.”
—Sir Adam Thompson, KCMG, Director of the European
Leadership Network, UK

“This volume is a unique product by scholars and practitioners from

all over the Euro-Atlantic Region and Eurasia at a time of turbulence.
It started in 2014 when it was hard to have any dialogue. It was even
harder to imagine that the results could be put on paper as a joint publi-
cation. The emergence of this book raises hope that a new generation is
able to jointly think of the common future despite existing problems and
contradictions. This generation deserves a better future than the one of
the Post-Cold War and Cold War period. An ability to accept disagree-
ments, to cooperate despite having different perceptions and to move
forward in the face of severe geopolitical challenges unites the contribu-
tors to this piece, and will make it an essential resource for both academ-
ics and policy makers.”
—Ivan Tomofeev, Director of Programs, Russian International
Affairs Council, Russia

1 Introduction: The YGLN and Future

of Euro-Atlantic Security 1
Andrew Futter

Part I  Strategic Stability and East–West Relations

2 Anticipating the Adversary at the Backdoor: Perceptions

of Subversion in Russian–American Relations 13
Igor Istomin

3 Euro-Atlantic Arms Control: Past, Present, and Future 35

Alexandra Bell

4 Cyberthreats and Euro-Atlantic Security 51

Pavel Sharikov

5 Achieving Russian-Western Security Through

People-to-People Relations 69
Natalia Viakhireva

6 The NATO Information Office Activities in Russia

in the context of Realpolitik 85
Maria Usacheva
x    Contents

Part II  Regional Perspectives and Flashpoints

7 Turkey–Russia Relations: Complex Cooperation 99

Habibe Özdal

8 A German Perspective on Euro-Atlantic Security 115

Julia Berghofer

9 Preventing Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict:

A Successful Example of Security Cooperation
Between Russia and the West? 133
Mikayel Zolyan

10 Belarus: A Country Stuck In-Between Euro-Atlantic

Security 147
Yauheni Preiherman

11 The Mediterranean Dimension of West-Russia

Security Relations 165
Marco Siddi

Part III The Ukraine Crisis and the Future

of Euro-Atlantic Security

12 Russia’s New Ukraine Policy 181

Andrey Sushentsov

13 The Ukraine Crisis and the Future

of the Euro-Atlantic Security System 197
Oleksiy Semeniy

14 The US’s Strategic Dilemma: Saving Transatlantic

Security or Rebalancing to Asia? 213
Beka Kiria
Notes on Contributors

Alexandra Bell is the Senior Policy Director at the Center for Arms
Control and Non-Proliferation. Previously, she served as a Senior
Advisor in the US Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms
Control and International Security. Before joining the Department of
State, she worked on nuclear policy issues at the Ploughshares Fund
and the Center for American Progress. Bell received a Master’s degree
in International Affairs from the New School and a Bachelor’s degree
in Peace, War and Defense from the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. From 2001–2003, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in
Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica. She is a Member of the British American
Security Information Council (BASIC) Board of Directors, a Truman
National Security Fellow, a 2012–2017 Council on Foreign Relations
Term Member, a 2017 Munich Security Conference Young Leader, and
a member of the Project on Nuclear Issues Mid-Career Cadre and the
Younger Generation Leaders Network on Euro-Atlantic Security.
Julia Berghofer  is a policy fellow and project manager for the Younger
Generation Leaders Network with the European Leadership Network.
Prior to joining the ELN, she held positions at the German Institute
for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, at the Munich Security
Conference, and the University of the Federal Armed Forces. Julia holds
a Bachelors degree in Political and Communication Sciences from LMU
Munich and the University of Vienna, and a Masters in Political Sciences
from the University of Hamburg. She has published, among others, for

xii    Notes on Contributors

the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Internationale Politik. Her research

areas include nuclear disarmament, arms control and NATO.
Andrew Futter  is an Associate Professor of International Politics at the
University of Leicester, UK.
Igor Istomin is an Associate Professor at the Department of Applied
International Political Analysis, and Senior Research Fellow at the
Laboratory for Applied Analysis of International Processes, MGIMO
University. He holds Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from this institution as
well as undergraduate degree from St. Petersburg State University.
Igor teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in methods of applied
analysis of international affairs. He is also an executive editor at the
Mezhdunarodnye Protsessy (International Trends) a leading Russian aca-
demic journal. He is the author of more than 60 academic publications
in Russian and in English on issues of the US foreign policy, relations in
the Euro-Atlantic space and international security.
Beka Kiria  is the Founder and Director of the first fully cloud operated
policy think tank, the Gagra Institute. Before the institute was estab-
lished, Beka was an independent political analyst and worked at the
Ministry of Defence of Georgia in his capacity as a Senior Specialist at
the Defence Policy and Planning Department. He developed a num-
ber of crucial national defence and security documents and led a leg-
islative review of the defence and security sector legislation. Beka
graduated from the University of Leicester with a Master’s degree in
Public International Law. Previously, he studied International Relations
at Cambridge Art and Science College. Beka Kiria tweets at @bekakiria.
Habibe Özdal is an Assistant Professor in International Relations
at Istanbul Okan University. Habibe’s research focusses on Russia and
Eastern Europe with particular reference to Russian domestic and for-
eign policy, Turkey–Russia relations and Ukrainian politics. She has
authored and co-authored book chapters, articles and reports on Russian
foreign policy and Turkey–Russia relations for various organizations, and
has carried out extensive fieldwork across the region including in Russia,
Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.
Yauheni Preiherman  is Head of the Minsk Dialogue Track-2 Initiative
(Belarus). He is also Chairman of the Board at the Discussion and
Analytical Society Liberal Club. His main research interests include the
Notes on Contributors    xiii

foreign policies of small states, international affairs in Eastern Europe

and Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security. Yauheni holds a B.A. in
International Relations from the Belarusian State University, an M.A. in
European Politics from Sussex University (UK) and is currently pursu-
ing a Ph.D. in Politics and International Studies at Warwick University
(UK). His Ph.D. thesis deals with foreign policy strategies of small states
which are stuck amid geostrategic asymmetries.
Oleksiy Semeniy  is the Director of the Institute for Global
Transformations (IGT) in Kiev. He graduated from the Institute of
International relations at Kyiv T. Shevchenko National University and
Carl Friedrich Goerdeler College for Good Governance. He wrote his
Ph.D. thesis at WWU-Muenster (Germany) in 2001–2004, and after this
worked in the German Bundestag in the framework of IPS. His profes-
sional experience includes positions in the Foreign Policy Department
of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, the legal department
at one of the largest Ukrainian financial-industrial groups and Deputy
Director of the “United World” foundation. He is a member of Younger
Generation Leaders Network, Munich Young Leaders Network, KAS
Alumni, EASI Next Generation project, IISS-FES expert group and
“Foresight Ukraine 2027”.
Pavel Sharikov  is an expert on international relations, information pol-
icies, cybersecurity and Russian–American relations. Pavel’s primary affil-
iation is the Institute for USA and Canada Studies of Russian Academy
of Sciences. He is also a senior research fellow at the East-West Institute.
In 2015 he authored a book Information Security in a Multipolar
World. Pavel teaches a number of courses as an Associate Professor at
Lomonosov Moscow State University, and is an expert at the Russian
International Affairs Council and the Valdai Discussion Club. Pavel is
a member of the Younger Generation Leadership Network for Euro-
Atlantic Security.
Marco Siddi is Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute
of International Affairs, where he focuses on EU–Russia relations.
Previously, Marco was DAAD fellow at the Institute of European Politics
in Berlin and Marie Curie fellow at the Universities of Edinburgh and
Cologne. His recent publications include the monograph “National
Identities and Foreign Policy in the European Union” (ECPR Press
2017), the edited report “EU member states and Russia: National and
xiv    Notes on Contributors

European debates in an evolving international environment” (Finnish

Institute of International Affairs, 2018) and several articles on EU–
Russia relations in the journals Europe-Asia Studies, Politics and German
Andrey Sushentsov is the Director of the Institute of International
Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and
heads the MGIMO consulting branch for Eurasian Strategies. He is also
a Program Director of the Valdai Discussion Club. His research concen-
trates on American foreign policy in the South Caucasus, Ukraine and
the Middle East; and the conflicting interests of Russia and the United
States in Europe, the Middle East and the post-Soviet space. He was
previously a Visiting Professor and Research Fellow at Georgetown
University, Johns Hopkins University, Guido Carli Free University of
International Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,
Harvard University and Middlebury Institute for International Studies
in Monterey. He is a member of the Russian Council on Foreign and
Defense Policy and a member of the Working Group on the Future of
Russian-American Relations.
Maria Usacheva is an independent political consultant who previ-
ously worked for the Petersburger Dialogue e.V. in Berlin, the German
Embassy in Moscow, the NATO Information Office in Moscow, the
Russian branch office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, as well as
for media outlets such as Moskovskiy Komsomolets-Germany, and
GEO-Magazin. She was a fellow of the International Scholarship
Program at the German Bundestag (IPS) in Berlin for the office of
Gert Weisskirchen (former speaker on foreign affairs for the SPD cau-
cus in the German Bundestag) as well as for the Andreas Schockenhoff
(Coordinator of German-Russian Intersocietal Cooperation in the
German Federal Foreign Office; Member of the German Bundestag
and Deputy Chairman of the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group). Maria
holds degrees in political science from both Russian and in German
Natalia Viakhireva is a program manager at the Russian interna-
tional affairs council (RIAC). At the Council Natalia is responsible for
projects on Russia’s relations with the EU and the US, and projects
on Euro-Atlantic security. Before this Natalia worked as a research fel-
low at the School of Public Administration, Moscow State University;
Notes on Contributors    xv

as an adviser, Analysis Department at the “Russkiy mir” Foundation;

as an expert for the BRICS National Research Committee; and as a
copy-editor for Strategy for Russia Journal. She has a Ph.D. in interna-
tional relations from the Institute of the US and Canadian Studies of the
Russian Academy of Science. Her University degree is in world politics
and North American studies from the State Academic University for
Humanities, Department of World Politics, Russia.
Mikayel Zolyan is a historian and political scientist from Yerevan,
Armenia. He received M.A. degrees from Yerevan State University and
the Central European University in Budapest. In 2005 he received
a Ph.D. in history from Yerevan State University, Department of
History. Since 2002 he has been teaching at the V. Brusov University of
Languages and Social Sciences in Yerevan. He has published academic
articles in Armenia and abroad, as well as authored numerous analytical
articles and political commentary in Armenian and international media.
On December 9, 2018 he was elected as a Deputy of the National
Assembly of Armenia.
List of Figures

Fig. 7.1 2005–2015 Turkish–Russian Trade Volume, billion USD 102

Fig. 10.1 Foreign policy responses to a (re-)emerging power within
the hedging framework 152


Introduction: The YGLN and Future

of Euro-Atlantic Security

Andrew Futter

Introduction: Building Security for the Next

Generation in the Euro-Atlantic Space
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the security situation in
the Euro-Atlantic space—that is the area comprising the United States and
Canada to the West, Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States to the East,
the UK and Scandinavia to the North, and Spain through to Turkey and
the Caucuses to the South—had deteriorated to a nadir not seen for a
generation, and the darkest days of the Cold War. The established order
was being challenged from various angles and right across this space, from
turbulent politics in the United States, an increasingly divided Europe and
European Union, renewed East–West strategic competition and dangerous
rhetoric, uncertainty about the future of NATO, new challenges being
posed by immigration and populism, and numerous frozen conflicts or
unstable regions within and on the periphery of the Euro-Atlantic. The

A. Futter (B)
School of History, Politics and IR, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

© The Author(s) 2020 1

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

Ukrainian crisis of 2014 was not the beginning of these problems, but it
did seem to represent the tip of the iceberg for the deterioration in the
security certainties of what had been for nearly 30 years one of the more
stable and peaceful parts of the world.
As a response to this darkening geopolitical context, the Younger Gener-
ation Leaders Network (YGLN) on Euro-Atlantic Security was established
to bring together the best and brightest young minds to consider a bet-
ter and more peaceful future. The YGLN was designed to foster the next
generation of leaders to address the most pressing threats to Euro-Atlantic
security, provide new thinking and fresh approaches to these problems,
construct an international community of experts, and ultimately to build
trust between key stakeholders for now and the future. The network com-
prises nearly 80 emerging leaders from across the Euro-Atlantic drawn from
academic, professional and policy backgrounds; all with strongly held views
and perceptions of the current situation and what needed to be done to
secure the future, and all willing to find ways to build trust, compromise
and create a better geopolitical environment than the one that they had
been bequeathed. While participants clearly have not and will not agree
on everything, strong relationships have been built and a greater under-
standing not just of the problems, but also of people and their divergent
viewpoints, and accordingly the group has allowed far better appreciation
of the different dynamics in the space, and perhaps also of any solutions that
might be developed. The result, we hope, is the beginning of an epistemic
community that can shape a new and more peaceful era for the Euro-
Atlantic security environment and avoid the pitfalls of the past.
The YGLN is an amalgam of two separate projects, both aiming to
bring together and develop the next cadre of security experts in the Euro-
Atlantic; one sponsored by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and one by the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Since the group was formed
in 2014, 9 meetings have been held (in Sofia, Riga, Vienna, Sarajevo, Brus-
sels, Helsinki, Warsaw, Minsk, and Berlin) in cities and countries right at
the heart of challenges that we face today and where we can learn from the
events (and mistakes) of the past. This also reflected the fact that while the
United States and Russia are clearly key players in the Euro-Atlantic region,
the security situation is driven and shaped by many other actors and factors
too. Accordingly, contributors to this book come from Armenia, Belarus,
Germany, Georgia, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States,
and bring with them a wealth of experience and expertise. Moreover, many
of the chapters draw on information from non-English language sources

and interviews and challenge the often overtly Western-centric literature

and canon on this topic.
Perhaps the most important insight gleaned from the network is the
importance of personal links and seeking a better understanding of differ-
ent viewpoints. Three key things are a direct product of this: (i) a greater
appreciation and respect for perspectives that we personally, or the states in
which we live, may not agree with; (ii) a gradual building of trust between
participants whereby discussions and debates would flow freely and become
more open and candid; and (iii) cross-cultural relationships that can be
used in the future to build security and mitigate risks. What this suggests
is that at a minimum the different stakeholders across the Euro-Atlantic
space need to be talking, even if there are considerable differences of opin-
ion. Indeed, we can learn much from the arms control talks of the Cold
War when US–Russian discussions continued despite significant geopolit-
ical problems because they gave both sides something to talk about when
they couldn’t agree on anything else. Or from the ongoing work of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) a vital, yet
often under-valued institution right at the heart of Euro-Atlantic security
since the early 1970s.
Key themes of our discussions have ranged from strategic stability (both
its meaning and current status) and traditional concerns such as nuclear and
conventional arms control, NATO–Russia relations, through the impact of
new technologies (especially the myriad challenges associated with “cyber”
and Information Warfare), regional flashpoints such as Syria, Ukraine, and
in the Caucuses, as well as touching on political issues such as security in
the age of President Donald Trump, the UK exit from the European Union
(Brexit), growing populism and nationalism and the ongoing refugee cri-
sis. As is detailed later in this introduction, the individual chapters offer
quite different viewpoints on many diverse aspects of the current security
environment, but broadly come under three headings. First, it is the impor-
tance of East–West strategic stability and particularly US–Russian relations.
Russia–West relations today are probably at their nadir for at least a gener-
ation; both US and Russian Presidents have recently issued nuclear threats,
the arms control edifice built up over the past five decades looks set to fall
apart, the United States has appeared to be distancing itself from Europe
and European security, while Europe itself has become increasingly divided.
The unpredictable nature of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy since
his election in 2016, has clouded this space still further. The second key
theme is the importance of regional flashpoints and viewpoints, especially

how crises could impact the broader balance, but also how different actors
across the Euro-Atlantic space view the key challenges they face(d) in a very
different way. Important lessons can be learnt from the Nagorno–Karabakh
conflict in the South Caucuses, and from the risks of escalation from the
simmering civil war in Syria. Likewise, the importance of views from dif-
ferent parts of the Euro-Atlantic space and the particular challenges that
face “old Europe”, southern Europe, the Baltic, the Balkans and eastern
Europe, or the Caucuses. Lastly, almost all of our meetings would return
to the issue of Ukraine, and especially whether this could be prevented
from becoming a watershed in Euro-Atlantic security and the harbinger of
a much more dangerous future environment. An environment, which in
the long run may also see a less interested United States, distrustful and
resentful Russia, and a much more active—and perhaps “rising”—China.
While it was impossible to capture everything that we have discussed and
that is important, we hope that the three sections of the book give a useful
insight into these dynamics.
This book is the product of discussions held at these meetings and reflects
the various drivers and manifestations of the key challenges across the Euro-
Atlantic space, as well as the different views and experiences of the partic-
ipants and authors. One of the main objectives of the book was to give
voice to opinions and experts not often heard in the predominantly “West-
ern” discourse on this topic. Thus, the book is designed to challenge and
expand viewpoints and thinking, and not every reader will agree with what
is being argued. But we think that this is a good thing. Only by incorpo-
rating, listening to, and challenging different perspectives, and by creating
a starting point for broader debate and trust-building between key stake-
holders and nations, can we hope to build a better security environment in
the Euro-Atlantic space.

Outline of the Book

Part I of the book begins with a Chapter by Igor Istomin, Associate Profes-
sor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, which looks at
the growing problem of political subversion in East–West relations. In par-
ticular, he details the growth in suspicion in Russia about possible US and
Western interference in domestic politics and elections, and how this has
driven a particular threat perception. The Chapter charts the rise of polit-
ical subversion as a political strategy, before explaining how Russian con-
cerns have developed and how both the Obama and Trump administrations

have compounded this through their lack of urgency to address them.

Finally, it explains how and why this has caused Russia to react, led to
allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election, and
suggests that as a result, Russia and the West may well be on the cusp of a
new arms race in Information Warfare.
In Chapter 3, Alexandra Bell, Senior Policy Director, Center for Arms
Control and Non-proliferation in Washington, DC, examines the current
state of Euro-Atlantic conventional and nuclear arms control apparatus.
Her Chapter centres on the most pressing problems such as the continued
health of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the impact of the nego-
tiation of the Nuclear Ban Treaty, and the purported ongoing violations
of arms control agreements (particularly the Intermediate Range Nuclear
Forces Treaty). The Chapter also explores a series of longer-term issues
surrounding conventional arms control, tactical nuclear weapons arsenals,
missile defence and the need for enhanced verification capabilities. Finally,
the Chapter advocates for the need for thorough and extensive talks about
the links between nuclear and conventional capabilities, how those links
can help or hinder future progress on arms control, and the desperate need
for new thinking.
Pavel Sharikov, Director of the Centre for Applied Research of the Insti-
tute of USA and Canada at the Russian Academy of Sciences argues in
Chapter 4 that “cyberspace” is a game changer in international relations,
with serious repercussions for strategic stability in the Euro-Atlantic space.
The paradigm of strategic stability of the Cold War era is slowly becom-
ing irrelevant, he argues, due to new forms of economic competition and
conflicts, new factors of power and the growing international influence of
non-state actors. The Chapter explains how the ubiquitous spread of infor-
mation technologies has provided unprecedented opportunities both for
development and for inflicting serious damage on international actors. This
includes offensive cyber technologies as well as influence on public opinion
through social media and other Internet-enabled tools. The countries of the
Euro-Atlantic community benefited greatly from the advantages of global
cyberspace, however a greater reliance has led to increased vulnerability to
cyber and information threats. The Chapter argues that the Euro-Atlantic
community bears responsibility for the stable development of international
relations in the new information era, and strong international cooperation
is urgently needed to address cyberthreats.
In Chapter 5, Natalia Viakhireva, Program Manager at the Russian Inter-
national Affairs Council in Moscow, makes the case for the importance of

greater people-to-people dialogue. She argues that dramatic changes in

international relations mean that the decades-old logic of strategic stability
and security need to be revised. While doing so as is an ambitious goal, she
argues that both policymakers and the non-governmental expert commu-
nity have slowly accepted this need and recognised the importance of the
“human dimension” and have begun an overarching reappraisal of global
dynamics through this lens. The Chapter therefore focuses on the role and
importance of track II, non-governmental dialogue in strategic stability
and security issues, before analysing its influence on the decision-making
process more broadly. The Chapter includes interviews with representatives
from the expert community and with decision makers on their experience
of track II initiatives. It also includes analysis of the views of the “younger
generation” and explains how the activities of such younger generation
groups are integral to resolving current strategic and security issues.
Chapter 6, by Maria Usaheva, an independent political scientist from
Russia, provides a detailed overview and makes the case for the contin-
ued importance of the little-known NATO Information Office (NIO) in
Russia. The Chapter shows how the downturn in NATO–Russia relations
has influenced the working processes of the office, and why this is signifi-
cant for the future of East–West understanding. It explains that the main
goals of the NIO include informing Russian society about NATO activi-
ties and institutional developments; organising events on various aspects of
NATO–Russian relations and broader security in the Euro-Atlantic Space;
publishing and distributing related articles and expert opinions, as well as
coordinating delegation visits from Russia to NATO HQ and reciprocal
visits of NATO personnel and associated experts to Russia. The activities
of the NIO in Moscow are in many ways a microcosm of the broader
NATO–Russia relationship, allowing an insight into the diplomatic con-
sequences of the deterioration in relations in recent years. The Chapter
examines the NIO in this light, and outlines the difficulties of communi-
cating NATO policy in a hostile era, while buffeted by expulsions, counter
expulsions, and pressure from the Russian government.
Part II of the book considers a range of different regional views, dynam-
ics, and potential flashpoints across the Euro-Atlantic space. It begins in
Chapter 7, with a consideration of Turkey–Russia relations from Habibe
Őzdal, Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at
Okan University in Istanbul. The Chapter shows how Turkey and Russia
are the two main state actors in the Black Sea, sharing a five-century-long
rivalry. But explains that despite this history, Russia and Turkey developed a

mutually beneficial partnership in the early 2000s. The Chapter analyses the
dynamics that shaped Turkish–Russian relations during the ongoing tenure
of the Erdogan-led Justice and Development Party in Turkey and the Putin
presidency in Russia. By so doing, regional and global cyclical dynamics—
such as developments in Syria and the annexation of Crimea—will be eval-
uated in terms of their effect on bilateral relations. It explains why the
shooting down of a Russian aircraft by Turkish forces on 24 November
2015 demonstrated that “compartmentalisation”, which became the defin-
ing structural feature of the relationship in the 2000s, was no longer sustain-
able. From this standpoint, understanding the basis of the subsequent “nor-
malisation”, and re-evaluating the determinants of Turkey–Russia relations
seem necessary not only in terms of regional stability and the predictability
of international relations in the Black Sea region, but also in understanding
the direction of Turkish foreign policy more broadly.
Chapter 8, by Julia Berghofer, Project Manager at the London-based
European Leadership Network, discusses the current view on security pol-
icy in the Euro-Atlantic area from a German perspective. Berghofer argues
that as the lack of cohesion among NATO member states becomes ever
more obvious—along with the annexation of Crimea and the new US
administration led by Donald Trump—comes a fundamental uncertainty in
Germany about the future of NATO as a community of values. The Chapter
highlights a number of the most challenging questions for German foreign
policy: How could the security and territorial integrity of European states
be guaranteed if the US’ commitment to NATO will henceforth depend
upon preconditions such as an increase in military expenditures? How could
NATO’s deterrence capabilities against Russia be strengthened without ini-
tiating a new arms race or escalation? And how can the Alliance reinvigorate
dialogue with Russia? Facing a possible power vacuum in NATO and the
lack of a common EU foreign and security policy, Germany now has the
chance to adopt a leadership position among European states. At the same
time, Berghofer argues, Berlin must address inconsistencies such as boom-
ing German arms exports as well as the rise of nationalism and populism in
Europe. The Chapter concludes on a note of pessimism and suggests that
there are reasons to doubt whether Germany will be capable and willing to
take a more influential role.
Chapter 9, by Mikayel Zolyan, Deputy of the National Assem-
bly of Armenia, looks at how escalation can be managed in the
Nagorno–Karabakh conflict. It argues that the unlikely cooperation
between Russia and the West within the context of Nagorno–Karabakh

conflict, in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group (the co-chairs of

the group are France, Russia, and the United States), makes this a very
good, but also little-known example of East–West cooperation. While rela-
tions between Russia and the West in the wake of the Ukraine crisis have
deteriorated, and cooperation on many security-related issues has been sus-
pended, conflict resolution in Nagorno–Karabakh remains a case of ongo-
ing and functional cooperation. Moreover, while in most other post-Soviet
regional conflicts the West and Russia have found themselves supporting
different sides, in case of Nagorno–Karabakh both the West and Russia
have maintained a balance between the conflicting parties. Ultimately, the
Chapter argues that the continuing cooperation between Russia and the
West on the issue of Nagorno–Karabakh can serve as a model for similar
cooperation in other fields and parts of the Euro-Atlantic space.
In Chapter 10, Yauheni Preiherman, Head of the Minsk Dialogue Track-
II Initiative, examines the role of Belarus, a country, he argues, with a
foreign and security policy widely misunderstood by external actors, both
in the West and in the East. Minsk’s security rationale and foreign pol-
icy behaviour cannot be grasped by the classic bandwagoning-balancing
dichotomy. The central argument of this Chapter is that under the con-
ditions of deeply embedded geostrategic asymmetries and with a view
to bypassing the structural restrictions of its foreign and security policy,
Belarus pursues strategic hedging. Minsk chooses to hedge in order to
minimise its hard and soft security risks in relations with Russia, shape
Moscow’s options and decisions, and broaden its strategic manoeuvrability
(which are typical objectives of a hedging state in international relations).
A similar, although perhaps less conspicuous, rationale works in the coun-
try’s relations with the West. In this hedging exercise, Belarus’s thinking
is structured by the logic of a small state stuck in-between competing and
conflicting security constellations.
Chapter 11, by Marco Siddi, Senior Research Fellow in the European
Union Programme at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, exam-
ines recent developments Russian foreign policy in the Middle East and
North Africa (MENA), and attempts to explain the reasons for its renewed
activeness in the region. The focus is not only on Russia’s military interven-
tion in Syria, but also on the broader diplomacy that has turned Moscow
into a prominent player in the MENA. Domestically, Russia’s intervention
in Syria and its actions in the MENA are presented as measures to com-
bat Islamic terrorism. In Western policy-making circles, Moscow’s MENA
policies were first seen as an attempt to circumvent the impasse with the

West due to the Ukraine crisis by restarting cooperation based on an anti-

terrorism agenda. Other explanations include Russia’s negative reaction to
the Arab Spring and its opposition to regime change following the Libyan
experience. It points to the economic benefits that have come in the wake
of Russia’s strengthened presence but cautions about the possible Russian
goal of restoring its world power status and bringing about a more multi-
polar system. The Chapter assesses these interpretations of Russian foreign
policy in the MENA and elaborates on their merits and shortcomings.
Part III of the book looks at the issue of Ukraine and at the broader
future of Euro-Atlantic security. It begins with chapters from a leading Rus-
sian and Ukrainian thinker. In Chapter 12, Andrey Sushentsov, Associate
Professor at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, explains why
Ukraine is a particularly important country for Russia and will remain so
for the foreseeable future. The two countries are united not only by history
and religion, but also by structural social and economic ties inherited from
the Soviet era. In fact, those ties account for a double-digit percentage of
the countries’ respective GDPs. However, Russian–Ukrainian interdepen-
dence has been decreasing since 2004, Sushentsov argues, due to choices
made by the Ukrainian elite and continuing political instability in Ukraine.
Russia believes that the “hostile” regime in Ukraine will remain in power
for the foreseeable future, and this has forced Russia to continue reducing
its dependence on Ukraine. It is in the interests of both countries to ensure
that the process of reducing interdependence is both gradual and carefully
thought out. In the past, it was Russia, rather than the EU, that provided
the strategic conditions for Ukrainian economic growth. Ukraine’s exit
from the free trade area with Russia and the deterioration of bilateral rela-
tions caused Russia to stop guaranteeing Ukraine’s stability on its own, for
this is exactly what Ukraine itself desired. It is argued that the need to end
the current conflict, stabilise Ukraine, and ensure its future growth will
require joint efforts from the EU and Russia, which are closely united by
a common goal of localising damage from the crisis in Ukraine.
In Chapter 13, Oleksiy Semeniy, Director of the Institute of Global
Transformations in Kiev, argues that since the beginning of the Ukraine
crisis the whole security system in the Euro-Atlantic region has deterio-
rated due to the ongoing violation of previously established principles and
norms. The crisis, he argues, represents a crucial test for the sustainability of
all existing security arrangements in Europe. The crisis is complex, and its
settlement must include solutions at three levels; geopoliti-
cal/geoeconomic (competition between Russia and the West over

spheres of influence); bilateral (Ukraine–Russia), and domestic (inside

Ukraine). The Chapter suggests that any attempts to address these levels
individually will fail to find a sustainable solution to the crisis. Finding a
peaceful solution to the crisis, he argues, must remain a priority of the
international community as it retains a serious potential for escalation,
and possibly poses a challenge as serious to the contemporary European
security order as the protracted Franco–German conflict did in the first
half of the twentieth century. The Chapter argues that this risk must be
acknowledged, and that all the parties involved should demonstrate real
political will for conflict resolution and apply smart diplomacy instead of
hard power and confrontation.
The final chapter, Chapter 14 by Beka Kira, founder and director of
the Gagra Institute in Tiblisi, explores the long-term implications for
Euro-Atlantic security of the ostensible shift from Europe to Asia as the
fulcrum and focus of global politics. First, it considers the fissures that
have emerged between the United States and Europe and whether tradi-
tional bonds are being weakened as America looks inwards and increas-
ingly towards the Pacific. Second, it considers whether future further
Russian involvement in Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus could jeopardise
the concept of a “whole, secure and free Europe”, and maybe even
drive renewed US engagement in the Euro-Atlantic. Finally, the chapter
focuses on the role of China and whether Beijing’s global ambitions—
currently based on the future security architecture in the Indo-Asia-Pacific
region—will emerge and project a new hegemonic power in Europe, per-
haps even replacing Russia.

Strategic Stability
and East–West Relations

Anticipating the Adversary at the Backdoor:

Perceptions of Subversion
in Russian–American Relations

Igor Istomin

A poll published in early 2018 claimed that more than 68% of Russians view
the United States as an enemy. Another survey suggested that at the begin-
ning of 2016, 39% of Americans assessed Moscow as a critical threat to their
country, and 47% perceived it as important, though not critical.1 Although
these polls were conducted during a period of heightened tensions between
the two states, this is nevertheless a surprisingly high level of hostility.
While unfavourable and even unfriendly attitudes could be easily justi-
fied by the existing differences over Ukraine, the Middle East and North
Korea, the sense of deep insecurity that has emerged between Moscow and
Washington does not correspond with a traditional representation of threats
in international politics. In terms of armed assault, both Russia and the

I. Istomin (B)
Department of Applied International Political Analysis, MGIMO University,
Moscow, Russia

© The Author(s) 2020 13

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

United States are immensely secure states due to their sheer geographi-
cal size as well as their impressive stockpiles of nuclear and conventional
weapons.2 Henceforth, despite all the differences between the two states,
direct assault remains beyond the limits of even imaginable scenario of
confrontation. This suggests that adversarial relations have emerged as a
product of political rather than military concerns. Throughout the 2000s
and 2010s the issue of subversion has risen up the bilateral agenda, but this
process has not been accompanied by a thorough examination in the aca-
demic literature.3 Only a handful of studies have attempted to address the
normative challenge presented by the West in Russian threat perceptions.4
The aim of this Chapter therefore is to explain the roots of cur-
rent US–Russian mutual suspicions regarding interference in each other’s
domestic affairs. However, before exploring interactions between Moscow
and Washington it first examines the very phenomenon of political sub-
version. It also reflects on the instances of foreign intrusion in domestic
affairs during the Cold War to unpack the major attributes of this strategy.
Following this, the Chapter tracks the rise of Russian concerns towards
US policies since the 1990s and demonstrates how Moscow’s reaction has
triggered anxiety in the West. It claims that, while many of the conditions
for Russian suspicions were present immediately after the end of the Cold
War, perceptions in Moscow have been shaped by a series of recent events.
The Chapter also shows that, while both sides are primarily concerned with
alleged risks to the integrity of their own domestic political systems, the
rise of such concerns was often related to the performance of the other side
vis-à-vis third states.
Any study dealing with the issue of political subversion, especially when it
concentrates on developments in 2017/2018, suffers from a lack of clarity
regarding the proper definition of intrusion as well as the validity of claims
regarding covert activities and hidden intentions. Therefore, the Chapter
explicitly refrains from assessing the credibility of allegations on both sides
regarding interference in domestic affairs. It focuses instead on perceptions
of national authorities and the visible reactions resulting therefrom. Thus, it
relies on official statements, publicly announced measures and other verified

The Rise of Political Subversion as a Foreign Policy

The notion of subversion, while widely used in academic and policymak-
ing circles, covers a range of activities and is therefore evasive and difficult

to define. An essential component of this policy is that it aims to under-

mine, change or otherwise affect existing domestic politics in a foreign
nation through interference in its affairs. On most occasions, subversion
is performed by an outside government through provision of assistance to
sympathetic local organizations, the elite, or social groups within a target
country. While it is pursued through a variety of diplomatic, economic,
informational and covert means, it primarily relies on psychological impact
on the society in question rather than on kinetic actions. Even though a
policy of subversion could incorporate in some instances the limited use
of armed forces, it is mostly differentiated from the path of direct military
Initial thoughts regarding the use of subversion as an instrument for
achieving goals of strategy can be traced back to ancient history. They
are reflected, for example, in a famous quote from Sun Tzu: “To fight
and conquer one hundred times is not the perfection of attainment, for
the supreme art is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.6 The universal
application of this wisdom even among early states was traced by Paul Smith
who studied propaganda and psychological warfare in the Ancient Middle
East, as well as in Classical Greece and Rome.7 In such early instances,
however, these tools remained subordinated to military means and were
rarely intended to affect in the current sense, the domestic politics of one’s
In the modern era, however, with the emergence of secular ideolo-
gies, increased frequency of transnational communications and rising pop-
ular engagement into politics, political subversion became a self-standing
threat for governing regimes. Technological and social innovations pro-
duced tools to interfere in the affairs of neighbouring states without military
invasion, but they also strengthened the belief that certain types of govern-
ments tend to pursue different kinds of policies in the international arena.8
John Owen identified 198 instances of forceful domestic institutional pro-
motion by outside powers throughout the period of 1555–2000.9
The emergence of particular ways through which political subversion is
defined and performed was fostered by more explicit differentiation of the
international and internal political domains. This divide was fortified by
the seventeenth century Treaty of Westphalia, and the introduction of the
concept of sovereignty by legal scholars in the second half of the eighteenth
century. Such prominent figures of the time as Emmerich de Vattel and
Christian Wolff insisted that interference in the affairs of the other sovereign
is inconsistent with the natural law.10

The clearer differentiation of domestic affairs from the external environ-

ment and the establishment of the principle of sovereignty as a dominant
institution in politics led to the stigmatization of subversion as an unlawful
and even immoral practice. Therefore, this strategy was closely associated
with a reliance on covert means or indirect activities (such as propaganda
and psychological campaigns). At the very least, the legitimization of inter-
ference in internal politics of another state required formal invitation of an
outside power by some legitimate local actor.11
The growing ostracizing of the practice, however, did not exclude sub-
version from foreign policy. On the contrary, the first identifiable manifesta-
tions of modern political subversion took place just a couple of decades after
the introduction of Vattelian notion of sovereignty. They were by-products
of the French Revolution (1789–1799), which created an enormous polit-
ical wave across Europe. As the Jacobin ideals of ‘liberte, egalite, fraternite’
achieved wide popularity in countries neighbouring France, they shook the
foundations of established political regimes across Europe. This subversive
impact was present even in relatively liberal Britain, not to mention abso-
lutist German princedoms.12
However, the political effect of the French revolution was not suffi-
cient to undermine ruling governments on its own and local sympathizers
played only an auxiliary role in facilitating the conquests of Republican
and Napoleonic militaries.13 The French example demonstrated that the
threat of subversion tended to increase with the rise of universalist ide-
ologies, which surpass national boundaries and the principle of sovereignty
through the logic of revolutionary change. Therefore, it is quite logical that
the sensitivity towards external interference increased dramatically in the
twentieth century, which witnessed a clash between powers representing
rival projects of modernity.14

Cold War Lessons in Political Subversion

The Soviet-American confrontation throughout the Cold War was sim-
ilar to the struggles of the Napoleonic period, in a sense that it repre-
sented not just a geopolitical struggle, but also a competition between two
messianic philosophical ideals, developmental models and types of political
organisations. It is no coincidence then that both Moscow and Washington
harboured suspicions regarding intrusion by the adversary in their inter-
nal affairs, but even more so in the domestic institutions of their allies
and neutrals. These mutual concerns, although often exaggerated, were

not groundless. After all, the very first elaborate pronouncement of con-
tainment policy clearly incorporated subversion as one of its principal pil-
lars.15 Throughout the Cold War both the Soviet Union and the United
States developed multifaceted toolboxes providing numerous instruments
to affect foreign societies. They included a range of activities from inter-
national broadcasting, training of national elites and foreign aid to covert
operations and support of guerrilla forces.
Such a variety of instruments reflected the multiplicity of battlefronts
in which the two superpowers competed. The intrusiveness of the tools
applied in a particular instance was often inversely related to the impor-
tance of a state to which they were applied and, thus, to the danger of
escalation from political contest to direct military standoff.16 This condi-
tionality attests to the importance of subversion as a political strategy. While
it represents an indirect way to achieve desired objectives, it becomes com-
pelling only when other, shorter paths (primarily through armed coercion)
become too risky. Therefore, the highest level of restraint Moscow and
Washington demonstrated in their approach to the integrity of the domes-
tic order of each other, as interference could have evoked armed response.
In this regard, both superpowers limited their activities almost entirely to
propaganda and counterpropaganda campaigns with only limited support
and financing of sympathetic anti-government forces. Almost similar limi-
tations were applied to the respective allies in Europe, although the Soviet
Union invested in Communist parties across the West, while the United
States provided assistance for dissident groups in the Eastern block.17
It was in the Third World where the gloves were really off in terms of
affecting the politics of local states and the full spectrum of instruments
were applied up to and including direct military engagement and foster-
ing not so covert missions (Vietnam and Afghanistan represent the most
obvious cases).18 Likewise, the leaders of the respective blocks were espe-
cially uncompromising and ruthless in dealing with renegades in their own
spheres of influence (such as in Guatemala, Hungary, Cuba or Czechoslo-
vakia). The unwritten principles of block discipline and ideological sol-
idarity prevailed over the sovereignty clauses introduced in their formal
obligations.19 As a result, various methods and practices of interference
proliferated despite the ongoing codification of the sovereignty principle
in international legal and political documents. For example, condemnation
of interference was incorporated in a number of the UN documents.20
Apart from that, on the regional level the East and West agreed to abstain
from interventions in the domestic affairs of other states in the context of

the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in

As in a previous era, when the rise of legal doctrines of sovereignty did
not prevent intrusions in domestic jurisdictions, formal codification of non-
interference in international documents rather than eliminating subversive
practices, stimulated the search for new, more elaborate tools to affect for-
eign societies and political elites.22 Innovations in this field caused disputes
regarding the delimitation of intrusion into the exclusive competence of a
state and legitimate transnational interaction in an increasingly interdepen-
dent world. The proliferation of cases of political subversion throughout
the Cold War provided an empirical record for assessing the effectiveness of
this policy, because it usually aims to provide grounds for greater alignment
of the target country in its foreign policy to the interests of the initiator it
proved to be problematic on two levels.
First, apart from the instances of weak and divided states it appeared
to be extremely difficult for outsiders to shape in a meaningful way the
domestic politics of a foreign nation. Except in cases of direct military
intervention and occupation, the intrusion has to rely on an already pow-
erful internal constituency, which should be competitive even without for-
eign patronage. The Soviet Union and the United States found it possible
to establish preferred political regimes right after the Second World War
in places where they had boots on the ground. However, their ability to
direct domestic developments even in these countries diminished through
time. In the Third World, both remained mostly reactive to the dynam-
ics of indigenous movements, which often attempted to manipulate their
senior allies. Attempts to undermine political regimes in major powers are
especially problematic, as those states by definition are particularly robust
towards external influences.23
Second, even in the instances when the preferred political group came
to power with the help of external supporters, through time they man-
aged to pursue increasingly independent courses in the international arena.
Therefore, domestic change, ideological closeness, foreign aid and elite
penetration did not necessarily bring the expected alignment.24 Strategic
differences more often were framed in terms of value-conflict than were
reconciled by the similarity of political models. The most obvious exam-
ple of this transformation is represented by the drift of Communist China
from being a Soviet ally to becoming a US strategic partner. However,
Washington suffered upsets of its own. For example, its early efforts to

limit the Communist salience in French politics25 did not prevent distanc-
ing of the De Gaulle government from NATO.
Despite these deficiencies of subversion strategy and its less than satis-
factory outcomes for the alleged intruders throughout the Cold War, the
prospect of being subjected to foreign intrusion remained the principal
concern as long as the Soviet Union and the United States continued to
pursue an intense global rivalry. By the end of the 1980s, however, they not
only engaged in strategic rapprochement, but also pursued reconciliation of
normative perspectives. Concerns regarding the prospects of mutual sub-
version radically diminished even before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The symbolic manifestation of an increased confidence was symbolized by
Soviet consent in 1991 to host a major speech by US President George H.
W. Bush in Kiev.26 Moscow permitted this public address at a time of its
own tough bargaining stance with Ukrainian regional authorities regarding
the distribution of powers in a renewed USSR.
The dynamics of the late 1980s/early 1990s demonstrated once again
that although intrusion in domestic affairs was enabled and justified by
the ideational struggle, its perception was primarily a product of strategic
competition. In the new cooperative environment after the Cold War even
major states were much less concerned with the issue of external interfer-
ence in their internal politics than they had been previously.

Universalism of American Ideology and Moscow’s

Threat Perception After the Cold War
Because interference in domestic affairs is often performed to a certain
extent through covert means and its informational component (associated
with various forms of propaganda) is often subjected to misinterpretation,
categorising certain policies as subversion is problematic. Hence, national
decision-makers have to rely on particular indicators to form perceptions
regarding the risks of such activities that are not necessarily based upon
correct interpretations of what is or might happen. The Cold War con-
text provided a set of conditions under which a state’s sensitivity regarding
threats of intrusion by an outside power was especially high. These condi-
tions included: engagement in political rivalry, the ability of an opponent to
frame its interests in terms of some universalist claims and its possession of
specialized institutions and instruments enabling it to pursue interference.
Moreover, in order to assess emerging risks states not only draw lessons

from their own experience, but also infer from the performance of their
counterparts in relations with third countries.27
The evolution of the strategic context after the Cold War dramatically
altered Moscow’s threat perception regarding the United States. Although
initially Russia demonstrated unusual calm towards manifestations of West-
ern involvement in its internal issues, throughout the 2000s it gradually
reassessed Washington’s activities as a threat to national sovereignty. Most
of the abovementioned conditions for suspicion towards the United States
remained in place after the Cold War, which, after a brief break, facili-
tated the re-emergence of Moscow’s concerns. Both American universalist
claims, built upon adherence to liberal values, and a readiness to promote
them through various channels, remained openly on display after the end
of bipolar confrontation. Moscow’s reconsideration of potential interfer-
ence in its domestic affairs primarily reflected changes in the level of tension
between the two states which grew considerably after a brief hiatus in the
early 1990s.
The eagerness of the Russian leadership to accept and even publicly
encourage American involvement28 in its domestic reforms throughout
the early 1990s was primarily associated with the democratic inclinations
of President Boris Yeltsin. In fact, Western engagement was perceived
favourably as long as it served the interests of existing political elites in
Moscow, helping them to solidify their grip on power. While various oppo-
sition groups, including a viable Communist Party, challenged the con-
cessions made by Moscow to the West in the late 1980s and 1990s, they
remained a common opponent for both the Russian government and for
The strategic logic of this coalition was clearly demonstrated during
clashes between the executive and legislative branches in Moscow in 1993,
and once again in the context of the presidential elections in 1996. On
both occasions, the United States unequivocally sided with Boris Yeltsin
despite obvious violations of constitutional norms and democratic proce-
dures.29 This support was instrumental for the ruling Russian elite as it was
accompanied with limited financial assistance and symbolic representations
of respect, which could be appreciated by domestic audiences.
As the American approach started to shift from unquestionable sup-
port to a more critical appraisal of the Russian domestic situation, Moscow
became less receptive towards the US’s views. From the mid-2000s, US
engagement was reassessed as unacceptable, as it was now associated
with attempts to undermine legitimacy and upset the existing political

order in Russia. This process was facilitated both by changing rhetoric in

Washington and by the developments in Russia’s immediate neighbour-
hood, which Moscow viewed with suspicion.

The Rise of Russian Suspicion of US Policies

in the 2000s
While Washington had already been seen as insensitive to Russian inter-
ests in the 1990s (for example, in the context of military operations in
Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq), from the mid-2000s onwards, it started to be
associated with meddling in the post-Soviet space and therefore in areas of
primary significance for Moscow. The US’s positive attitude towards and
even encouragement of political uprisings between 2003 and 2005 in Geor-
gia, Kyrgyzstan and especially in Ukraine, which brought to power gov-
ernments mostly hostile to Moscow, raised Russian insecurities. Moreover,
through time the earlier overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia in
2001 was also reinterpreted as part of this pattern, which was defined as
the practice of ‘Colour Revolutions’.
Russian suspicions regarding American involvement in the ‘Colour Rev-
olutions’ in the mid-2000s were repeatedly reiterated by senior members
of the national leadership.30 In an interview for Time Magazine President
Vladimir Putin bluntly accused Washington of subversive activities in the
Post-Soviet states:

The United States somehow decided that part of the political elite in Ukraine
is pro-American and part is pro-Russian, and they decided to support the
ones they consider pro-American, the so-called orange coalition… Every-
thing that’s been done there is unconstitutional, which has created distrust
among various political groups and citizens, thus undermining Ukraine’s
sovereignty, territorial integrity and economy. That’s what the United States
has done and is doing in Ukraine and in Georgia.31

The growing dissatisfaction with what was perceived as Washington’s

encroachment in the post-Soviet space was accompanied by an uneasiness
regarding the rise of democratization rhetoric in the American foreign pol-
icy discourse. Indeed, the Ukrainian ‘Orange Revolution’ (2004–2005)
received praise from President George W. Bush and members of his admin-
istration as part of their own ‘freedom agenda’.32 These trends reinforced
Russian suspicions that in the context of increasing tensions, Washington
might employ the politics of subversion not only against Russia’s strategic

partners and allies, but even against Moscow itself.33 This conclusion was
bolstered by widening criticism in the American media, expert community
and official pronunciations of Russian domestic institutions, and allega-
tions that things were moving in the ‘wrong direction’ in the post-Soviet
era. The consolidation of power by federal authorities was represented as a
departure from democratic practices, while the rise of former KGB officers
into the political elite was presented as a quiet seizure of the government
by the state security apparatus.
An influential report sponsored by a leading American think tank sum-
marized Washington’s attitudes towards developments in Moscow:

At a time when the president of the United States has made democracy a goal
of American foreign policy, Russia’s political system is becoming steadily more
authoritarian. Russia is a less open and less democratic society than it was just
a few years ago, and the rollback of political pluralism and centralization of
power there may not have run their course.34

Given its mounting suspicions of American hostility, Moscow interpreted

Western involvement in the protests of 2004 in Kiev not only as humiliation
of its leadership aspirations in the Post-Soviet area, but also as a rehearsal
of a scenario which could be later implemented in Russia. The ‘Colour
Revolutions’ might become a model for a new kind of subversion in the
future. The United States and other Western countries were accused of
training and financing the political opposition and activists as well as orga-
nizing youth movements, which became instrumental in fostering protests.
They were further suspected of forewarning election observers and journal-
ists in order to de-legitimize the election process.35 Finally, these alleged
activities were accompanied by diplomatic pressure on the governments of
post-Soviet countries to exercise restraint in dealing with protests and to
compromise the demands of the opposition.

Consolidation of Russian Concerns During

the Obama Administration
Washington did not appear to express urgency in addressing Moscow’s
concerns regarding its perceived interference. Even with the change of
administration in the United States, and the attempts by President Obama
to improve bilateral relations under the notion of a ‘reset’, the American
authorities remained insensitive to suspicions regarding alleged intrusions.

This ignorance led to some confusing signalling, which further consoli-

dated Russian threat perceptions. Illustrative of Russian concerns was the
appointment to the administration of Stanford Professor Michael McFaul,
who before that authored a book titled: “Advancing Democracy Abroad:
Why We Should? And How We Could?”36 Not surprisingly, his nomina-
tion as an American ambassador to Moscow in 2012 inspired speculation
about his collusions with liberal opposition groups challenging the Russian
domestic regime.37
Even before McFaul’s arrival, representatives of the Russian political
elite were eager to speculate about Western involvement in post-election
protests in Moscow and other cities during 2011 and 2012.38 Then Prime-
Minister Vladimir Putin, although refraining from accusations of financial
or organizational assistance, mentioned that comments by US State Sec-
retary Hilary Clinton provided encouragement for those rallies.39 These
suspicions affected the future dealings of Moscow with the Obama admin-
istration considerably. Another source of suspicion regarding American
activities emerged with the latest round of political destabilization in
Kiev in 2013–2014. President Putin insisted that he “knows for sure”
that Washington was involved in toppling the Ukrainian leader President
Viktor Yanukovich.40 Building upon such professed confidence, high-
level Russian officials directly associated the ‘Colour Revolutions’ with the
American desire to retain a predominant position in the international sys-
tem.41 This practice was presented as an attempt to bring sympathetic or
even submissive political elites to power. By the 2010s, this was under-
stood in Moscow as an instrument for the United States to seed discord
where it could not extract obedience. In this regard, Russian Minister of
Defence Sergey Shoigu claimed in 2017 that: “There is a high probability
that geography of ‘Colour Revolutions’ will expand. Their implementation
helps with minimum costs and limited use of one’s own arms and military
force to crush regional powers, and to approach political and economic
This interpretation of US policies led to a reinforced expression of
Moscow’s concerns regarding possible interference in its own domestic
affairs. In 2015 the Russian President noted that:

There is no cessation of attempts by Western special services to use in pursuing

their goals civil, non-governmental organizations and political associations.
[It is done] To discredit authorities and to destabilize the domestic situation
in Russia in the first place. Moreover, there are already actions planned for the
forthcoming electoral campaigns of 2016-2018 [translated from the original

A year later, Vladimir Putin once again urged: “it is necessary to curb
any external attempts to interfere in the course of elections and in our
domestic political life. As you know such technologies exist and were used
in a number of countries. I reiterate: this is a direct threat to our sovereignty
and we will react to it in a proper manner”.44 He restated in the same speech
that opponents abroad had prepared provocations during the period of
Russian elections.45
The rise of Russian accusations regarding alleged Western meddling in
internal politics paved the way for the creation by the Council of Federation
(the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament) of the Temporary Commis-
sion for Defense of the State Sovereignty and Prevention of Interference
in Domestic Affairs. Throughout 2018 the body issued two reports aimed
to systematically document and substantiate Moscow’s claims.46 They pro-
claimed the United States to be the absolute leader in unlawful interfer-
ence, which conducted more than 100 such acts across the world between
1946 and 2000. It also contained accusations of US and other Western
representatives of supporting anti-government opposition and engaging
in delegitimization of Russian electoral processes for a number of years
including during the 2018 Presidential campaign.
These pronunciations are sometimes portrayed by Western observers
as a tool on behalf of the ruling political elite to shift public attention
from internal hardships by focusing on external threats.47 An image of a
‘besieged fortress’ is expected to be instrumental for mobilizing social sup-
port. Although opportunistic attempts to shape public discourse on behalf
on the authorities cannot be excluded, the repetition of concerns regarding
possible intrusion under quite different domestic conditions (including in
times of rapid economic growth and high ratings of the leadership) points
to the genuine elements of threat perception in these matters.

Russian Balancing and Its Implications

for the American Threat Perception
The rise of concerns regarding Washington’s subversive practices, caused
Moscow to react on two levels. First, it started to seek ideational alterna-
tives to the American normative universalism. Second, it engaged in the
development of various instruments to counter specific tools associated
with interference in internal affairs. While officials in Moscow were primar-
ily focused on domestic politics, they also thought it necessary to enlighten

foreign audiences on Moscow’s own perspective, to delegitimize Western

criticisms and to counter what it saw as American and EU intrusions in
the post-Soviet space. However, investment in this external dimension of
what was intended to be a balancing strategy elevated concerns regarding
Russian behaviour in Western governments. Therefore, one-sided suspi-
cions transformed into mutual mistrust.
The significance of the mid-2000s for the rise of Russian concerns
regarding US interference in its domestic affairs can be substantiated by
analyses of major policies introduced since that time. The conceptual frame-
work was initially elaborated in an article by then Deputy Head of Presi-
dential Administration Vladislav Surkov, who coined the term ‘sovereign
democracy’.48 While claiming that representative government in Russia was
taking hold, a high-ranking official insisted that the people’s will cannot
be ensured without genuine self-rule free from foreign influence. Hence,
after a certain struggle to define the right balance between democracy and
sovereignty he insisted on putting an emphasis on the latter notion. He also
alluded to the fact that “the need in raw materials and security [abroad] is
so paramount and local inventories [in Russia] of nuclear weapons, oil, gas,
timber and water are so generous that superfluous complacency is hardly
The concept of ‘sovereign democracy’ emphatically conveyed a par-
ticularistic message built upon the primacy of national identity. It was
a clear rebuttal to Washington’s universalist ‘freedom agenda’ of that
time.50 The resentment towards abrupt political transformations, associ-
ated with ‘Colour Revolutions’ and forceful democratization through time,
encouraged Russian authorities to pursue self-determination and stability as
primary political values. They also reflected hurtful public associations of
the 1990s with insecurity, chaos and unpredictability. However, despite its
emphasis on maintaining order, throughout the 2000s the Russian leader-
ship preferred to avoid explicit associations with a particular ideology, defin-
ing itself as politically centrist and genuinely pragmatic. Only in 2009 did
the Russian ruling party Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia) openly declare
its adherence to the values of social conservatism. Ironically, it claimed
simultaneously that its platform was built upon ‘Strategy 2020’ elaborated
under the leadership of Vladimir Putin and the program of then Presi-
dent Medvedev, which both focused on transforming the national economy
and society. Edinaya Rossiya insisted in this context that conservatism was
not antithetical to change. It is an ideology which presumes “permanent

creative reinvention of our society without stagnation and revolutions” on

the basis of “its own history, culture and spirit”.51
Further legitimation of conservatism as the dominant ideational frame-
work took place in the 2010s, when it was publicly embraced by Presi-
dent Vladimir Putin. Moreover, he expanded its understanding through
emphasizing its connection with traditional values (such as the nuclear
family, religious piousness and patriotism).52 Unlike the earlier concept of
‘sovereign democracy’, the renewed ideational approach represented not
just a particularistic critique of an American universalism, but also disclosed
substantive differences with its liberal core. Therefore, it had not only a nar-
rowly defensive meaning, but also envisaged broader international appeal
through attracting advocates of similar normative visions. President Putin
acknowledged this by indicating that “in the world there is a growing num-
ber of people who support our position on defence of the traditional values,
which for a thousand years constituted the spiritual and ethical foundation
of civilization and every nation”.53
This position aimed to delegitimize Western claims to the heritage of
European civilization. The United States and its allies were accused of aban-
doning it by accepting an ultra-liberal agenda, while Russia was positioned
as the last true defender of Christian values. In this capacity, it could con-
vene with representatives of other civilizations, which stayed loyal to their
roots. Even before these ideational justifications behind the Russian posi-
tion started to clarify, Moscow launched a series of measures in order to
address perceived vulnerabilities to external intrusion. Starting from the
mid-2000s, Russian policy was primarily focused on restricting foreign
financing of political campaigns, establishing greater oversight of politi-
cally engaged NGOs, and creating domestic sources of funding for civil
society.54 These measures were later assisted by a policy of ‘renational-
ization’ of elites, which included legal prohibitions for Russian state offi-
cials to possess assets abroad. Throughout the 2010s with growing atten-
tion paid to issues of cybersecurity, Moscow also insisted on establishing
greater oversight of data-collection activities in Russia by Internet services.
These measures were accompanied by significant investment in fighting
back against criticism of Russian domestic politics in foreign media. This
required Moscow to establish a variety of its own information channels.
The initial step in this direction was conducted in 2005 with the creation
of Russia Today; a TV station broadcasting in English.55 It was later accom-
panied by a set of other tools, including the ‘Russia beyond the Headlines’
project, Russia-Direct portal and the ‘Sputnik’ information agency as the
most visible initiatives.

By the mid-2010s, Moscow’s growing competences in the global infor-

mation environment attracted a surge of attention in the West. Due to the
increased tensions between the two sides, it is not surprising that some
of the tools created were not only providing an alternative perspective on
Russia to the dominant ones in the United States. They were also explor-
ing real and unsubstantiated flaws in Washington’s policies (both foreign
and domestic) as well as seeking dissenting opinions in Western societies.
These activities led to the emergence of the US’s own suspicions regarding
the intentions and conduct of Russian policy. In the context of the conflict
in Ukraine, this led to accusations that Moscow was conducting ‘hybrid
warfare’, which was understood as a set of subversive operations largely
through non-military methods.56 Although, most of these activities were
associated with Russia’s immediate neighbourhood, they were also seen
as directed against the West in order to affect its willingness to support
the new authorities in Kiev, which came to power in 2014. Since 2016,
the threat perception in the United States has escalated dramatically with
the allegations of Russian attempts to affect the 2016 American Presidential
elections through cyber and information tools.57 Starting from that period,
Moscow was suspected as being behind various cyber-enabled operations
conducted against elections and referenda across the Western community.
Moscow was accused of attempting to infiltrate software into the elec-
toral process and to manipulating public attitudes in the United States
through social network campaigns, as well as by collecting incriminating
information from personal emails and later leaking it to the media. Simi-
lar assertions were later expressed regarding the probability of Moscow’s
interference in the internal affairs of several EU states (France, Netherlands
and the United Kingdom among others). These suspicions were rooted in
Washington’s representation of Russia as either an opportunistic spoiler or
revisionist power.58 The United States suspected Moscow of seeking to
undermine the existing liberal international order and of challenging uni-
versal human values in order to protect its own corrupt system. It there-
fore tends to discard Russian claims to represent any genuine conservative
vision, portraying it as a cover of suppressive authoritarianism.
The rise of American concerns regarding the alleged Russian ability to
subvert Western political institutions impelled the United States to develop
its own countermeasures. They included the introduction of additional
sanctions against Moscow, but also a debate on possible ways to regulate
political activities in social networks and active attempts to disrupt and dele-
gitimize broadcasting by Russian-based information agencies. As a result,

in the second half of the 2010s Moscow and Washington were standing on
the verge of renewed arms race in the field of political, informational and
cyber warfare.

The development of mutual mistrust between Russia and the United States
after the Cold War followed a well-known model of the security dilemma.
It emerges when unaddressed concerns force a state to engage in balancing
against what it perceives as a threat. These activities trigger similar suspi-
cions of the other side, which then reacts in kind. As a result of this iterative
process, both players find themselves more insecure and having to invest
ever-greater amounts of resources in rivalry.
The evolution of Russian–American relations throughout the 2000s and
2010s produced the current balance of concerns. This disposition envis-
ages that both states perceive an opponent as a hypocritical egoist, trying to
wrap its self-interest in ideological clothes. It discards, therefore, the nor-
mative claims of the other side and expects it to employ any tools available
to undermine one’s own domestic institutions. This balance, however, is
asymmetrical on two levels. First of all, Washington to a greater degree than
Moscow is invested in a universalist vision, although it was shaken by the
recent rise of popular dissatisfaction, associated with the election of Donald
Trump. Moreover, the specific tools that are associated with external sub-
version are somewhat different. Until recently, Moscow was more con-
cerned with foreign influence over local civil society through funding and
training, which could lead to the proliferation of public protests. Mean-
while, Washington emphasizes primarily a combination of cyber and infor-
mational tools which could seed distrust in the political system or promote
certain candidates during elections.
Although, the mutual vulnerability of states in international politics
tends through time to promote rapprochement, there are certain obsta-
cles in the analysed case for this dynamic. First and foremost, the his-
torical record suggests that it is extremely hard to mitigate mutual sus-
picions regarding attempts at subversion, given the indirect, covert and
multifaceted nature of its practices. The fact that today subversion is asso-
ciated with the rapidly developing cyber and information domains is also
not very reassuring, as the rules of engagement in these areas remain largely
untested, increasing uncertainty for states. Finally, the current balance of
concerns between Russia and the US obscures a possible search for a

stable equilibrium. The end of the Cold War nevertheless demonstrated

that perceptions associated with risks of interference in domestic affairs, are
not independent from overall calculations of bilateral relations. The sides
can only overcome these concerns when they become more confident in
their own resilience and identify a mutually beneficial agenda.

1. Vragi Rossii. Levada-centr (10 January 2018), https://www.levada.
ru/2018/01/10/vragi-rossii/; Russia. Gallup. Accessed 7 March 2016,
2. Low concern with frontline military offensive is openly recognized in
their security strategies (see Strategi nacionalno bezopasnosti.
Utverdena Ukazom Prezidenta Rossisko Federacii ot 31
dekabr 2015 g, № 683,;
National Security Strategy of the United States. The White House
[December 2017],
3. The literature on Russian-Western relations is dominated by examination
of ‘status conflict’ (for the overview of it, see T. Forsberg, R. Heller, and R.
Wolf, “Status and Emotions in Russian Foreign Policy”, Communist and
Post-communist Studies, 47:3 [2014], pp. 261–268).
4. A. Monaghan, “‘An Enemy at the Gates’ or ‘From Victory to Victory’?”,
Russian Foreign Policy International Affairs, 84:4 (2008), pp. 717–773;
P. J. S. Duncan, “Russia, the West and the 2007–2008 Electoral Cycle:
Did the Kremlin Really Fear a ‘Coloured Revolution’?” Europe-Asia Stud-
ies, 65:1 (2013), pp. 1–25; R. Deyermond, “Disputed Democracy: The
Instrumentalisation of the Concept of Democracy in US-Russia Relations
During the George W. Bush and Putin Presidencies”, Comillas Journal of
International Relations, 3 (2015), pp. 28–43.
5. W. Rosenau, “Subversion and Insurgency”, RAND Counterinsurgency
Study. Paper 2 (2007),
pubs/occasional_papers/2007/RAND_OP172.pdf. Thus, the current
chapter to most extent will refrain from references to instances of third-
party interventions in militarized conflicts, which do not constitute subver-
sion as it defined here.
6. Sun Tzu, The Book of War: The Military Classic of the Far East (London:
John Murray, 1908), p. 24.
7. P. A. Smith Jr., On Political War (Washington, DC: National Defense Uni-
versity Press, 1989), pp. 29–50.
8. One of the first to express this idea was German philosopher Immanuel
Kant, who claimed that republican form of government provides the

greatest chances to establish perpetual peace among nations (see I. Kant, To

Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)—Perpetual Peace and Other
Essays on Politics, History and Morals. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing,
1983, p. 113).
9. J. M. Owen, “The Foreign Imposition of Domestic Institutions”, Interna-
tional Organization, 56 (2002), pp. 375–409.
10. S. Krasner, “Rethinking the Sovereign State Model”, Review of Interna-
tional Studies, 27:5 (2001), pp. 19–21.
11. D. Wippman, “Military Intervention, Regional Organizations, and Host-
State Consent”, Duke Journal of Comparable & International Law, 7
(1996), pp. 209–239.
12. D. Cannadine, Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800–1906 (New
York: Viking, 2017), pp. 13–15.
13. E. Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution 1789–1848 (New York: Vintage
Books, 1996), pp. 78–82.
14. H. J. Morghentau, “To Intervene or Not to Intervene”, Foreign Affairs,
45:3 (1996), pp. 425–436.
15. J. L. Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American
National Security Policy During the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2005), pp. 24–52.
16. Morghentau, “To Intervene or Not to Intervene”, pp. 425–436.
17. Although the Soviet Union provided certain material support to the com-
munist parties west of the Berlin Wall and the United States facilitated
dissident movements in the Warsaw Pact nations.
18. See, in this regard, O. A. Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Inter-
ventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2005).
19. See, for example, studies on U.S. inspired coups across Latin America—C.
L. Thyne, “Supporter of Stability or Agent of Agitation? The Effect of US
Foreign Policy on Coups in Latin America, 1960–99”, Journal of Peace
Research, 47 (2010), pp. 449–461.
20. See, for example, Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and
Interference in the Domestic Affairs of States in accordance with the Res-
olution adopted by the General Assembly A/RES/20/2131 (XX), 1965;
Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Rela-
tions and Co-operation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the
United Nations in accordance with the Resolution adopted by the General
Assembly A/RES/25/2625 (XXV), 1970. While the UN Charter does not
contain explicit mentioning of the non-intervention as a separate principle,
it is implied in its reaffirmation of the sovereign rights of the states (see
M. Kinacioglu, “The Principle of Non-intervention at the United Nations:
The Charter Framework and the Legal Debate”, Perceptions, 10 (2005),
pp. 15–39).

21. Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe Final Act. Helsinki,

22. L. F. Damrosch, “Politics Across Borders: Nonintervention and Non-
forcible Influence Over Domestic Affairs”, American Journal of Interna-
tional Law, 83:1 (1989), pp. 1–50.
23. J. J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W. W.
Norton, 2001).
24. S. M. Walt, The Origins of Alliance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990),
pp. 266–269.
25. See I. M. Wall, The United States and the Making of Post-war France,
1945–1954 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
26. For a description of this visit see G. H. W. Bush and B. Scowcroft, A World
Transformed (New York: Vintage, 2011), pp. 515–516.
27. The relative transitivity of reputation between contexts, however, is a source
of a major debate in International Relations theory, see J. Mercer, Reputa-
tion and International Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010).
28. See, for example, “A Charter for Russian-American Partnership and Friend-
ship”, Washington (17 June 1992).
29. S. Talbott, The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy (New
York: Random House, 2007), pp. 81–91, 196–212.
30. See, among others Lde vtorogo sorta ne byvaet. Rossiska
gazeta (7 May 2005),; V.
Sumski, Nesodruestvennoe poglowenie. (12 May
31. TIME’s Interview with Vladimir Putin. Time (19 December 2007),
32. See G. Bush, President Welcomes President Yushchenko to the
White House (4 April 2005), https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.
gov/news/releases/2005/04/20050404.html; Hadley St. Remarks by
National Security Advisor to the Council on Foreign Relations, New
York (18 October 2005),
news/releases/2005/10/text/20051018-6.html; and G. Bush, President
Discusses Freedom Agenda. Ronald Reagan Building and International
Trade Center, Washington, DC (24 July 2008), https://georgewbush-
33. This concern was openly identified by then head of Russian state security
service FSB Nikolay Patrushev (see V. Sumski, Nesodruestvennoe
poglowenie. [12 May 2005],
34. “Russia’s Wrong Direction: What the United States Can and Should
Do Report of an Independent Task Force”, The Council on Foreign

Relations (2006),

35. L. V. Gundalov, Kak gotovt cvetnye revolcii. Nezavisima
gazeta (27 May 2016),
36. M. McFaul, Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We
Can (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009).
37. K. Lally, “McFaul Leaves Moscow and Two Dramatic Years in Rela-
tions Between U.S. and Russia”, The Washington Post (26 February
38. V. Hamraev, I. Granik, Dumskie frakcii obmenlis
naruxenimi. KommersantW (14 December 2011), https://www.; Egorov I. Del – mnogo. Rossiska
gazeta (12 January 2011),
39. K. Latuhina, Komanda doveri. Rossiska gazeta (9 December
40. “All Eyes on Putin”, CBS News (27 September 2015), https://www.
41. S. V. Lavrov, Istoriqeska perspektiva vnexne politiki
Rossii // Rossi v globalno politike. 2016. №2.
42. Xogu zavil o bolxo verotnosti rasxireni geografii
“cvetnyh revolci”. RIA Novosti (21 February 2017), https:// Similar thought although in
a more speculative way was earlier articulated by Minister of Foreign
Affairs Sergey Lavrov in his remarks to the UN General Assembly (see S.
V. Lavrov, Vystuplenie Ministra inostrannyh del Rossisko
Federacii na 69- sessii Generalno Assamblei OON, N-
5ork, 27 sentbr 2014 goda,
43. V. V. Putin, Vystuplenie na zasedanii kollegii Federalno
sluby bezopasnosti. Administraci Prezidenta Rossisko
Federacii (26 March 2015),
44. V. V. Putin, Vystuplenie na zasedanii kollegii Federalno
sluby bezopasnosti. Administraci Prezidenta Rossisko
Federacii (26 February 2016),
45. Ibid.

46. Eegodny doklad Vremenno komissii Soveta

Federacii po zawite gosudarstvennogo suvereniteta
i predotvraweni vmexatelstva vo vnutrennie dela
Rossisko Federacii (February 2018),
Specialny doklad po itogam prezidentskih vyborov v
Rossisko Federacii s toqki zreni pokuxeni na rossiski
lektoralny suverenitet (2018),
47. This assessment, for example was advanced by Bobo Lo in Russia and the
New World Disorder (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2015),
pp. 24–25.
48. The term in itself represented an evolution of previously popular notion
of “managed democracy” introduced by a journalist and political com-
mentator Vitaly Tretyakov already in 2000 (see V. Tretkov, Diagnoz:
upravlema demokrati. Nezavisima gazeta [13 January 2000],
49. V. . Surkov, Nacionalizaci buduwego. kspert. 2006. №43,
50. For critical appraisal of this policy in the U.S. see T. Carothers, “The
Backlash Against Democracy Promotion”, Foreign Affairs, 85:2 (2006),
pp. 55–68.
51. Programmny dokument «Rossi: sohranim i
preumnoim!» Print 21 nobr 2009 goda na XI s
ezde v
Sankt-Peterburge. Edina Rossi,,110030.
52. V. V. Putin, Poslanie Prezidenta Federalnomu Sobrani
Rossisko Federacii (12 December 2013),
53. Ibid.
54. See, for example, Federalny zakon ot 10 nvar 2006 goda «O
vnesenii izmeneni v nekotorye zakonodatelnye akty
Rossisko Federacii». Rossiska gazeta. №6. 17.01.2006;
Federalny zakon ot 30 dekabr 2006 goda № 274-FZ «O vnesenii
izmeneni v otdelnye zakonodatelnye akty Rossisko
Federacii v qasti ustanovleni ograniqeni na osuwestvlenie
nekommerqeskimi organizacimi poertvovani politiqeskim
partim, ih regionalnym otdelenim, a take v izbiratelnye
fondy, fondy referenduma». Rossiska gazeta. №1. 10.01.2007;
Federalny zakon ot 20 il 2012 goda № 121-FZ «O vnesenii
izmeneni v otdelnye zakonodatelnye akty Rossisko
Federacii v qasti regulirovani detelnosti nekommerqeskih
organizaci, vypolnwih funkcii inostrannogo agenta»,
55. The importance of Russian-based international media was already recog-
nized in 2000 Concept of Foreign Policy, but it was not until the events in
Kiev took place in 2004 when significant resources were allocated on this
56. Christopher S. Chivvis, “Understanding Russian ‘Hybrid Warfare’ and
What Could Be Done About It”, Testimony Presented Before the
House Armed Services Committee (22 March 2017), https://www.rand.
57. Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections. Intel-
ligence Community Assessment. ODNI (6 January 2017), https://www.
58. G. Rachman, “Revisionist Powers Are Driving the World’s Crises”,
The Financial Times (30 June 2014),

Euro-Atlantic Arms Control: Past, Present,

and Future

Alexandra Bell

Sandcastles, the really good ones, the ones that transcend simple piles of
wet sand and shells and become works of art, are the product of meticulous
and patient artists. Their chosen medium is mercurial and fickle. One
errant move and the whole structure could fall apart. Similarly, their work
is at the mercy of external forces beyond their control-high winds, a rough
wave, or a passer-by bent on havoc. Over time, even with the best defences,
sandcastles will erode and require reinforcement and rebuilding. It might
seem a stretch to think of arms control treaties in the same way, but the
similarities are striking. After all, diplomacy is an art, not a science. An arms
control negotiator can work for months and years crafting an intricate
agreement, only to see it fall apart over tiny, but intractable disagreements.
They can also succeed in creating an agreement, only to watch it fall apart
due to benign neglect, changing priorities, or purposeful destruction.
Unfortunately, the hard-won treaties and agreements that underpin
global security are in danger of being overwhelmed by the tides of mistrust,

A. Bell (B)
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Washington, DC, USA

© The Author(s) 2020 35

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,
36 A. BELL

misunderstandings, and carelessness. For years, the nuclear arms race, proxy
wars, and the Iron Curtain were just distant memories. The public, once
acutely aware of the tensions between the United States and the Soviet
Union, turned its focus elsewhere and the impulse to devote energy and
resources to strategic stability on the continent waned. Today, great power
conflict is back on the minds of leaders, experts, and everyday citizens.
The host of Euro-Atlantic security-related treaties and agreements can
be grouped into two categories, conventional and strategic. The need for
these structures persists, even as emerging threats will necessitate the cre-
ation of new treaties and agreements. In the conventional category, the
Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), the Vienna Document, the
Open Skies Treaty (OST) are all under duress and there is little sense of
urgency to provide solutions outside of small, closed circles. In the strategic
category, the Russian violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty
(INF) and the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement poses the biggest
problem. Talks on this matter could continue, but both Washington and
Moscow seem willing to watch the treaty implode. The New Strategic
Arms Control Treaty (New START) is a success, but prospects for its
extension remain unclear. Without it, there will be no cooperative moni-
toring between the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. Further, for
the first time in decades, there is no easily imagined next step in U.S.-
Russian nuclear reductions. Imbalances between offensive and defensive
systems and conventional and strategic systems, impede progress in this
area. Even more troubling, the cornerstone of the overall arms control and
non-proliferation regime, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is
challenged by internal and external forces. Even with its faults, the NPT has
largely held back the tide of nuclear proliferation for fifty years. Without it,
the security of the Euro-Atlantic region and that of the whole world will
Adding to the challenges, emerging threats related to cyber security,
lethal autonomy and a push towards “usable” nuclear weapons are devel-
oping at alarming speed. The international community also lacks the veri-
fication techniques and tools needed for next-generation agreements. Put
simply, there are a lot of “arms control sandcastles” in danger of collapse.
The only way to stop the collapse is to encourage and empower new voices,
new theories, new relationships, and new cooperative frameworks. A new
generation of arms control policymakers and negotiators, able to under-
stand and take into account a revolution in tools and technologies that can
help or hinder the endeavour, are the key to the future of arms control.
Unencumbered by the cynicism and failures of the past, perhaps they can

start to build a new set of agreements out of metaphorical stone, rather

than sand.

Conventional Treaties and Agreements

On the conventional arms control front, there are problems across the
board. The CFE Treaty is the core of conventional arms control agree-
ments on the continent. It set limits on conventional weapons stockpiles in
Europe in order to decrease vulnerability, increase predictability, and create
parity between Warsaw Pact and NATO forces.1 The treaty entered into
force on 17 July 1992 and mandated limits on certain military equipment,
as well as deployment of that equipment within individual states. It also
includes provisions for on-site inspections and annual reports on changes
in ground deployments. The treaty was updated in 1999 to account for
political changes across the European continent, but those changes have
yet to enter into force due to an implementation stalemate between NATO
and Russia. In 2007, Russia declared it was suspending implementation of
the CFE Treaty out of concerns that new NATO members were not subject
to CFE caps. In response, NATO stopped sharing notifications and data
exchanges with Russia, in addition to suspending Russian inspections.2
Attempts to resolve these problems have thus far failed.
The Vienna Document3 is a collection of confidence and security-
building measures designed to increase military transparency. Adopted in
1990 and revised in 2011, the agreement focuses on operations taking
place in the territory and surrounding sea and air space of participating
states for the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Participants share defence policy, budgeting information and notifications
on non-routine military operations. The Vienna Document also places con-
straints and notification requirements on large-scale military activities and
provides for observation opportunities.
Following the Russian incursions into Georgia and Ukraine, and the
occupation of Crimea, problems with the agreement are mounting. Russia
is now engaging in what the United States refers to as selective imple-
mentation. Specifically, Russia is charged with withholding information on
force deployments in Georgia and Crimea and engaging in activities that
are at odds with the security obligations outlined in the agreement.4 As
with the CFE, attempts by OSCE members to address these and broader
issues with the agreement have been unsuccessful. Another problem for the
Vienna Document is the changing nature of twenty-first-century warfare.
38 A. BELL

The agreement must be modernized to account for modern tactics like

hybrid warfare and weaponry like unmanned aerial systems.5
The OST, which entered into force 16 years ago, established a regime
of unarmed observation flights over the territory of the 34 state parties.6 A
concept first proposed by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower at the Geneva
Conference of 1955,7 OST flights help build confidence through trans-
parency. Each state party must allow a certain number of flights over its
own territory and is then permitted an equal number of flights over the
territories of other states party. All imagery collected from overflights must
be made available to any state party.
Current compliance concerns are again related to Russian activi-
ties.8 Russia has introduced a 500-km sublimit for certain observation
flights, despite there being no actual limitation in the treaty. Russia has
denied access to areas over South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Kaliningrad and
around Moscow, and has also caused general implementation problems
for Ukraine. Efforts to resolve these concerns in the Open Skies Consulta-
tive Commission have not yielded results and in 2016, the United States
determined that Russia is not meeting its treaty obligations. As a result,
Washington limited Russian overflight privileges in the United States.9 To
further complicate matters, the U.S. Congress restricted funding for U.S.
OST flights and upgrades for new digital sensors until they receive detailed
plans for flights from the President.10 Without a more determined effort
to deal with problems related to this relatively unknown, but important
agreement, it could also fall apart.
There is no doubt that in order to maintain European stability and secu-
rity, conventional arms control must be revitalized. In 2010, the United
States spearheaded development of key provisions and principles that could
guide new negotiations to strengthen the CFE Treaty and hopefully address
longstanding Russian compliance issues with the agreement. Despite over
a year’s worth of effort, Russian officials rebuffed the approach, claiming
that post-Cold War realities demanded an entirely new approach.11
In October 2016, then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Stein-
meier, leading a group of 13 European foreign ministers, renewed the call
for conventional arms control updates.12 Steinmeier had previously cau-
tioned that the hostile security environment following Russia’s invasion of
the Ukraine and the possible collapse of existing treaties was increasingly
untenable. He called for “structured dialogue with all partners who carry
responsibility for the security of our continent” that included discussion
of new capabilities and strategies such as drones and small mobile units,

enhanced verification measures and the inclusion of regions whose “ter-

ritorial status is controversial.”13 At the December 2016 OSCE meeting,
the 57 OSCE participating states (including the United States and Rus-
sia) adopted a declaration committing themselves to reversing the negative
developments in the European conventional arms control architecture.14 A
seeming step in the right direction was clouded by interpretive statements
added to the declaration. The U.S. statement noted that the declaration did
not commit it to any particular action. The Russian statement notes that
the call for “full implementation” of existing agreements does not apply to
the CFE due to the Russian suspension and “confirms the need to create
conditions that would make confidence- and security-building measures
At this time, the path ahead is uncertain. Multiple efforts have failed, but
persistence is essential, and necessary. Progress on strategic arms control is
inextricably linked to progress with conventional arms control. In the com-
ing months and years, Euro-Atlantic leaders and OSCE members should
recommit themselves to finding new solutions to the present challenges
and not let any one country dominate or derail the debate.

Strategic Treaties and Agreements

The creation of strategic arms control agreements towards the end of
the Cold War improved the safety and security of not only Euro-Atlantic
nations, but of the entire world. Today, one of those agreements, arguably
the most crucial, is in grave danger. An entire generation has come of
age without much knowledge of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces
Treaty (INF) or its history. They are not likely to be familiar with the 1983
U.S. decision to deploy Pershing II and Tomahawk missiles in Europe in
response to the Soviet deployment of SS-20 missiles. Those U.S. missile
placements were particularly destabilizing, since they could reach Moscow
twice as fast as systems in the United States. If ever to be used, those
intermediate-range nuclear weapons would detonate on European and
Soviet soil, effectively destroying the continent. This sobering reality led
millions of people to engage in massive protests against the deployment.16
European leaders at the time had to spend a considerable amount of
political capital to convince their people to accept these missiles on their
territories. Success was only possible because the United States agreed
to simultaneously pursue negotiations to limit or eliminate this type of
missile. This approach was known as the “dual track” decision.17
40 A. BELL

Thankfully the gamble worked four years later, due in large part to having
the right leaders in place. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Pres-
ident Mikhail Gorbachev became unlikely partners in the cancellation of
the apocalypse. At the 1987 Reykjavik Summit,18 the two leaders rejected
the cynicism coming from some of their advisors and enabled the creation
of the INF Treaty. Signed in late 1987, the treaty required that the United
States and Soviets dismantle their entire stockpiles of ground-launched
intermediate-range cruise missiles. It was the first arms control treaty to
verifiably eliminate an entire class of weapons.19 The treaty is of indefinite
extension, but it’s required missile eliminations were implemented over the
course of 14 years.20 Implementation problems were and are still handled
through the Special Verification Commission (SVC). While monumental
in its own right, the treaty was actually the consolation prize, since Reagan
and Gorbachev fell short of their shared goal of a total nuclear disarmament
treaty.21 It did, however, help bring stability to the European continent and
create the momentum for further nuclear and conventional arms control
Now, 30 years later, the United States has found Russia to be in violation
of the INF Treaty,22 and Russia has made counter-accusations at the United
States.23 For years, Russia refused to even acknowledge that the missile
in question even existed and claimed that the United States had yet to
provide definitive evidence of the violation in public. In late 2017, then-
U.S. National Security Senior Director Chris Ford stated that the Novator
9M729 was the Russian missile in question, the first time the designator
had been used in public.24 Shortly after, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
Sergey Ryabkov denied that the Novator 9M729 violated the treaty in
any way,25 but at least both countries were finally talking about the same
Unfortunately, the United States and Russia made little progress in
resolving treaty issues in 2018. Formal meetings were scarce, and the
United States moved forward with research and development on a con-
ventionally armed intermediate-range missile. Any testing of said missile
would violate the INF treaty. The Trump Administration’s 2018 Nuclear
Posture Review (NPR) also called for the redevelopment and deployment
of a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile that former Secretary of
Defense Jim Mattis said would serve as a possible countermeasure to the
Novator 9M729.26 Things went from bad to worse over the course of 2018
when rumours began to circulate that the United States was preparing to
abandon the INF Treaty.27 The rumours were unceremoniously confirmed

on the side-lines of a political rally in Nevada by President Trump who

remarked, “We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to
pull out.”28 Despite alarm expressed by U.S. allies around the world, on
4 December 2018, the United States declared that it would “suspend its
obligations under the Treaty effective in 60 days…unless Russia returns to
full and verifiable compliance.”29 Instead of responding to that declaration
with diplomatic and technical meetings, both sides seemed to resign them-
selves to inaction. The United States issued a formal notice of withdrawal
in early 2019 and barring some last minute miracle, the INF Treaty will
collapse.30 To avoid destabilizing Euro-Atlantic security, the United States
and Russia should go to the negotiating table and talk about how to avoid
an intermediate-range missile race. Such discussions could focus on possi-
ble geographic restrictions on the deployment of new intermediate-range
missiles or prohibitions on emplacing nuclear warheads on such missiles.
Both countries should also think about ways to deal with the threat posed
by intermediate-range missile stockpiles held by other nations. More expan-
sive controls on these missiles would be enormously hard to achieve, but
in the early 1980s, the creation of the INF Treaty probably seemed like an
impossible feat, as well. The initial focus should be on small steps related
to transparency and dialogue, not on some distant multilateral agreement.
Every structure needs a foundation.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)31 had been
the one bright spot in the U.S.–Russia arms control relationship. Negoti-
ated in 2009 and 2010, as a follow on to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduc-
tion Treaty, this agreement provides stability and predictability between
the nations with the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. In February 2018,
the United States and Russia met the central limits of the Treaty—1550
deployed strategic warheads on 700 deployed and 800 deployed and non-
deployed launchers.32 With the aid of New START, the overall number of
deployed strategic nuclear weapons in the world is at the lowest level in
70 years.33 Data exchanges and inspections will continue until 5 February
2021, but the Treaty can be extended for another five years.
With an extended Treaty, the two countries would have another seven
years of stability and predictability that they could not get any other way. As
they continue to build trust through the implementation of New START,
they could use the stability gained from the extension to work on other mat-
ters that affect the next steps in strategic arms reductions, like non-strategic
nuclear weapons and ballistic missile defence. There is also ample room for
creative thinking. For example, when thinking about non-strategic nuclear
42 A. BELL

weapons, could the United States, NATO, and Russia first discuss trans-
parency and consolidation, as opposed to reductions?
Of course, when dealing with these matters, there is a tendency to think
nothing can be fixed, unless everything is fixed. Some in the United States
have posited that New START extension would be difficult because of
Russia’s other treaty violations and aggressive regional behaviour.34 That
sort of thinking is defeatist and dangerous. New START is working, even if
other agreements are not. The pursuit of some sort of grand bargain where
every Euro-Atlantic security problem is solved at once will ensure that no
problems are ever solved.
The bilateral strategic treaties that affect Euro-Atlantic stability are rein-
forced by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, com-
monly referred to as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or simply the
NPT.35 The Treaty has three central tenets, often called pillars: (1) coun-
tries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; (2) countries with
nuclear weapons will engage in good faith efforts to eliminate them; and
(3) all countries would have access to peaceful nuclear technology. The
Treaty was extended indefinitely in 199536 and while it is not perfect, it
has limited the number of nuclear weapons states and shepherded a massive
reduction in nuclear arsenals worldwide. The 2010 NPT Review Confer-
ence produced a consensus document and an action plan outlining how
to make progress on both arms control and non-proliferation, but the full
implementation of that plan proved difficult. By the 2015 NPT Review
Conference, the NPT was starting to buckle under the pressure of unful-
filled expectations. The bulk of the criticism was focused on the lack of
progress on disarmament, but it was the irresolvable differences over a
proposed conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free
Zone that sank consensus in 2015.37
With the 2020 NPT Review Conference less than one year away, the
United States and Russia are taking few steps to deal with the Treaty’s
problems. European nations interested in protecting the NPT should
not wait for an invitation to lead efforts aimed at addressing shortfalls in
both non-proliferation and disarmament commitments. Given the state of
arms control in Europe and beyond, frustration among from disarmament
supporters is neither surprising, nor unexpected. That frustration was
channelled into a public campaign to increase awareness of the humani-
tarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and eventually, the creation
of a new agreement, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
(TPNW).38 In short, the TPNW prohibits the development, possession,

transfer, and use of nuclear weapons. Despite the good intentions that
went into its formation, this new arms control sandcastle is more fragile
than most and it could do damage to the structures around it. In acceding
to this Treaty, nations without nuclear weapons will take upon themselves
a commitment they have already made, sometimes in multiple other
agreements. There are no formalized ways to verify these commitments,
rather a general punt in the direction of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA).39 Nuclear weapons states did not join the negotiations
and there are no indications that any plan to become a party to the TPNW.
While proponents assert the TPNW can create pressure on nuclear
weapons states, they tend to avoid discussion of the security conditions
that drive proliferation. Over half the world’s population lives in a nuclear
weapons state or one covered by a nuclear deterrent. These nations believe
these weapons are the ultimate guarantor of their security. It will take more
than outside pressure to change those views, particularly in nations less
concerned with public opinion.
Many democracies with nuclear weapons, or those covered by a nuclear
umbrella, will continue to push for ways to pursue disarmament, but will
now face challenges from all sides. Authoritarian regimes with nuclear
weapons will ignore the TPNW and perhaps use their distaste for the treaty
to ignore all other disarmament overtures. Even more troubling, some
nations could praise the TPNW in an effort to disguise their absence from
or lack of support for other critical arms control treaties, including the NPT.
As mentioned at the beginning, disarmament treaties are fragile, inconstant
entities and their formation is often slow and tedious. At this time, there is
little evidence that the TPNW will speed up nuclear reductions and some
concern that it could destabilize existing treaties and structures.
Disagreements over effectiveness aside, TPNW parties should take steps
to prevent “forum shopping” that would allow countries to join this new
treaty and then shirk their obligations to the broader non-proliferation
regime. Nuclear weapons states, for their part, need to take meaningful
steps to fulfil their obligations under the NPT and take seriously the con-
cerns of countries around the world that feel they are at the mercy of a
few. In the end, the change sought by nuclear abolitionists will only come
when nations see that their security needs can be met in other ways. That
process can begin with practical and open dialogue between nuclear and
non-nuclear weapon state alike. Further, all states should efforts to create
new verification technologies for use in future arms control agreements,
like the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification
44 A. BELL

(IPNDV).40 The IPNDV combines the expertise and experience of nuclear

and non-nuclear weapons states, with the addition of non-governmental
participation. It is a model for progress in arms control.
As a note, while not the focus of this Chapter, Euro-Atlantic secu-
rity is also affected by the health of multilateral arms control agreements
like the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC),41 the Chemical Weapons
Convention (CWC)42 and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
(CTBT). The BWC is beset by the lack of a verification protocol and the
as-yet unchecked rise of synthetic biology.43 The CWC is undergoing a cri-
sis in legitimacy, as Syria continues to use chlorine as a chemical weapon.44
Russia has also been accused of a botched assassination attempt involving
a chemical agent in the United Kingdom.45 The CTBT46 has yet to enter
into force (the United States and China, among other countries, are inex-
plicable hold-outs47 ) and North Korea’s current moratorium on nuclear
explosive tests is by no means secure.48 The health of these regimes connect
back to the health of Euro-Atlantic security and they must be supported,
protected and improved.

Current and Emerging Threats

To add to the many problems outlined in this chapter, there are also the
current and emerging threats that have yet to be formally addressed in any
treaties or agreements. Non-strategic nuclear weapons (also known as low-
yield weapons or tactical weapons) present a particularly pressing problem
for Euro-Atlantic security. Countries have yet to devise strategies for verify-
ing the dismantlement of a non-strategic nuclear weapon, so they have been
left out of arms control agreements in the past. In 2013, U.S. President
Barack Obama made an overture to the Russians to start discussions on this
very problem, as well as further strategic reductions.49 Unfortunately, the
Russians declined to participate in those talks. Today, Russia fields a sizable
non-strategic nuclear arsenal and many posit that they have adopted an
“escalate to de-escalate” strategy. In theory, if Russia were losing a conven-
tional war with NATO, they would use a non-strategic nuclear weapon to
unreasonably raise the stakes. NATO forces would then surrender to avoid
further disaster.50 There is a debate about whether this is truly the Russian
doctrine,51 but Moscow has done little to dispel what is now considered
by some to be conventional wisdom. That choice influenced the 2018 U.S.
NPR. Citing the threat from Russia, the policy plan calls for the production
of new U.S. non-strategic weapons.52 The Trump Administration’s pre-

ferred euphemism for these weapons is “supplements,”53 which is a very

low-key term for weapons that could destroy a city. It is now incumbent
upon European nations to urge the Americans and Russians to the table to
discuss both doctrine and a burgeoning non-strategic arms race. After all,
these weapons, if used, would likely be used on the European continent.
To start a dialogue, Russia can work harder to make clear its views on the
“escalate to deescalate” strategy and the Americans can outline the why it
is considering new non-strategic nuclear weapons and how that decision
can be influenced.
Even if discussions are possible, actual nuclear reductions could take
some time. Russian treaty violations and the conventional dominance of
NATO present real obstacles. As the trust and confidence necessary for
progress are rebuilt, countries can focus on preventing new crises from
emerging. For example, the United States and Russia could work with
other nuclear weapons states to issue a joint statement that emplacement
of nuclear warheads on unmanned aerial systems or autonomous systems
would endanger international security. They could then convene experts
to explore the creation of a verifiable agreement that would prohibit such
weapons. In fact, given the emergence of new possible means of nuclear
weapon delivery, there should be a continuous conversation between all
nuclear weapons states on these matters. Further, the complications posed
by cyber-threats and artificial intelligence can no longer be ignored. Policy-
makers, experts and academics need to engage with technical experts on a
regular basis to discuss how the connection between nuclear weapons and
the information age could take us back to the stone age.

Conclusion: Repair, Rebuild, Renew

There are myriad problems facing Euro-Atlantic security. It is particularly
difficult to look at the damage evident on the arms control structures
that were so painstakingly built and not despair. That sentiment should
be rejected outright. It is indeed easier said than done, as there are also
experts who proclaim that arms control is dead.54 One could posit that
their confident proclamations are a cover for the fact that they are simply
out of ideas. Smug pessimism and the devaluation of current and possi-
ble future tools and structures do nothing to fix the world’s problems. In
his 2009 speech in Prague, then-U.S. President Barack Obama warned of
people who argue that the spread of “the ultimate tools of destruction”
cannot be stopped. “Such fatalism” he said, “is a deadly adversary.”55
46 A. BELL

Over the past forty years, Euro-Atlantic nations, in cooperation with

global partners, have built a delicate and yes, imperfect, system of treaties
and agreements to prevent nuclear catastrophes. To now avoid becoming
the architects of their own destruction through either direct action or
inaction, nations must now work together to repair, rebuild and renew
the structures that have kept us safe. Younger leaders may be the key.
Free from the cynicism that has permeated the thinking of so many senior
officials, they can acknowledge that reducing the threats posed by nuclear
weapons is both unbelievably difficult and undeniably essential. With a
focus on patience, persistence, and innovation, the post-Cold War genera-
tion can foster nuclear policy endeavours across party lines, communities,
generations, and borders. They can make sure the next set of arms control
agreements could indeed be stronger than their predecessors—built of
metaphorical stone, not sand.

1. Treaty on the Conventional Forces in Europe, Organization for Secu-
rity Cooperation in Europe (11 November 1990),
2. United States Department of State, “2017 Report on Adherence to and
Compliance with Arms Control”, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament
Agreements and Commitments (14 April 2017),
3. Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence and Security-Building Measures,
Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (22 December 2011),
4. “2017 Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Non-
proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments”, United
States Department of State, Washington, DC, USA (14 April 2017),
5. Press Release, “Progress on Modernizing the Vienna Document Vital to
Making the Agreement Effective in Current Challenging Security Environ-
ment”, Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, Vienna, Austria
(1 February 2017),
6. Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence and Security-Building Measures,
Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, Vienna, Austria (22
December 2011).
7. Amy Woolf, “The Open Skies Treaty: Issues in the Current Debate”, Con-
gressional Research Service, Washington, DC, USA (10 August 2017),

8. Treaty on Open Skies, Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe,

Vienna, Austria (24 March 1992),
9. Brett Forrest and Nathan Hodge, “In Tiff with Russia, U.S. Moves to
Restrict International Military Flights Over Hawaii”, Wall Street Journal,
Moscow, Russia (28 September 2017),
10. Press Release, “Analysis of Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authoriza-
tion Bill: HR 2810”, Council for a Livable World, Washington, DC, USA
(14 November 2017),
11. Fact Sheet, “The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe”,
Nuclear Threat Initiative, Washington, DC, USA (29 September 2017),
12. AFP, Reuters, KNA, “OSCE Countries Back Germany’s Push for New
Arms Control Deal with Russia”, Deutsche Welle (26 November 2016),
13. Nik Martin, “German FM Steinmeier Calls for New Arms Control Pact
with Russia”, Deutsche Welle (26 August 2016),
14. Ministerial Council, “From Lisbon to Hamburg: Declaration on the Twen-
tieth Anniversary of the OSCE Framework for Arms Control”, Organiza-
tion for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Vienna, Austria (9 December
15. Ibid.
16. William Drozniak, “More Than a Million Protest Missiles in Western
Europe”, The Washington Post, Washington, DC, USA (23 October
17. Strobe Talbott, “The Road to Zero”, Time Magazine, New York,
USA (24 June 2001),
18. Nikolai Sokov, “Reykjavik Summit: The Legacy and Lesson for the Future”,
Nuclear Threat Initiative, Washington, DC, USA (1 December 2007),
19. Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and
48 A. BELL

Shorter-Range Missiles, United States Department of State (8 December

20. Press Release, “Officials Mark End of INF Treaty Inspections”, Arms
Control Today, Washington, DC, USA (1 June 2001), https://www.
21. Nikolai Sokov, “Reykjavik Summit: The Legacy and Lesson for the Future”,
Nuclear Threat Initiative, Washington, DC, USA (1 December 2007),
22. “2017 Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Non-
proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments”, United
States Department of State, Washington, DC, USA (14 April 2017),
23. Press Release, “Refuting Russian Allegations of U.S. Noncompliance
with the INF Treaty”, United States Department of State, Washington,
DC, USA (8 December 2017),
24. David Majumdar, “Novator 9M729: The Russian Missile that Broke INF
Treaty’s Back?” The National Interest, Washington, DC, USA (7 December
25. Press Release, “Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov’s Comment on
Anti-Russia Attacks by the US Over the INF Treaty”, Russian Foreign
Ministry, Moscow, Russia (9 December 2017),
26. Paul Sonne, “Mattis: Plans for New U.S. Nuclear Weapon Could Be
Bargaining Chip with Russia”, The Washington Post, Washington, DC,
USA (6 February 2018),
27. Julian Borger, “John Bolton Pushing Trump to Withdraw from Rus-
sian Nuclear Arms Treaty”, The Guardian, Washington, DC, USA (19
October 2018),
28. Julian Borger and Martin Pengelly, “Trump Says US Will Withdraw from
Nuclear Arms Treaty with Russia”, The Guardian, Washington, DC, USA
(20 October 2018),
29. Fact Sheet, “Russia’s Violation of the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces (INF)
Treaty”, United States Department of State, Washington, DC, USA (4
December 2018),

30. Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and
Shorter-Range Missiles, United States Department of State (8 December
31. “Treaty Between the United States of American and the Russian Federation
on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive
Arms” (8 April 2010),
32. Fact Sheet, “Key Facts About New START Treaty Implementation”, U.S.
Department of State, Washington, DC, USA (5 February 2018), https:// and “Russia Con-
firms Commitment to New START Treaty—Foreign Ministry”, Tass Rus-
sian News Agency, Moscow, Russia (5 February 2018),
33. Fact Sheet, “New START Treaty Fifth Anniversary”, U.S. Department of
State, Washington, DC (6 February 2016),
34. Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed, “Russia Must Scrap or Alter
Missiles U.S. Says Violate Arms Treaty”, Reuters (6 December 2018),
35. “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (1 July 1968),
36. Ibid.
37. William C. Potter, “The Unfulfilled Promise of the 2015 NPT Review
Conference”, Survival, 58 (1) (2016), p. 20.
38. “The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” (7 July 2017),
39. Ibid.
40. “International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification”, U.S.
Department of State, Washington, DC, USA.
41. “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Pro-
duction and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and
Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction” (10 April 1972),
42. “Chemical Weapons Convention” (29 April 1997), https://www.opcw.
43. “Eighth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on
the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bac-
50 A. BELL

teriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction”,

Geneva, Switzerland (11 January 2017).
44. Press Release, “OPCW Fact-Finding Mission Confirms Use of Chemi-
cal Weapons in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”, Organisation for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, The Hague, Netherlands (30 June
45. Ellen Barry and Richard Pérez-Peña, “Britain Blames Moscow for Poison-
ing of Former Russian Spy”, The New York Times (12 March 2018).
46. “The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty” (24 September 1996),
47. Fact Sheet, “CTBT: Annex 2 States”, U.S. Department of State, Washing-
ton, DC (2011),
48. Press Release, “Security Council Imposes Fresh Sanctions on Demo-
cratic People’s Republic of Korea, Including Bans on Natural Gas Sales,
Work Authorization for Its Nationals”, United Nations Security Council,
New York (11 September 2017),
49. Press Release, “Remarks by President Obama at the Brandenburg
Gate -- Berlin, Germany”, Berlin, Germany (19 June 2013), https://
50. Aaron Mehta, “Nuclear Posture Review Puts Russia Firmly in Crosshairs”,
Defense News, Washington, DC, USA (2 February 2018), https://www.
51. Olga Oliker, “No, Russia Isn’t Trying to Make Nuclear War Easier”,
The National Interest, Washington, DC, USA (23 May 2016), http://
52. “Nuclear Posture Review 2018”, U.S. Department of Defense, Washing-
ton, DC, USA (February 2018),
53. Ibid.
54. Alexandra Bell and Andrew Futter, “Reports of the Death of Arms
Control Have Been Greatly Exaggerated”, War on the Rocks (4 Octo-
ber 2018),
55. Press Release, “Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague as Deliv-
ered”, Prague, Czech Republic (5 April 2009), https://obamawhitehouse.

Cyberthreats and Euro-Atlantic Security

Pavel Sharikov

Cyberspace is a game changer in international relations, and new digital
technologies and ways of communicating will have a considerable impact on
Euro-Atlantic security and strategic stability. Many of the central beliefs that
underpinned international politics during the years of the Cold War have
become increasingly irrelevant in the face of new types of economic compe-
tition, forms of conflicts, factors of power and international influence, new
actors and a generally new global environment. The central reason for this
is that the amount and speed of information shared globally between dif-
ferent actors has increased significantly, thus fundamentally changing how
decisions are made in international politics.
The new nature of information communications has also created
unprecedented opportunities for intentional deceit, and the dissemina-
tion of false information. The technologies that were supposed to raise
the level of confidence and interdependence between actors have instead
exacerbated mistrust in both domestic and international relations to a scale

P. Sharikov (B)
The Institute for USA and Canadian Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences,
Moscow, Russia

© The Author(s) 2020 51

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

that would be impossible without this new technological infrastructure.

Together—the ubiquitous spread of information technologies and the
intensification of information sharing—should be understood as a new
information era. It brings unquestionable benefits, but at the same time
humanity faces a number of serious challenges. In particular, informa-
tion security. Insecure information communication means that third-party
actors could acquire unauthorized access to sensitive information, which
could be for their often-nefarious purposes. This insecure communication
infrastructure inevitably leads to a greater inability to remain competitive,
maintain advantages and generally pursue political goals.
While the ubiquitous spread of information technologies has many
benefits, it also provides unprecedented opportunities for inflicting serious
international damage. This includes both direct use of offensive cyber
technologies as well as more indirect influence on public opinion through
social media and other Internet-based or Internet-enabled tools. The
nations of the Euro-Atlantic community have and are unquestionably
benefitting from the advantages of global cyberspace, but at the same
time, they are also becoming more vulnerable to cyber and information
threats. Given that the Euro-Atlantic community bears a considerable
responsibility for the stable development of international relations in this
new information era, strong international cooperation is urgently needed
to address this new and more complex digital context.
Information technologies, the Internet and cyberspace are probably the
most significant differences between the Cold War and the twenty-first cen-
tury. Today, information exists in at least three different capacities: an asset,
a tool and a domain, each of which has strategic importance. As a result,
the “cyber” factor poses many new political challenges that every nation
must deal with in its own unique way. The information revolution and
cyberspace are therefore both significant game changers for international
relations and security. The new environment is unprecedented, and thus it
may prove very difficult if not impossible to employ past experiences as a
means to address these emerging challenges.

Cyberspace—A Game Changer in International

One of the major features of modern international relations is the grow-
ing importance of information resources. In the second half of the twen-
tieth century, unprecedented demands for information and associated

technological developments triggered an information revolution. This rev-

olution has implications for both domestic and international actors; in fact,
domestic and international issues have become so interdependent that it’s
almost impossible to explore one without another.
The information revolution has transformed domestic politics, and,
combined with globalization, triggered massive shifts in international
affairs. These new forms of power are delivered through global informa-
tion networks, a.k.a. cyberspace, or the Internet. As Andrew Futter has
noted, “the cyber challenge is viewed as a phenomenon that is synony-
mous with the digital computer, the internet, and the latest information
revolution–and at the same time are the most recent iteration in how
information is used, communicated, and stored.”1 Information and com-
munication technologies provide every person, regardless of geographical
location, education, social or welfare status, with an opportunity to
participate in global information exchanges, and to have access to all the
information shared by humanity. People worldwide can unite into interest
groups in order to address any social, economic or political problem with
no regard to social background or any other obstacle that could prevent
any kind of union. John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge describe
similar trends in their research devoted to the fourth revolution in the
phenomenon of the state: “web-based collaboration is allowing people to
do for themselves what government used to do for them.”2 As a result,
the political influence of many different networked organizations allows
them to compete directly with national governments. The political activity
of such organizations is not necessarily positive, it can take both aggressive
and radical forms, such as terrorism.
In the modern world, economic success depends on industrial manufac-
turing to a much lesser extent compared to the production of knowledge
and information. Information resources, transmitted communications and
the technological infrastructure, have gained strategic importance. How-
ever, providing security for this resource means preservation of desired fea-
tures of information (confidentiality, prevention of unauthorized access,
etc.). American and Western approaches to regulating this information
are aimed at guaranteeing the rule of law and property rights in regard
to information resources. Information resources provide almost unlimited
opportunities for every actor-states, organizations, individuals to pursue all
kinds of economic and political goals. US official language describes this
phenomenon as individual empowerment.3

Information regulation has become a political priority; every coun-

try adopts different policies based on national legal traditions. The most
difficult problem to solve is to find and define the proper balance between
government authorities and freedom. Security is a government’s inherent
function; however, in the information age, this becomes a serious chal-
lenge because the government has only a very limited ability to control the
individual consumption and production of information. Besides, providing
security of information will likely involve different actions compared to the
security of traditional resources.
Another interesting social phenomenon that has attracted the atten-
tion of many researchers is the impact of the information revolution upon
individual empowerment. In the US National Intelligence Council (NIC)
report “Global Trends 2030,” experts from the NIC argued that:

…on the one hand, we see the potential for greater individual initiative as key
to solving the mounting global challenges over the next 15-20 years. On the
other hand, in a tectonic shift, individuals and small groups will have greater
access to lethal and disruptive technologies (particularly precision-strike capa-
bilities, cyber instruments, and bioterror weaponry), enabling them to per-
petrate large-scale violence—a capability formerly the monopoly of states.4

In 2007, members of the National Intelligence Office for Economics and

Global Issues mentioned super-empowered individuals (along with NGOs
and multinational corporations) among three of the most influential cat-
egories of non-state actors in international relations. “Super-empowered
individuals”—are persons who have overcome constraints, conventions and
rules to wield unique political, economic, intellectual or cultural influence
over the course of human events—generated the most wide-ranging dis-
cussion. “Archetypes” include industrialists, criminals, financiers, media
moguls, celebrity activists, religious leaders and terrorists.5
Every model of government information policy is based on national
political traditions. Western countries have a greater advantage in this field
because of strong political traditions of the rule of law. It was logical and
predictable that in terms of political regulations, information resources have
been ensured with political guarantees similar to those related to indus-
trial assets (i.e. physical property). This is designed to ensure the preser-
vation of the desired features of this information, such as accessibility or
secrecy, timeliness or objectivity. Hence the major security and political
challenges include guarantees of privacy and confidentiality, infrastructure

construction and support, government and commercial secrecy, reputa-

tion losses, intellectual property rights and many others. These threats and
challenges may damage individuals, organizations and even states. Inten-
tional violations of these features may be qualified as aggression. The most
intractable problem for information policy is therefore to define the proper
balance between government authorities and freedom. Traditionally, secu-
rity is a government’s inherent function, however in the information era,
this becomes a major challenge because governments have a very limited
ability to control individual consumption and production of information.
The emerging information environment offers many new economic
opportunities. Experts from the World Bank for example explain how digi-
tal technologies work as drivers for economic development: “the economics
of the Internet favours natural monopolies, and the absence of competitive
business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting
incumbent firms. Not surprisingly, the better educated, well connected,
and more capable have received most of the benefits—perhaps circum-
scribing the spread of gains from the digital revolution.”6 More broadly,
a high level of Internet users among the population is directly connected
to the prosperity of the national economy and of the country in general.
Information technologies are of course widely used in the military too.
Information and cyber technologies provide: (i) potential superiority to the
armed forces; (ii) they empower every soldier with the ability to share infor-
mation and provide command and control architectures with more infor-
mation about the battlefield; (iii) give military units information awareness,
allowing them to act more precisely and accurately; (iv) they provide the
military-political leadership with intelligence information gathered through
interconnected networks, space and other sources; and (v) an opportu-
nity to interfere into critical information systems. These potential offensive
capabilities transform the nature of the conflict and the pathways of military
While the ubiquitous spread of information technologies has many ben-
efits, it also therefore provides unprecedented opportunities for inflicting
serious international damage. This includes both the direct use of offensive
cyber technologies as well as more indirect influence on public opinion
through social media and other internet-based or internet-enabled tools.
In the words of Joseph Nye, “information can often provide a key power
resource, and more people have access to more information than ever
before.”7 In this way, new elements of influence such as soft power and

public diplomacy may prove to be as effective in achieving political goals as

hard power and become intrinsic features of international politics. How-
ever, since information infrastructures are also a critical asset for national
security, it is subject to special regulations, and national security agencies
usually have wide legal authorities in this area. Moreover, control over
the content of information disseminated inside the country can be imple-
mented in different ways.
Information technologies also create a universal domain, a World Wide
Web or cyberspace, and a global information infrastructure. The challenges
here are not only technological but also political, and these issues have both
international and domestic dimensions too. The challenges posed by a new
global information domain began to appear at the end of the Cold War and
had a significant influence on the formation of the post-Cold War interna-
tional system. After the collapse of the bipolar world order, many new cen-
tres of power gained significant international influence. Cyberspace became
a catalyst for globalization and the formation of a polycentric international
system. A trend towards a polycentric world order also implied the emer-
gence of new centres of power, and the rising influence of non-state actors,
such as terrorist groups. Their cyber capabilities and international influence
are sometimes comparable to those of the nation states. The information
revolution and cyberspace are therefore both significant game changers for
international relations and security.
This new environment is unprecedented, and thus it may prove very dif-
ficult if not impossible to employ past experiences as a means to address the
emerging challenges that it is producing. The countries of the Euro-Atlantic
may have benefited considerably from the latest information revolution, but
at the same time they are more vulnerable than ever before.

Cyberspace and the Euro-Atlantic Region

According to statistical data, the overwhelming majority of the population
of countries in the Euro-Atlantic region use the Internet. For example, in
Europe and North America the number of internet users is over 80% of
the total population, by contrast in Africa and in Asia it is less than 50%.8
Yet the total share of Internet users in Europe and North America is just
a quarter of all users in the World. It is an interesting trend that while
in some regions the growth of Internet users may have reached almost
5000% (during the period of 2000–2018),9 the penetration of Internet use
among the population of Europe and North America reached maximum of

85–90% long before that. In Europe and North America an Internet user
almost equals a citizen, while in other regions there are noticeable gaps in
Internet use among the national population. People in the Euro-Atlantic
region arguably therefore enjoy far more opportunities of the cyber age
than others.
Obviously, the countries of the Euro-Atlantic region are the source of
most of the information technologies and products that we use on a day-to-
day basis. Even though cyberspace is a global phenomenon, there are still
some spots in the world where access to the Internet is either impossible or
very difficult and expensive. The population of the countries in the Euro-
Atlantic region were the first to experience the spread of personal computers
(PCs), nearly 70% of households had PCs by early 2006.10 After that, they
were the first to have access to mobile technologies, and today on average
every citizen has almost 2 mobile cellular subscriptions.11
It is evident that Western countries enjoy the advantages of this infor-
mation era more than anyone else. But emerging cyber and information-
related capabilities create significant asymmetries in offence and defence. In
other words, powerful countries may be vulnerable to much less powerful
actors, and at the same time not be able to retaliate with a counter value
strike. Indeed, the almost universal employment of information technolo-
gies across society has led to alarming levels of dependency upon informa-
tion resources, and given that information technologies constitute critical
infrastructure, dependence on information technologies also make coun-
tries of the Euro-Atlantic region vulnerable to cyberthreats.
American and European countries have similar domestic information
and cyber policies. Broadly speaking they can be generalized as Net Neu-
trality. The concept itself has its roots in an early 2000 work by American
lawyer Tim Wu, who argued that “a communications network like the
Internet can be seen as a platform for a competition among application
developers. It is important that the platform remains neutral to ensure the
competition remains meritocratic.”12 President Barack Obama’s admin-
istration conducted a more moderate approach, and in 2015 adopted the
“Net Neutrality Rule,”13 an attempt to guarantee equal opportunity for all
actors in cyberspace as well as freedom of information from any political or
economic influence. It is important to note that the representatives of the
Democratic Party enjoy enormous support form technology companies,
especially during elections, including the ones in 2016.
Shortly after taking office, President Trump reversed the policy of
Net Neutrality,14 triggering multiple protests from high-tech companies.

Obviously, President Trump has different views on information security

compared to those of Barack Obama. Repealing the Net Neutrality rule
would provide media outlets and tech companies with a significant advan-
tage in disseminating information and forming public opinion. In May
2018, the Senate voted 52–47 in favour of a resolution to bring Net Neu-
trality back.15 The likelihood that the resolution will be supported by the
House of Representatives and the President is small, however a free Inter-
net will remain a contentious political issue beyond the midterm elections
of 2018.
Net Neutrality focuses on infrastructure. No matter what kind of infor-
mation is communicated, the infrastructure should guarantee equal access
for every user to every piece of transmitted information. The opposite
of Net Neutrality would be a situation where powerful Internet service
providers (ISPs) are permitted to manipulate information either for polit-
ical reasons or to seek commercial profit. Net Neutrality is designed to
provide every Internet user with equal opportunity to produce and con-
sume information. Most European national information or cybersecurity
strategies have also adopted Net Neutrality as a general principle of govern-
ment regulation. The general prioritization of infrastructure over contents
is a specific feature of American and European information policies.
But while the global Internet infrastructure is omnipresent, certain ques-
tions arise: What should be the balance in information policies between
global and national norms? And to what extent should information
resources be considered as an element of government sovereignty and
treated respectively, or it is a global good, where national governments have
little or no ability to regulate? More broadly, the need to address various
contemporary challenges has made cybersecurity issues a national prior-
ity. Almost all countries have enhanced government control over informa-
tion infrastructure. Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government,
Harvard University Jonah Force Hill explains this trend towards “Internet

Over the past decade, an increasing number of journalists and academics have
noted-often in alarmist terms-the ways in which national government poli-
cies, commercial interests, and other dynamic changes in the Internet are
pulling the global network apart into various distinct, idiosyncratic “inter-
nets,” threatening the innovation, economic prosperity, and global commu-
nication the Internet has provided over the past two decades.16

While information policies of the countries of the Euro-Atlantic region

largely represent the will of the people, other countries with less strong
political traditions use this instrument as the will of the government. And
while many “Western” countries in the Euro-Atlantic promote a globalistic
approach to information policies and encourage global information shar-
ing, other countries favour fragmentation. Fragmentation would let the
government control a separate piece of cyberspace.
But restrictive information policies are largely ineffective. If national
information policies are not democratic, or in other words do not guarantee
equal opportunities for individual production and consumption of informa-
tion, access to digital technologies won’t allow the people to employ the
benefits of the information era and knowledge economy. Unfortunately,
many governments conduct ineffective information policies, which slows
economic development of the country. The most dramatic example would
be North Korea, where the Internet is permitted for just a limited number
of government employees.17 In those countries, the government doesn’t
encourage information sharing, but the opposite, they tend to establish
control over information resources. Such domestic information policies
clash with each other and can often lead to conflict.
Discussions around the problems of Internet governance reveal different
approaches to defining national sovereignty. Many governments seem to
perceive information resources as a part of national sovereignty, and thus
do not trust private commercial ICT companies. This in turn, increases
their significance in international relations. They, along with other non-
state actors operate in a transnational environment and empower individ-
uals to act globally. For example, Russia’s authorities, with strong author-
itarian political traditions, consider individual empowerment as a threat,
and they often react defensively. While retaliation with traditional forms of
national power is inappropriate, the Russian government reacts with similar
instruments in their possession-such as the state-owned media. Besides, the
Russian government has adopted measures aimed at restricting its citizens’
access to the Internet. This is what escalation with information tools looks
like: Russia reacts with defence to something which was not intended to be
an offence. Conversely, and despite President Trump’s decision to repeal
the Net Neutrality rule, evidence suggests that Western countries in the
Euro-Atlantic are not moving towards a fragmented Internet, but rather
favour a model based on globalization.
At the end of 2018 Russia and the United States clashed at the UN,
proposing two separate resolutions for cyber/information security. The

particular approaches to Internet governance proposed by the two coun-

tries have been in the making for 20 years—at least since 1998. Russia’s
resolution included norms of responsible behaviour in cyberspace.18 While
the United States proposed a competing resolution,19 requiring the con-
tinuation of the Group of Governmental Experts on Information Security
(GGE) format. While the American resolution doesn’t provide any spe-
cific alternatives, the support for the American resolution by states in the
Euro-Atlantic region clearly demonstrates the popularity of the Western

Cyber as a Threat to Infrastructure

The traditional paradigm of strategic stability has been consigned to the
past by the new technological realities in world affairs, and in particular
by new aspects of military and political power. The concept of strategic
stability was conceived during the Cold War and was first used in the joint
Soviet–US statement on the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms, which
defined it as the correlation of strategic forces that discourages a first
strike.20 In practice, strategic stability in the Cold War was limited to a
specific model of US–Soviet relations called “mutual assured destruction.”
This model was typical of the bipolar international system that evolved
around the confrontation between two poles—the US and the USSR. The
strategic goal for both parties in the Cold War was to destroy the adversary.
Since both possessed the ultimate destructive force—nuclear arms—they
could achieve this goal almost immediately. But since both countries also
possessed the capability to inflict unacceptable damage in a nuclear war, this
mutual Soviet-American nuclear deterrence became the basis for strategic
stability for a generation.
Today, the Cold War definition of strategic stability has become seem-
ingly irrelevant—for at least two main reasons. First, with the emergence
of polycentric world order, Russian–American bilateral relations are no
longer the central axis of international politics. Other centres of power
have emerged, and nation states are increasingly competing with non-state
actors. Second, with today’s levels of research and development, tactical and
strategic goals may be accomplished by means other than nuclear arms.
Many Russian and US international security experts agree that modern
technologies are capable of violating the strategic balance and perhaps pro-
viding strategic advantages. As leading Russian and American experts on
nuclear weapons and strategic stability pointed out in a joint report:

In the early twenty-first century, the military strategic balance is not limited
to strategic nuclear forces alone–it now has some new components. Today,
you do not have nuclear weapons to destroy a wide range of military or
economic targets or disrupt the political and military command. There are
now non-nuclear strategic means that pack a disruptive force ever closer to
that of nuclear weapons.21

Cyber technologies may be used as a tool to attack critical infrastructure

and other information systems. Indeed, many US experts advocate the
idea that American armed forces should seek to achieve “full spectrum
dominance” to be able not only to provide national security, but also to
prevent conflict.22 The strategic importance of cybersecurity was reflected
in president Obama’s decision to create a Cyber Command as a part of
US Strategic Command in 2009. And later, President Trump’s decision to
elevate the status of Cyber Command to a Unified Combatant Command
focused on cyberspace operations.23
The parties involved in the conflicts of the information age include states
as well as non-state actors, and in contemporary conflict, traditional forms
of power will be used alongside new forms of power based on information
resources. The use of information resources as a form of international power
has certain specifics: most notably governments don’t have the same power
to control or police to the same extent as hard power. This is the reason
why the goals and priorities of conflicting parties are changing the pathways
of escalation, and, in general, the very nature of conflict. Moreover, the
definition of traditional notions such as “war,” “peace” and “sovereignty”
are also changing and becoming blurred. For example, a conflict involving
the use of information resources, but not escalating to military action, is
“information war.” The meaning of the term “war” is very specific and has
been described very clearly in a number of international legal documents,
while the term “information war” is very obscure, raises a lot of questions
and seems inappropriate.
The spectrum of instruments used by nations for international power
is wide. Military strategist Carl von Clausewitz defined war as “an act of
violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.”24 In other words,
war is a means of achieving political aims through violence. Taking into
consideration the new political opportunities presented by the emergence
of new actors pursuing new interests, and who have different goals and
tasks in a globalized international system, the role of military force for
nation states is also changing. Reflecting on the nature of power in the

twenty-first century, Joseph Nye stated that “The United States will need
a smart power strategy and narrative that stress alliances, institutions, and
networks that are responsive to the new context of a global information
age.”25 It is also perhaps in this context that we must consider the chal-
lenges posed by “hybrid warfare.”26
These controversies are just another example that new instruments of
international power don’t necessarily correspond with traditional views of
military conflict. All modern military conflicts seem to reinforce this point.
Military technical superiority and the flawless accomplishment of mili-
tary tasks can’t provide political victory in most contemporary conflicts.
For example, even though the United States possesses ultimate military
superiority, this cannot secure political victory in all conflicts where they
are engaged. The best example would be the decade-long campaigns in
Afghanistan and Iraq, where military superiority failed to provide political
victory. The pathways of managing the conflict are also ambiguous; it is now
increasingly unclear what a victory actually is or looks like. Conversely, the
pathway of defeat is very clear, given the growing human casualties, inflicted
damage to the national economy, and destroyed infrastructure.
The dependence of the countries of the Euro-Atlantic region on infor-
mation technologies increases their vulnerability to cyberthreats. A trend
towards the commercialization of military and defence functions also raises
serious concerns. Along with that, many of the commercial off the shelf
(COTS) technologies employed by the military, are also available to civil-
ian users. This poses a serious threat that the information space will become
militarized—if it has not been already. Digital arms racing is not regulated
by modern international law. Unlike during the Cold War and particularly
after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the great powers have not yet agreed on
the rules of engagement, or terms of this new strategic challenge. Neither
the international academic community, nor the governmental representa-
tives agree on the definition of cyberweapons, cyberwarfare or other crucial
terms. There are no constraints in developing and employing these tech-
nologies in modern conflicts.

Cyber as a Cognitive Threat

Another range of threats in the cyber domain relates to public opinion.
While the globalization of cyberspace and the Net Neutrality rule implies
that information flows can easily cross national borders, authoritarian gov-
ernments may consider such information expansion as interference into

domestic affairs. Vice versa, the countries of the Euro-Atlantic community

generally don’t object to alternative information sources spreading inside
their societies and expect the same from all other actors. Moreover, the
profit of many IT companies is based on the global demand for their ser-
vices. Hence, they consider the interruption of communication as a major
challenge. This is where the different approach to interference into domes-
tic affairs can be traced back to.
Along with a focus on the contents of information, strong government
control over individual consumption and production of information, sym-
metrical retaliation is impossible. Information communication about the
political environment is of special concern, because it may change the pref-
erences of the public and turn it against the government. To a certain
extent, such activities may threaten national sovereignty in the sense that
voters may choose the candidate based on false advertisement, where the
elected official would not have the real support of the voters. Of most
concern to national governments are activities related to civil disobedi-
ence, which seem likely to be exacerbated by information technologies,
the Internet and modern ways of communication.
It is interesting to note that during the events of 1917 in Russia, Vladimir
Lenin recommended his fellow revolutionaries to “take control over tele-
phone, telegraph and post offices before anything else while seizing a city
regardless any, even most severe casualties.”27 Such actions would cut
all communications with the rest of the country. Thus, the rebels would
deprive the government of information superiority and have a chance to
succeed. In modern times, these are the revolutionaries who have informa-
tion superiority over government forces through information technologies.
This is why authoritarian governments tend to cut information communi-
cations when the political situation becomes unstable.
The ubiquitous nature and spread of information communications give
more advantages to rebels rather than governments. For example, Waehl
Ghonim, a member of the Egyptian opposition during the Arab Spring,
described the new form of rebellious activities as “Revolution 2.0.” To a
certain extent, his book “Revolution 2.0”28 is a guide for opposition forces
in authoritarian states. It is notable that Ghonim warned that the most
effective way to prevent revolutionary forces from planning their attacks
against the government was to switch off all communications, or in other
words—to cut the whole country off from the Internet.
The examples provided above are a good demonstration of what political
goals might be achieved with the use of information technologies. In this

context, it seems that Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook could be the ultimate

tool for building communities. In June 2017 Facebook hosted the first
Community summit, where Mr. Zuckerberg declared the new mission for
the social network was to: “give people the power to build community and
bring the world closer together. That reflects that we can’t do this ourselves,
but only by empowering people to build communities and bring people
together.”29 Social networks, especially those as popular as Facebook, are
the cutting-edge technologies for empowering individuals.
Arguably the most important cases of cyber conflict today are the accusa-
tions of Russian interference in the American elections in 2016. This began
at the end of 2016 when then president Obama issued an order to conduct
a large-scale investigation of Russia’s interference into US presidential elec-
tions. Similar investigations were initiated in Congress. On 27 April 2018,
the House Intelligence Committee published part of the report devoted to
Russian interference,30 stating that Russia’s meddling was not a result of
collusion with Donald Trump and his campaign team. The report contained
hardly any new information, compared to what was published before. How-
ever, Democratic members of the Committee insisted on tougher scrutiny
of Trump and his companions’ relations with Russia.31 Nonetheless, the
Senate committee confirmed findings of the House Intelligence Commit-
tee.32 To some extent, the election interference and collusion with Donald
Trump seem to have become separate issues. The alleged election inter-
ference is a foreign policy issue, the collusion is clearly a domestic affair.
Robert Mueller’s investigation is ongoing and may uncover new evidence
of meddling. So far, it is interesting that Russian meddling refers to individ-
ual cyberthreats—unauthorized access, privacy violations. Despite unprece-
dented public attention, there are very few estimates what kind of influence
the reported episodes actually had on American voters or an analysis of the
contents of the information disseminated by the alleged Russian meddlers.
There is a very different understanding of American interference into
Russian political affairs, including the presidential elections in 2018. The
official Russian position states that during the Cold War the United States
repeatedly used military aggression to interfere in domestic politics, but
after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and especially in the Twenty-
First Century, they used “hard political diplomatic artillery.”33 Most of
the declared threats are related to information communication by foreign
actors but have nothing to do with individual production and consumption
of information by Russians. The Russian government’s reaction to these

activities has involved putting up a “digital iron curtain,” to secure Russian

citizens from foreign influence.
Obviously, Russia and the United States understand interference in
domestic political affairs in a very different way. Actions that the United
States consider legitimate are illegal in Russia. As a result, Russia reacts
defensively to something which was not intended to be an offence. Given
the uncompromising positions and different approaches to domestic inter-
ference, it seems unlikely that the conflict can be managed in the near

If the hypothesis that industrial societies are being transformed into infor-
mation societies is correct, then the events of the early Twenty-First Cen-
tury might be just the beginning of a long journey. It is impossible to undo
the information revolution, but it is still possible to reduce the divide and
to shrink its disproportionate influence by reforming key political insti-
tutions. Most of the current institutions designed to manage security in
the Euro-Atlantic space were created to manage political relations in the
industrial age and have become largely irrelevant in the new era in which
we live. Individual empowerment through information resources suggests
that the only possible direction of these reforms is political guarantees of
equal opportunities in cyberspace for every individual.
Russia remains one of the most powerful industrial states, not only in
terms of production, but also in political terms, and that is one of Moscow’s
biggest problems, because industrial values are becoming less important
geopolitically. This is partly the reason why Russia turned out to be the most
serious “boogieman” for the United States and the West. This lack of trust
is also caused by the accusations that Russia has attacked one of the core
and most valuable features of Western democracies, electoral systems. First
in the United States, and then the Brexit, French and German elections,
and finally the Catalonian referendum on independence. But it is hardly
imaginable that the Russian government could have orchestrated the results
of all of those elections. Indeed, even if certain individuals from Russia have
participated in these acts of information aggression, it proves the inability
of the Russian government to control criminal activities on the web, and an
inability to deliver proper information policies, rather than anything more.
Western democracies, with their strong political traditions of the rule
of law, have a certain advantage in this new era, though their political

institutions are also subject new digital pressures. Individual empowerment

through information technology allows people from different countries
to unite into politically motivated groups and use international power to
achieve different goals by competing with nation states. This poses a seri-
ous challenge to the international system and transforms the international
environment. International institutions that were established before the
information revolution are also losing effectiveness. This all suggests that
the countries of the Euro-Atlantic region have the responsibility of leading
the world in the information age.
New technologies may transform the balance of power in the most
unexpected and unwanted ways. While traditional arms control regimes
are collapsing, most new technologies are not a part of any arms control
agreement, or any agreed rules of military competitiveness, and some form
of arms racing in the digital era therefore seems likely. The nature of the
conflict with the use of cyber or information aggression is changing and
becoming more prevalent. Thus, arguably the most urgent thing is to find
an international agreement on the most controversial aspects of this prob-
lem, namely the use of cyberweapons, the nature of sovereignty and the
limitation of aggression in the digital era. However, the current record sug-
gests that we should look to Track II and non-governmental sources as a
way out of this problem in the first instance.

1. A. Futter, Hacking the Bomb: Cyberthreats and Nuclear Weapons (George-
town University Press, 2018), p. 18.
2. J. Micklethwait and A. Wooldridge, The Fourth Revolution (Penguin Press,
2014), pp. 209–210.
3. Global Trends 2030, Alternative Worlds, p. iii, https://globaltrends2030.
4. Global Trends 2030, Alternative Worlds, p. iii, https://globaltrends2030.
5. “Nonstate Actors: Impact on International Relations and Implications
for the United States”. This report was prepared under the auspices of
the National Intelligence Officer for Economics and Global Issues (23
August 2007),
6. World Bank World Development Report 2016. Digital Dividends, pp. 2–3,

7. J. Nye, The Future of Power (Public Affairs: 2011), p. 161.

8. “Individuals Using the Internet (% of population)”, The World
9. “Internet Users in the World”, Internet World Stats (30 June 2018),
10. “Personal Computers (per 100 people)”, Econstats, http://www.econstats.
11. “Mobile Cellular Subscriptions (per 100 people)”, The World Bank,
12. T. Wu, “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination”, Journal of
Telecommunications and High Technology Law, 2 (2003), p. 146.
13. Net Neutrality. President Barack Obama’s Plan for a Free and Open Inter-
net, Last accessed
June 6, 2015.
14. S. Shapiro, “With Net Neutrality Repeal, Trump Notches First Real
Deregulatory Action”, The Hill (16 December 2017), http://thehill.
15. S.J.Res.52—A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval
under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by
the Federal Communications Commission relating to “Restoring Inter-
net Freedom” (16 May 2018),
16. Jonah Force Hill, “Internet Fragmentation. Highlighting the Major Tech-
nical, Governance and Diplomatic Challenges for US Policy Makers”, Har-
vard Belfer Centre (Spring 2012), p. 10,
17. Asia Internet History Projects. North Korea Profile, http://
18. UN General Assembly, “Developments in the Field of Information and
Telecommunications in the Context of International Security” (22 October
19. Ibid.
20. Soviet Union-United States Joint Statement on the Treaty on Strategic
Offensive Arms Washington (1 June 1990), http://www.presidency.ucsb.
21. J. Cartwright, S. M. Rogov, and. I. S. Ivanov (eds.), “Nuclear
Weapons and Strategic Stability: Search for Russian-American Consen-
sus in the 21st Century”, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)
(26 December 2012),

22. Joint Vision 2020. US Joint Chiefs of Staff (2000),

23. Statement by President Donald J. Trump on the Elevation of Cyber
Command, White House (18 August 2017), https://www.whitehouse.
24. Carl von Clausewitz, Chapter 1. “What Is War?”, On War. Book I —On
the Nature of War,
25. Nye, The Future of Power, p. 234.
26. Hall Gardner, “Hybrid Warfare: Iranian and Russian Versions of ‘Lit-
tle Green Men’ and Contemporary Conflict”, p. 2,
27. V. I. Lenin, Advice of a Stranger. Lenin V.I. Sovety postoronnego.
Peqataets po tekstu Polnogo sobrani soqineni V.I. Lenina,
izd. 5, T. 34 S. 382.
28. W. Ghonim, Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the
People in Power: A Memoir (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).
29. M. Zuckerberg, “Bringing the World Closer Together”. Welcome
remarks at Facebook’s first ever Facebook Community Summit, https://
30. Report on Russian active measures, House Permanent Select Committee
on Intelligence (22 March 2018),
31. US House of Representatives, Permanent Select Committee on Intelli-
gence, “Minority Reviews of Report on Russian Active Measures” (26
March 2018),
32. Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox, and Manu Raju, “Senate Committee Agrees
with Intelligence Community Assessment of Election Meddling, Breaking
with GOP House Investigation”, CNN (16 May 2018), https://edition.
33. “Annual Report of a Temporary Commission of the Federation Council
on Defending Government Sovereignty and Prevention of Interference in
Domestic Affairs Russian Federation” (February 2018), p. 51, http://

Achieving Russian-Western Security Through

People-to-People Relations

Natalia Viakhireva

Russia–West relations have suffered dramatically in recent years. The

Ukraine crisis of 2014 wasn’t the direct reason for this downturn, but
it was a significant turning point. Instead, Russian experts point to the fail-
ure to ensure Russia’s security in the Euro-Atlantic space after the Cold
War as one of the main reasons for the crisis. The result is that since 2014,
political, economic and people-to-people relations have been transformed,
and on the whole, worsened. The question of how to build a cooperative
Russia–West relationship therefore remains open.
Nevertheless, the Western dimension of Russian foreign policy remains
of high priority to those in the Kremlin. Its overarching objective in the
short, medium and longer term is stable relations with the West, and, at
minimum “managing the confrontation”. As RIAC’s report “Russia’s For-
eign Policy: Looking Towards 2018” summarises: stabilising relations,

N. Viakhireva (B)
Russian International Affairs Council, Moscow, Russia

© The Author(s) 2020 69

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

…involves restoring dialogue at various levels and in various formats, prevent-

ing tensions from spilling over, cutting back on the hostile rhetoric (on both
sides), staving off a frantic arms race and making the foreign and defence poli-
cies of both sides more predictable. At the same time, it would be wise to step
up the search of common ground between Russia and the West, including in
the assessment of common threats and challenges.1

However, it is important to consider the differences in the approaches taken

towards Russia by the US and the EU, as well as the contradictions that exist
within the approaches of the Western allies. For example, the EU approach
to Russia is less harsh, at least, in the area of sanctions, than that of the US.
For Russia, it looks more effective not to “globalise” and “collectivise” the
West, but to work out separate approaches and strategies towards the US
and the EU.2 The space for manoeuvre in both cases is very limited, but
at the current stage there are more opportunities for Russia–EU relations
than for Russia–US relations. This is because while Russia–US relations
have descended to the level of low politics, “selective cooperation” is still
possible with the EU, and it might even be possible to “beef up” this
concept and widen the agenda further.
One of the areas of cooperation available as of 2018, and one which
could really make a difference for the future relationship is the people-
to-people dimension. The role of this area in restoring the general state
of Russia–EU and Russia–US relations should not be overestimated, and
there are concerns that the people-to-people dimension has been adversely
impacted by the overall negative downturn in other spheres of the relation-
ship. However, it remains an important sphere that could serve as a much-
needed bridge between the countries. Indeed, the recent release of several
key foreign policy documents including the Foreign Policy Concept of the
Russian Federation, the EU Global Strategy and the US National Security
Strategy,3 all support greater engagement of civil society and people-to-
people contacts and call for developments in this dimension.

Visa Hindrances
In 2017, Moscow and Washington faced tit-for-tat diplomatic scandals,
and as a result, both sides had to reduce diplomatic staff, were forced to
withdraw from Embassy properties, and suffer considerable interruptions
to the visa service. Russia was required to vacate its San Francisco con-
sulate. The US had to reduce the number of personnel in its Consulates

and Embassy in Russia from 1200 employees to 450. These actions led to
considerable complications and created a major obstacle for those travelling
within Russia and the US for half a year (July 2017–January 2018). It also
had a negative impact on the people-to-people dimension of Russia–US
relations, the only more-or-less workable sphere since 2014. In Russia, US
actions were perceived as attempts to create an uncomfortable situation
for Russians wishing to travel to the US, with the deliberate intention of
sowing seeds of dissatisfaction in Russian society.4 In early January 2018,
the Consular Section of the US Embassy in Russia started receiving visitors
in a new modern building. The US Ambassador to Russia Jon Hunts-
man underlined that the Embassy was working to simplify the system to
allow people-to-people contact and interaction.5 He believed that people-
to-people interactions and US–Russian business ties are the bedrock to
stability in the bilateral relationship.6
However, this was not the end of the diplomatic crisis. There was a new
spiral of diplomatic scandals in 2018 as a consequence of the Skripal case
in the UK,7 and accusations that Russia was responsible for poisoning the
former Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter. In response,
the UK announced a series of punitive measures against Russia, including
the expulsion of diplomats. Most of the EU countries, as well as the US,
Canada and Ukraine also expelled Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity
with the UK government. Moscow denied the accusations and announced
the expulsion of diplomats from its own territory in retaliation. One of the
direct results of the situation are even more stumbling blocks in Embassy
and Consular services and in the visa process, which clearly affects people-
to-people ties, tourism, cooperation and exchanges in science, culture and
education. Another consequence of the Skripal case was the request from
Russia to cease operation of the UK’s cultural exchange programme, the
British Council, asking it to leave the country. This is an unprecedented
step. The British Council had worked in Russia even in the darkest days of
the Cold war, since 1959.
As for the overall visa situation with the EU, there has been a decline
in the number of Russian citizens travelling to EU countries since 2015.
Nevertheless, Russians remain the largest group of applicants for Schengen
visas, with an estimated 3 million-plus applications per year.8 This negli-
gible decline is an indirect consequence of sanctions: the devalued Ruble
makes travelling abroad more expensive for Russian citizens. Though visa
liberalisation could lead to a deepening of people-to-people ties, including
student and academic exchanges, cultural and scientific cooperation, the

EU assess it as an inadmissible concession to Russia. The visa liberalisation

dialogue was suspended in 2014 and is unlikely to resume until any posi-
tive shifts in other areas of Russia–EU relations are forthcoming. However,
citizens of Russia and Western countries should not suffer and pay the price
for conflict between their governments, the sanctions regime, diplomatic
scandals or overall crisis in Russia–West relations.

Media Exaggeration
The role of the media in shaping public opinion and people-to-people
attitudes is substantial. However, it’s getting harder to find unbiased pub-
lications about the West in Russia, and about Russia in the West. Both
sides use the methods of demonization of the counterpart, exaggeration
of events, and as opinion becomes more important than facts, the phe-
nomenon of “fake news” has tended to grow. This approach does little to
boost understanding between Russia and the West. This information war
may have a negative long-term impact on people-to-people relations, as it
will almost certainly influence the general public, their perception of the
situation in the world, and could lead to the formulation of hostile attitudes
towards other nations and countries, all of which creates additional barriers
for normalising relations in the future and building trust in the long term.
The US often places pressure on Russian media outlets that directly
contradicts mutually beneficial cooperation. First, the television network
Russia Today was stripped of accreditation by the US Congress and was
forced to register as a foreign agent. After that, US officials declared that
RIA Global (generating content for the news service Sputnik) could only
continue its operations in the US after it was registered as a foreign agent.
Both Russia Today and Sputnik were accused of acting as a key part of Rus-
sian interference with the US elections, and serving as a voice for Kremlin.
Registering as a foreign agent doesn’t mean Russia Today will be forced to
stop broadcasting, but it will need to label all its material “on behalf of” the
Russian government. Moscow has repeatedly denied interference in the US
elections. Editor-in-chief of Russia Today, M. Simonyan commented that
the demand to register as a foreign agent was discriminatory, contradicted
the principles of democracy and freedom of speech, and barred them from
equal competition with foreign broadcasters working in the US that are
not registered as “foreign agents”.9 Such actions pose a direct challenge
to the freedom of the media, damages the already very fragile Russia–US
relations in long term, and do not serve either US or Russia’s strategic

interests. In response to what Moscow says is unacceptable US pressure on

the Russian media, Russian officials issued a law allowing authorities to list
foreign media outlets as “foreign agents”. Several Western media organisa-
tions, among them, Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty (RFE/RL), have lost their access to the Russian State Duma and
the Council of Federations. Russia has agreed to reconsider the law if the
US abolishes its decisions and accusation towards Russia Today, though
this doesn’t look likely to happen any time soon.
Russo-phobia in the US is rising and becoming an increasingly important
part of the US internal political debate and rhetoric, and Russo-phobia has
become widespread due to actions by the US mass media. Together with
the ongoing sanctions regime, diplomatic restrictions and visa scandals, it
causes significant damage to the overall character of Russia–US relations,
and instead of creating a positive background by promoting the develop-
ment of people-to-people ties and providing more unbiased facts about
each of the country, it makes the spiral of crisis tighter. The situation of
media coverage of Russia in the EU is not much better than in the US.
The EU mass media appears to be involved in information warfare as well.
One of the instruments created by the EU is the East StratCom Task Force.
This service was set up in 2015 “to address Russia’s ongoing disinforma-
tion campaigns”.10 The Task Force reports on and analyses disinformation
trends, explains and corrects disinformation narratives and raises awareness
of disinformation. As its website says, the team is not engaged in counter-
propaganda. But Russian experts see the situation differently. Most of them
are critical about the objectivity of the StratCom digests and analysis. First
of all, the choice of sources can sometimes appear strange; the service pays
attention to marginal Russian media outlets, where quite often quotes and
reports are taken out of context. The Russian MFA criticises the actions and
methods of East StratCom. As the Russian envoy to EU, Vladimir Chizhov
puts it, the EU tries to “erase the perception of Russia as an indispens-
able part of the European civilization from the public conscience” and to
“create a wall of alienation and mistrust between our peoples”.11 Russian
criticism has increased as the funding for StratCom from the EU was raised
in 2018.12
The mass media mirrors and exacerbates the situation at the political
level, operates through rhetoric, and is not open to alternative views and
dialogue. Information war and fake news therefore influence the public
perception on both sides and undermines humanitarian ties.

Public Attitudes
Following the Ukraine crisis and the imposition of sanctions against Russia,
the attitude of Russians towards the EU expressed in public opinion polls
has deteriorated markedly. In 2014, the proportion of those with a posi-
tive view of the EU dropped dramatically and negative views shot upward.
According to the Levada Center’s opinion poll, published in October 2014,
a majority of Russians (68%) expressed criticism and resentment against
Europe. Only 16% of Russians had a favourable view of the European
Union. This poll also demonstrated a high increase in negative attitudes
towards the EU compared with the pre-crisis period.13
The Levada Center conducted another opinion poll in 2017 on the
issue of Russia’s perception of the world. The results of this survey showed
that in 2017 Russians’ views of the EU had improved but shortly after-
wards had returned to the levels of 2016.14 In March 2017, 35% of Rus-
sians voiced a favourable opinion of the EU, while in December 2017 this
figure dropped to 28%. For comparison, in May 2016, 25% of participants
expressed the same sentiment.15 However, in 2017, a majority of Russians
still demonstrated an unfavourable attitude towards the EU, ending with
54% in December, albeit this is less of a majority than in May 2016.16
The results of the same survey on the attitude of Russians towards the US
demonstrated that in March 2017, 51% of Russian’s declared a negative
attitude to the US; by December 2017 this figure had risen to 60%.17
According to research conducted by Levada on whom Russians perceive
as an enemy, in 2017 the answers were: the US with 68%; the second place
was taken by Ukraine with 29%, and in third place the EU with 14%.18
Ukraine has never appeared in this list in 2000s, and hostile attitudes to
the US has grown. In 2003, just 31% of respondents perceived the US as an
enemy, and by 2012 this had risen to 56%.19 According to research by the
Levada Center conducted in summer 2018 after the election and inaugura-
tion of President Donald Trump, the expectations in Russia for improved
Russia–US relations went down from 49 to 29%.20 The most educated,
well informed and involved in social processes section of the population
expressed the most sceptical attitude towards Russia–US relations. This
suggests that Anti-Americanism in Russia is on the rise. This does little to
benefit Russia and the US, or neighbourly relations between their peoples.
A Gallup Poll conducted in February 2017 found that 28% of Ameri-
cans have a favourable view towards Russia, while 70% are unfavourable.

In comparison, in 2010, 47% of Americans expressed favourable opinion

towards Russia.21 According to a Marist Poll in 2017, 47% of Americans
see Russia as the main threat to the US, 40% agree that Russia is a threat
but not the main one, and only 10% don’t see it as a threat.22 This sug-
gests that American’s view Russian power with great concern, though far
more Americans view ISIS, cyberattacks and climate change with greater
In Poland, Russia ranks among the top three perceived threats to
national security. Outside of Poland, most European publics express sub-
stantial but not overwhelming concern about their neighbour to the east.
For example, the Greeks (24% major threat) and Hungarians (28%) are the
least worried about Russia’s power and influence. Europeans are particu-
larly harsh in their assessment of President Putin, with a median in Europe
of 78% expressing a lack of confidence in the Russian leader.24

Science Diplomacy Academic Exchange

At a 2018 meeting of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Science
the idea of reviving the dimension of science diplomacy was raised.25 This
initiative was created and successfully employed during the Cold War,
when political dialogue was frozen, but scientific exchange and coopera-
tion remained active. Science diplomacy is an element of soft power, which
becomes particularly important during times of crisis in bilateral relations.
It was a common assumption that science goes beyond ideology and con-
flict and was described as a moving force for building better relations. One
of the brightest examples of Track 2 dialogue and scientific diplomacy was
a Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs,26 when its founder
managed to unite scientists from the West and the East in the struggle to
reduce the risks posed by weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical
and biological, and to prevent war. Due to Pugwash’s initiatives, a series of
international nuclear treaties were signed. The Pugwash initiative still exists
today and aims to develop and support the use of scientific, evidence-based
policymaking, focusing on areas where nuclear and WMD risks are present.
By facilitating track 1.5 and track 2 dialogues, they foster discussions on
ways to increase the security of all sides and promote policy development
that is cooperative and forward-looking.
Today, the political situation is in many ways similar to that of the Cold
War, and the idea of science diplomacy is being revived and is regarded
as a link in fragile relations between Russia and the West. The Russian

Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov delivered a speech at the 8th

Annual Conference of the Russian American Science Association (RASA-
USA) in Chicago, outlining his views on the cooperation between Russian
and American scientists. According to Antonov, relations between the US
and Russian scientists may “serve to cement the base for the rapprochement
of the two countries”. RASA-USA is a good example of how science and
education remain out of politics.27 Although there are concerns that some
spheres of scientific interaction, such as space, may suffer from sanctions.28
For example, while the Russia–EU accord in STI (Science and Technol-
ogy Industries) cooperation is relatively stable, although Russia–EU ten-
sions and sanctions imposed by the US and EU have influenced the rate of
progress in this field of interaction.29
Some new practical difficulties have emerged in bilateral relations that
did not exist before the crisis. Russian scientists and researchers have com-
plained that it has become more difficult to publish articles in Western
journals. They have no access to foreign grants or scientific support. The
Institute of the Chemical Physics Problems of the Russian Academy of Sci-
ence, in particular, received a number of refusals. Some of the researchers
link this to existing sanctions and an overall crisis in Russia–EU relations.
The sanctions regime also creates uncertainties for international
investors who are unwilling to invest in scientific R&D projects. There
are examples of international companies stopping exports to Russia of sci-
entific equipment crucial for conducting some types of research.30 On the
other hand, there are some positive examples. In spite of the political situa-
tion, the “EU-Russia Year of Science 2014” was launched. The goal of the
project was to promote and encourage technological cooperation between
Russia and the EU. The Year of Science marked a new stage of cooperation
and coincided with the start of the new EU Framework Programme for
Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, and a new Russian Federal Tar-
geted Programme, “Research & Development in Priority Areas of Devel-
opment of the Russian Scientific & Technological Complex, 2014–2020”.
Both programmes share the goal of increasing economic competitiveness
by supporting forward-looking exploratory science and innovative market-
oriented research. The EU–Russia Agreement on Science and Technology
Cooperation was renewed in February 2014 for another five-year term
and serves as a solid basis for cooperation.31 Russia–EU STI cooperation
has been effective in so-called megaprojects. For example, Russia and the
EU actively collaborate on a number of research infrastructure initiatives,
including the EU X-ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL) and the Facility for

Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR), the International Thermonuclear

Experimental Reactor (ITER) and the European Organization for Nuclear
Research (CERN).
In 2014, some experts were sure that sanctions would have a negative
impact on collaboration between the EU and Russia in the field of edu-
cation. However, according to information from the Erasmus+ office in
Russia, sanctions have not affected educational programmes. Cooperation
between Russia and the EU goes on and the volume of credit mobility32
has actually grown. In 2015, credit mobility among students and teachers
from Russia to the EU stood at 1916 people per year, and from the EU to
Russia at 1238 people. In 2016, the numbers increased to 2187 and 1572
There are some negative trends in human studies too, though they
appeared well before the 2014 crisis. Washington radically cut government
funding of Russian and post-Soviet space studies, reducing the number
of relevant programmes.33 According to some US analysts, this does not
serve US interests because leaders risk being deprived of knowledgeable
Russia experts, misunderstanding Russian developments and in the worst-
case scenario plunging into deeper crises.34 American Studies in Russia is
experiencing a difficult time due to financial difficulties, young people’s
falling interest in the humanities, and reforms to the Russian Academy of
Sciences does little to inspire researchers in academic institutions. There
are examples of weakening educational exchanges, for example, Stanford
University has suspended its undergraduate programmes to Russia since
January 2018, following a level three travel advisory from the US Depart-
ment of State. Although it is a single case so far, and other US universities
have not adopted similar limitations, the trend is worrying, and may well
lead to a poorer mutual understanding by both Russians and Americans,
and it may impact decision making at the political level as well.35
It is in Russia’s interest to preserve and develop student, academic and
scientific exchanges with the EU and the US, as the exchanges are a major
part of the internationalisation programmes of Russian universities that
have been in the limelight in recent years. By accepting international stu-
dents, and through young people learning more about Russia and going
back to their home countries and establishing networks of young profes-
sionals, Russian universities could contribute to improving the image of
Russia abroad. This is one of the elements of soft power common to a lot
of countries. While Russia’s share of the world education market is quite
small, and it can hardly compete with high standing universities in the UK,

or the US, but it could still focus on subjects in which the Russian academy
is strong. Russia currently works on promoting Russian universities, for
example Rossotrudnitchestvo (Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of
Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International
Humanitarian Cooperation) has launched a website about studying in Rus-
sia, 36 providing all necessary information for foreign stu-
dents wishing to study in Russia. Meanwhile, students from Asian countries
have demonstrated a high level of interest in obtaining education in Russia
and there is now a trend in Russia of inviting scholars from Asia. How-
ever, such internationalisation programmes should remain multipronged,
helping to build tolerance and mutual understanding among the young
generation of leaders.

The Importance of Expert Dialogue

A very specific area of the people-to-people dimension, and of civil society
interaction, is expert dialogue and Track 2-level diplomacy. At a time of cri-
sis, this type of cooperation becomes extremely valuable. The goal of expert
dialogue is to come to consensus on the ways forward in different aspects of
Russia–West relations and work out recommendations to decision-makers
on how to improve relations.
One of the ways of interacting and contributing at this level is by cre-
ating international expert working groups, bringing together academics,
experts on particular issues, and former senior officials, to develop ways
forward. The joint working papers produced by these groups would assist
in forming a sound basis for further engagement. In times of crisis it is
often difficult to reach high level decision-makers, but it is still possible to
offer recommendations to officials at a working level, which may help them
to develop recommendations for senior decision-makers. As the situation
worldwide changes very rapidly, experts’ recommendations are rarely taken
into account at the operational level, but still could influence the situation
in the long term. This is why long-term research could be more desir-
able for decision-makers. Expert discussion, publications and presentations
help create and shape the background context and political environment in
which decisions are taken. Moreover, experts can help to explain the state
of affairs to the general public. That’s why it is so important to save the
objectivity of judgment, constructive dialogue among experts and avoid
descending to propaganda and mutual accusation, which tend to happen.

Historically, approaches to improving Russia–US relations were based on
the “top-down” principle. First, through bilateral summits, then through
contacts between high-level officials. In this model, the leaders of the two
countries are the main vehicle to providing impetus to the further develop-
ment of bilateral relations on other levels and in various spheres. As Andrey
Kortunov argues, this approach has not and won’t work under the current
presidency. This means that there is a need to change the approach more
towards attempting to build up relations on the “bottom-up” principle.37
This principle remains reasonable even after the belated presidential sum-
mit of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Helsinki on July 16, 2018,
which did little to change the overall climate of Russia–US relations. To
have visible results, more summits and consistent work is needed, and more
time is required. Moreover, one of the key aspects here is that Russia won’t
be able to restore relations with the US without changing its image in the
eyes of American society and vice versa. The direct interaction between
societies is crucial in this sense.
One of the best recent examples of interaction between Russian and
US societies has been in the area of culture and heritage. However, offi-
cials from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stress that since 2014
the US side has frozen the US–Russia cultural exchange, which was coor-
dinated by a bilateral working group on cultural, education, sport and
youth exchange. Russia has prepared an agenda for cooperation in the
humanitarian sphere, but the US hasn’t appeared to express an interest in
renewing cooperation or appeared willing to create new channels of dia-
logue in this area.38 Cultural and humanitarian interaction is now ongoing
only through direct cooperation with US civil society groups and regional
authorities on concrete projects. Russia–US cultural and humanitarian ties
and non-government contacts are of great importance in this context. One
example of this is an initiative on preserving Russian historical and cul-
tural heritage in the US. An interdepartmental working group on pre-
serving Russian historical and cultural heritage in the US was recently
created at the Foreign Ministry, which, in coordination with other rele-
vant ministries, also included representatives of almost all organisations and
institutions operating in this area.39 It has already sponsored two rounds
of the bilateral forum of socio-political and business circles; the Fort-
Ross Dialogue (Pskov, Izborsk, May 28–30, 2017 and Velikiy Novgorod,
May 21–22, 2018)—the Russian International Affairs Council was one of

co-organisers of this event.40 There were also the celebrations dedicated to

the anniversary of the transpolar flight by Valery Chkalov (from Moscow
to Fort Vancouver, Washington, on 24 June 1937). A number of promis-
ing initiatives in various segments of the cultural and humanitarian sphere
have been adopted by the group for further action. They include searching
for and digitising archival materials on Russia’s participation in developing
the North American continent, creating museum exhibitions dedicated to
Russian America, and preserving in the US various cultural objects from
personal collections of famous Russian and Soviet cultural figures, such as
Nicholas Roerich, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sergey Rachmaninov, as well
as prominent emigrants. These projects are being implemented in close
cooperation with US stakeholders and Russian compatriots, who show
great interest in common heritage. Taking the case of Russia–EU relations,
some of EU experts argue that “bottom-up” model for Russia–EU rela-
tions is more difficult to implement. This is because there is no unity among
EU members towards Russia, or within the societies of different European
countries, notably, the voices from the Baltic states, Poland, France and
The role of people-to-people contacts and the human dimension in
restoring Russia–West relations is limited, but it is crucial to avoid polari-
sation and in order to save increasingly fragile relations. This would appear
to be the most rational approach given the current international situation,
and it makes sense to focus on areas where cooperation is possible. To
enhance people-to-people interaction it is important to maintain a com-
fortable and mutually beneficial visa regime between states. It also makes
sense to improve exchange programmes for students, academics, scientists
and journalists to enhance mutual understanding and to help promote gen-
uine information about each other’s countries. It will be crucial to enhance
expert dialogue and exclude hostile rhetoric on this level. It is most likely
that only a policy consisting of small steps will improve the current state of

1. A. Kortunov, I. Timofeev, T. Makhmutov, E. Alekseenkova, and E.
Chimiris; A. Teslya, N. Evtikhevich (Viakhireva), T. Bogdasarova, A.
Kuznetsova, K. Kuzmina, R. Mayka, R. Mamedov, N. Markotkin, V. Moro-
zov, D. Puminov, M. Smekalova, I. Sorokina, and D. Kholopova, “Russia’s

Foreign Policy: Looking Towards 2018”, RIAC Report 36 (2017), http://
2. Ibid.
3. National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Decem-
ber 2017),
12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf; Koncepci vnexne politiki
Rossisko Federacii, nobr (2016),
and “A Global Strategy for the European Union” (June 2017), https://
4. “V Moskve otkryvaets novoe zdanie konsulskogo otdela
posolstva SXA”, TASS (16 nvar 2018),
5. “US Envoy Hopes New Consulate Building Will Make Visas More Acces-
sible for Russians”, TASS (16 January 2018),
6. “U.S. to Resume Visa Operations at Consulates in Russia, Months
After Diplomatic Cuts”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (4 Decem-
ber 2017),
7. On 4 March 2018, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and
double agent for the UK’s intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia
Skripal were poisoned in Salisbury, England, with a Novichok nerve agent.
The UK government accused Russia of attempted murder and announced
a series of punitive measures against Russia, including the expulsion of
8. Schengen Visa info,
9. “Simonyan Mocks Registration of Sputnik Content Producer as ‘Foreign
Agent’ in US”, Sputnik (19 February 2018),
10. “Questions and Answers About the East StratCom Task Force”, European
Union External Action (8 November 2017),
11. “E.U. Launches New ‘Single Resource’ Website to Counter ‘Russian Pro-
paganda’”, Russia Today (12 September 2017),
12. “E.U. Anti-propaganda Unit Gets e1m a Year to Counter Russian Fake
News”, The Guardian (24 November 2017), https://www.theguardian.

13. Rossine protiv vseh, Levada centr (3 October 2014), https://www.
14. Rossi i mir, Levada centr (10 April 2017),
15. Ibid.
16. Rossi i mir, Levada-Centr,
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Vragi Rossii, Levada-Centr (10 January 2018), https://www.levada.
20. Rossi i Zapad, Levada-Centr (2 August 2018), https://www.levada.
21. Reproduced in “Russia”, (2017), http://www.
22. Ibid.
23. “Publics Worldwide Unfavorable Toward Putin, Russia”, Pew Research
Center (16 August 2017),
24. Ibid.
25. “Nauqna diplomati ili tehnologiqeskoe protivoborstvo?”
Interfax (3 January 2018),
26. The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World was founded in 1957 by
Joseph Rotblat and Bertrand Russell in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada, fol-
lowing the release of the Russell–Einstein Manifesto in 1955. Rotblat and
the Pugwash Conference won jointly the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 “for
their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international
politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms”, Pugwash Confer-
ences on Science and World Affairs,
27. “Scientific Cooperation May Boost Russia-US Ties—Ambassador”,
Russia Today (4 November 2017),
28. “Russia’s Foreign Policy: Looking towards 2018”, RIAC Report 36
29. On Russia–EU STI cooperation in more detail see: N. Evtikhevich
(Viakhireva), “The Impact of Tensions Between the EU and Russia at the
People-to-People Level, Damage Assessment: EU-Russia Relations in Cri-
sis”, ELN and RIAC Special Report (June 2017), http://russiancouncil.
30. “Russian Scientists Squeezed by Sanctions, Kremlin Policies”,
(20 January 2015),
sanctions-kremlin-policies.html; “Russian Sanctions Hurt Chemical

Industry”, Chemistry World (13 November 2014), https://www.
31. EU-Russia Year of Science. 12 months of excellence and cooperation in sci-
ence, higher education and innovation,
32. Credit mobility can be defined as a limited period of study or traineeship
abroad (in the framework of ongoing studies at a home institution) for the
purpose of gaining credits. After the mobility phase, students return to their
home institution, where the credits are recognised, and they complete their
studies. Erasmus+ International credit mobility, https://www.erasmusplus.
33. “The Slow Death of Russian and Eurasian Studies”, The National Inter-
est (23 May 2014),
34. “Debunked: Why There Won’t Be Another Cold War”, The National Inter-
est (20 May 2015),
35. In more detail: N. Viakhireva (Evtikhevich), “New Aspects of the Ukraine
Crisis: Civil Society”, RIAC (16 July 2015),
36. Russia Study,
37. A. Kortunov, “Russian Approaches to the United States: Algorithm
Change Is Overdue”, RIAC (1 February 2018), http://russiancouncil.
38. Interv Direktora departamenta po gumanitarnomu
sotrudniqestvu i pravam qeloveka A.D.Viktorova
informacionnomu agentstvu « TASS » , 15 fevral 2018g.,
MID Rossii,
39. “Newly-Appointed Russian Ambassador to the United States Ana-
toly Antonov in an Interview with Kommersant Newspaper”, The
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (31 August
40. RIAC and CSIS Report Presented at “The Fort Ross Dialogue”, RIAC (31
August 2017),
presented-at-the-fort-ross-dialogue-/ and RIAC at “Fort Ross Dialogue”,
RIAC (23 May 2018),

The NATO Information Office Activities

in Russia in the context of Realpolitik

Maria Usacheva

This Chapter observes and analyses the tensions within the NATO–Russian
relationship by focussing on the activities of the NATO Information Office
(NIO) in Russia, especially how its political agenda has influenced the work-
ing processes in the office. Being a NIO project officer for almost two years
(2012–2013), just before the Ukrainian crises, I implemented a number
of successful projects within our small team and together with our Russian
partner organisations and colleagues. Due to the confidentiality obligation
within my working contract with NIO towards third parties, which contin-
ues beyond the termination of the employment relationship, I will not be
able to mention all the details of some of the processes that I faced during
my duties. However, there is considerable public information and media

To my lovely 4-month-old son Ruslan with a wish to live in a more peaceful world.

M. Usacheva (B)
Independent Political Analyst, Moscow, Russia

© The Author(s) 2020 85

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

sources available, which cover the most relevant topics and tendencies dis-
cussed in this Chapter.
The NIO at the Embassy of Belgium in Moscow is a part of the NATO
Public Diplomacy Division (PDD). It was created in 2001 as a common
decision by Russia and NATO in accordance with the Founding Act on
Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. Not many people in Russia
or across the Euro-Atlantic space know about the existence of the NIO
in Moscow. For many it might be quite a shock to find out that there
is a “NATO Office” in the middle of Moscow, just a couple of kilome-
tres away from the Kremlin. The same opinion might also be expressed by
Western European citizens. The reason for such a perception is evident:
NATO and Russia are not seen as partners, especially after the Ukrainian
crisis of 2014 (or even since the 2008 Georgian crisis). Bilateral public
diplomacy is, therefore, as necessary as ever before. The main goals of the
NIO include informing Russian society about NATO, NATO activities and
developments, organising events on different issues in NATO–Russian rela-
tions and security in the Euro-Atlantic Space, publishing and distributing
related articles and experts’ opinions, as well as coordinating visiting dele-
gations from Russia to NATO HQ and NATO authorities and experts to
Russia. The NIO also offers grants to Russian partner organisations where
they have common projects and events on Euro-Atlantic issues.
The NIO has had three heads up until 2017 (a new head is expected
by the end 2017 or even 2018, because of current political turbulences),
and has faced many ups and downs within its 16 years of existence. This is
especially the case with a number of political developments between Russia
and NATO that have had a direct impact on NIO activities. A few examples
include: the NIO head from 2004 to 2009, Isabelle Francois was forced
to leave her duty earlier than planned. According to the media and open
information sources, this was a retaliatory act by the Russian authorities
after some Russian diplomats based in Brussels were expelled for allegedly
being spies under diplomatic cover. Another example was connected to
the so-called Russian foreign agent law. Those Russian organisations that
received grants from foreign institutions were forced by law to be publicly
referred to as “foreign agents”. In any case where this was not followed
satisfactorily a huge financial penalty was expected. This fact has clearly
decreased the number of NIO supported projects in Russia since 2013.
The Chapter will include other related examples and analyse the progress
made by the NIO over its 16-year existence, as well as the difficulties it was
facing in trying to shape NATO–Russia relations in general.

Rolf Welberts: The Early Years. Legal Background,

the Political Atmosphere in Russia, and the First
NIO Activities (2001–2004)
Even before the legal opening of the NIO in 2001, there was a NATO
Information Representative in Moscow. Between 1995 and 1998 there was
a British NATO official called John Lough. Lough was assisted by a NATO
Military Representative, a German named Manfred Diehl. Physically, the
office was situated within the German Embassy in Moscow. Lough, who
at the time of writing is working as a political and economic consultant
as well as at Chatham House in London,1 was called a “person with a
strategic view and understanding what was going on in Russia” by Russian
think-tankers. He “could explain Russian vision and interests at the NATO
HQ and act in accordance with NATO interests at the same time”.2 The
Press and Information Department of the Embassy also started to support
project activities, including for example those in Volgograd in cooperation
with Igor Chernov, who was teaching at the University at that time (later on
he founded a new NGO dealing with Euro-Atlantic issues which continues
to operate). One of first seminars held with the support of NATO in Vol-
gograd in 1998 was marked by the participation of Chris Donnelly, Special
Adviser for Central and Eastern European Affairs to the Secretary General
of NATO. Alexey (Aleksis) Shakhtatinskiy, representing NATO in Moscow
at that time (1998–2001), attended the event, too. Public reactions, espe-
cially among academics, were rather neutral, even modest. However, the
Founding Act between NATO and Russia signed in Paris on 27 May 1997,
after long and hard negotiations between Yevgeny Primakov and NATO
officials,3 was very promising. Igor Chernov said in an exclusive expert
interview at that time that it had provoked rather optimistic expectations
across Russian society.4 The event was very well attended, especially by
students; and there were a lot of questions to the NATO representative.
Local journalists even made a TV programme about the event. However,
there were still many rather sceptical voices around cooperation between
NATO and Russia, and one very critical article appeared in the local news-
paper. Chernov and his team came to the conclusion that generally, events
with NATO representatives might be tolerated by Russian local and fed-
eral authorities, but that they might prove more successful without much
A similar opinion was expressed by another Russian security expert, who
said in an interview under the Chatham House rule, that at the very begin-

ning it was a productive time in the project life between NATO and Rus-
sia. There have also been a number of well attended events, seminars and
lecturers at the St. Petersburg State University since the NIO began its
activities. NATO has supported all of these projects financially and where
possible has sent high-ranking representatives. The media covered the top-
ics that were discussed in a neutral or sometimes even optimistic light. One
military journalist, Oleg Odnokolenko, who writes for Nezavisimoe voen-
noje obozrenie (NVO), Nezavisimaya gazeta outlet, remembers in one of
his articles the first meetings with NATO officials.6 He underlined espe-
cially an unofficial side of these conversations, particularly his meetings with
Lough, Shakhtatinskiy, and even Secretary-General George Robertson. It
was a time when NATO and Russia came together with much interest and
even curiosity, trying to look beyond the Cold War stereotypes, wherever
it was possible.
The official start of the NIO was in 2001. It was a time that spanned the
Founding Act of 1997, the Kosovo crisis of 1999, and the Rome Decla-
ration of 2002, when the Russia-NATO Council (RNC) was created. The
main background was, however, the tragic events of 11 September 2001
in the US, which was a clear uniting factor between Russia and the West,
as both recognised a new global challenge—international terrorism. One
year later, in May 2002 the NATO Military Liaison Mission (MLM) was
created in Moscow, which was and remains independent from the NIO.
However, it does have some cooperation points including in projects and
events, particularly in terms of the participation of MLM representatives
and public presentations in NIO projects. It was the circumstances that
drove a primarily Realpolitik approach, which made the NIO in Moscow
possible, and which shaped a set of very promising plans between the two
Rolf Welberts, a German career diplomat, was the first official NIO
Director from 2001 to 2004. Before taking this position, he had served at
the OSCE Mission in Kosovo in different guises between 1999 and 2001.7
There is not much public information about what he did within these four
years at the head of the NIO, except the allegations that it was not an easy
beginning of the whole process. In his opening speech on 20 February
2001, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gusarov stressed the significant
role played by the Embassy of Belgium that gave status, property, and
official documentation to the NIO, as well as diplomatic protection.8
NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson attended the opening event
in Moscow, which demonstrated its importance for the Alliance, and the

main goals and NIO activities would be realised in accordance with the
NATO-Russia Founding Act 1997. This was underlined by decision makers
and politicians from both sides, for instance in the desire to reach out to
the public and inform Russian society about NATO and NATO-Russian
activities. Unfortunately, the link to Lord Robertson’s opening speech had
been destroyed by the time of writing.9 This may be symbolic of the current
state of NATO–Russia relations.
As noted above, there are not many open sources about that period of
the NIO. Moreover, contemporary Internet-based research shows a num-
ber of blocked websites about Rolf Welberts and his activities in Moscow.
Allegedly, he was accused in connection with (also allegedly) Russian spy
Ekaterina Zatuliveter10 living in London and sharing some sensitive infor-
mation on NATO activities in private messages and meetings with her. The
whole story became public in 2010–2011, when a number of the so-called
“Russian spies” were deported from the UK and the US, including the
most famous, Anna Chapman. This is one of the reasons why Mr. Welberts
cannot be contacted for an expert interview by the author regarding the
early years of the NIO. Since 2011, Mr. Welberts has been the German
Ambassador to the Sudan, and allegedly avoids any “Russian contacts”.11
One more article should be mentioned in connection with the early
years of the NIO in Russia. It was written by an anonymous author for
the conservative-patriotic website of the journal “Razved-
chik” (“Intelligence Officer”) and was then copied by many other sim-
ilar sources.12 In this article, the writer heavily criticised NIO activities,
especially its projects with youth and academicians who were often invited
to NATO events abroad or the so-called Summer Schools or Winter
Academies in Russia with the participation of NATO officials. Accusations
of “brain washing” with a pleasant background (receptions, coffee breaks,
nice views from event locations) and b2b-conversations as the main goal
of such activities, were suggested by the author. He also stressed that this
could become a major threat to the Russian state one day, because the
“brain washed” youth might provoke a so-called “colour” revolution sim-
ilar to those that had taken place in other post-Soviet countries at that
time (e.g. Ukraine in 2004). The article was written with so much detail
that there is little doubt that the person (or persons) was himself or herself
somehow involved in NIO activities, and may have been from one of the
partner institutions. This clearly showed an evident discrepancy towards
NATO in Russia at that time (and later), that despite a positive agenda
based upon the Founding Act 1999, and many positive official statements,

mistrust and a “Cold War” mentality remained. The wars of the Former
Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the beginning of the “colour revolutions” in
the CIS space in the early 2000s did not make NIO activities any easier.

2004–2009: The NIO Under Isabelle Francois

and the Political Background in Russia
Probably the most successful years in NIO history were under the lead-
ership of Canadian diplomat Isabelle Francois, especially at the beginning
of her time in Moscow. Russian security experts who were interviewed
for this Chapter stressed the importance of her engagement and balanced
positions towards Russia, as well as her diplomatic skills. At the same time,
one Russian expert remembered that there were allegedly some problems
between the NIO and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning
Isabelle’s personality. In particular, she had organised and implemented the
so-called NATO rally in 2006 from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok: a number
of seminars and lectures on NATO–Russian relations which, according to
media reports, were mostly a success. She also aimed to open ten so-called
NATO Contact Points in Russia-centres based at universities or NGOs to
explain NATO and NATO-Russian activities to a broader audience. Before
Ms. Francois was deported, two such centres had been opened: one in
Volgograd and one in Moscow.
The deportation was essentially “tit-for-tat”, after Russian diplomats
from the Russian-NATO Representative Office in Brussels were accused of
espionage in 2009 and had to leave the country. Slowly but surely, Cold
War thinking returned to the NATO–Russian relationship. The turning
point was the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. But before that there were three
fruitful years of NIO activities in Russia under Robert Pszczel.

2010–2017: NIO Activities Under Robert Pszczel

About one year after the deportation of Isabelle Francois, the NIO was
managed from a distance: there was no NIO Director in the office. Many
ongoing projects were also stopped. The Russia-Georgia crises of 2008
heavily influenced the agenda between Russia and the West. Under these
circumstances, a new Director, a Polish career diplomat, arrived in Moscow
in 2010. Robert Pszczel was already known in some Russian circles. Being
fluent in the Russian language, and possessing a deep understanding Rus-
sian society and culture, Pszczel was a smart choice for this position.

Between the Georgian and (new) Ukrainian crisis, there was one more
fruitful period of cooperation between Russia and NATO where many new
projects were successfully undertaken. Common threats like international
terrorism and Afghanistan, where both sides tried to cooperate, and even
cybersecurity, became areas of mutual interest. In general, there were more
uniting than dividing factors, and this made the quality and quantity of
NIO activities far more productive. To give a few examples: regular brief-
ings of diplomatic representatives from NATO countries in the NIO rooms
were held (albeit these were not public events); Winter Schools, Summer
Schools, and Winter Academies in different countries in cooperation with
traditional Russian partner institutions, including the participation of Rus-
sian and CIS youths interested in Euro-Atlantic issues; a yearly all-Russian
essay contest on Euro-Atlantic security with a partner institution from Vol-
gograd, and final reception for all successful participants and winners in
Moscow; regular visits to NATO HQ by different target groups (younger
experts, journalists, military representatives, students), visits from NATO
HQ to Russia including their participation in NIO events, video confer-
ences with NATO HQ, and NIO Director presentations at Russian univer-
sities and think tanks. Most of these events were public, and there is a huge
number of articles on them. Of course, a significant amount of work was
done with the Russian media: a number of interviews by the NIO Direc-
tor and high-ranking NATO representatives appeared at this time. Robert
Pszczel was a regular guest on federal TV shows, such as the Vladimir
Solovyov political show, which can be viewed in the whole of Russia at
However, some new Realpolitik challenges increasingly began to cause
problems. First of all, a new Russian foreign agent law of 2012. According
to this law, organisations registered in Russia and receiving financial support
from abroad (for example grants) had to register themselves as “foreign
agents”, otherwise they could be punished and forced to pay penalty fines.
This issue was painful for most NIO partner organisations, because the
common projects had been funded through a common budget, including
contributions from NATO HQ. However, Russian partners did not want
to be called “foreign agents” for obvious reasons. How this new challenge
could be solved (and might be solved in the future) remains beyond the
scope of this Chapter. But the fact is that there have been fewer projects
together with the NIO and partner organisations since that time.
The most crucial turning point for NATO–Russian relations was the
Ukrainian crisis of 2013–2014, including the issue of Crimea. NATO crit-

icised Russia for its activities in this crisis and continues to do so. Russian
officials have a 100% opposite view on these circumstances: they believe that
the West is guilty of trying to weaken states on the border of the Russian
Federation first and then the Russian state itself. There is still no compro-
mise between those two options or some in-between solution which makes
the relationship worse from year to year.
Robert Pszczel’s contract finished after his two terms in Russia: but while
he remains an Acting Director of the NIO in Moscow, he does this from
NATO HQ in Brussels. The NIO has effectively become parentless again.

2017 or 2018—Another (Polish?) Diplomat

At the time of writing, the NIO is waiting for a new Director. However,
the ongoing political crisis between Russia and NATO has and will have a
significant impact on this process. Some projects with Russian partners are
being continued, like the traditional Winter School in the Leningrad region
or (not so regular any more) visits by target groups to NATO HQ. There
has been information from some diplomats and academics recently that a
new Director might be a Polish diplomat again. However, the accreditation
process is not yet finished, and the information could not be confirmed
for now. The latest update shows a new job offer from August 2017 for
this position: a monthly salary would be 7542 euros, the NIO Director
is responsible for NATO image improvement in Russia, he or she should
have a master’s degree or higher, speak Russian, and have at least 10 years
relevant experience as well as experience with Russian decision makers.13
Recently, the NATO official website has already deleted this information.14
The intrigue remains…

The Future of the NIO in Russia: Possible Scenarios

The future of the NIO in Russia is directly connected with the question of
NATO–Russian relations more broadly. Most Russian experts interviewed
for this Chapter see possible scenarios until 2020 in a rather pessimistic
light. Dr. Parkhalina, Deputy Director, Institute of Scientific Information
on Social Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences; President of the Asso-
ciation for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Moscow, said that future develop-
ments will depend mostly on the situation around Ukraine, the Afghanistan
issue, and the triangle of EU-Russia-USA. Both sides will probably increase
their arms spending, flex their muscles, demonstrate drills on a regular basis,

etc., in a similar vein to what we faced in the past, and are likely to face from
time to time in the future. Evgeny Buzhinsky, Lieutenant-General, Senior
Vice President at the Russian think tank on foreign and security issues,
PIR Center, in Moscow, disagrees with this, and suggests that Russia has
learnt from the past and would not begin a new arms race, as that money
needs to be spent somewhere else. Some up-to-date news appears to con-
firm this: the Russian MOD rejected a plan to develop the so-called nuclear
train known as “Barguzin” (NATO classification: SS-24 Scalpel), primar-
ily because of financial issues. Igor Chernov, Director of the Institute of
Intercultural Communications, Head of the Information Centre of Inter-
national Security, former Director of NATO Contact Point in Volgograd,
also sees the situation rather pessimistically: NATO–Russia relations are
close to zero. His colleague from St. Petersburg agreed, and added one
more important factor to these developments: the Presidential elections
in Russia in March 2018 (subsequently won by Vladimir Putin). He also
added that both sides need issues around which they can unite, as they did
in 2001. However, he did not outline precisely what this might be.
All interviewed experts (except the military expert Buzhinskiy, as he was
not much involved in NIO activities, rather in MLM periodically), stressed
the importance of NIO role in the development of NATO–Russia relations.
From their points of view, the nationality of NIO directors was not a key
factor in their work. However, the person in this important position clearly
cannot be a Russophobe. Rather, an understanding of internal and external
processes in Russia as well as knowledge of the Russian language are essen-
tial to success. Some NIO directors demonstrated these competences quite
well and will be remembered in Russian think tanks and among officials for
a long time.

The Chapter was devoted to the history, present and maybe future of the
NIO in Moscow in the context of Realpolitik. Its developments were anal-
ysed with a focus on particular NIO directors’ skills and achievements: three
official directors and two predecessors. The role of the NIO team was not
actively mentioned, this is because apart from the NIO Director none has
a representative role. Moreover, the supporting team is a local staff that
should be protected as people without diplomatic status. However, the
role of the whole team should not be underestimated.

NATO–Russian relations and future scenarios for the NIO seem to be

rather pessimistic if a new common threat does not appear in the near
future. International terrorism does not seem to have the unifying power
it once did (compare the current situation in Syria, where Russia and the
biggest NATO player, the US see the developments and actors in a very
different way). In this light, the words of the prominent Russian academi-
cian Sergey Rogov, Director of the US and Canada Institute at the Russian
Academy of Sciences, seem to be even more far away from the reality:

We will have 20 years soon since Nikolay Afanasyevskiy, who has unfortunately
died, a former Russian Ambassador in Brussels that time, has given an official
note from Moscow to Manfred Werner. According to that note, Russia was
ready to join NATO in the next future. NATO officials became nervous
and could not manage what to do under the new circumstances. Three days
later, Ambassador Afanasyevskiy came to Werner again and said that it was
a secretary’s mistake, the word “not” was missing: Russia was not ready to
join NATO.15

Rogov added that we have forgotten the hopes of those old good days.16
Currently, the Realpolitik situation seems to be even worse because of more
unpredictability and the multi-vectoral policies of the actors whom we knew
as more stable before.
There are no obvious solutions to ease tensions at the moment. How-
ever, if political and non-political players would respect each other more
and better understand both the interests and motives of all sides trying to
find some common solutions, the situation might become better. Unlike
many experts, I do not want a common threat which would unite different
sides again: I think that humanity suffers enough already to face some new
challenge again.

Acknowledgements I would like to express many thanks to my former boss,

Robert Pszczel, Director of NATO Information Office (NIO) in Moscow who has
returned to the NATO HQ Brussels, my NIO colleagues, Prof. Ivan Safranchuk
from the Russian Diplomatic Academy for the content support, IT specialist Nikita
Menshutin from Varna (Bulgaria) for software support, YGLN colleagues for this
initiative and pushing us to write this book according to the deadline as well as for
editing our texts, especially Andrew Futter, and of course my family: my parents
and my sister, who are far away from politics and security issues, however, always
support me in all my activities.

2. Opinion expressed by one senior Russian think tanker in a confidential
3. Yuri Gorlach, “Rossija—NATO: 15 let na puti k partnjorstvu” (Interna-
tional Conference Papers, ASPECT Press, Moscow, 2013), p. 12.
4. Interview with Igor Chernov, former Director of a NATO Contact Point
in Volgograd, NIO long-term partner.
5. Ibid.
6. Oleg Odnokolenko, “Severoatlanticheskij aljans bez galstuka”, Nezavisi-
moe voennoje obozrenie (22 January 2016),
7. Rolf Welberts bio on NATO website,
8. Evgeny Gusarov, Russian Deputy Minister, speech at the NIO open-
ing in Moscow in 2001, Russian MFA website,
9. Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General, speech at the opening of the
NIO in Moscow in 2001, NATO website,
11. Rolf Welberts on LinkedIn,
12. Anonymos, “Kak w Rossii gotovjat pjatuju kolonnu NATO”, Journal
“Razvedchik” (23 December 2008),
13. NATO iwet direktora dl svoego moskovskogo ofisa (4
August 2017),
14. NATO official website,
15. Sergey Rogov, “Rossija – NATO: 15 let na puti k partnjorstvu” (Interna-
tional Conference Papers, ASPECT Press, Moscow, 2013), p. 15.
16. Ibid.

Regional Perspectives and Flashpoints


Turkey–Russia Relations: Complex


Habibe Özdal

Introduction: Turkey–Russia Relations at a Glance

After five centuries of rivalry and hostility, Turkey–Russia relations appeared
to have begun a new and more positive phase in the early 2000s, charac-
terised by cooperation. However, this trend was rudely interrupted by the
warplane incident that took place on 24 November 2015; when a Turkish
fighter jet shot down a Russian aircraft near the Turkey–Syria border. After a
seven-month break in relations, a “normalisation” process has started with
the aim of overcoming the negative effects of the incident. The warplane
incident demonstrated that “compartmentalisation”, which was the struc-
tural characterisation of the relationship in the 2000s, was no longer sus-
tainable. From this standpoint, understanding the new basis of normalisa-
tion, the key recent dynamics that have shaped relations, and re-evaluating
the determinants of Turkey–Russia interaction more generally, seems nec-

H. Özdal (B)
Department of International Relations, İstanbul Okan University, Istanbul,

© The Author(s) 2020 99

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,
100 H. ÖZDAL

essary both for the sustainability of regional stability of Eurasia as well as

in understanding the direction of Turkish foreign policy.
The end of the Cold War could have opened a new page in the his-
tory of Turkey–Russia relations, but age-old legacies proved very difficult
to jettison. Russia’s economic and political transformation, along with the
turmoil in Turkish domestic politics and the reorientation of Turkish for-
eign policy to the West, inevitably rendered the 1990s as “lost years”.1
Moreover, regional rivalry between Russia and Turkey also put limits on
opportunities for cooperation. Specifically, Ankara and Moscow seemed to
have long-term irreconcilable differences over the Caucasus and the Black
Sea basin.2 In addition to this, regional power struggles combined with
separatist movements within both countries increased threat perceptions
after the Cold War. The separatism of the Chechen rebels and the PKK in
Russia and Turkey respectively, and the fact that both movements took for-
eign aid, fuelled already existing distrust. From this standpoint, and despite
the end of the Cold War, both sides continued with the old paradigm of
conflict and rivalry during the 1990s.3
However, at the end of 1990s, then Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ece-
vit announced that Turkey would extradite Chechen terrorists to Russia for
the first time. Similarly, Russia closed down the office of the PKK terrorist
organisation in Moscow and refused to host PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan
in the country when he sought refuge in 1999. During Prime Minister
Ecevit’s visit to Moscow in 1999, President Putin declared that regardless
of their origins, Russia never supported, and will not support in the future,
terrorism against Turkey. Turkey expressed its support for Russia’s efforts
to re-establish order in Chechnya.4

Turkey–Russia Relations in the 2000s: Trust

Building and Aspiration for Partnership
The zero-sum mentality that had characterised Turkey–Russia relations in
the 1990s was finally left behind in the 2000s as a result of both gov-
ernments’ initiatives and booming trade relations. The outcome was that
Moscow and Ankara began to redefine their relationship. In addition to
increasing the volume of bilateral trade, large-scale investment by Turk-
ish construction companies made further cooperation possible. During the
2000s, Russia became not only the key energy supplier to Turkey but also
a major trading partner.

While the 2000s provided several opportunities to deepen the

Turkey–Russia relationship, certain developments served to highlight the
structural limits to such a partnership. As for those developments that can
be evaluated as opportunities, the US operation in Iraq in 2003 and the
Georgian War in 2008 merit special attention. Bilateral relations were pos-
itively influenced when the Turkish Grand National Assembly did not per-
mit US troops access to Iraq through Turkish territory, known as the 1
March Motion, immediately before the US invasion in 2003. This caused
a serious crisis between Ankara and Washington, but on the other hand
demonstrated Turkey as a self-directed country who can say ‘no’ to its ally
in the eyes of Moscow.
The 2008 Georgia War is another such example.5 When the US sent war-
ships into the Black Sea to transport humanitarian aid to Georgia, Ankara
strictly implemented the Montreux Convention and denied access to two
large US hospital ships.6 This highlighted the importance of Turkey when
considering regional security and the dynamics of the Black Sea region
for Russia. However, there have also been challenges that tested bilateral
relations seriously since the beginning of the 2000s. Among them, the on-
going disagreements in Cyprus and Nagorno Karabakh are two examples
of long-lasting conflicting areas. Moreover, the Arab Spring, the crisis in
Ukraine (which was followed by the Russian annexation of Crimea), and
contradictory policies on the Syrian Civil War, can be added to a long list
of disagreements.
Despite many apparently irreconcilable differences, Turkey and Russia
successfully compartmentalised their relations by focusing on cooperation
(in the expectation of a positive spill-over effect) and by so doing they
aimed to prevent those crises or disagreement areas overshadowing mutu-
ally beneficial aspects of bilateral relations. Compartmentalisation worked
successfully until the warplane incident took place at the end of 2015.
Energy relations have been the main engine of the relationship and date
back to 1980s. The first energy agreement was signed between Turkey and
the Soviet Union in 1984 and cooperation in the energy sphere contin-
ued with the Blue Stream project. Economically, Russia and Turkey have
accelerated their cooperation in a variety of sectors, such as construction,
tourism, and energy.7 As a result, trade volume between the two countries
had reached almost $38 billion in 2008, with Russia overtaking Germany
as Turkey’s largest trading partner. However, the balance of trade between
the two countries clearly favours Russia (Fig. 7.1).
102 H. ÖZDAL

26.6 25.1
24.0 25.3
23.5 21.6
19.7 20.4

4.7 6.5 4.6 6.0 6.7 7.0 5.9

2.4 3.2 3.2 3.6

Exports to Russia Import from Russia

Fig. 7.1 2005–2015 Turkish–Russian Trade Volume, billion USD (Source Nevzat
Şimşek, Hayal Ayça Şimşek, and Zhengizkhan Zhanaltay, “Analysis of Bilateral
Trade Relations between Turkey and Russia Federation”, Bilig, No. 83 (Autumn
2017), p. 7)

As a result of compartmentalisation, Turkey and Russia achieved sev-

eral important milestones, including the establishment of the High-Level
Cooperation Council (HLCC) and a visa-free travel regime by 2011.
Consequently, Turkey–Russia relations have been evaluated as a case
study that shows that the “strategy of ‘compartmentalisation’ enables the
coexistence of political tensions with deepening economic ties”.8 Such
intensive cooperation even led to speculation that relations had reached the
level of “strategic partnership”.9 However, despite such intensive cooper-
ation, bilateral relations could not develop an institutionalised problem-
solving process. Therefore, the question began to be posed whether bilat-
eral relations had reached their natural boundaries.

The Syria Crisis and Turkey–Russia Relations

From the very beginning, Turkey interpreted the Arab Spring as the peo-
ple’s demand for democracy in authoritarian states. In the case of Syria, after
being unsuccessful in convincing the regime to make the necessary reforms

in order to satisfy the demands of the people, Turkey started to support

the opposition groups who were aiming at regime change. Ankara made its
foreign policy decisions on the assumption that the Ba’athist regime would
soon collapse.10
For Moscow, the Arab Spring was another attempt by the West to pro-
mote democracy in the Middle East and ultimately to bring about regime
change. In addition to being a strong ally of the regime since Soviet
times, and especially given the consequences of international intervention
in Libya, Moscow strongly supported President Assad in Syria. Moreover,
Russia’s involvement in the Syria war had fundamentally changed the situa-
tion in favour of the regime by September 2015. This exacerbated existing
tensions between Ankara and Moscow. The situation worsened consider-
ably on 24 November 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane
that was carrying out bombings in an area of Turkmen villages near the
Syria–Turkey border due to its violations of Turkish airspace.
President Putin called the incident a “stab in the back”11 and imme-
diately signed a decree imposing economic sanctions against Turkey, pri-
marily targeting Turkish food exports. The economic activities of Turkish
firms and nationals in Russia either halted or were dramatically curbed.
Sanctions on Turkish companies working in Russia affected not only the
Turkish economy but also Turkish citizens living in Russia. Even though
sanctions affected the Russian economy negatively as well, by causing price
increases and a rise in inflation, this was seen as a necessary evil. Moreover,
energy projects such as Turkish Stream and the Mersin Akkuyu nuclear
power plant were also suspended after the incident. In addition to these,
all agreements between the two countries on education and culture were
suspended.12 Moscow’s response effectively ended the compartmentalisa-
tion approach in bilateral relations when Foreign Minister Lavrov called
Turkey ‘dangerous’ and warned Russian citizens not to travel to Turkey.13
As a result, Russian travel agencies halted holiday travel packages to Turkey
and charter flights from Russia to Turkey were banned.14
After a seven-month break, a letter sent to President Putin by President
Erdogan on 27 June paved the way for the process of normalisation. In
the letter, published on the Kremlin website, President Erdogan expressed
his deep condolences to the family of the Russian pilot who had lost his
life. As for the shooting down of the Russian warplane, President Erdogan
said, “we regret this incident”. The letter also emphasised the importance
of the two country’s bilateral relations and called for relieving the damage
in order to have friendly relations again.15
104 H. ÖZDAL

Every initiative by Turkey for restoring ties to a pre-incident level was

met with three demands from Russia: apology, compensation, and trial of
the people responsible. All of these demands were mentioned in the letter.
By using the art of diplomatic language-President Erdogan said izvinite
(sorry about that) to the family of the pilot and it was made clear that
Turkey is “ready to undertake any initiative that could lessen the pain and
severity of the damage caused”; thirdly, it was also mentioned that “a judi-
cial investigation is underway against the Turkish citizen said to be involved
in the Russian pilot’s death”.16 By using diplomatic language efficiently,
the formula for re-starting relations was found. Both of the leaders had
room for manoeuvre and convinced public opinion that they were/and
still are decisive and consistent.
It seems that geostrategic and geo-economic reasons lie behind this
diplomatic letter. First of all, stymying dynamic economic relations imme-
diately after the incident had had a dramatic effect on both sides, but espe-
cially on Turkey. Turkey’s tourism, construction and agriculture sectors, as
well as ordinary citizens who work in those sectors, were seriously damaged
due to the sanctions Russia applied. These included import restrictions on
Turkish foods, a ban on tourist travel to Turkey, an embargo on hiring
Turkish citizens in Russia and a ban on Turkish organisations’ activities in
Russia. From this standpoint, moving on with bilateral relations and leaving
the crisis behind would bring relief to the economy and to society. Politi-
cal and military contacts were also expected to re-commence in the mid-
term with normalisation. Finally, considering regional conflicts in Turkey’s
immediate neighbourhood, the importance and need of re-starting this
dialogue was obvious.17 Moreover, Russia was one of the first countries to
condemn the failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016 and express its support
for the democratically elected Turkish government.18 This also accelerated
the normalisation process in Ankara.
As the second biggest customer of Gazprom, Turkey is not only an
important market for Russia, but also an important transit country for Rus-
sian energy. The warplane incident introduced uncertainty into the future
of vitally important energy projects.19 Over and above this necessity, coop-
eration with Turkey on Syria became prominent for Moscow in order to
gain not only military but also diplomatic success. At this point it is impor-
tant to note the statement made by the Chairman of Russia’s Federation
Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev; “in order
to re-start dialogue and have good relations with Russia, Turkey needs to
reformulate its foreign policy towards Syria and Iraq”.20

Erdogan and Putin met in St. Petersburg in August 2016 for the first
time after the seven-month break and expressed their consensus to return
bilateral relations to their pre-crisis level. Even though there has been gen-
eral expectation in both Turkey and Russia that it will not be possible to
normalise everything in several days, the atmosphere between the two lead-
ers changed faster than expected. President Putin ordered his government
to begin the process of lifting sanctions against Turkey. However, normali-
sation took place in a slower manner than was suggested, particularly in the
area of bilateral relations, while cooperation and dialogue on Syria inten-
sified swiftly. President Putin would sign a decree to remove restrictions
on hiring Turkish workers and on Turkish firms operating in Russia only
on 31 March 2017.21 It is an important insight into the current dynamics
of the relationship that the two countries negotiated simultaneously the
export of S-400 anti-aircraft missiles on the one hand and ending sanctions
on Turkey’s export of tomatoes to Russia on the other.

Turkey–Russia Relations After the Warplane

Incident: A New Normal?
Even though the diplomatic letter helped to intensify the dialogue between
President Putin and President Erdogan, ‘normalisation’ was and remains a
slow process. This slow progress was symbolised by the so-called “tomato
crisis” in which Russia’s embargo on the import of tomatoes from Turkey
started right after the warplane incident and continued until November
2017.22 Moreover, while charter flights re-started on September 2016, as
of early 2019 limitations on visas continue and the implementation of the
visa-free travel continues to be delayed. In sum, after a year of so-called re-
normalisation, bilateral relations remain far behind the pre-warplane crisis
level. That said, Putin and Erdogan did hold eight meetings in 2017, which
were heavily dominated by developments in Syria.
The war in Syria was a turning point in bilateral relations. It ended
the compartmentalisation approach and revealed fragilities in the process
of cooperation. However, rather than being the reason for deteriorating
relations, the Syria crisis and the shooting down of the Russian warplane
was mostly a result of long-lasting disagreements and conflicting interests.
Eventually, the on-going circumstances in Syria, which constituted the most
critical development that devastated all the gains of the last 15 years, also
became a leading motivating factor and forced both Ankara and Moscow
towards normalisation.
106 H. ÖZDAL

For Turkey, the warplane incident prevented Ankara from carrying out
operations in Syria. In line with the changing dynamics in the region after
the incident, Turkey’s priority shifted from toppling Bashar al-Assad to
limiting the increasing role of the Kurdish PYD and to preventing it from
being recognised as a legitimate conflict party by international actors, par-
ticularly the US and Russia. Deteriorating relations with the US did not
give much opportunity to Ankara in order to reach this goal. As a result
of normalisation with Russia, however, Ankara had an opportunity share
its concerns with Moscow. The first summit between Putin and Erdogan
in August 2015 was followed by the launch of operation Euphrates Shield
by the Turkish Armed forces, on 24 August 2016, which can be evalu-
ated as the most substantial symbol of the normalisation. The main aim of
the operation was to push back IS militants from a 60-mile stretch of the
border. The Turkish operation also aimed to prevent the YPG, a terrorist
organisation and an extension of the PKK, from gaining ground in northern
Syria.23 Even though Moscow raised its concerns about Euphrates Shield,
noting that it could in fact accentuate the civil war in Syria, while express-
ing concern that the operation was conducted without the participation
of the Syrian regime or UN approval. Still, Moscow understood the main
concerns of Ankara regarding the threat from Syria to Turkey.
As for Moscow, the on-going process in Syria also seems to be prioritised
for normalisation with Turkey. A key tenant of this normalisation process
was the intensification of diplomatic relations between Russia and Iran on
the one hand and between Russia and Turkey on the other in the period
leading up to August 2016. Turkey began to cooperate with both Russia
and Iran, with whom regional policies conflicted since the beginning of the
Arab Spring. The most substantial result of this cooperation has been the
so-called Moscow Declaration (a Joint Statement by the Foreign Ministers
of Iran, Russia and Turkey on 20 December 2016) in which those states
“reiterate their full respect for sovereignty, independence, unity and terri-
torial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as multi-ethnic, multi-religious,
non-sectarian, democratic and secular state”.24 Iran, Russia and Turkey also
became the guarantors of the prospective agreement between the Syrian
Government and the opposition. The process continued with the Astana
Talks in January 2017. Secondly, the normalisation initiative intercepted
exactly with the crisis of confidence between Turkey and its Western allies
due to the coup attempt on 15 July 2016 in Turkey. Therefore, it also can
be claimed that Moscow took the opportunity to weaken NATO’s southern
flank by getting closer to Turkey at a particularly propitious moment.

The Astana Process

Moscow’s Syria policy became a multilateral project through the inclusion
of Turkey and Iran as co-guarantors of the Astana process. Even though it
was designed to complement the UN-backed negotiations in Geneva, the
Astana process took a different track. It became a tripartite initiative led by
Russia, Iran and Turkey, and succeeded in fostering negotiations between
the armed opposition on the ground and regime forces.25
The Syrian regime, along with representatives of several rebel groups,
resumed negotiations over the settlement of the Syrian conflict in Astana
on 23–24 January 2017, after a break of over six months. One of the
main outcomes of the Astana process was the creation of de-conflicting
zones and to supervise and ensure ceasefires in the de-escalation zones.26
According to the Russian proposal, four de-escalation zones in Homs, Idlib,
East Ghouta, and southern Syria were to be created. The borders of these
areas would be encircled by safety zones, which would host centres for
monitoring the ceasefire.
Having organised seven high-level international meetings under the
framework of the Astana talks, by the end of October 2017 the parties
recognised the progress achieved in significantly reducing violence on the
ground in Syria. This was as a result of measures to strengthen and main-
tain the ceasefire regime, including launching the de-escalation and security
zones.27 Even though many obstacles still exist, there is no a real alterna-
tive for Moscow’s de-escalation and settlement plan in Syria, which makes
Moscow the leading actor in the Middle East. On the other hand, the
Astana talks once again displayed Turkey’s shifting position on Syria from
overthrowing the regime to preventing the PYD from attaining autonomy
in northern part of Syria.
Russia’s initiatives to achieve a political solution to the Syria conflict con-
tinued with the Sochi meeting(s) in November 2017, in which President
Erdoğan, President Putin and President Rouhani came together.28 How-
ever, before this meeting President Putin met with Syrian President Asad in
Sochi, which added validity to the trilateral talks. During the meeting with
Asad, Putin announced that the conflict was almost over, and the political
settlement would be prioritised.
In line with this, the main agenda of the Sochi meeting was to con-
vene a congress of the Syrian people with the participation of all ethnic
and religious groups, along with the government and the opposition (Syria
National Dialogue Congress). Turkey, however, considered the invitation
108 H. ÖZDAL

of the PYD to be “unacceptable”.29 This was the most important disagree-

ment between Ankara and Moscow about the on-going political settlement
of Syria since the beginning of normalisation. Russia emphasised that the
Congress, in which a new constitution will be drafted and political reforms
are to be elaborated, should be a fully inclusive dialogue in order to achieve
a sustainable peace.
One of the most important developments that took place after the so-
called normalisation between the two countries was an agreement signed
in September 2017 on Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defence sys-
tem from Moscow. Turkey first demanded joint production and technology
transfer, however the content of the agreement changed to a solely pur-
chasing deal. Even though there has been much speculation on Turkey’s
decision to purchase the Russian made missile defence system, Ankara offi-
cially stated that the agreement was signed, and the process was over,30 but
the S400 agreement represents another rupture in Turkey’s relations with
the US and NATO. As a NATO member Turkey’s decision to buy S400
anti-aircraft missile defence system was based on the argument that Ankara
had spent almost a decade unsuccessfully trying to purchase American made
Patriot missiles for its own security. Turkey’s purchase of a 2.5 billion dol-
lars worth S-400 anti-aircraft missile system poses great danger to NATO
and to the strength of the alliance since there is a belief that if Turkey oper-
ates both the F-35 and the S-400, crucial data might be gathered by the
Russians and that would enable Moscow to better understand the aircraft’s
characteristics. Therefore Washington has already suspended Turkey from
its F-35 fighter jet programme. Moreover, it was said that Turkey would
face new sanctions. This would not only hit Turkey’s economy but also
further deteriorate Turkey’s relations with the US.
This deal was not only seen as a symbol of defence-cooperation but also
as a development that demonstrated the deepening distrust between Turkey
and its Western allies.31 Even though it has been suggested that this deal
was the result of Turkey’s deteriorating relations with the West, and of the
US’s support to the PYD, it is important to bear in mind that Russia also has
the same approach (with the US) towards the PYD. So even though there
had been a clear shift from the warplane incident to normalisation, some
major disagreements between Ankara and Moscow still existed, notably
regarding the PYD.32 The most important difference between the stance
of Russia and the US seems to be that Turkey has been sharing its security
concerns with Moscow often and those concerns are mostly considered by

Russia while Turkey and the US have almost no ongoing negotiations on

developments in Syria. Therefore while the S-400 missile defence deal may
symbolise intensifying cooperation in different areas including defence, it
does not cover the deep discrepancies between Turkey and Russia.

Understanding the Change in Turkish Foreign

Turkish foreign policy in the post-Cold War era may be conceptualised in
terms of three distinct waves: an initial wave of foreign policy activism in the
immediate post-Cold war period; a second wave of foreign policy activism
during the AKP era (with strong emphasis on Europeanisation); and the
more recent tension between Europeanisation and Euro-Asianism.34 While
EU membership was central to AKP policy since its first years in govern-
ment, an important aspect of Turkish foreign policy during the second
AKP government (2007–2011) was Turkey’s increased involvement in the
Middle East. In line with that, Turkey attempted to facilitate Israeli–Syrian
negotiations in 2008, took the initiative to resolve the crisis on Iran’s
nuclear programme in 2009, and expanded commercial, political, and cul-
tural ties with the Middle Eastern countries.35
The ups and downs in Turkey’s relations with the West have always
raised the question of whether Turkey should alter its axis of foreign pol-
icy in favour of Russia. Some suggest Turkey is “shifting East” in order to
pursue trade and energy ties with Russia or with Middle Eastern countries,
while others contend that this is purely tactical cooperation due to tensions
between Ankara and its partners in Brussels and Washington.36 For some
scholars, such improved relations give an impression of an emerging ‘strate-
gic axis’.37 Furthermore, the mainstream media in Turkey did not hesitate
to describe bilateral Turkey–Russia relations as a “strategic partnership”,
while analysis in the Russian media were more cautious.
It is usually accepted that Turkey’s alienation from the US and the EU
has shaped relations with the Russian Federation. Turkey–Russia relations
were even described as an “axis of the excluded” 38 in 2006, and this view
remains popular. It is partially true that the worse Turkey’s relations with
the West and the EU become, the more readily Ankara cooperates with
Moscow. It is also partially true that in the new and multidimensional for-
eign policy approach of the Davutoğlu era, and as a result of the lack of
progress in the negotiations with the EU, Ankara has stated to move away
from the EU and the “West”. Russia, with ostensible global aspirations
110 H. ÖZDAL

and aiming to revive its status in the international space, has also affected
Turkey’s view of its neighbour. However, even though good and cooper-
ative relations with Russia are necessarily important for Turkey, evaluating
this state of relations as an ‘alternative’ to Turkey’s European project would
not lead discussion in the right direction. Ankara and Moscow are impor-
tant partners that can cooperate in multidimensional spheres. However,
as happened with the warplane incident, cooperative projects are affected
directly by geopolitical competition, and lack of institutionalisation clearly
shows the limits of partnership.

Turkey–Russia relations reached a pinnacle during the 2000s as a result
of compartmentalisation. The process was interrupted by the Syria crisis,
following which, Ankara and Moscow pursued divergent policies and could
not find common ground to agree upon. Growing disagreement created a
level of turmoil that has marred bilateral relations not only in the short but
also in the mid-term. Thanks to the positive reception of the diplomatic
letter, initiated by the Turkish side, normalisation of relations has begun.
Surprisingly rapid developments resulting from the letter diplomacy and
Putin’s decision to lift sanctions have once again shown that the two leaders
are the main actors shaping the nature of bilateral relations.
After the warplane incident and during the on-going process of normal-
isation, Ankara and Moscow appear mostly to have overcome their differ-
ences on the future of Syria. This meant a change in rhetoric as well as
implementation in Turkish foreign policy. Only then could Moscow and
Ankara develop a shared understanding as was demonstrated during the
Astana process. However, despite intensifying cooperation, particularly on
Syria, after normalisation, disagreements still exist between Ankara and
Moscow. Moscow’s policy towards Kurdish groups in Syria differs signif-
icantly from that of Turkey. While the PYD played a critical role in the
war against ISIS, close relations between the US and the Kurdish groups
remains one of the main factors shaping Russia’s approach. Balancing the
US in the region and instrumentalising Kurdish groups and their interests
are becoming prominent points of focus for the Kremlin. While Turkey’s
determined and non-negotiable stance narrows its room for manoeuvre,
Russia on the other hand is implementing a solution-oriented and flexible
foreign policy approach, which provides an opportunity to negotiate and
cooperate with all the actors if/when necessary.39

The letter diplomacy and Russia’s support to President Erdogan after

the coup attempt on 15 July 2016 has accelerated the process of confidence
building. However, there remain potentially irreconcilable differences and
interests that severely limit the extent of cooperation. Therefore, while one
should not underestimate the importance and necessity of Turkish cooper-
ation with Russia, relations with Moscow are far from being an alternative
to Turkey’s relations with the ‘West’ and NATO/EU.

1. Fatih Özbay, “Relations Between Turkey and Russia in the 2000s”, Percep-
tions, 3:XVI (Autumn 2011), p. 70.
2. Mitat Çelikpala, “Rekabet ve İşbirliği İkileminde Yönünü Arayan Türk-Rus
İlişkileri”, Bilig, Kış, Sayı: 72 (2015), p. 123.
3. Habibe Özdal, Hasan Selim Özertem, Kerim Has, and M. Turgut
Demirtepe, “Turkey–Russia Relations in the Post Cold War Era”, USAK
Report, No. 13–16 (2013), p. 20.
4. Şener Aktürk, “Turkish-Russian Relations After the Cold War
(1992–2002)”, Turkish Studies, 7:3 (2006), p. 357.
5. Igor Torbakov, “The Georgia Crisis and Russia-Turkey Relations”,
The Jamestown Foundation (2008),
media/GeorgiaCrisisTorbakov.pdf; Gareth Winrov, “Turkey, Russia and
the Caucasus: Common and Diverging Interests”, Chatham House Brief-
ing Paper (November 2009), p. 6,
6. According to the Convention, “Vessels of War Belonging to Non-Black Sea
Powers Shall Not Remain in the Black Sea More Than Twenty-One Days”,
The Montreux Convention,
7. For a detailed report on energy relations between Turkey and Rus-
sia see Remi Bourgeot, “Russia-Turkey: A Relationship, Shaped by
Energy”, IFRI (March 2013),
8. Ziya Öniş, and Şuhnaz Yılmaz, “Turkey and Russia in a Shifting Global
Order: Cooperation, Conflict, and Asymmetric Interdependence in a Tur-
bulent Region”, Third World Quarterly, 37:1 (2015), p. 2.
9. “Türkiye-Rusya: Stratejik Ortaklığa Doğru”, Sputnik, https://tr.
isbirligi/; Mitat Çelikpala, “Yeni Yüzyılda Stratejik Ortaklık: Türkiye ve
Rusya”, Anadolu Ajansı (4 October 2017),
112 H. ÖZDAL

10. “Davutoğlu Esad’a Ömür Biçti”, NTV (24 August 2012),,Nsez_
e7zmEO7uz5O9Pv6hw; “Erdoğan: Esad Gidici Olduğunu Gösterdi”,
NTV (7 June 2012),
11. “Turkey Downing of Russia Jet ‘Stab in the Back’-Putin”, BBC (24 Novem-
ber 2015),
12. “Executive Order on Measures to Ensure Russia’s National Security and
Protection of Russian Citizens Against Criminal and Other Illegal Acts and
on the Application of Special Economic Measures Against Turkey”, Krem- (28 November 2015),
news/50805; “Ankara Ready to Resume Talks on Turkish Stream Project”,
Russia Today (26 July 2016),
13. “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Interview with Russian and Foreign
Media”, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Website
(25 November 2015),
14. “Russia Bans Tourism, Charter Flights to Turkey”, Sputnik (30 Novem-
ber 2015),
15. “Vladimirom Putinym poluqeno poslanie Prezidenta Turcii
Redepa Taipa rdogana”, (27 June 2016), http://
16. “Vladimir Putin Received a Letter from President of Turkey Recep Tayyip
Erdogan”, (27 June 2016),
17. “Putin, Erdogan Vow New Era for Close Relations”, RFERL (9 August
russia-turkey/27910622.html; Areg Galstyan, “Turkey’s Apology to
Russia: More Than Meets the Eye”, National Interest (8 July 2016),
18. “Turkey Thanks Putin for Unconditional Support Over Coup Attempt”,
Hurriyet Daily News (25 July 2016), http://www.hurriyetdailynews.
19. Turkish Stream is a project that with one line aims supplying Russian gas
to Turkey and with second line will transit Russian gas to Europe. Turkish
Stream therefore is important for Moscow in order to bypass Ukraine in
gas transportation to Europe.

20. Maxim A. Suchkov, “Has Turkey Finally Made Nice with Russia?”, Al-
Monitor (30 June 2016),
21. “Ukaz ob otmene nekotoryh specialnyh konomiqeskih mer v
otnoxenii Turcii”, (31 March 2017),
22. Russian officials explained the limitations on tomato export from Turkey
by stressing the fact that the decision was made in order to support Russian
23. The Euphrates Operation ended in March 2017.
24. “Joint Statement by the Foreign Ministers of the Islamic Repub-
lic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey on
Agreed Steps to Revitalize the Political Process to End the Syr-
ian Conflict”, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation
(20 December 2016),
25. Maria Beat, “Astana Talks Overshadow U.N.-Backed Negotiations in
Geneva”, Daily Sabah (8 November 2017),
26. “Astana Joint Statement by Iran, Russia, Turkey: In full”, Aljazeera (24
January 2017),
27. “Joint Statement by Iran, Russia and Turkey on the International Meeting
on Syria in Astana 30–31 October 2017”, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
of the Russian Federation (31 October 2017),
28. “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Made a Working Visit to Russia”, Krem- (21 November 2017),
29. “Turkey Has Intervened in Russian Invitation to YPG: Presidential
Spokesperson”, Hurriyet Daily News (1 November 2017), http://www.
30. “Canikli’den S-400 Açıklaması”, Sputnik (11 October 2017), https://
31. Metin Gurcan, “Russia’s Winning the War for Turkish Public’s Trust”,
Al-Monitor (20 November 2017),
114 H. ÖZDAL

32. Murat Yetkin, “Rusya da PYD dedi”, Hurriyet (9 August 2017),
33. Ziya Öniş, and Şuhnaz Yılmaz, “Between Europeanization and Euro-
Asianism: Foreign Policy Activism in Turkey During the AKP Era”, Turkish
Studies, 10:1 (March 2009), pp. 7–24.
34. Ibid., p. 7.
35. Güneş Murat Tezcür, and Alexandru Grigorescu, “Activism in Turkish For-
eign Policy: Balancing European and Regional Interests”, International
Studies Perspectives, 15 (2014), p. 257.
36. Juliette Tolay, and Ronald H. Linden, “Understanding Turkey’s Relations
with Its Neighbors”, in Ronald H. Linden (ed.), Turkey and Its Neigh-
bors (London: Lynne Rienner, 2012), p. 3; Adam Balcer, “The Future of
Turkish-Russian Relations. A Strategic Perspective”, Turkish Policy Quar-
terly, 8:1, p. 80.
37. Emre Erşen, “Turkey and Russia: An Emerging ‘Strategic Axis’ in Eurasia?”,
EurOrient, No. 35–36 (2011), p. 274.
38. Ömer Taşpinar, and Fiona Hill, “Axis of Excluded”, Survival, 48:1 (Spring
2006), pp. 81–92.
39. Evren Balta, “Fırtınalı Diplomasi: Türkiye-Rusya İlişkileri”, TUSES
(21 October 2017),

A German Perspective on Euro-Atlantic


Julia Berghofer

On 24 September 2017, a general election was held in Germany. Instead
of an expected government coalition between the Christian Democrats
(CDU), the Liberals (FDP) and the Green Party, a grand coalition
(“GroKo”) between the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats (SPD)
entered government in March 2018, and Angela Merkel was sworn in
her for her fourth term as German chancellor. With rising populism and
nationalism in Europe, and an increasingly unstable global order, the first
round of failed exploratory talks came about like a harbinger of further
difficult times for Germany. Since then, the new government has to deal
not only with right-wing Parliamentarians from the Alternative for Ger-
many (AfD) that entered the Bundestag (and is being represented in all
16 state parliaments from October 2018), but also with numerous security
challenges in Europe. Perhaps chief among these, and although President
Donald Trump is more than two years in office, is that it remains difficult

J. Berghofer (B)
European Leadership Network, London, UK

© The Author(s) 2020 115

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

to judge whether European NATO allies can still rely on the full support
of the United States. Thus, Germany as a middle power in Europe has to
consider the possibility of playing a more significant leadership role in the
Euro-Atlantic space.
In this context, two particular challenges for Germany stand out: the
future relationships with Russia and Turkey. In both cases, there are options
for Germany to be active and show leadership. But both relationships face
considerable obstacles in the near future, and a deterioration in either Ger-
man–Russian or German–Turkish relations could have considerable nega-
tive implications for the suite of treaties and alliances that undergird the
Euro-Atlantic space. The section on “Germany and Russia” focusses on the
prospects of a reinvigoration of conventional arms control in Europe and
the re(emergence) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) as a forum for renewed dialogue with Russia. The second
section on “Germany and Turkey” addresses the worsening relationship
between the countries in the wake of a range of subsequent bilateral crises
and a possible Turkish exit from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO). The Chapter explains the key obstacles in both cases and gives
some recommendations as to where the German government could show
more engagement.

Germany and Russia

German–Russian relations have always been a particular matter of inter-
est for Europe. As Ralf Fücks noted right after the outbreak of the crisis
in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, “[a]s in ear-
lier periods of German history, Germany’s relationship with the West is
reflected in Russian politics. This relationship is ambivalent (…). It fluc-
tuates between attraction and rejection, hostility and fascination”.1 In a
similar sense as the longstanding relationship between a divided Germany,
and later between a united Federal Republic of Germany and Russia have
always been characterized as “ambivalent”, the perception of Russia in the
domestic debate in Germany after the military intervention in Ukraine can
be best described as contradictory, even conflicting. On one side, we face
a narrative in line with a “realist” perspective, which perceives Russia’s
aggression as an almost predictable demonstration of power, triggered by
Western interference in Russian security interests. The other side is a more
“normative-liberal” stance that seeks to explain Russian policy as the result

of an autocratic and anti-democratic regime, ruled by Russia’s president

Vladimir Putin.2
Both camps have persuasive arguments, but both fail to appropriately
address Russia’s perception that key security arrangements in the post-Cold
War Euro-Atlantic space have been violated. Even before the 2008 war in
Georgia and the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, Russia was concerned by
the reluctance of some Western states to strengthen the OSCE as laid out in
the NATO Russia Founding Act of 1997,3 and to make a tangible commit-
ment to deepen security cooperation and to adapt the conventional arms
control architecture. Another detrimental factor was the discussion over a
possible NATO accession of Ukraine and Georgia, which—other than dur-
ing the Eastern enlargement in 1999—did not include efforts to establish
a common understanding with Russia. President Obama’s “reset” policy
did little to change the actual security context, hence in NATO’s Strategic
Concept of 2010 there is no reference to creating a space of common secu-
rity without dividing lines.4 Indeed, the OSCE remains on the periphery of
Euro-Atlantic security, with many European states appearing to see NATO
and the EU as more useful and effective formats through which to address
their security interests. With regards to relations with Russia, cooperation in
the OSCE framework and de-escalatory steps are perceived, especially from
the point of view of the Eastern European states, as weakening Europe.
From a German perspective, relations with Russia have fundamentally
changed since the Ukraine crisis and the illegal annexation of Crimea.
What was once seen as the beginning of a “strategic partnership”5 has
now declined to a minimum of selective cooperation in a limited set of
thematic fields such as education, research, and in the economic sector.
Although the term “strategic partnership” in a security policy context
can be regarded as merely rhetorical, its demise clearly shows that trust
between Moscow and Berlin is diminishing. In this sense, Federal Presi-
dent Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently warned against a “dangerous alien-
ation” between Russia and the West.6 Nevertheless, the Federal Foreign
Office as well as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research still con-
tinue to emphasize a “strategic partnership” with Russia in research and
education, and note the importance of economic ties between the two
countries.7 This includes for example, German–Russian cooperation in the
scientific exploration of the Arctic Ocean; partnering in the field of bio-
economics; and Germany’s strong support for EU–Russia cooperation in
research and innovation called “ERA.Net RUS Plus”. Not least due to

Germany’s ongoing support for Nord Stream 2, re-emphasized by Angela

Merkel at the German–Ukrainian Economic Forum in November 2018,8
high-profile meetings and active diplomacy between both countries dur-
ing the last year have led some to conclude that German–Russian relations
are already normalizing.9 While this may be premature (especially after the
recent escalation between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov and the
poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter in the
UK), Russia probably has better relations with Germany today than with
any other member of NATO.
Given the tense situation between European states and Russia, there is
a growing awareness of the importance of the OSCE as a key forum to
address security challenges in Europe, to enhance common security, and
to reinvigorate dialogue between the West and Russia. In 2016, Germany
took over the OSCE chairmanship for one year. Its priorities as laid out in
the official statement on the chairmanship, delivered by then-Foreign Min-
ister Steinmeier, were to “renew dialogue between the OSCE participating
States in order to regain mutual trust and restore common security”.10 He
also emphasized that the OSCE, as well as its institutions and instruments,
needed to be strengthened and that “[w]e aspire to the vision of a space
of indivisible security and cooperation in a spirit of trust, as enshrined in
CSCE and OSCE documents ever since the Helsinki Final Act.”11 Indeed,
the idea as formulated by the Chairperson-in-Office goes back to the 1999
Istanbul Declaration of the OSCE, also referred to as the “Charter for
European Security”. The document highlighted the desire to “benefit the
security of all participating Stats by enhancing and strengthening the OSCE
(…)” and announced that “[t]oday we have decided to develop its existing
instruments and to create new tools.”12 In this sense, German priorities
were not a novelty. The goals remain unchanged, but there has been little
substantial progress to improve OSCE structures or to bring it closer to its
goal of providing common security from “Vancouver to Vladivostok”.
Some have criticized the German chairmanship for failing to live up
to expectations. For example, Stefan Meister notes that despite the Fed-
eral Foreign Office investing enormously in the chairmanship, it has not
been successful in gaining Russian support for broadening the scope of
the OSCE.13 Liana Fix and Jana Puglierin argue that while German inten-
tions were ambitious beforehand, outcomes have fallen short, which is why
the authors talk about “sobering results”. A major obstacle, they suggest,
were diverging perceptions over the actual nature and role of the OSCE.
While Russia regards the organization as part of the crisis of the European

security architecture and thus wants to re-negotiate its own position within
this framework, the Western states are not ready to accept Moscow’s geopo-
litical claims and want to maintain its existing principles.14
Germany took over the chairmanship in a time of crisis, and there was
arguably little room for manoeuvre in just a year. In this vein, one of the
most challenging questions is the following: to what extent are European
partners and the United States willing to support German-led activities such
as enhancing the dialogue with Russia and strengthening the OSCE? From
the very beginning of the Ukraine crisis, Germany was actively involved in
seeking a way to restore peace and stability in Europe. Germany decided
to become part of the Normandy Format, a negotiation forum set up by
France, Russia, Ukraine and Germany in 2014, with the aim of assess-
ing progress in the resolution of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the
implementation of the Minsk-II ceasefire agreement developed in Febru-
ary 2015.15 The establishment of the Normandy Format was a political
success, and it was a good sign that Paris agreed to participate.
At the same time, Berlin has struggled to secure support for its objectives.
When Steinmeier called for “Mehr Sicherheit für alle in Europa”16 (more
security for everyone in Europe), he earned applause mainly from mid-
and Western European states while being adamantly criticized by some
NATO partners. The Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in par-
ticular, strongly opposed the idea of a new arms control agreement that
Steinmeier proposed in the wake of rising tensions in Europe (a context
aggravated by the fact that governments are confronted with rapidly evolv-
ing new technologies like cyber weapons, autonomous weapon systems
and drones). Steinmeier highlighted the risk of a new arms race in Europe
and the erosion of key arms control mechanisms like the Treaty on Con-
ventional Forces in Europe (CFE), the Open Skies Treaty and the Vienna
Document.17 Not only did Eastern European states oppose the initiative,
the initial reaction from the US was also less than enthusiastic, pointing
out that if Russia does not abide by existing treaties and agreements, why
should they sign up to new ones?18
Against this backdrop, it is plausible that there was not as broad a scope
for action during the German OSCE chairmanship as one might have
wished for. Nevertheless, the Steinmeier initiative resulted in establishing a
new dialogue format, the so-called “structured dialogue”, adopted by the
OSCE participating states on the margins of an OSCE Ministerial Council
meeting in Hamburg in December 2016. This action can be listed, with-
out any doubt, as a success of the German chairmanship, and was pushed

forward under the Austrian chairmanship in the year after.19 Still, the long-
term success of this process depends on multiple factors such as the ability
of Western states and Russia to overcome caveats and to find common
ground based on factual accuracy, before exploring practicable ways to
build a renewed conventional arms control agreement. Certainly, this can-
not be the case as long as both the US and Russia pursue excessive nuclear
modernization plans and as long as Russia continues to undermine the work
of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in
Syria. While the structured dialogue remains a long-term project, and fea-
sible approaches regarding a new conventional arms control agreement are
in short supply, there are some areas where the new German government
could be active in the future:

1. Writ large, the overall goal should be strengthening the fundamen-

tal principles of the OSCE and seeking a way of adapting them to
the current security environment. It is of paramount importance to
establish a common understanding with Russia and to develop a basic
idea of what a structured security order in Europe should look like.
2. At the same time, a balance of deterrence and dialogue with Russia,
as reiterated by the German government in 2016,20 seems a viable
approach for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, as deterrence mea-
sures tend to be more visible than dialogue, the latter should be
strengthened as a key pillar in Germany’s approach towards Russia.
This, for example, includes a successful continuation of the structured
dialogue within the OSCE framework and an assessment of what can
be considered as offensive and defensive military actions.
3. The new German government should strive for an early implemen-
tation of the Steinmeier Initiative’s call for a new arms control
agreement and should present substantial follow-up proposals at an
early date. This is more pressing than ever, given a rapidly deterio-
rating arms control landscape after the US’ and Russia’s suspension
of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in February
2019. There is a general disagreement between European states as
to whether a new arms control agreement would be a viable path, or
whether one should better start with a small-steps approach. How-
ever, it should be noted that a small-steps approach might bear the
risk of rendering progress in arms control too fragmented or diluted
to be effective.

4. One German priority during the OSCE chairmanship was the adapta-
tion of the Vienna Document, which is a key pillar of the European
security order. This goal was reiterated by the EU during the OSCE
Forum for Security and Co-Operation in Vienna in May 2017. The
EU statement noted that there is a “number of concrete proposals
to modernize the Vienna Document that has already gained substan-
tial support among OSCE participating States”.21 It is in Germany’s
interest to bring those European states together that want to discuss
concrete steps. But two obstacles remain relevant: first, the obvious
divergence of views among European states, which may hinder the
start of a concrete process. And second, Russia would only agree on
a modernization process if Western states offer concrete arms control
5. Global threats such as transnational terrorism and new military tech-
nologies like cyber and autonomous weapon systems will affect coun-
tries across the entire OSCE space. Germany, along with its European
partners, should increase efforts to identify common threat percep-
tions with Russia, as well as pursuing possible concerted engagement
in this field.

Germany and Turkey

Bilateral relations between Germany and Turkey have deteriorated signifi-
cantly during the last two years, due to confrontations related to the adop-
tion of the Armenia “genocide” resolution by the German Bundestag in
June 2016, a tense debate about the İncirlik air base in Turkey, and the
Turkish constitutional referendum in April 2017. The current situation,
which might be close to breaking point, only constitutes a (preliminary)
peak in a slow process of a steadily worsening relationship, whose begin-
ning is marked by Angela Merkel’s adamant opposition to EU accession
talks with Turkey during her election campaign. The brutal crackdown of
the Gezi park protests in 2013 also increased alienation between European
states and Turkey.
While Turkey’s relations with European states are generally in decline,
tensions particularly affect Germany, as the country’s society is more sus-
ceptible to ongoing developments in Turkey,22 due to the fact that citizens
with a Turkish background form the largest group of migrants in Ger-
many.23 For this reason, Turkish domestic and foreign policy is a key con-
cern for German politics, especially the aspects of rising authoritarianism,

and the repression and imprisonment of academic personnel, officials and

Until 2011, Turkey was hailed by Western states as a role model for the
future of the Islamic world.24 However, the Arab Spring, and the response
of authoritarian regimes across the Greater Middle East, have evaporated
hopes for Turkey to become an intermediary player in the conflict-driven
region. From 2013 on, the secular character of the Turkish state has eroded
under the strong influence of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and
Development Party (AKP), that has ruled the country continually since
2002.25 The rapid disintegration of a domestic political approach which
was once aimed at unifying democratic values and Islamic preconditions,
and which made the country so distinct from other states in the region,
began to unfold itself at the same time when Turkey began to gradually dis-
sociate from NATO and the European Union. President Erdoğan’s regime
is no longer seen as a reliable partner within the alliance, and as a conse-
quence, EU accession talks are being questioned at the official level. De
facto, they have been frozen since 2010,26 although EU members agreed
on accelerating membership talks in order to incentivize Turkey to stem
the influx of migrants as laid out in the EU–Turkey Statement of March
Within the period of AKP government, the perception of “state” and
“nation” has significantly changed in Turkish society. A clear commitment
to both the EU and NATO is no longer a priority, whereas the idea of a
strong Turkey playing a dominant role in the Middle East in the upcoming
years (and of course without promoting a secular approach in the region),
has become ever more attractive. Correspondingly, the West is preoccupied
with a Turkish state that has decided to move away from the Euro-Atlantic
security architecture and that strives not only for deeper integration in the
Middle East but for closer military and political ties with Russia. Tensions
between the US and Turkey over American support for the Syrian Kurds
and allegations of Ankara’s support for terrorist groups operating in the
border region between Turkey and Syria have led to a gradual alienation of
Turkey and the Western states.28 By 2015, Ankara had manoeuvred itself
into a difficult situation, with Moscow, Tehran and Washington strongly
opposing its activities in Syria. In the wake of simultaneously deteriorating
relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Turkey decided to
adjust its political course towards a rapprochement with Russia and closer
cooperation with Iran,29 most recently leading to a guarantor power format
of these three states in Syria, under the umbrella of the so-called “Astana

An even greater reason for concern in Europe is the emerging Turkish

strategy of using a possible exit scenario from NATO as a means to threaten
the West. The recent push for a gradual dissociation from the West and
NATO was also used domestically to strengthen coherence within Turk-
ish society. Since November 2017, in the wake of a joint NATO military
exercise in Norway during which Turkish leaders were allegedly depicted
as “enemies”,31 the intensity of anti-NATO rhetoric from Turkish offi-
cials and in the media has considerably increased. Although a possible exit
from the alliance obviously serves a function as an instrument to irritate
or even pressure Western leaders, it is still conceivable that Ankara contin-
ues to pursue its goal of weakening the West. Or perhaps Turkey prefers
membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) instead? In
the past, Erdoğan quite bluntly described accession to the SCO as a more
convenient strategy for his country, compared to EU membership.32
Meanwhile, recent confrontations between Germany and Turkey and
rapidly deteriorating bilateral relations over the course of at least three years
can be seen as symptomatic of Turkey’s growing discontent with the West.
Within the German government, concerns over Turkey’s foreign policy
inspired a statement by Chancellor Angela Merkel issued in August 2017,
underlining that she would not tolerate any interference in Germany’s elec-
tion campaign by President Erdoğan,33 who previously called for a boycott
of German political parties in the autumn election. In the context of the
imprisonment of German–Turkish citizens in Turkey, among them two
journalists, Meşale Tolu and Deniz Yücel, and Peter Steudtner, a human
rights activist (all of them have now been released), Chancellor Merkel
emphasized her hopes for better relations between the countries, particu-
larly emphasizing the situation of Turkish citizens living in Germany. Yet, a
precondition should be compliance with the rule of law, which is currently
not guaranteed in Turkey, as she noted.34 Ms. Merkel’s statement precisely
described the ambiguous relations between Berlin and Ankara. While both
countries are closely connected in terms of population and more or less
tied up by the 2016 refugee agreement, their political and social values are
drifting apart.
Of course, Berlin cannot simply dissociate from Ankara, not least because
of its common history with Turkey, starting with the large-scale recruitment
of Turkish employees in the 1960s. These people, commonly, and some-
times contemptuously, referred to as “guest workers”, were supposed to
fill the high demand for a cheap work force in Germany’s booming post-
war economy. For this purpose, West Germany reached agreements with

Turkey (in 1961) and several other countries which brought thousands of
migrants to the country. The “guest workers” were crucial in supporting
the German economy, but at the same time, in an almost thoughtless man-
ner, the Federal Government expected these people to return to their home
country voluntarily after few years, and deliberately missed the opportunity
to implement an integration plan. The incremental flaws of this political
approach came to light only decades after, while in stark contrast to Ger-
man expectations, many former “guest workers” settled in their new home
country. It comes as no surprise that Turkish domestic politics not only
affects the public debate in Germany but also German domestic politics.
One of the most painful experiences for German–Turkish relations was
the AKP-led campaign in the run-up to the constitutional referendum in
April 2017. The constitutional reform was aimed at strengthening the insti-
tutional power of the Turkish President at the expense of parliamentary
power. The campaign itself and related events that took place in a number
of German cities were highly provocative and aggressive in nature. Finally,
as a reaction to Ankara’s arrest of many journalists and activists, the Federal
Government banned political rallies on its soil. In return, Erdoğan openly
attacked Germany by drawing a comparison to the Nazi era. At the same
time, Turkish citizens living in Germany, and German citizens with Turkish
roots who were actively involved in politics or held public positions, and
who openly criticized the AKP’s governing style have been threatened by
Erdoğan supporters.35 On the margins of the Munich Security Conference
in February 2018, former Green Party co-chair Cem Özdemir, a German-
born politician with Turkish parents, was placed under police protection
after the Turkish delegation of Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım suggested a
“terrorist” staying at the same hotel.36
Previous “minor” escalations between the two countries included the
revelation of a list of German politicians who were—in the view of the Turk-
ish state—supporters of the leader of the Islamic Gülen movement. This
document was handed over to German authorities by the Turkish National
Intelligence Organization (MIT) in March 2017.37 In May 2017, Turkish
authorities prevented MPs from visiting German troops that were stationed
at the İncirlik airbase in the south of the country.38 Almost a year before,
another German delegation was not allowed to visit İncirlik, the underly-
ing reason being the Armenia “genocide” resolution that was adopted by a
large majority of the Bundestag in June 2016. Turkey responded by recall-
ing its ambassador, while Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım added on Twitter
that the resolution was “truly testing Germany’s friendship with Turkey.”39

It is difficult to see any rapprochement between Germany and Turkey for

the time being; in that sense, President Erdoğan’s recent three-day trip to
Berlin and Cologne in September 2018 was highly controversial. Never-
theless, both sides still have an interest in cooperating and maintaining a
minimum of “friendly exchange”, especially when it comes to economic
relations and financial support.
Even though it is almost impossible to predict whether Turkey will
remain a NATO partner and whether EU accession talks are to be resumed
in the near term, or whether the refugee deal will be upheld, there are a
number of basic principles Berlin should consider when interacting with

1. Turkey and the Turkish population should not be equated with

Erdoğan and the AKP. Even though support for the president
remains high and even though German citizens might be frightened
by some activities of Erdoğan supporters in Hamburg, Berlin and
Stuttgart, not all Turkish citizen are supportive of an authoritarian-
style government. German politics and the media should (continue
to) refrain from looking at the Turkish population as a homogenous
group. This is important in order not to fuel anti-Islamic and racist
resentment in Germany and beyond, which are clearly on the rise
since the AfD has entered the Bundestag.
2. EU accession talks might be de facto frozen, and there is a general
disagreement as to whether they provide a powerful tool for the EU
or not. But it is still one of the only remaining instruments the EU
member states can use to incentivize Turkey to follow a moderate
course. Even if it may not prove a realistic prospect in the near future.
In this regard, experts like Michael Thumann argue that a final sus-
pension of accession talks would be mere “symbolic politics”, since
the West has learnt that Turkey usually does not react to sanctions in
the desired way. He also adds that “throwing Turkey out of NATO
would not stop Erdoğan’s collaboration with Putin but would rather
raise the question of coherence within NATO.”40 It is thus impor-
tant to strengthen NATO’s internal cohesion rather than fuel any
“exit scenarios”.
3. Germany should find ways to cooperate with Turkey in spe-
cific fields where peaceful and effective collaboration is still possi-
ble. Turkey remains an important partner for EU states in terms of
counter-terrorism, migration and security policy. Germany’s trade

relations with Turkey will probably remain unchanged.41 On the

other hand, since the country is stuck in an economic crisis, Ankara
officially approached Berlin a number of times in 2017, seeking finan-
cial assistance and promoting a normalization process. Economic rela-
tions can serve as an effective tool for German politics. Berlin should
also continue its strategy of reacting in a peaceful manner vis-à-vis
Turkish provocation. Of course, this approach will always be impos-
sible to uphold once human rights violations are involved.
4. In the context of the refugee deal, Ankara has so far met its obli-
gations. While controversies over moral and ethical questions were
not to hinder the agreement, there will always be an inherent risk
that either Erdoğan might undo the deal, or EU member states will
no longer be ready to pay for it. The EU’s inability to deal with
migrant flows and its lack of solidarity has brought its members to
the quandary of being dependent on the Turkish state. For this rea-
son, it has to be among Germany’s top priorities to explore ways for
the EU to cooperate in a more cohesive and unified way, to make
itself less dependent on Ankara, and to be in a better position when
it comes to negotiations with Turkey, e.g. about EU accession and
continued NATO membership.

The cornerstones of German foreign and security policy are the EU and
NATO. While the security environment in Europe has changed signifi-
cantly after the election of Donald Trump as US President, Brexit, ongo-
ing tensions between Russia and the West, growing populist movements
in European states like Hungary and Poland, and not least in the wake of
difficult relations with former partners like Turkey, a strong German com-
mitment to Europe and transatlantic ties is beyond any doubt. For this
reason, regional and international tensions which are currently challenging
Germany are never solely German problems but have to be addressed in
the broader framework of the Union and the Alliance. Germany’s wors-
ening relations with Russia and Turkey are two outstanding examples of
far-reaching political crises that can only be solved in cooperation with
European partners. At the same time, a lack of German leadership within
the EU—not least aggravated by the long process of forming a coalition
after the elections in 2017—might be an obstacle to improving relations
with Russia and Turkey. A more credible response to provocations and

actual threats requires a self-confident and unified answer that results from
European solidarity and cooperation.
There are several fields where Germany could strengthen its profile as a
key player in Euro-Atlantic security, and options it could take to decrease
tensions and improve relations with Turkey and Russia in the mid- and
long-term. In most of these cases, there is only room for manoeuvre if Euro-
pean states act in a concerted way, show unity and a common understanding
of threat perceptions, and invest more in their security both in a political
and financial sense. Although the case of Turkey is particularly relevant
for German domestic politics, while other states might be less impacted by
the growing influence of the Turkish government (for example through the
Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, DİTİB), a common European
position would strengthen German politics considerably. The same applies
to Russia. But to get towards a common approach and concerted action,
Germany would have to show leadership first, along with a limited group
of states, most notably France. If exerted in the right way, this leadership
role could contribute to the EU becoming more resilient towards exter-
nal threats; a development that Germany as well as its European partners
would strongly benefit from.

1. Ralf Fücks, “Germany and Russia: As Much Cooperation as Possible;
as Much Conflict as Necessary”, Heinrich Böll Stiftung (8 May 2014),
cooperation-possible-much-conflict-necessary (accessed 4 January 2019).
2. Ulrich Kühn, “Sicherheit mit Russland, Sicherheit vor Russland”, in
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (ed.), Europa und die neue Weltunordnung. Analy-
sen und Positionen zur europäischen Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik, Schriften
zu Europa, No. 10 (June 2016), pp. 102–117.
3. NATO, Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security
Between NATO and the Russian Federation (27 May 1997).
4. See Wolfgang Richter, “Europäische Friedens- und Sicherheitsordnung:
Von der Kooperation zurück zur Konfrontation?”, in Hanns Maull (ed.),
Auflösung oder Ablösung? Die internationale Ordnung im Umbruch, SWP-
Studien 2017/S 21 (Berlin, December 2017), pp. 90–112; NATO, Active
Engagement, Modern Defence. Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security
of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation adopted by Heads of
State and Government, Lisbon (19 November 2010), https://www.nato.
int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_68580.htm (accessed 4 January 2019).

5. Roland Götz, “Deutschland und Russland–‚ strategische Partner?”, Aus

Politik und Zeitgeschichte (November 2006),
26-26 (accessed 4 January 2019).
6., „Gefährliche Entfremdung” (15 April 2018), https://
(accessed 4 January 2019).
7. See Auswärtiges Amt, Russische Föderation Beziehungen zu Deutsch-
russischefoederation-node/-/201542 (as of March 2018); Bundesminis-
terium für Bildung und Forschung, Russische Föderation, https://www.
(accessed 4 January 2019).
8. Speech of the Federal Chancellor Merkel at the 3rd German-Ukrainian
Economic Forum on the 29th November 2018 in Berlin, https://
2018-in-berlin-1555732 (accessed 4 January 2019).
9. See Nicholas J. Myers, “Germany and Russia Are Getting Closer—Here’s
Why”, The National Interest (4 June 2018),
feature/germany-russia-are-getting-closer—heres-why-26116 (accessed 4
January 2019).
10. The Federal Government, Renewing Dialogue, Rebuilding Trust, Restoring
Security. The Priorities of the German OSCE Chairmanship in 2016, Fore-
word by Frank-Walter Steinmeier,
download=true (accessed 4 January 2019).
11. Ibid.
12. OSCE, Istanbul Document 1999,
download=true (accessed 4 January 2019).
13. Stefan Meister, Deutschland im Übergang zu einer neuen EU-Russland- und
Osteuropapolitik, DGAP kompakt, No. 6 (Summer 2017), pp. 16–18.
14. Liana Fix, and Jana Puglierin, “Übung in Erwartungsmanagement”, Inter-
nationale Politik, 2 (March and April 2017), pp. 44–47.
15. Simond de Galbert, “The Impact of the Normandy Format on the Conflict
in Ukraine: Four Leaders, Three Cease-Fires, and Two Summits”, CSIS
(23 October 2015),
(accessed 4 January 2019).
16. Auswärtiges Amt, Mehr Sicherheit für alle in Europa – Für einen Neustart
der Rüstungskontrolle (26 August 2016), https://www.auswaertiges-amt.
de/de/newsroom/160826-bm-faz/282910 (accessed 4 January 2019).

17. See Die Bundesregierung, Deutsche Abrüstungsinitiative. Für mehr

Sicherheit in Europa (26 August 2016), https://www.bundesregierung.
ruestungskontrolle.html (accessed 4 January 2019); see also Frank-Walter
Steinmeier’s op-ed in Project Syndicate: Reviving Arms Control in Europe
(26 August 2016),
barrier=accessreg (accessed 4 January 2019).
18. “Germany, 15 Other Countries Press for Arms Control Deal with Rus-
sia”, Reuters (25 November 2016),
control-deal-with-russia-idUSKBN13K007 (accessed 4 January 2019).
19. Wolfgang Richter, “Die OSZE zwischen Konfrontation und Strukturiertem
Dialog”, SWP-Aktuell (5 January 2018),
fileadmin/contents/products/aktuell/2018A05_rrw.pdf, (accessed 4 Jan-
uary 2019).
20. The Federal Government, Deterrence and Dialogue (22 June 2016),
2016-06-22-nato_en.html (accessed 4 January 2019).
21. European Union, “OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation No. 852, EU
Statement in Response to the SCO-Multifaceted Interaction for the Sake
of Peace”, Prosperity and Stability (10 May 2017), https://eeas.europa.
eu/sites/eeas/files/fsc_852_eu_response_to_sco.pdf (accessed 4 January
22. Deutschlandfunk, Interview with Günter Seufert, “Europa hat kein
Druckmittel mehr” (7 November 2016), http://www.deutschlandfunk.
html?dram:article_id=370767 (accessed 4 January 2019).
23. Statistisches Bundesamt, Ausländische Bevölkerung nach Geschlecht und
ausgewählten Staatsbürgerschaften. Approximately 1,484,000 Turkish
citizens are living in Germany as of 31 December 2017, making this
group amounting to 14% of foreigners in the Federal Republic, https://
html (accessed 4 January 2019).
24. Günter Seufert, “Noch mehr Distanz zum Westen. Warum sich Ankara
nach Moskau orientiert”, SWP-Aktuell, 6, Berlin (January 2017).
25. Ibid.
26. See note 22.
27. European Parliament, EU-Turkey Statement & Action Plan, Legisla-
tive Train Schedule Towards a New Policy on Migration, http://www.

migration/file-eu-turkey-statement-action-plan, as of 14 December 2018

(accessed 4 January 2019).
28. See note 24.
29. Dov Zakheim, “Iran, Turkey, and Russia Aren’t Natural Friends. It’s Up
to the US to Keep It That Way”, Foreign Policy (4 September 2017).
30. Der Spiegel, “Russland, Iran und Türkei teilen Syrien auf” (16 Septem-
ber 2017),
und-tuerkei-vereinbaren-beobachtermission-a-1167867.html (accessed 4
January 2019).
31. Reuters, “Turkey Pulls Troops Out of NATO Exercise Over ‘Enemy’
List” (17 November 2017),
idUSKBN1DH1P7 (accessed 4 January 2019).
32. Lina Wang, “Will Turkey Join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
Instead of the EU?”, The Diplomat (24 November 2016).
33. Die Bundeskanzlerin, “Wir verbitten uns jede Art von Einmischung” (25
August 2017),
2017/08/2017-08-21-deutschland-tuerkei-beziehungen.html (accessed
4 January 2019).
34. Die Bundesregierung, “Peter Steudtner aus Haft entlassen” (26 October
10/2017-10-25-lage-in-der-tuerkei.html (accessed 4 January 2019). Peter
Steudtner was released on bail in October, Meşale Tolu was released in
December 2017, and Deniz Yücel in February 2018.
35. Der Spiegel, “Wer bist du Ratte, dass du der Türkei drohst”, No. 47 (16
November 2017).
36. Deutsche Welle, German Politician Özdemir Given Police Protection at
MSC (18 February 2018),
%C3%B6zdemir-given-police-protection-at-msc/a-42633005 (accessed 4
January 2019).
37. Deutsche Welle, “Name of German SPD Lawmaker Michelle Müntefering
Found on Turkish Spying List” (29 March 2017),
on-turkish-spying-list/a-38195162 (accessed 4 January 2019).
38., “Türkei untersagt Bundestagsabgeordneten Incirlik-
Besuch” (15 May 2017),
besuchsverbot-101.html (accessed 21 April 2018). In summer 2017,
the German Air Wing was moved to Jordan.
39. Deutsche Welle, “Bundestag Passes Armenia ‘Genocide’ Resolution Unan-
imously, Turkey Recalls Ambassador” (2 June 2016), http://www.dw.
turkey-recalls-ambassador/a-19299936 (accessed 4 January 2019).

40. Michael Thumann, “Abschied von Europa”, Internationale Politik, 2

(March and April 2017), pp. 71–75.
41. Laura Lale Kebis-Kechrid, “Die deutsche und europäische Türkei-Politik”,
in Christian Mölling and Daniela Schwarzer (eds.), Außenpolitische Her-
ausforderungen für die nächste Bundesregierung, DGAP kompakt, No. 6
(2017), pp. 34–36.

Preventing Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh

Conflict: A Successful Example of Security
Cooperation Between Russia and the West?

Mikayel Zolyan

Introduction: Not Another Proxy War

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the so-called “frozen” or “pro-
tracted” conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union.1 In this sense
it has many similarities to conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia and South
Ossetia. However, it also has important differences from these conflicts,
where the main actors can be described as post-Soviet republics that are
supported by the West, versus de facto states supported by Russia. One
of the most striking differences between these conflicts and the one in
Nagorno-Karabakh is precisely the position of Russia and the West. Both
have avoided providing decisive support to either side, and, moreover, they
have cooperated for decades in their efforts to find a peaceful resolution
of the conflict. As this Chapter will argue, though there have been and
continue to be disagreements between the mediators, overall the Nagorno-

M. Zolyan (B)
Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences, Yerevan,

© The Author(s) 2020 133

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

Karabakh issue remains one of the few examples of cooperation between

Russia and the West against the background of what some are calling “the
New Cold War”. At the same time, due to various factors discussed in
the paper, this cooperation has not been effective enough to bring about
significant progress in the resolution of the issue.
Although the interests of Russia and the West in Nagorno-Karabakh
cannot be considered completely identical, there has never been an open
clash of interests between them when it comes to Karabakh conflict reso-
lution. This is proven by the fact that the Minsk Group of the OSCE has
survived the Crimea crisis and the situation in Syria, as it has survived other
crises in relations between Russia and the West in the past.2 Both West-
ern countries and Russia have tried to strike a balance between the sides
in their approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and France, Russia
and the US are cooperating in mediation efforts for the resolution of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in their capacity as the Co-Chairs of the Minsk
Group. The general approach is to keep the balance between Armenia and
Azerbaijan, and this has also been the principle with which these countries
have been treated by most international organizations. Thus, both coun-
tries were admitted simultaneously to the CSCE (January 1992), the UN
(March 1992), the Council of Europe (January 2001), and both became
simultaneously part of the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern
Partnership programmes.
Similarly, Armenia and Azerbaijan are pursuing multi-vector foreign
policies, attempting to keep a certain balance in their relations with both
Russia and the West, though not always successfully. Armenia is considered
a Russian strategic ally and is a member of two Russian-dominated security
and economic blocs, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)
and the Eurasian Economic Union. Russia is also home to the largest Arme-
nian community outside of Armenia, about two million strong, as well
as hundreds of thousands of seasonal migrant workers. At the same time
Armenia has been actively cooperating with the EU and NATO, and has
close links to the US and Europe, supported by the existence of a million-
strong ethnic Armenian community in the US and half a million strong
Armenian community in France. Armenian peacekeepers have served as
part of NATO peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Iraq and are cur-
rently serving in Afghanistan.3 Until 2013 Armenia was actively involved
in negotiations with the EU over joining the Deep and Comprehensive
Free Trade Area. These negotiations ended abruptly in 2013, when Arme-
nia announced its decision to join the Eurasian Economic Union (more

precisely, the Customs Union, as it was called at the time).4 In spite of

the failure of the DCFTA deal, the EU and Armenia resumed negotiations
over a framework agreement in December 2015,5 and in November 2017
the agreement was signed.6
Azerbaijan has pursued a more isolationist foreign policy, while work-
ing to maintain a balance in its relations with major global and regional
powers. While it remains a member of the Commonwealth of Independent
States (CIS), it has so far not joined the Russian-dominated Eurasian inte-
gration project. It is also not a member of the CSTO, not least because of
its conflict with CSTO member Armenia. However, Azerbaijan and Russia
have friendly relations as well, which have become closer in recent years
against the background of a negative reaction of both governments to the
Ukrainian revolution and Western “meddling” related to human rights
issues, while relations with the EU and US have deteriorated, as Baku pur-
sued a crackdown on opposition activists and the NGO sector.7 Moscow
and Baku share a dislike for the Western advocacy for human rights, and
Azerbaijan, like Armenia, has voted together with Russia on numerous
issues in international fora. Moreover, when the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe discussed the issue of depriving the Russian del-
egation of the right to vote, Armenian parliamentarians abstained, while
Azerbaijani MPs voted against, an episode that was perceived by some cir-
cles in Russia as a sign of Armenia’s unreliability.8 Russian-Azerbaijani rela-
tions are strengthened by the work of Azerbaijani diaspora organizations
and lobbyists in Russia.
This complicated relationship between the three sides is no less complex
when it comes to the field of security. Armenia is a member of CSTO
and has advanced bilateral military cooperation with Russia.9 The relations
between the two countries are normally described in official rhetoric as
a “strategic alliance”. Armenia hosts a Russian military base in Gyumri,
Armenia’s second largest city, situated near the Turkish border. Moreover,
Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran are guarded by Russian border
guards, based on an agreement signed as early as 1992.10 Armenia’s airspace
had been under joint Russian–Armenian protection since the mid-1990s,
and this state of affairs was once again reaffirmed recently, when the sides
signed an agreement in December 2015 on establishing a “united regional
system of air defence in the Caucasus region of collective security.”11
At the same time, Russia has described its relations with Azerbaijan as
a “strategic partnership”. Arms sales by Russia to Azerbaijan since 2010
have amounted to 4 billion US dollars.12 The difference between Armenia

and Azerbaijan in this respect is that while Armenia, as a CSTO member,

receives Russian weapons at discounted prices and sometimes even free
of charge, Azerbaijan pays the full market price.13 However, this may also
mean that the supplies of arms to Azerbaijan are carried out in a more timely
manner, since specific business interests of the military-industrial complex
is involved, while supplies of weapons to Armenia need to go through
bureaucratic channels, which significantly slows the process down. Thus,
while Armenia received a $200 million Russian credit to acquire Russian
weapons in mid-2015, the weapons acquired within the framework of this
deal were not received by Armenia until April 2016,14 which may have been
one of the causes of the outbreak of hostilities that took place that month,
as it created a temporary imbalance of power, which the Azerbaijani side
could have used instrumentally.
Until the clashes of April 2016, the Armenian government was reluc-
tant to talk publicly about the Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan, though
most probably the issue had been raised in closed informal discussions.15
After the April 2016 clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh some cautious remarks
were made by Serzh Sargsyan during his visit to Berlin on 6 April, and
some more open criticism of Russia was made by pro-government politi-
cians in connection to the “the four day war.”16 Russia has defended its
arms supplies to Azerbaijan on the grounds that if Russia stopped them,
Azerbaijan would turn to other suppliers. This, the argument goes, would
then deprive Russia of leverage over Azerbaijan and make Baku’s position
on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue more aggressive, thus contradicting Arme-
nia’s interests.17 Instead, according to this argument, Russia is trying to
maintain the relative balance of power through deals like the US $200
million loan to Armenia mentioned above.

Nobody Wants Trouble: Approaches of Russia

and the West
Russia’s priority when it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is keep-
ing its influence over both Armenia and Azerbaijan, while preventing the
conflict from escalating into a full-blown war. Such an escalation would
be disastrous for Russia’s interests, as it would force Russia to make a
choice between Armenia, which it describes as its “strategic ally”, and Azer-
baijan, its “strategic partner”. In a case of full-blown escalation, the war
would hardly be confined to the territory of the unrecognized Republic
of Nagorno-Karabakh and could spread to the territory of the Republic of

Armenia, which would activate Russia’s duties as Armenia’s ally. At the same
time, supporting Armenia would mean destroying a friendly relationship
with Azerbaijan, which is also important for Moscow. Azerbaijan’s strategic
geopolitical position makes it a key partner in Russia’s attempts to forge
a closer relationship with Iran and Turkey. Besides, stable relations with
Azerbaijan are significant for Russia, given Azerbaijan’s cultural and geo-
graphic proximity to Russia’s most explosive region, the North Caucasus.
Finally, resentment of Western attempts to “impose” democratic norms
and principles is another common denominator that unites the govern-
ments in Moscow and Baku. Failure to assist its ally Armenia would deal
a tremendous blow to the image of Russia in the post-Soviet space, but
active intervention in the conflict could also be detrimental for its interests.
In addition, if such a war affects the internationally recognized territory
of Armenia, this would mean the CSTO would be obliged to intervene,
which in turn could create a serious crisis inside this security alliance. It is
obvious that it would be hard to work out a unanimous response to such a
crisis, since some CSTO members have close relationships with Azerbaijan,
and would object to CSTO action against Baku. Such a crisis in the CSTO
could also affect the Eurasian Economic Union, as there is a significant
membership overlap between the two organizations.18 Thus, a full-blown
war between Armenia and Azerbaijan would present a serious challenge to
the military, political and economic alliances that Russia has been building
in the Eurasian space.
The West’s approach to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has also been
fairly balanced. While Western countries have frequently stated that they
recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, they have also emphasized
the need to refrain from the use of force and the need to consider the
opinion of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh in the resolution of the con-
flict. According to one expert, interviewed on the condition of anonymity,
this position is significantly different from the West’s on the principle of
self-determination, and is hardly mentioned by Western powers in rela-
tion to the conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.19 In spite
of Azerbaijan’s calls to “punish the aggressor”, Armenia has never faced
any obstacles in cooperation with organizations such as NATO, the EU or
CoE, let alone sanctions. On the contrary, while Turkey has sealed its bor-
der with Armenia in support of the Azerbaijani position, Western countries
have frequently called on Turkey to normalize its relations with Armenia,
and even became (together with Russia) the sponsors of an attempt at
Armenian–Turkish normalization in 2009.

The EU’s official position is that it supports the efforts of the OSCE
Minsk Group aimed at the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict.20 Of course, this is official rhetoric, which does not exhaust the
EU’s involvement with Nagorno-Karabakh. As both Armenia and Azer-
baijan are part of the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Part-
nership, the EU has extensive relations with both countries, and the issue
of Nagorno-Karabakh plays a significant role in these relations. There is an
understanding in Brussels that an explosion in Nagorno-Karabakh would
be extremely dangerous as it would connect as two pieces of a puzzle the
two most urgent crises of the moment, the ones in Syria and Ukraine, creat-
ing an arc of instability that would stretch from the Middle East to Central
Europe.21 In terms of more specific consequences the conflict would add to
the refugee flows to Europe, even though the absolute number of refugees
would hardly be high compared to the numbers of refugees from Iraq and
Syria. Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh could also disrupt energy exports
from Azerbaijan to Europe,22 which though not very high in absolute
quantities, are important for Europe’s energy diversification and in provid-
ing alternatives to Russian imports.
Dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is an important part of
the work of the European Union’s Special Representative for the South
Caucasus and the Conflicts in Georgia, who remains in constant com-
munication with highest level officials in both Armenia and Azerbaijan,
and also maintains contacts with the expert community and civil society.23
Periodically, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh comes up in discussions in the
European Parliament, where some MEPs often express “pro-Armenian” or
“pro-Azerbaijani” views. Some members of the European Parliament, par-
ticularly from the left wing “Greens/Free European Alliance” have angered
Azerbaijan by travelling to Nagorno-Karabakh and maintaining contacts
with its politicians.24 However, ultimately these debates barely affect EU
policies on Nagorno-Karabakh, as the issue remains quite removed from
the priorities of Brussels.
An issue that is often raised in connection with the EU role in the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is engaging the EU as a co-chair in the Minsk
Group. Periodically there are suggestions to either add an EU representa-
tive as the fourth co-chair to the Minsk Group, or to replace France.25 The
latter option is lobbied by Azerbaijan, which sees France as a pro-Armenian
country due to the existence of a large Armenian Diaspora there.26 How-
ever, so far there is little chance that such a change would actually take
place: France is unwilling to give up its position, and at the same time there

is not much enthusiasm on the part of Brussels to assume responsibility for

yet another potential international crisis.
Arguably, the approach of the European Union has been based on the
realization that while the EU does not have enough leverage to play a domi-
nant role in resolving the conflict, it has the resources to encourage peaceful
dialogue through its soft power. The EU has expressed its willingness to
commit significant financial resources to rebuilding the region after a peace
deal is reached. It is currently engaged in helping to foster a track two dia-
logue, through the EPNK programme (European Partnership for Peaceful
Resolution of the Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh), implemented by several
European NGOs with EU funding with a total budget of e4,732,708 for
the current phase of the project (May 2016–April 2019).27 However, as
the situation in the conflict zone has become tenser, more obstacles have
emerged to the implementation of EPNK. An especially strong blow to
EPNK was dealt by the repression of civil society in Azerbaijan, which
affected the readiness of Azerbaijani civil society actors to engage in the
programme.28 Besides, the situation in the conflict zone changed signifi-
cantly in the aftermath of the April hostilities, and there is a need to adjust
the EPNK format and strategies to the new conditions.
NATO’s official position on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution coin-
cides with the position of the EU: NATO supports the efforts of the OSCE
Minsk Group aimed at the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict. Of course, there are differences, as NATO is a military-political
bloc, and its cooperation with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is
carried out through Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAP), cannot
remain purely political and is bound to affect the military sphere. Realizing
this, NATO has been careful to refrain from forms of cooperation that could
alter the balance between the sides, focusing on cooperation that would not
lead to an imbalance in NATO’s relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan.
These fields of cooperation include training peacekeepers and peacekeep-
ing missions, bringing more transparency in defence budgeting, advising
on strategic documentation, promoting democratic civilian control over
armed forces, modernizing the education of military officers, etc.29
Sometimes, this cooperation within the framework of NATO pro-
grammes has led to some unfortunate incidents. In the most extreme case
Gurgen Margaryan, an Armenian officer taking part in a NATO training
course, was brutally murdered with an axe by Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani
participant in the same course in Budapest in 2004.30 However, NATO
has been insisting on the participation of both Armenian and Azerbaijani

representatives in its activities, even if they are taking place on the territory
of Armenia and Azerbaijan respectively, and some activities have been even
cancelled when one of the sides was reluctant to accept participants from
the other country.31
Obviously, another major difference from the EU is that NATO includes
Turkey as one of its members, which means that if Turkey were to interfere
into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, leading to a Russian response, this
could present a challenge for NATO. Direct Turkish intervention in sup-
port of Azerbaijan would have little chance of finding support in NATO,
and Turkey’s partners in NATO would do everything in their power to
prevent Turkey’s direct intervention in the conflict.32 However, Turkey is
a signatory to the Treaties of Kars and Moscow, which ratified the present
borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan with Turkey and ensured that Turkey
would have direct access to Azerbaijan through Nakhchivan. If there is any
forcible change in Nakhchivan–for example through a spill over of fighting
from Karabakh–that could trigger a Turkish military response under the
terms of that treaty, which would be a nightmare scenario from NATO’s
perspective. Thus, in a sense NATO’s position on the conflict is symmet-
rical to the Russian position: an extreme escalation of the conflict could
draw both Russia and NATO into a fight, which none of them would be
willing to engage in, and therefore both have a strong vested interest in
preventing an all-out war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Of course, the Turkish position is a separate issue in the Nagorno-
Karabakh conflict. While a member of NATO and candidate for mem-
bership in the EU, Turkey, especially during the AKP administration, can
hardly be considered simply a part of the West with regard to its geopo-
litical preferences and positions: Turkey acts as an independent geopolit-
ical player, whose positions on a number of issues may not coincide with
the positions of other members of the Euro-Atlantic community. This is
especially true with regard to the Caucasus, and particularly the Karabakh
conflict. For reasons of ethnic and cultural affinity, Turkey firmly supports
Azerbaijan’s position in the conflict. There is large scale military cooper-
ation between Turkey and Azerbaijan, which involves arms supplies and
training, particularly as regards military personnel in the special forces.33
Turkey was the only country that completely supported the Azerbaijani
position during the hostilities of April 2016. It is obvious that a full-scale
collision in Nagorno-Karabakh contains the threat of drawing in Turkey,
which would in turn draw in Russia, especially given the complicated state
of Russian–Turkish relations in recent years. Even a limited intervention

would bring about serious political and military risks for Turkey and there-
fore is highly improbable: as one analyst put it, “attacking Armenia directly,
immediately after the centennial of the Armenian genocide, would be too
much even for Erdogan.”34 According to a Turkish expert, however, a
large-scale defeat of Azerbaijan could put significant pressure on the Turk-
ish government to intervene, especially since in recent years Erdogan’s
government has gravitated toward the nationalist part of the electorate,
which actively supports Azerbaijan.35 Some Russian experts believe that
Turkish support for Azerbaijan is an additional irritant for Russia in the
context of soured Turkish–Russian relations in the wake of the downing
of a Russian plane.36 Obviously, a conflict that draws in both Russia and
Turkey would be a nightmare scenario, which is highly unlikely, but such
a possibility cannot be excluded.

Twenty-Five Years of Mediation

The mediation efforts in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been going
on for about a quarter of a century. As they have already been covered
by other authors, there is no need to address them in detail here.37 The
focus of this Chapter is whether the mediation efforts were dominated
by cooperation or competition between Russia and the West. Ultimately,
both factors have been present in the process. Paradoxically, elements of
competition abounded in the 1990s, when in general the relations between
Russia and the West were friendly, and Russia, at least officially, was on a
course of integration with the Euro-Atlantic community. On the contrary,
today, when relations between Russia and the West are in their worst phase
since the end of the Cold War, the activities of the Minsk Group co-chairs
seem to be dominated by cooperation.
It is interesting to compare the views of veteran diplomats from the US
and Russia, who have been part of the mediation effort in the 1990s, during
the most heated phased of the conflict. The former Russian negotiator in
the Minsk Group, Vladimir Kazimirov, believes that in the early 1990s the
competition between the US and Russia was more pronounced than now.
In his view, for the US and other Western countries in the Minsk Group,
diminishing the Russian influence in the South Caucasus was as important
as, or maybe even more important than, bringing a peaceful resolution
to the conflict. Kazimirov complains that the competition between the
mediators themselves was so obvious that it went beyond the norms of
diplomatic etiquette, as when, for example, during a Minsk Group meeting

in Moscow, he accidentally discovered that the “Western” members of the

group had been holding separate meetings to discuss how to counteract
Russian efforts.38
The view that the competition between Russia and the West in the medi-
ation efforts was so fierce that it often obstructed the mediation effort itself
is echoed from the other side of the divide by the US representative to
the Minsk Group of the time, John Maresca. Maresca argues that Russia’s
desire to monopolize peacekeeping efforts in the territory of the former
USSR led to a situation that was described by one Karabakh Armenian in
the following way: “We have become the mediators between the Russians
and the CSCE.”39 Evidence of how the competition between Russia and
the West in the context of the Minsk Group could sometime lead to some
quite undiplomatic episodes is provided by Philip Remler.40
It was within the context of this competition that the ceasefire of 1994
was signed with Russian mediation, rather than with the participation of
the Minsk Group. However, as the format of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs,
including Russia, the US and France took form, the competition between
various mediators gave way to more cooperation, or at least the competition
was pushed below the surface. Most analysts agree that currently relations
among the Minsk Group co-chairs are dominated by the spirit of coop-
eration, and if there is competition, it mostly stays far from the surface.
Kazimirov says that sometimes he envied the current Russian Co-Chair,
since the cooperation between Russia and the West in the framework of
the Minsk Group is so much smoother today than it used to be in the early
The activities of the Minsk Group have been subject to much criti-
cism from both sides of the conflict as well as from third parties. Many
in Azerbaijan have accused the Minsk Group Co-Chairs of legitimiz-
ing the status quo, which serves Armenian interests. According to this
view, the Minsk Group has failed to bring about progress, which is
understood first of all as withdrawal of Armenian forces from the ter-
ritories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. On the other hand, criticism
coming from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh often focuses on the
Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ reactions to ceasefire violations and to the
use of belligerent rhetoric. According to this argument, the fact that
the Co-Chairs normally refuse to point to the specific culprit behind
violations encourages Azerbaijan to continue using ceasefire violations
as a tool for applying pressure on the Armenian sides. Both criticisms
may have some basis in reality, yet both criticisms stem from exagger-
ated expectations that the Minsk Group is hardly in a position to fulfil.

Being a mediator, the Minsk Group cannot solve problems if the sides are
unable to agree on a compromise, and if each side refuses to make the con-
cessions necessary for a compromise solution. Therefore, if there has been
no progress in the negotiations and the status quo has been perpetuated,
one has to look for the causes not in the actions of the Co-Chairs, but in
the positions of the sides. On the other hand, the Minsk Group’s status as a
mediator, rather than an arbiter, means that it is often forced to refrain from
“naming and shaming” one of the sides, even in those cases when it pos-
sesses information about which side is responsible for ceasefire violations.

On balance, the achievements of the Minsk Group may be modest, but
they are still important. For about two decades the ceasefire in Nagorno-
Karabakh has held, even in the absence of a peace-making force. This is a
significant achievement, especially compared to other protracted conflicts,
where peace has been kept by (Russian) peacekeepers, and, in case of Geor-
gia, for a much shorter period of time. Though the fact that the ceasefire
has held for so long is related to many factors and the activities of the medi-
ators are only one of them, it would be wrong to ignore the positive role
of the Minsk Group in keeping the situation calm. The negotiations, even
when they produced no specific results, provided a channel of communi-
cation between the sides, which has helped for the time being to prevent
Moreover, the experience of the Minsk Group, and more generally,
the cooperation between the West and Russia in the context of Karabakh
issue, provide an example of successful cooperation has survived various
ups and downs of a complicated relationship. Through various crises and
“resets” between Russia and the West, their consensus on how to deal with
Nagorno-Karabakh, which had emerged in the early 1990s has remained in
place. Today, when the relations between Russia and the West are following
a pattern which is often described as a “New Cold War”, the example of
Nagorno-Karabakh remains one of those cases where cooperation based on
pragmatic interests has remained undeterred. However, at the same time,
the Karabakh case also demonstrates the limits of such cooperation. While
Russia and the West demonstrate a similarity of approaches on how to han-
dle the situation that exists in the region today, it remains to be seen if this
solidarity will remain in place when the resolution of the conflict becomes
a realistic perspective, rather than a distant possibility.

Acknowledgements This chapter is based on a research paper based on a research

funded with Hurford Next Generation Fellowship of the Hurford Foundation and
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The author would like to thank
James Collins and Philip Remler for their comments and suggestions.

1. For an overview of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh see Thomas
de Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and
War (New York: New York University Press, 2003); Vicken Cheterian,
War and Peace in the Caucasus: Russia’s Troubled Frontier (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2009); for a discussion of negotiation pro-
cess and peacebuilding efforts see Laurence Broers, “Confidence-Building
in the Karabakh Conflict: What Next?”, Caucasus Edition (3 June 2014).
karabakh-conflict-what-next/; Artak Ayunts, Mikayel Zolyan, and Tigran
Zakaryan, “Nagorny Karabakh Conflict: Prospects for Conflict Transfor-
mation”, Nationalities Papers, 44:4 (2016). For a discussion of polit-
ical processes in de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic see Pål Kolstø
and Helge Blakkisrud, “De Facto States and Democracy: The Case
of Nagorno Karabakh”, Communist and Postcommunist Studies, 45:1–2
(2012), pp. 141–151. For discussion of clashing historical narratives of the
conflict sides see Viktor Shnirelman, The Value of the Past: Myths, Iden-
tity and Politics in Transcaucasia (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology,
2. Confidential interview with an expert from Russia, Moscow, February
3. “Relations with Armenia”, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, http://
4. Andrew Gardner, “Armenia Chooses Russia Over EU”, Politico (3 Septem-
ber 2013),
5. “EU Relations with Armenia”, European External Action Service, http://
6. Joshua Kucera, “Armenia Signs Landmark Agreement with EU”, Eura- (24 November 2017),
7. Robert Ledger, “The EU’s Lack of Unity and Strategy Is Being Felt
in Azerbaijan”, Open Democracy Net (27 July 2016), https://www.
8. Radio Azatutyun, Armeni vozderalas pri golosovanii v PASE
po rezolcii o lixenii Rossii prava golosa (29 January

2015),; IA REGNUM,

Azerbadan golosoval v PASE ishod iz svoih interesov —
mnenie (30 January, 2015),
9. Soglaxeni medu Rossie i Armenie po voprosam voennogo
sotrudniqestva i pomowi, Kavkazski Uzel, http://www.kavkaz-
10. Dogovor medu RA i RF o statuse Pograniqnyh vosk RF,
nahodwihs na territorii RA, i uslovih ih funkcionirovani
(30 sentbr 1992 g., Erevan), Kavkazski Uzel, http://www.
11. Emil Danielyan, “Russia, Armenia Upgrade Joint Air Defense”, Radio
Liberty Armenia (23 December 2016),
12. Emil Danielyan, “Why Armenia’s Military Alliance with Russia Is Not
at Risk”, RFE/RL (7 November 2015),
13. Ibid.
14. Radio Azatutyun, “Russia Asked to Speed Up Arms Deal with Armenia”
(7 April 2016),
15. Interview with Nikolay Silayev, MGIMO, Moscow, July 2016.
16. Armen Grigoryan, “Russia’s Image in Armenia Damaged by Fight-
ing in Karabakh”, The Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily
Monitor, 13:73 (14 April 2016),
17. See, for example, Gevorg Mirzayan, “Strelt Ldi”, Expert (5 April
18. Interview with Nikolay Silayev, MGIMO Moscow, February 2016.
19. Interview with Aleksandr Skakov, Center of Post-Soviet studies at IMEMO,
Moscow, July 2016.
20. Statement by the Spokesperson on Fatalities in the Nagorno-
Karabakh Conflict, European Union External Action Service (22 June
Karabakh%20conflict; Statement by High Representative/Vice-President
Federica Mogherini on the Escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict,
European Union External Action Service (2 April 2016), https://eeas.
21. Confidential interview with an EEAS official, Brussels, February 2016.
22. Interview with Tom de Waal, Carnegie Europe, Brussels, February 2016.
23. Interview with EUSR for South Caucasus and Conflicts in Georgia, Brus-
sels, February 2016.

24. Confidential interview with a Member of the European Parliament, Brus-

sels, February 2016.
25. Interview with Hrant Kostanyan, Center for European Policy Studies, Brus-
sels, February 2016.
26. The “pro-Armenian” image of France may be based on stereotypes rather
than its actual policies. The supposedly “pro-Armenian” actions of France
in the past decades have been related to the recognition of the Armenian
Genocide in Turkey in 1915 and French-Turkish relations; however, this
recognition hardly affects the policies of France in other issues, including
the Karabakh issue.
27. “The European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over
28. Interview with EPNK participant from Azerbaijan, Tbilisi, July 2016.
29. Confidential interview with a NATO official, Brussels, March 2016.
30. The release of Ramil Safarov from Hungarian jail and his transfer to Azer-
baijan, where he received a hero’s welcome, became a cause for a major
international scandal and led to much tension in Nagorno-Karabakh in
2012 (“Blunder in Budapest: Hungary, Armenia and the Axe Murderer”,
The Economist [4 September 2012]).
31. Confidential interview with NATO official, Brussels, 2016.
32. Confidential interview with an expert from Russia, Moscow, March 2016.
33. Confidential interview with an expert from Turkey, Brussels, February
34. Confidential interview with an expert from Russia, Moscow, June 2016.
35. Confidential interview with an expert from Turkey, Brussels, February
36. Confidential interview with an expert from Russia, Moscow, March 2016.
37. Philip Remler, Chained to the Caucasus: Peacemaking in Karabakh,
1987–2012 (New York: International Peace Institute, 2016); Tom de Waal,
op. cit.; Vladimir Kazimirov, Peace for Karabakh: Toward an Anatomy of a
Resolution (Moscow, 2009); John Maresca, “Resolving the Conflict Over
Nagorno-Karabakh: Lost Opportunities for International Conflict Resolu-
tion”, in Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall (eds.),
Managing Global Chaos: Sources and Responses in International Conflict
(Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace Press, 1996), pp. 255–274.
38. Interview with Vladimir Kazimirov, March 2016, Moscow
39. John Maresca, op. cit, p. 273.
40. Philip Remler, op. cit., p. 68.
41. Interview with Vladimir Kazimirov, Moscow, February 2016.

Belarus: A Country Stuck In-Between

Euro-Atlantic Security

Yauheni Preiherman

Belarus is a former Soviet republic and now independent state that presents
an interesting, yet poorly explored, empirical puzzle for Euro-Atlantic secu-
rity. Theoretically informed research only rarely seems to focus on its for-
eign policy. When it does, it is often through the lens of the ‘last dictatorship
of Europe’ or the discourse of ‘Russia’s geopolitical backyard’. While these
lenses can be interesting in dealing with certain analytical questions, they
shed only sporadic, and often distorting, light on the country’s overall inter-
national behaviour. It is not surprising, therefore, that the logic and nature
of Belarus’s foreign policy are widely misunderstood in both academic and
policy debates. Besides being a problem and challenge for Belarus itself,
this established misunderstanding inhibits external actors’ ability to inter-
pret Minsk’s behaviour in foreign affairs and to correctly identify the limits
of the possible in dealing with Belarus. This, in turn circumscribes the
Belarusian government’s ability to contribute more significantly to Euro-

Y. Preiherman (B)
Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations, Minsk, Belarus

© The Author(s) 2020 147

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

Atlantic security, an ambition it has declared since the outbreak of the crisis
in Ukraine in 2014.
In geographical terms, Belarus sits between Russia and the West/EU,
and is exposed to their competing geopolitical pressures. Belarus can be
conceptualised as a small in-between state with deeply entrenched asym-
metries in its relations with Russia and the West/EU. Other global and
regional powers also contribute to shaping the international environment
in Eastern Europe, where Belarus is located. Yet, even as other powers’
interests and projects (e.g. China’s Belt and Road Initiative) become bet-
ter represented, the Russian–Western/EU geopolitical axis remains central
to the region’s dynamics.
Officially, Belarus has declared a so-called ‘multi-vectored foreign poli-
cy’ (like the majority of other post-Soviet states) since it gained indepen-
dence in 1991. However, in reality the country finds itself stuck amid tough
geostrategic asymmetries, which turn the very idea of a balanced multi-
vectored foreign policy into a figure of speech rather than a viable strategy.
In particular, its heavy multi-level and multi-sector dependence on Russia,
as contrasted by significantly weaker linkages with the EU, pre-programmes
and structurally restricts its space for international manoeuvring. In other
words, this structure dictates that Minsk should hold relations with Russia
as its absolute priority and act accordingly when making foreign policy deci-
sions. Conventional theories of international relations (structural realism,
in the first place) expect countries under similar conditions to bandwagon
systematically with the dominating power. Yet, and here comes the puzzle,
even shallow observations of Belarus’s foreign policy behaviour suggest that
Minsk does not restrict itself to what conventional theoretical approaches
would expect. To be sure, some of its foreign policy moves can be seen
as bandwagoning. But Belarus does not bandwagon with Russia automati-
cally. On top of that, it is not uncommon for Minsk to behave in ways that
actually look the opposite of bandwagoning and are certainly inconsistent
with structural theoretical expectations.
Recent examples of such ‘counter-structural’ behaviour include Belaru-
sian responses to the Russian–Georgian war of 2008 and Russian–Ukrainian
conflicts over the Crimea and Donbas. In both cases, Minsk did not side
with an increasingly assertive Russia, despite their formal alliance and the
fact that Moscow exerted certain pressure on its ally (at least, in the for-
mer case). In particular, Belarus did not follow in Russia’s steps in recog-
nising Georgia’s break-away territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as
independent states. Moreover, Minsk preserved and even intensified rela-

tions with the Georgian authorities, the latter’s strong anti-Russian senti-
ments notwithstanding. A similar, though more delicate stance was taken
by Minsk in the context of the Russian–Ukrainian confrontation. First, it
has not formally recognised the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Second,
it abstained from unequivocally supporting Moscow’s line on the Don-
bas crisis. Moreover, Belarus has expanded its cooperation with Ukraine,
including in security-sensitive areas.
In general, Belarus strives, where and when it can, to stay neutral in
various manifestations of tensions between Russia and the West. It has also
made Euro-Atlantic security a headline theme in its foreign policy, in par-
ticular by initiating a new political dialogue between the East and West
about the foundations of security and interstate relations in today’s world.
In spite of its membership of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation
(CSTO), a Russia-led security alliance, and having mutual defence commit-
ments with Moscow, Belarus does not object to cooperating with NATO
and its member states on issues which do not conflict with its alliance obli-
gations with Russia. It also makes noticeable efforts to diversify economic
relations by engaging as much as possible with the EU and other third

Theoretical and Empirical Puzzles

All this is not to say that structural factors do not play a significant role
in shaping the international behaviour of Belarus, they do to a large
extent. Yet, all too often, the empirical reality proves to be different or,
at least, more complex than what structure-driven theoretical approaches
can explain. Therefore, the foreign policy of Belarus presents an empirical
puzzle that poses a number of important questions about the international
behaviour of small ‘in-between’ states in the conditions of worsening Euro-
Atlantic security.
Given the nature of the political system in Belarus (a consolidated
authoritarian regime), scholars and policy analysts are often tempted to
place emphasis on domestic (actor-level) factors in explaining its foreign
policy behaviour. Most of this analysis is conducted within the Innenpoli-
tik framework. The theory of omni-balancing is often utilised to that end,
which focuses on the survival rationale of a state’s leadership rather than
that of the state itself.1 However, many recurrent patterns of Minsk’s inter-
national behaviour remain uncaptured by this theory. It tends to rush to
quick conclusions based on the ‘First Image’ (leaders-level) assumptions

while system-level (‘Third Image’) factors might be at play. For example,

why did Minsk continue reaching out to the West and keeping as many
doors open as possible in its relations with the West even at the height of
diplomatic tensions regarding human rights and democracy in Belarus in
2010–2012? Or why did President Alexander Lukashenka choose not to
satisfy Russia’s demands to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia even as
Moscow signalled threats to punish him for not supporting their ally?
On top of everything else, domestic-level approaches, as well as struc-
tural analysis, can hardly explain regular contradictions and what some-
times looks like mutually exclusive foreign policy decisions by Belarus. For
instance, how can structural and Innenpolitik theories interpret the follow-
ing sequence of decisions by Minsk in relation to the Russian–Ukrainian
conflict over the Crimea? First, Belarus refuses to recognise Crimea as part
of Russia.2 Yet, at the UN General Assembly it voted against resolution
11493, which calls upon states not to recognise the changes in the status
of the Crimea region.3 And immediately after that vote, the government
of Belarus instructed its national cartography agency to keep the Crimea
as part of Ukraine on official maps, justifying it by the fact that the UN
General Assembly voted in favour of resolution 11493.4
Thus, both structure and domestic-level analysis have difficulty explain-
ing foreign policy making in Belarus. The bandwagoning-balancing
dichotomy that is often used to analyse Belarusian behaviour looks too
simplistic and rigid. Not only does it fail to predict Belarus’s international
conduct, this framework is also inherently deficient in its ability to capture
numerous nuances of decision-making and policy implementation.

The Concept of Strategic Hedging

In order to address the analytical deficiencies of the balancing-
bandwagoning dichotomy in relation to Belarus’s foreign and security poli-
cies, alternative conceptual approaches are needed. This Chapter argues
that the concept of strategic hedging offers such a better alternative. This
concept is relatively new to the literature but is becoming increasingly pop-
ular. It is most abundant in research on the international behaviour of
Southeast Asian nations, but more recently, it has been introduced to the
study of foreign policy-making in the Middle East as well.5 However, it is
almost entirely absent from the literature on post-Soviet states.
The idea of hedging was borrowed from the literature on business and
finance. What has long been considered as prudent behaviour in economics

provides interesting insights into the performance of states in the interna-

tional political arena. The logic of a profit-seeking company seems to have
much in common with the logic of an interest-maximising state: ‘hedging
practices in an industrial corporation aim to minimise the variance of profits
due to the volatility of market prices of inputs, interest rates, and exchange
rates’.6 Uncertainty and volatility are characteristic of both international
markets and international relations at large. Hence, actors and entities,
which strive to stay afloat and succeed, should be rationally looking for
ways to ensure themselves against future unpredictability.
The concept of hedging is mainly operationalised to deal with the anal-
ysis of small/weaker states. For example, Tessman and Wolfe apply it to
‘second-tier’ states, i.e. powers with inferior capabilities compared to the
system leader. They maintain that such states cannot afford to balance
against the system leader and, therefore, turn to a more sophisticated policy
of hedging with a view to eschewing confrontation while at the same time
opposing the system leader where they can.7
Various definitions of strategic hedging in international relations empha-
sise the central concern hedging states share–that of averting risks which
emanate from uncertainties in the international environment. Thus,
Cheng-Chwee offers the following definition of hedging: ‘[a] behaviour
in which a country seeks to offset risks by pursuing multiple policy options
that are intended to produce mutually counteracting effects, under the sit-
uation of high-uncertainties and high-stakes’.8 Tran et al. unpack the way
in which strategic hedging deals with risks: it aims at threat-minimising and
opportunity-maximising.9 Importantly, this foreign policy line is forward-
looking–that is why it is strategic. At the same time, it is not just about
giving up the present day for the sake of future gains. Hedging is supposed
to produce flexibility and an optimal balance between insuring the future
and extracting benefits out of existing relationships today.10 Goh further
details this by underlining that a hedging state intends to avoid or prepare
for a situation in which it ‘cannot decide upon more straightforward alter-
natives such as balancing, bandwagoning, or neutrality.’11 As a result, it has
to adhere to ‘a middle position that forestalls or avoids having to choose
one side at the obvious expense of another’.12 Often, this produces con-
tradictory or even opposing foreign policy decisions and actions.13 Dong
sums up these characteristics of strategic hedging in the following way:

[…] an insurance strategy that aims at reducing or minimising risks aris-

ing from the uncertainties in the system, increasing freedom of manoeuver,

Balancing Hedging Strategy Bandwagoning

Strategy Strategy
Risk-Contingency Return-Maximising Options
(Pure Options (Pure form)
Indirect- Dominance Economic Binding Limited-
Balancing Denial Pragmatism Engagement Bandwagoning

Fig. 10.1 Foreign policy responses to a (re-)emerging power within the hedging
framework (Cheng-Chwee, “The Essence of Hedging”, p. 166)

diversifying strategic options, and shaping the preferences of adversaries. It is

a portfolio or mixed strategy that consists of both cooperative and competi-
tive strategic instruments ranging from engagement and enmeshment, all the
way up to balancing. Any hedging portfolio will be a combination of both
cooperative and competitive strategic instruments.14

Tessman points out that strategic hedging is ‘simultaneously less con-

frontational than traditional balancing, less cooperative than bandwago-
ning, and more proactive than buck-passing.’15 States apply diverse tools
and policies to retain the ability to ‘easily move back and forth along the
bandwagoning-balancing continuum, depending on developments in bilat-
eral relations and changes in the international environment’.16 Crucially,
under extreme circumstances, ‘a state may even quickly switch to pure bal-
ancing or bandwagoning strategies without requiring a major overhaul of
its foreign and security policies’.17
But how does strategic hedging relate to other concepts of foreign policy
behaviour? Cheng-Chwee presents a segmented continuum of hedging
policy options between balancing and bandwagoning (Fig. 10.1).
Cheng-Chwee defines the policy of strategic hedging as ‘a multiple-
component strategy between the two ends of the balancing-bandwagoning
spectrum’.18 In his view, hedging involves ‘a combination of both military
and non-military options, with particular reliance on multilateral institu-
tions.’19 He divides hedging states’ possible foreign policy responses into

two categories: risk-contingency and return-maximising options. The for-

mer accounts for hard security-oriented concerns and the latter is tuned
towards the provision of economic gains. The hedging portfolio foresees
that states exercise all or most of these policy options either simultaneously
or consecutively.
Both balancing and bandwagoning as overarching foreign policy strate-
gies are increasingly unacceptable for small states that sit amid geostrategic
uncertainties: primarily, because both are likely to have detrimental effects
on their sovereignty and manoeuvrability in international relations. The
former can prove to be too costly when it requires that a small state should
take antagonistic stances towards another state, which ultimately narrows
its strategic options.20 In the case of bandwagoning, ‘getting too close to
a colossus may entail the possibility of losing […] independence and invit-
ing uncalled-for interference.’21 Furthermore, systemic uncertainties can
easily drag a small state into an international conflict against its own will as
a result of having ‘backed the wrong horse’.22 Guzansky summarises the
hedging logic of a small state:

Hedging is meant to cope with the limitations imposed on a state in acting

independently toward larger powers while also aiming to keep open the max-
imum number of possibilities. Such a strategy involves a large investment of
inputs in both directions (in order to maintain the alliance and to preserve
good relations with the threatening power) as well as risk because, in the
worst of all possible worlds, it is liable to invoke the wrath of both adver-
sary and ally. [It] would be […] accurate to view this strategy as a conscious
decision by states to simultaneously use various active components, allegedly
contradictory, in order to offset risks.23

Belarus—A Hedger In-Between Euro-Atlantic

Multiple elements of strategic hedging in Belarus’s international behaviour
can be traced back to the beginning of the 2000s, when Minsk declared that
it would adhere to a multi-vectored foreign policy. Yet, the hedging logic
behind the country’s decisions in foreign and security policies has become
particularly evident since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014. What
can explain this? At least four factors seem to have been at play.
First, the leadership of Belarus, and President Alexander Lukashenka in
particular, must have been shocked by what happened in Crimea and then

Donbas. To be sure, Belarusian officials are the best experts on Russia and
probably the most qualified Kremlinologists in the world. They have unpar-
alleled experience of cooperating with Russian partners on all levels of local
and national government and have enjoyed access to exclusive insider infor-
mation throughout the two and a half decades of independence. Thus, they
entertain no illusions about Russia’s policies and are resistant to both pro-
Russian and anti-Russian propaganda. Moreover, the Georgian–Russian
war of 2008 had already demonstrated what kind of measures Moscow is
ready to undertake in order to protect what it sees as its ‘sphere of privi-
leged’ interests.24
However, the crises in Crimea and Donbas still came as a shock to the
Belarusian authorities. At least, this is what can be concluded from their
public reactions during the initial months of the conflict. Not only were
they not consulted or even informed by Russian colleagues about their
plans in Ukraine (which one could have expected given the close relations
between Minsk and Moscow and their membership of the Union State of
Belarus and Russia, the CSTO, as well the Eurasian Economic Union), but
they did not even receive from Russia any explanation post factum.
A purely psychological factor might have also been at play. As real-
ist as the worldview of the Belarusian authorities seems to be, President
Lukashenka has always expressed a strong appreciation of the notion of
the Slavic fraternal triangle of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. His multiple
comments before and after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis appear to
suggest that he could expect anything from Moscow but its application
of force to redraw post-Soviet borders in such a significant way. In this
respect, the events in Crimea and Donbas have been far more shocking for
the Belarusian elites than what happened in Georgia in 2008.
Second, a real war broke out on Belarus’ doorstep. After decades of
peaceful co-existence and cooperation with neighbours, this sent a very
disturbing and worrying signal that stability and security were no longer
a given. The level of unpredictability skyrocketed. Security threats multi-
plied, which manifested itself not only in military tensions but also in the
inflow of asylum seekers, broken economic ties and rounds of mutual sanc-
tions between Russia and the West, and unprecedented confrontation in
the information space. Belarus’s geography immediately made the coun-
try exposed to all of these challenges. Moreover, Russia and Ukraine are
Belarus’s number one and number two trading partners, respectively. The
very thought of taking a side in their confrontation contradicts the funda-
mental interest of Minsk.

Third, the crises in Ukraine revealed fundamental deficiencies in the

Euro-Atlantic security system and particularly its inability to offer real secu-
rity guarantees to weaker East European states. The existing post-Cold
War security architecture failed to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity
and peace in the region. It is important to emphasise that for a small in-
between country like Belarus, Russia’s actions were only one part of the
whole story. The annexation of Crimea by Russia violated the Budapest
memorandum (to which Belarus is also a signatory) directly and brutally,
as well as being a breach of Russia’s bilateral Agreement on Friendship,
Cooperation and Partnership with Ukraine.
Yet, the other, less discussed, side of the story is that neither the West
nor any other international actor was capable of preventing the crisis from
happening and ensuring that Ukraine’s sovereignty be respected once the
conflict began. Debates about who is to blame and what led to such devel-
opments are important and academically interesting.25 But for a geopoliti-
cally vulnerable actor, which has just observed its neighbour being territo-
rially torn apart, these discussions have marginal practical meaning. What
really matters is the fact that one regional power violated the contractual
rules of international conduct and the rights of a sovereign state, whereas
others failed to stand up for those rules and rights in a way which would
have restored the status quo.
Fourth, it quickly became obvious that further escalation of military-
political tensions between Russia and the West would significantly narrow
Minsk’s room for manoeuvre in foreign policy. As a member of the CSTO
and the Union State with Russia, Minsk has strong military bonds and
mutual obligations with Moscow. As the latter’s confrontation with the
West deepens, the Kremlin naturally looks for ways to improve its strate-
gic standing. Belarus’s geographic position makes the country particularly
important in the context of this confrontation. Belarusian territory is com-
monly regarded by the Russian military as a ‘strategic balcony’, and control
over it can provide a crucial strategic edge.26
It is not surprising therefore that Moscow has repeatedly asked its ally
to allow the stationing of its troops on Belarusian territory. In particular,
it initiated the establishment of a permanent airbase on the premises of
one of the former Soviet airbases in Belarus. Since Minsk does not see
today’s confrontation as ‘its own war’ and is rightfully worried that hosting
Russian troops would automatically make Belarusian territory a key target
for NATO, it has vehemently opposed the idea. Yet, if the situation keeps

escalating, at a certain point Minsk might find it increasingly difficult to

oppose being dragged into others’ conflict.
The situation has been further complicated for Belarus by the legacy of
its relations with the West. In 2014, after years of sanctions and isolation, it
had poor official communications with the EU and US. For example, it was
(and still is) the only East European state with no contractual relations with
the EU. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was negotiated and
signed in the mid-1990s but was never ratified by all EU member states. As
a result, until the present-day, Minsk’s relations with Brussels are regulated
by the 1989 Agreement between the European Economic Community
and the European Atomic Energy Community and the USSR on Trade
and Commercial and Economic Cooperation.27
Against the backdrop of such structural conditions, the Belarusian
authorities perceived the crisis in Ukraine as a wakeup call.28 They inter-
preted the events in Crimea and Donbas, as well as international reactions
to them, in a realist manner and concluded that they had to make use of all
existing opportunities to strengthen Belarus’s sovereign resilience by diver-
sifying its international relations and broadening its manoeuvring space in
the foreign policy and security realms. They also seem to have learned some
immediate lessons from the Ukraine crisis. In particular, soon after it broke
out, Belarus reviewed its military doctrine29 and martial law30 in a way that
clearly incorporated Ukraine’s experience of hybrid warfare.
This is not to say that Minsk has started to see Russia as the central
menace to its security and, therefore, decided to slowly walk away from
its traditional ally. The foreign policy thinking in Minsk is not about bet-
ting on the ‘right side.’ Rather, its primary concern is not to fall victim
to the Russian–Western confrontation.31 Under such circumstances, given
the intensity of its relations with Russia and the poor level of its ties with the
West, bandwagoning with Russia is simply an unacceptable security strat-
egy, because sooner or later it will erode Belarus’ sovereignty. But balancing
against Russia is not an option either, as it simply doesn’t make sense for
Minsk. At the very least, balancing against Moscow would lead quickly to
a loss of numerous benefits that Belarus gets from its close relations with
Russia. They include: preferential access to Russia’s market and credit, dis-
counted gas and oil prices, cooperation in the military-industrial area, etc.
And Minsk has no viable alternative to compensate for such hypothetical
losses. In the worst-case scenario, balancing against Russia could even lead
to military or hybrid reactions by the Kremlin with a view to quickly return-
ing the status quo in Belarusian foreign and security policy. Were this to

happen, it seems unlikely that any real help would come from the West or
any other international actor that could deter Russia.
As a result, Belarus has employed a line of international behaviour
that can be seen as a clear case of strategic hedging. It is a policy
mix which, in Cheng-Chwee’s categories, combines risk-contingency and
return-maximising policy options. Simultaneously, Minsk attempts to pre-
serve and even deepen relations with Russia, normalise and multiply ties
with the EU and US, and engage more systematically with third actors
(primarily, China, Turkey, and India).32 Sometimes, on a daily level, these
simultaneous tracks result in policy contradictions. Or, rather, they might
look like contradictions to external observers, whereas for Belarus these are
simultaneous attempts to address multiple risks and uncertainties in bilat-
eral relations with each foreign partner, as well as those stemming from
the worsening of Euro-Atlantic security. The latter has particularly delete-
rious implications for Belarus’s own security: the more tense the relations
between Russia and the West get, the less manoeuvring space Belarus has.
At some point the situation could become so bad for Belarus that it will
see its sovereignty undermined as a result of structural shifts rather than
Russia’s or the West’s unilateral actions. In other words, if the geopolit-
ical situation escalates to a really dramatic level, great power politics and
spheres of influence thinking will in all likelihood overtake any concerns
that smaller states might have. Then the latter will have no other option
but to accept Thucydides’s wisdom: […] as the world goes, right is only in
question between equals in power. Meanwhile, the strong do what they can and
the weak suffer what they must.33
It is the fear of such developments that explains why all sorts of peace-
making initiatives have become a central element, and even a trademark, of
Belarus’s hedging portfolio. In August 2014 and February 2015, Minsk
became the ground for diplomatic talks on the crisis in Ukraine. Agree-
ments, which were concluded as the result of the talks, became known as
Minsk-1 and Minsk-2.34 In addition to the summits that produced these
agreements, the Belarusian capital has also hosted regular meetings of the
Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which gathers together representa-
tives of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE. In 2017, Minsk hosted 26 rounds
of these meetings. It has also become a venue for negotiations in the Nor-
mandy Four format, which includes Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France.
The very fact of Minsk becoming a neutral ground amidst regional con-
frontation has given it leeway to stay away from tensions.

However, as the resolution of the conflict in the Donbas is becoming

increasingly long-term and the meetings of the Trilateral Contact Group
on Ukraine are turning into routine, the benefits of being neutral ground
for Belarus’s own security are also dwindling. As a result, Minsk has to
look for new avenues and issues where it can sustain and strengthen its
neutral image. The latter is not a goal of itself, but rather an instrument
of minimising risks to its own security and sovereignty. In addition, the
Belarusian authorities also seem increasingly worried about the fact that
the security situation in Eastern Europe, as well as in the Euro-Atlantic
space at large, remains utterly vulnerable and shows no signs of longer-
term stabilisation.35 In this respect, it is important to note that Minsk,
perhaps, is the key stakeholder of regional security through de-escalation
and cooperation, rather than through defence and deterrence.
Again, this results from the country’s geography and nature of rela-
tions with the conflicting parties. Unlike the other East European nations,
which are either members of the EU or NATO or have clearly declared
strategic goals to become members, Minsk is a member of the CSTO and
cannot entertain a realistic ambition to join these Euro-Atlantic structures.
This very factor predetermines the diverging strategic behaviour of Eastern
European nations. Whereas the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine are inter-
ested in strengthening the political presence of NATO and US militaries
in the region as a guarantee of the alliance’s resolve to defend its Eastern
flank, Belarus is utterly sensitive to a regional security dilemma and the
imminent possibility of a security spiral. The main fear that the Belarusian
authorities seem to have is that the security spiral will very soon lead to
a situation where they can no longer object to a Russian military base on
Belarusian soil.36 Poland’s recently announced proposal to host a perma-
nent US armoured division (with the suggested name of Fort Trump) has
only further aggravated concerns in Minsk.37
Ironically, as much as current regional developments complicate Minsk’s
hedging endeavours, they also make the Belarusian authorities only more
convinced that their strategic hedging portfolio is the only way to go. The
manner in which Belarus handled its joint military exercises with Russia,
Zapad-2017, became a vivid indication of this. In spite of numerous allega-
tions, which at times looked like hysteria, that Russia was planning to leave
its troops in Belarus for a future operation against either Belarus itself or
Ukraine, Minsk did not backtrack on the plans to hold the drills. Yet, in
contrast to Russia, it demonstrated utmost transparency before, during and
after the war games. In particular, Minsk held several military-to-military

briefings at the OSCE and NATO headquarters, invited observers from

seven countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Sweden, and
Norway) and six international organisations (UN, OSCE, NATO, CIS,
CSTO, and the Red Cross) and was transparent about the exercise’s sce-
nario.38 Additionally, the Belarusian Ministry of Defence made a principled
decision to use exercise fields located deep in the country’s territory rather
than the ones close to the borders with Ukraine and NATO member states.
The latter decision was thought of as a confidence-building measure and
was also aimed at minimising chances of a provocation.39
Thus, Minsk’s behaviour in the context of the Zapad-2017 military drills
offer an example of how the Belarusian hedging strategy can be of practical
value for both Belarus’s own security and regional stability. In particu-
lar, it demonstrated Belarus’s ability and willingness to use its sovereignty
to deescalate military-political tensions in the Euro-Atlantic area, while
not undermining its close bilateral ties with Russia. If Russian–Western
relations continue to deteriorate, the role of Minsk, if propped up by the
major powers, will become an increasingly valuable asset for Euro-Atlantic
security. Furthermore, Belarus has been unusually active on the ‘politico-
intellectual’ level and has put forward several foreign policy initiatives aimed
at de-escalating tensions in the Euro-Atlantic space. One such initiative
is the promotion of connectivity in Europe, which became the slogan of
Belarus’s presidency of the Central European Initiative in 2017.40 Of par-
ticular note, this was the first time Belarus had held a rotating presidency
in a sub-regional organisation beyond the post-Soviet space. Another such
initiative is the idea of a common economic space between Lisbon and
Vladivostok, i.e. of a dialogue between the EU and the Eurasian Economic
But the most ambitious of all is the idea, which was initially branded as
‘a new Helsinki process’, that is Minsk’s appeal to the Euro-Atlantic com-
munity to launch a new negotiation process with a view to ending uncon-
trolled military-political escalation and re-establishing universally accepted
rules of international behaviour.42 While Belarusian officials realise how
problematic the idea of an all-European security dialogue is against the
background of present geopolitical tensions, the initiative reflects Minsk’s
intuitive understanding of its own structural vulnerabilities and strategic
weaknesses. For this reason, Belarusian diplomats persist in promoting the
idea, even though branding it in a less bold way.

Recent developments in Euro-Atlantic security have shed new light on the
international behaviour of Belarus, which for many years was seen through
the narratives of the ‘last dictatorship of Europe’ or ‘Russia’s geopolitical
backyard’. It has turned out that these lenses are not particularly useful for
understanding the country’s foreign and security policies; this has become
obvious in light of the crisis in Ukraine. Not only do these views distort
Minsk’s security rationales, but they also complicate any prognosis and,
thus, make it more difficult for other actors to get the maximum out of
their cooperation with Belarus. They also overshadow Minsk’s multiple
initiatives aimed at deescalating regional and Euro-Atlantic tensions.
Instead, looking at Belarus through a security-oriented realist lens pro-
duces a more helpful analytical model. In particular, this approach high-
lights the foundations of foreign policy thinking in Minsk, which are rooted
in the perceptions of structural vulnerability and unpredictability. As a
small state stuck in-between Euro-Atlantic security, Belarus demonstrates
a strong inclination towards strategic hedging in its foreign and security
policies, and neutrality and peace-making initiatives are a core component
of this policy portfolio. There is every reason to expect that Minsk will
continue the hedging line with a view to strengthening its own sovereignty
and regional stability in the future.

1. S. R. David, “Explaining Third World Alignment”, World Politics, 43:2
(1991), pp. 233–256.
2. Interv’yu Prezidenta Respubliki Belarus A. G. Lukashenko programme
“Shuster LIVE” [Interview of the President of the Republic of
Belarus A. G. Lukashenko for the programme “Shuster LIVE”], Offi-
cial Portal of the President of the Republic of Belarus (28 March
3. United Nations, “General Assembly Adopts Resolution Calling Upon
States Not to Recognize Changes in Status of Crimea Region” (27 March
4. A. Shraibman, “Chei rym? Kak gosstruktury Belarusi reshayut etot delikat-
nyi vopros” [Where Does the Crimea Belong? How Belarusian Government
Bodies Resolve This Delicate Issue], (18 April 2016), https://news.

5. See, for example, Y. Guzansky, “Strategic Hedging by Non-great Powers in

the Persian Gulf”, in A. Klieman (ed.), Great Powers and Geopolitics: Inter-
national Affairs in a Rebalancing World (Heidelberg: Springer, 2015);
K. Cheng-Chwee, “The Essence of Hedging: Malaysia and Singapore’s
Response to a Rising China”, Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of
International and Strategic Affairs, 30:2 (2008), pp. 159–185.
6. G. Fas and K. Senel, “Hedging Scenarios Under Competition: Explor-
ing the Impact of Competitors’ Hedging Practices”, in H. Dincer and U.
Hacioglu (eds.), Risk Management, Strategic Thinking and Leadership in
the Financial Services Industry (Heidelberg: Springer, 2017), p. 225.
7. B. Tessman and W. Wolfe, “Great Powers and Strategic Hedging: The
Case of Chinese Energy Security Strategy”, International Studies Review,
13 (2011), pp. 214–240.
8. K. Cheng-Chwee, “The Essence of Hedging: Malaysia and Singapore’s
Response to a Rising China”, Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of
International and Strategic Affairs, 30:2 (2008), p. 163.
9. P. T. Tran, A. V. G. Vieira, L. C. Ferreira-Pereira, “Vietnam’s Strategic
Hedging Vis-à-Vis China: The Roles of the European Union and Russia”,
Revista Brasileira de Politica Internacional, 56:1 (2013), p. 170.
10. L. H. Hiep, “Vietnam’s Hedging Strategy Against China Since Normali-
sation”, Contemporary Southeast Asia, 35:3 (2013), p. 337.
11. E. Goh, “Great Powers and Southeast Asian Regional Security Strategies:
Omni-Enmeshment, Balancing, and Hierarchical Order”, Working Paper
No. 84. (Singapore: Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, 2005),
p. 41.
12. Ibid.
13. V. Jackson, “Power, Trust, and Network Complexity: Three Logics of
hedging in Asian Security”, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 14
(2014), p. 333.
14. W. Dong, “Is China Trying to Push the US out of East Asia?”, China
Quarterly of International Strategic Studies, 1:1 (2015), p. 64.
15. B. Tessman, System Structure and State Strategy: Adding Hedging to the
Menu”, Security Studies, 21:2 (2012), p. 193
16. L. H. Hiep, “Vietnam’s Hedging Strategy Against China Since Normali-
sation”, Contemporary Southeast Asia, 35:3 (2013), p. 337.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid., p. 165.
19. Ibid., p. 179.
20. E. Goh, “Understanding ‘Hedging’ in Asia-Pacific Security”, PacNet 43
21. Cheng-Chwee, “The Essence of Hedging”, p. 164
22. Ibid., p. 165.

23. Y. Guzansky, “Strategic Hedging by Non-great Powers in the Persian Gulf”,

in A. Klieman (ed.), Great Powers and Geopolitics: International Affairs in
a Rebalancing World (Heidelberg: Springer, 2015), p. 234.
24. President of Russia, “Interv’yu Dmitriya Medvedeva rossiiskim
telekanalam” [Dmitry Medvedev’s Interview for Russian TV Channels], (31 August 2008),
25. D. Averre and K. Wolczuk, “Introduction: The Ukraine Crisis and Post-
Post-Cold War Europe”, Europe-Asia Studies, 68:4 (2016), pp. 551–555.
26. A. Alesin, “Moskva derzhit otkrytoi dver na belorussky ‘strategicheski
balkon’” [Moscow Keeps the Door to the Belarusian ‘Strategic Balcony’
Open], Belorusskie novosti (8 June 2014),
27. Agreement Between the European Economic Community and the Euro-
pean Atomic Energy Community and the Union of Soviet Social-
ist Republics on Trade and Commercial and Economic Cooperation
(15 March 1989),
28. K. Barushka, “After Decades of Russian Dominance, Belarus Begins to
Reclaim Its Language”, The Guardian (28 January 2015), https://www.
29. Y. Preiherman, “Belarus Prepares to Adopt New Military Doctrine”,
Jamestown Foundation (29 February 2016),
30. A. Sakhonchik, “Belarus: Bystander in the Ukrainian Crisis”, Center on
Global Interests (12 March 2015),
12/belarus-bystander-in-the-ukrainian-crisis/ [10 June 2018].
31. A. Lukashenko, “Belarus ne s Rossiyei protiv Evropy i ne s Evropoi
protiv Rossii” [Belarus Is Not with Russia Against Europe and Not with
Europe Against Russia], (24 May 2018), http://www.belta.
32. Minsk Barometer, “Monitoring of Foreign Policy and Regional
Security” No. 2, Minsk Dialogue Track-II Initiative (10 May
33. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (London: Penguin Classics,
1972), p. 402.
34. Full Text of the Minsk Agreement, Financial Times (12 Febru-
ary 2015),

35. A. Lukashenko, “Belarus ne s Rossiyei protiv Evropy i ne s Evropoi

protiv Rossii” [Belarus Is Not with Russia Against Europe and Not with
Europe Against Russia], (24 May 2018), http://www.belta.
36. Voice of America, “Belarus ne isklyuchaet vozmozhnost razmescheniya
rossiiskoi voennoi bazy na svoei territorii” [Belarus Does Not Rule out a
Russian Military Base on Its Territory] (1 June 2018), https://www.golos-
37. Y. Preiherman, “Belarus and Ukraine: Fort Trump’s Accidental Victims?”,
ECFR (1 October 2018),
38. Belta, “Belarus napravlyaet priglasheniya predstavitelyam zarubezhnykh
stran dlya nablyudeniya za ucheniyami ‘Zapad-2017’” [Belarus Is Inviting
Representatives of Foreign States to Observe the Zapad-2017 Exer-
cises], (13 July 2017),
39. Author’s confidential interview with a high-level representative of the
Belarusian government.
40. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, “Presidency of the Republic
of Belarus of the Central European Initiative in 2017”,
41. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, “On Participa-
tion of Foreign Minister of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership Sum-
mit”, (29 November 2013),
42. A. Lukashenko, “Address to OSCE PA Plenary Session in Minsk”, Pres- (5 July 2017),

The Mediterranean Dimension

of West-Russia Security Relations

Marco Siddi

In September 2015, Russia staged a significant military comeback to the
Middle East through its direct intervention in the Syrian civil war. The
intervention was officially presented as an anti-terrorism operation and took
the form of a bombing campaign in support of the Syrian army and its allies,
including Iranian and Hezbollah troops. The Russian Aerospace Forces
deployed in Syria were supported by strategic bombers flying from bases in
Russia, as well as by Navy ships and submarines that launched cruise missiles
from the Mediterranean and the Caspian seas.1 Thanks to this deployment,
Russia was able to influence decisively the course of the Syrian crisis and
consolidate its military presence in the country. The campaign was a display
of recently (re)acquired military might. Moreover, it showed leaders in the
Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that Russia is willing to uphold its
commitments as an ally and take on a leading diplomatic role in subsequent

M. Siddi (B)
Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Helsinki, Finland

© The Author(s) 2020 165

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,
166 M. SIDDI

Moscow’s military intervention in Syria was the clearest manifestation of

its renewed activism in the broader MENA region. Analysts identified sev-
eral drivers of Russia’s policy, including the quest for great power status, the
willingness to overcome the negative stalemate in relations with the West
after the Ukraine crisis and genuine concerns about the spread of terror-
ism from the MENA region to the post-Soviet space.2 Either way, Russia’s
growing involvement in MENA geopolitics has added a new geographical
dimension to the West-Russia security relationship and to Euro-Atlantic
security. While Europe and the post-Soviet space continue to be the main
contexts where the relationship is played out, considerable interaction has
recently taken place in the MENA too. Issues such as US–Russia coordi-
nation to avoid military clashes in Syria, for instance, have become central
to the West-Russia security agenda. As argued in the latter part of this
Chapter, interaction in MENA geopolitics has produced both additional
sources of tensions and new opportunities for cooperation in West-Russia
security relations.

Russia’s Turn to the MENA: Geopolitics, Domestic

Drivers and Ideational Factors
According to many scholars, particularly Russian ones, a broad geopolitical
logic aiming at restoring great power status explains current Russian poli-
cies in the MENA region. Dmitri Trenin has suggested that the Kremlin
is trying to change the global order from one characterised by US hege-
mony into a multipolar system where Russia is one of the poles.3 Russia’s
activeness in the MENA is a means to achieve that end, whereas reversing
Arab Spring dynamics or fighting terrorism are secondary goals.4 Arguing
along similar lines, Ekaterina Stepanova claims that the Russian interven-
tion in Syria is part of a broader geopolitical strategy that revolves around
the West.5 Russian power in Syria, or its leverage in the Libyan civil war,6
are trump cards in the broader relationship with the West. According to this
view, in the MENA, Russia has shown to the West that it remains a key actor
beyond the post-Soviet space. Moreover, it has tried to pressure the West
into cooperation on an anti-terrorism agenda, while simultaneously push-
ing the conflictual and contentious issue of Ukraine to the background.
Several Russian scholars as well as some European and transatlantic experts
have endorsed this perspective.7
According to Trenin and Stepanova, Russia is not seeking regional
hegemony in the Middle East, nor is it trying to weaken Washington’s

negotiating role over Syria. Stepanova argues that the military operation
in Syria was a ‘unilateral action to enforce multilateralism’, noting that the
involvement of other actors such as the EU and the Gulf States is inevitable
to finance post-conflict reconstruction.8 Trenin maintains that Russia needs
Washington at its side in order to highlight its return to the status of a great
power.9 However, the fact that the United States was only granted the sta-
tus of observer in the Astana peace process concerning Syria (which is led
by Russia and includes Turkey and Iran) partly calls into question Trenin’s
and Stepanova’s argument.
Other geopolitical perspectives differ from the ones cited above with
regard to the role assigned to the West and MENA actors in Russia’s geopo-
litical calculations. According to Nikolay Kozhanov, Russia’s activeness in
the MENA is a means of avoiding isolation not just by forcing the West
into negotiations or cooperation, but also by expanding links with other
regional actors.10 It is thus also about rebalancing Russia’s foreign relations
away from the West through partnerships with MENA states that matter
as a market for Russian weapons and nuclear power exports, the import of
technology, foreign direct investments and crucial deals to stabilise the oil
price. Taking this reasoning a step further, Yuri Barmin claims that Russia
is in fact challenging the United States in the MENA even in places such
as Egypt, where Washington had no intention of retreating.11 In his view,
Russia can play an intermediary role in several regional conflicts (Libya, the
Israel–Palestine and the Saudi–Qatari conflicts) where the United States has
taken sides and is no longer credible as a mediator. Following Kozhanov’s
and Barmin’s arguments, Russia can attain great power status also through
engagement with regional actors and conflicts, and not just as a result of
Western recognition.
Several scholars cite domestic concerns as among the reasons for Russia’s
MENA policies, such as the presence of Russian-speaking fighters in the
ranks of Isis and the risk that they may return to Russia (or other post-Soviet
countries) and become active there.12 The fact that mass protests took place
in Russian cities in 2011–2012, right after the Arab Spring protests, is often
mentioned as an important domestic driver of subsequent Russian actions
in the Middle East. However, only a few scholars argue that domestic factors
were more important than geopolitical or other considerations. Leonid
Issaev and Alisa Shishkina claim that the Kremlin launched the bombing
campaign in Syria primarily in order to mobilise domestic public opinion,
using the terrorist threat to create a ‘rally around the flag’ effect.13 This
argument draws its plausibility from the fact that terrorist attacks are a
168 M. SIDDI

recurrent and genuine threat in Russia, and decisive action against terrorists
(or groups described as such) boosted the government’s popularity in the
past (most notably, at the beginning of Putin’s career as a national leader,
when he launched the Second Chechen War).
In order to bolster their thesis, Issaev and Shishkina point at the timing
of the intervention in Syria, which was launched in September 2015. They
argue that it began while the mobilising effect of the annexation of Crimea
was waning and the internal economic situation was worsening; hence, the
need for a new foreign policy adventure. The display of military power
in Syria fed a superpower narrative that targeted domestic public opinion.
Influential Russian domestic actors were mobilised too. Most notably, the
Russian Orthodox Church endorsed the Syrian campaign as a holy fight to
protect Christian minorities in the Middle East.14
Among Western scholars, Roland Dannreuther has argued along similar
lines to Issaev and Shishkina. Even before Russia launched the bombing
campaign in Syria, he argued that the tense political situation in Russia
was critical in understanding why Putin saw a resolute stance in the Syrian
crisis as necessary to consolidate his domestic support.15 Hence, accord-
ing to him, ‘domestic and ideational factors have a stronger explanatory
force’ than geopolitical ones.16 In particular, the Russian intervention in
Syria ‘directly supported Putin’s effort to strengthen his domestic base of
Dannreuther’s arguments also highlight a third approach to understand-
ing the reasons for Russia’s MENA policies, which he adopts next to the
focus on domestic drivers: the role of ideational factors. According to Dan-
nreuther, there is a ‘Russian idea’ that is promoted especially by Putin and
shapes Russian policy.18 It revolves around the concepts of authoritarian
stability, anti-Western interventionism, anti-terrorism and a form of tra-
ditionalism that is tolerant of different religions and societies (as opposed
to perceived Western ‘hypersecularism’, conditionality and democracy pro-
motion). As Mark Katz has shown, these concepts are attractive to many
MENA political leaders and even parts of the society.19 Moreover, this
ideational stance makes Russia more inclined than the West to engage
with influential Islamic states and movements such as Iran, Hezbollah and
Other scholars refer to some elements of this ideational stance. Barmin
talks of Russia’s promotion of authoritarian stability that can curb soci-
etal chaos and terrorism.20 Echoing Dannreuther, Irina Zvyagelskaya states
that Russia and Arab countries display identity-related similarities stemming

from their unique location between East and West.21 Philipp Casula and
Mark Katz also argue that identity (together with power) is a key driver of
Russia’s MENA policy.22 However, more in-depth analyses would be nec-
essary in order to understand which aspects of Russian identity (for instance
great power-hood, or the self-perception of being an intermediary between
Eastern and Western cultures) play a more significant role and how exactly
they matter in policy formulation.

Russian Policy in the MENA: Economics, Security

and Diplomacy
While scholars have different views on which drivers mattered more for
Russia’s pivot to the MENA region, it is easier to identify the concrete
interests and policies that shape the pivot. To begin with, the formulation
of Russian interests and policy has been influenced by the leadership’s dis-
tinctive perception of the Arab Spring and of Western intervention in the
region. In the view of Russian leaders, the Arab Spring represented a return
to the traditional values of Middle Eastern societies, and thus promoted
Islamisation rather than democratisation.23 Russian leaders appeared keen
on containing both this process and Western intervention in the MENA,
which was seen as having catalysed Islamisation. President Vladimir Putin
harshly criticised NATO’s aerial campaign in Libya in 2011 and resolved
that Russia would prevent the repetition of a similar scenario elsewhere,
most notably in Syria.24 The Russian leadership became convinced that
‘the way the Syrian crisis is resolved will largely determine the model for
the international community’s response to internal conflict in the future’.25
Russia’s growing involvement in the MENA region also responds to
more immediate concerns, particularly the need to diversify relations away
from the West and thus compensate for the economic losses caused by
Western sanctions. Cooperation with MENA states can lead to the stabili-
sation or rise of global energy prices, which are critical to Russia’s economic
performance. In line with these multiple interests, Russia’s policy towards
the MENA has developed along several vectors, focusing on security, eco-
nomics and diplomacy.
Russia’s security policy revolves around its military presence in Syria,
which includes the air base of Hmeimim and the naval base of Tartus.
The deployment of the S-400 missile system has given the Russian military
considerable area-denial and anti-access capabilities over an even broader
region. Moreover, the air campaign in Syria led Russia to cooperate closely
170 M. SIDDI

with Iran and Iraq; a coordination centre was set up in Baghdad for this
purpose.26 Despite their different readings of the crisis, coordination has
also taken place with US and (since 2017 in particular) Turkish forces.
Outside the Syrian context, Moscow has strengthened military cooperation
with Egypt through joint naval, aerial and counter-terrorism exercises.
Russia’s increased military presence in the MENA is also driven by eco-
nomic goals, notably boosting its arms exports. In 2015–2017, the MENA
region became the second largest market for Russian arms exports after
the Asia-Pacific.27 In addition to the long-standing arms deals with Algeria
(the third largest importer of Russian weapons worldwide), Moscow signed
lucrative supply contracts with Egypt and Iraq, it sold the S-300 air defence
system to Iran, and could soon start exporting state-of-the-art equipment
to new purchasers, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in particular.
From an economic perspective, Russia’s energy diplomacy has been per-
haps the most successful aspect of its regional policy. In December 2016,
Moscow reached a deal with Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries to
curb oil production (known as the ‘OPEC Plus’ deal). This led to a rise
in the oil price (from around $30 to over $70 a barrel) and allowed the
stabilisation of the Russian economy, which is heavily dependent on oil
exports. Moreover, the rich Gulf states have started to make significant
investments in the Russian economy, which was a key goal of Russian pol-
icy following Western financial sanctions. In late 2016, at a difficult time
for the Russian economy, the Qatar Investment Authority (together with
commodities trader Glencore) acquired a 19.5% stake in Russia’s largest
oil company Rosneft for $12 billion.28 More recently, Saudi government
officials announced their aim to acquire a 30% stake in Russia’s second
liquefied natural gas project in the Arctic, which is worth $25.5 billion.29
Deals in the fossil fuel sector are compounded by active nuclear energy
diplomacy. Russian regional involvement in the nuclear sector began with
the construction of the Bushehr plant in Iran. In 2010, Russian state com-
pany Rosatom was awarded a contract to build a nuclear power plant in
Turkey. In 2014, it won a tender to build another plant in Jordan. Finally,
in 2017 Rosatom signed a deal to build four reactors in Egypt and is cur-
rently in talks with the Saudi government for future projects.30 Russia’s
confident bearing in the MENA region has encouraged some of its major
companies to operate in areas where other actors have been reluctant to
venture, as shown by Rosneft’s deals in the Iraqi autonomous region of

The breadth of Russia’s regional economic partners reflects the nature of

its diplomacy, which is ready to engage with nearly all local actors. Although
the Russian intervention in Syria benefitted what is perceived as the ‘Shiite
coalition’ (Assad-Iran-Hezbollah), Russia has avoided entering into full-
fledged alliances with any regional actor.32 Moscow has been very skilful
at navigating regional fault lines. In Syria, it has profiled itself as the lead
negotiator in a format that includes countries as different as Turkey and
Iran.33 It followed a similar approach later in Libya, where it first strength-
ened its contacts with the faction led by Khalifa Haftar, and then invited
all main actors for talks in Russia.34 Russia has good working relations
with opposing actors, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran
and Qatar on the other. This posture has allowed the Kremlin to profile
itself as a credible interlocutor and even as a potential mediator in broader
regional politics. This is particularly relevant at a time when the United
States has taken controversial steps (such as moving their embassy in Israel
to Jerusalem, or overtly siding with Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Qatar)
that discredit its image as an impartial broker.
Therefore, Russia has decisively increased its standing in the MENA
in the last 5–6 years. Many regional leaders seem to appreciate Moscow’s
approach, which combines support for political stability with economic
engagement without any human rights conditionality.35 However, some
limitations exist to Moscow’s regional power. Firstly, Russia’s military and
particularly its economic resources are limited. Hence, for instance, Russia
needs financial support from the EU or Gulf states for the reconstruction
process in Syria. Moreover, Russian soft power in the region remains weak,
despite the creation of an Arabic channel of RT, a Russian state-sponsored
television channel.36
To some extent, current Russian diplomatic standing in the MENA has
been allowed by the West’s lack of consistency in relations with regional
actors. The US approach to post-Arab Spring Egypt, and especially Don-
ald Trump’s reversal of the US position on the Iranian nuclear deal, have
shown that Washington’s stance on regional issues may change abruptly,
and this has encouraged local actors to diversify their foreign policy part-
ners. However, it is uncertain whether Russia will be able to sustain its cur-
rent influence if Washington returns to more consistent policies. Another
question concerns the duration of Moscow’s regional engagement, which
is a relatively recent feat. Nevertheless, for the time being, no substantial
changes are foreseeable, and the West (as well as all other actors involved
in the MENA) will have to take into account Russia’s growing regional
172 M. SIDDI

Implications for the European Union and the West

For the West and the EU in particular, the MENA is an area of great polit-
ical and economic importance. This is especially true as regional develop-
ments since the 2010s have had direct repercussions for the EU, such as the
refugee crisis or the proliferation of terror attacks. Russia’s growing involve-
ment in the MENA has affected the West in a number of ways. Moscow’s
stance on the Syrian crisis has shown that it will be very difficult for the
West to generate the consensus that is necessary in the Security Council of
the United Nations to support so-called humanitarian interventions, such
as the one that authorised the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya in
Moreover, Russia now appears to some regional MENA regimes as an
alternative security provider to the West. As Russia has unambiguously sup-
ported regime stability in the region and has provided military and polit-
ical support to local actors, it may appear to regional leaders as a more
amenable partner than the United States or the EU. In this respect, Russia
can be seen as a competitor to the West in terms of influence in the region.
The Russian–Egyptian rapprochement after 2013, while Cairo’s relations
with the West were becoming more controversial, provides an apt exam-
ple. More recently, Russia has sought to intensify its relations with Saudi
Arabia as Riyadh has come under Western criticism due to human rights
Most significantly, Russia has become the leading actor in Syria. Besides
being a Russian ally, Syria is also the country of origin of hundreds of
thousands of refugees that are currently in the EU and in other neighbour-
ing countries. Hence, the EU has a strong interest in the pacification and
reconstruction of Syria. In this regard, opportunities for cooperation with
Russia have arisen, as Moscow seeks financial support for the daunting task
of rebuilding a country devastated by years of civil war.38 Moreover, as
war-torn Syria has become a breeding ground for terrorists, its stabilisation
would also contribute to countering the threat that they pose to Europe
and the West. Russia shares a similar interest to the EU in preventing the
transnational spread of terrorism, therefore cooperation could take place
in this policy area too.
In light of Russia’s growing relevance in MENA politics, some scope
for coordination and cooperation with the West exists also with a view to
resolving other regional conflicts, such as the Libyan civil war. Russia has
profiled itself as an important interlocutor to the main parties to the conflict

and may help Western efforts to negotiate a deal if its economic interests
(for instance, in the energy sector) are taken into account in post-conflict
scenarios. Moreover, the European Union could seek Russia’s support in
upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s
nuclear program following the US decision to withdraw from the agree-
ment and reintroduce sanctions on Teheran. While EU–Russia cooperation
on the JCPOA would almost certainly draw criticism from Washington, it
would preserve one of the most important and productive areas of dialogue
in EU–Russia relations in recent years. Most importantly, it would provide
an incentive to Teheran to adhere to the JCPOA and thus contribute to
non-proliferation efforts.39
Russia’s growing economic presence in the MENA has diverse implica-
tions for the West and for Euro-Atlantic security. Economic relations with
the region should not be regarded as a zero-sum game, even though Rus-
sian companies may compete with Western ones in some areas (such as the
supply of weapons or nuclear technology). Russian efforts to coordinate
cuts in oil production with key MENA actors, particularly Saudi Arabia, are
probably the most significant development in terms of economic relevance
to the West. The ‘OPEC Plus’ deal has caused a rise in the oil price, with
economic consequences for large importers such as the European Union.
Nevertheless, the oil price has remained well below pre-2014 levels.

Russia’s pivot to the Middle East has been remarkably successful in influ-
encing the outcome of the Syrian civil war. Most significantly, it has allowed
Moscow to strengthen its relations with numerous regional actors and
develop partnerships that are functional to its essential economic and politi-
cal interests. The ‘OPEC Plus’ deal and Qatar’s large investment in Rosneft
provided important relief to the Russian economy at a time when it was
under pressure due to low oil prices and Western economic and financial
sanctions. Moreover, new economic opportunities have opened up for the
Russian arms and nuclear industry in Middle Eastern markets.
From a political perspective, Russia’s involvement in MENA politics has
helped the country to circumvent Western attempts to isolate it diplo-
matically after the annexation of Crimea. Moscow was able to navigate
political fault lines in the MENA and profile itself as a valuable inter-
locutor to virtually all regional actors. For example, while the Russian
Aerospace Forces supported Iranian and pro-Assad troops in Syria, Moscow
174 M. SIDDI

simultaneously managed to uphold or improve its relationship with Israel

and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional opponents. Similarly, after a bilateral
crisis in 2015–2016, Russia has developed stronger economic and political
ties with Turkey (see Chapter 6), despite Turkish support of anti-Assad
militants in Syria.
On the other hand, the pivot to the Middle East has not helped Russia
to improve its relations with the West. Putin’s call for an anti-terrorism
coalition in September 2015 has not led to concrete results, as Russia and
the West supported different sides on the ground in Syria. Moreover, there
were moments of heightened tensions in April 2017 and April 2018, as
the United States and some of its allies launched targeted strikes against
Syrian military facilities in response to accusations concerning the use of
chemical weapons by the Syrian army. Russia has recently sought Western
cooperation and financial support for the reconstruction of Syria, but the
West has insisted on finding a political solution to the conflict as a pre-
condition. Therefore, different views with regard to the future of Syria, as
well as different alliances with local actors, have fuelled mistrust and the
deterioration of West-Russia security relations.
Nevertheless, some opportunities for potential cooperation between the
West and Russia exist in the MENA region. Despite their criticism of Rus-
sian actions in Syria, the EU and the United States have an interest in the
reconstruction of the country, which would help alleviate the humanitarian
and refugee crisis caused by years of civil war and external military inter-
vention. Furthermore, the EU can benefit from cooperation with Russia to
uphold the JCPOA with Iran following the US withdrawal from the agree-
ment. Similarly, dialogue with Moscow will be necessary to address other
regional crises where Russia wields influence or plays a diplomatic role,
from Libya to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Many Russian and Western
security interests in the MENA region coincide, such as preventing the
spread of terrorism, political instability and nuclear proliferation. If Rus-
sia and the West can agree on the methods and policies to confront these
shared challenges, genuine cooperation can take place and potentially bring
some confidence in the broader security relationship.

1. A. Lavrov, “Russia in Syria: A Military Analysis”, in N. Popescu and
S. Secrieru (eds.), Russia’s Return to the Middle East (Paris: EUISS, 2018),
pp. 47–56.

2. See N. Kozhanov, “Russian Policy Across the Middle East: Motiva-

tions and Methods” (London: Chatham House, 2018), https://www.
21-russian-policy-middle-east-kozhanov.pdf; V. Kuznetsov, V. Naumkin,
and I. Zvyagelskaya, “Russia in the Middle East: The Harmony of
Polyphony” (Moscow: Valdai Discussion Club, 2018), http://valdaiclub.
com/files/18375/; and E. Stepanova “Does Russia Have a Grand Plan
for the Middle East?”, Politique étrangère, 2 (2016), pp. 23–35.
3. D. Trenin, What Is Russia Up to in the Middle East? (Cambridge: Polity
Press, 2017).
4. D. Trenin, “What Drives Russia’s Policy in the Middle East?”, in N. Popescu
and S. Secrieru (eds.), Russia’s Return to the Middle East (Paris: EUISS,
2018), p. 21.
5. Stepanova, “Does Russia Have a Grand Plan for the Middle East?”
6. E. Stepanova, “Russia’s Approach to the Conflict in Libya, the East-West
Dimension and the Role of the OSCE”, in A. Dessi and E. Greco. Search
for Stability in Libya: OSCE’s Role Between Internal Obstacles and External
Challenges (Roma: Edizioni Nuova Cultura, 2018).
7. See V. Kuznetsov, V. Naumkin, and I. Zvyagelskaya, “Russia in the Middle
East”; L. Poti “Russian Policies Towards the MENA Region”. IAI Work-
ing Papers 9 (Rome: Istituto Affari Internazionali, 2018), http://www.iai.
it/sites/default/files/menara_wp_9.pdf; W. Rodkiewicz, “Russia’s Middle
Eastern Policies: Regional Ambitions, Global Objectives”. OSW Studies 71
(Warsaw: Centre for Eastern Studies, 2017); and J. Sladden, B. Wasser, B.
Connable, and S. Grand-Clement, “Russian Strategy in the Middle East”
(Washington: RAND, 2017).
8. Stepanova, “Does Russia Have a Grand Plan for the Middle East?”, p. 7.
9. Trenin, What Is Russia Up to in the Middle East? p. 82.
10. Kozhanov, “Russian Policy Across the Middle East”.
11. Y. Barmin, “Russia in the Middle East Until 2024: From Hard Power
to Sustainable Influence” (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation,
12. Kozhanov, “Russian Policy Across the Middle East”, pp. 12–14; I. Zvyagel-
skaya, “Russia, the New Protagonist in the Middle East”, in A. Ferrari (ed.),
Putin’s Russia: Really Back? (Milan: Ledizioni, 2016).
13. L. Issaev and A. Shishkina, “Russia in the Middle East: in Search of Its
Place”, in W. Mühlberger and T. Alaranta, Political Narratives in the Mid-
dle East and North Africa: Conceptions of Order, Perceptions of Instability
(Springer: Berlin, forthcoming 2019).
14. Issaev and Shishkina, “Russia in the Middle East”.
15. R. Dannreuther, “Russia and the Arab Spring: Supporting the Counter-
Revolution”, Journal of European Integration, 37:1 (2015), p. 87.
176 M. SIDDI

16. Ibid., p. 79.

17. R. Dannreuther, “Understanding Russia’s Return to the Middle East”,
International Politics, online first (2018), p. 7,
18. Dannreuther, “Understanding Russia’s Return to the Middle East”, p. 3.
19. M. Katz “What Do They See in Him? How the Middle East Views Putin
and Russia”, Russian Analytical Digest, 219 (2018).
20. Barmin, “Russia in the Middle East Until 2024”.
21. Zvyagelskaya, “Russia, the New Protagonist in the Middle East”, p. 75.
22. P. Casula and M. Katz, “Russian Foreign Policy in the Middle East”, in
A. Tsygankov (ed.), The Routledge Handbook on Russian Foreign Policy
(London: Routledge, 2018).
23. Dannreuther, “Understanding Russia’s Return to the Middle East”, p. 4.
24. V. Putin Interview with Russia Today (12 June 2013), https://www.rt.
25. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, cited in Dannreuther, “Under-
standing Russia’s Return to the Middle East”, p. 6.
26. Trenin, What Is Russia Up to in the Middle East?, p. 71.
27. Borisov T. “Russian Arms Exports in the Middle East”, chapter in N.
Popescu and S. Secrieru (eds.), Russia’s Return to the Middle East (Paris:
EUISS, 2018), pp. 37–43.
28. Nakhle C. “Russia’s Energy Diplomacy in the Middle East”, in N. Popescu
and S. Secrieru (eds.), Russia’s Return to the Middle East (Paris: EUISS,
2018), pp. 29–35.
29. H. Foy “Russia-Saudi Arabia Rapprochement Reshapes More Than the
Oil Market”, Financial Times (30 October 2018),
30. Nakhle, “Russia’s Energy Diplomacy in the Middle East”, p. 34.
31. H. Foy “Rosneft’s Iraqi Kurdistan Oil and Gas Play Angers Baghdad”,
Financial Times (30 October 2018), Russia
is also a major exporter of grain to the Middle East, Egypt in particular. In
addition, Russian tourist flows are significant for some MENA economies,
such as Egypt, Turkey and Israel; see Trenin, What Is Russia Up to in the
Middle East?, pp. 130–132.
32. Egypt may constitute a partial exception in this respect and currently
appears as Moscow’s main regional partner.
33. W. Mühlberger, “Astana’s Syria Conference: Musical Chairs on Moscow’s
Terms”, FIIA Comment 4/2017 (7 February 2017),
34. Stepanova, “Russia’s Approach to the Conflict in Libya”.
35. Katz, “What Do They See in Him?”.
36. Casula and Katz, “Russian Foreign Policy in the Middle East”, p. 307.

37. H. Foy, “Putin Sees No Reason to Downgrade Relations with Saudi Ara-
bia”, Financial Times (18 October 2018),
38. A. Mohammed and P. Stewart, “Despite Tensions, Russia Seeks U.S. Help
to Rebuild Syria”. Reuters (3 August 2018),
39. The Special Purpose Vehicle—a tool agreed upon by the EU, Russia and
China to facilitate payments related to Iran’s imports and exports following
the reintroduction of US sanctions—is an example of possible cooperation
to persuade Iran to preserve the JCPOA. See P. Wintour, “EU, China
and Russia in Move to Sidestep US Sanctions on Iran”, The Guardian
(26 September 2018),

The Ukraine Crisis and the Future

of Euro-Atlantic Security

Russia’s New Ukraine Policy

Andrey Sushentsov

Ukraine is a uniquely important country for Russia and will remain so for
the foreseeable future. The two countries are united not only by history and
religion, but also by structural, social, and economic ties inherited from the
Imperial and Soviet eras. In fact, those ties account for a double-digit per-
centage of both countries’ respective GDPs. However, Russian-Ukrainian
interdependence has been decreasing since 2004 due to choices made by
the Ukrainian elite and the continuing political instability in Ukraine. Rus-
sia believes that the regime in Ukraine is hostile and will remain in power
for a long time. This has forced Russia to continue reducing its dependence
on Ukraine. It is in the interests of both countries to ensure that the process
of reducing interdependence is both gradual and carefully thought out.
Although the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 did not immediately
provoke major civil war, the process was ill-conceived and hasty. Signifi-
cantly, jurisdiction over the Soviet Union’s common assets was not resolved

This research was carried out with the support of the Government of Russia,
grant project number, 14.641.31.0002.

A. Sushentsov (B)
Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Moscow, Russia

© The Author(s) 2020 181

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

after the country’s collapse. Some of Russia’s strategic assets remained on

the territories of other post-Soviet states; post-Soviet economies continued
to operate as a single organism; and the problems of borders and population
exchanges remained unsolved. The political unity of post-Soviet countries
collapsed, which led to the disintegration of their economies, followed by
a sharp fall in standards of living, which most countries sought to cush-
ion. The geographical dispersion of interrelated production facilities across
the former Soviet Union and the fragile balance of post-Soviet production
chains made it possible for Russia to avoid drastic changes in its relations
with neighbours, particularly those of a strategic nature for the Russian
In the early 2000s, Russia chose a path of slow but steady growth and
avoided becoming entangled in costly conflicts. That is why Russia never
initiated revisions of the status quo along its borders. Instead, Russia was
the last to intervene and did so only after others altered the status quo
and put its vital interests at stake; for instance, in Georgia in 2008 and in
Ukraine in 2014.

Russia and Ukraine: Strong Together, Weak Apart

Even if an unfriendly regime in Kiev remains in power, the goal of pro-
gressive economic growth means that Russia will remain interested in the
stability and integrity of Ukraine. The two countries are linked more than
any other post-Soviet states. Before the referendum in Crimea, Russia’s vital
interest was the basing of its Black Sea Fleet on the peninsula. Now Russia
is interested in a militarily neutral Ukraine, safe transit of energy resources
via its territory, and the safety of more than 10 million ethnic Russians
living on Ukrainian territory, most of whom view Russia as a defender of
their rights.
Humanitarian ties between Russia and Ukraine are strong because they
rest on mixed families and a common culture and religion. Russian eco-
nomic capital in Ukrainian companies amounts to a double-digit percent-
age of the entire economy, and labour migration from Ukraine to Russia
used to stand at six million people per year. According to Russian data, to
maintain this interest, Russia subsidized the Ukrainian economy to the tune
of US $10–12 billion annually by providing discounts on natural gas, offer-
ing loans, placing orders, and granting trade preferences to the detriment
of Russian producers.1 It would not be an exaggeration to say that Rus-
sia has always been—and still is—the main external guarantor of Ukraine’s
stability, and this interest is vital. Critics of the Ukraine policy believe that

Russia is seeking to undermine the Ukrainian economy by instigating a

war. This might have been the case except for the fundamental economic
interdependence of the two countries, which makes Russia interested in
the stability rather than instability of Ukraine. Their mutual ties are so sig-
nificant that even the war in Donbass has had a limited impact on these
Russian banks play an important role in Ukraine’s financial system and
are placed fifth (Prominvest Bank), eighth (Sberbank), and ninth (Alfa
Bank) in terms of total assets among banks operating in Ukraine.2 In
2013, direct investments from Russia stood at 6.8% of all foreign direct
investments in Ukraine, but a significant part of this Russian money comes
via Cyprus—33.4%. In 2014, these figures decreased to 5.9 and 29.9%,
respectively. In the spring of 2014, the Russian Ministry of Industry and
Trade estimated the total portfolio of Russian orders placed with Ukrainian
companies at US $15 billion (8.2% of Ukrainian GDP).3 These were largely
orders by hundreds of industrial enterprises cooperating with Russian com-
panies in high-tech production (space rockets, ships, aircraft, helicopters,
turbines, etc.).
In April 2015, the gross external debt of Ukraine stood at US $126
billion, of which about US $50 billion was Ukrainian state debt.4 This
portfolio included US $25 billion to Russian state and private banks, which
placed their money in Ukrainian sovereign bonds. Another US $4 billion
is the Ukrainian state debt owed to Russia, including US $3 billion in
Russian bonds that had to be paid back before the end of 2015. As the
key creditor, Russia could have easily triggered a default in Ukraine, since
the latest loan was made in 2013 on condition that it was paid off before
maturity if the external debt exceeded 60% of GDP (in the middle of 2015
Ukraine’s external debt stood at 96.5%).
Russian capital is also present in Ukrainian power distribution
networks—VS Energy International for example owns 27 regional elec-
tricity suppliers. In addition, since 2014, Ukraine has been buying Russian
electricity totalling 1500 megawatts (total consumption is 26,000 MW).5
In December 2014, Russia began supplying Ukraine with 50,000 tons of
coal per day without pre-payment and at Russian domestic prices. The sup-
plies helped Ukraine avoid an energy crisis in the winter of 2014–2015. The
energy blockade of Crimea in November 2015 led to the cessation of coal
supplies from Russia and the Donetsk People’s Republic. In the field of
nuclear energy, Russia and Ukraine developed their strategic partnership
for decades. Ukraine inherited four nuclear power plants from the Soviet
Union with 15 reactors (including Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in

Zaporozhye), the fuel for which was supplied by Russia. Ukraine planned
to build a fuel plant in the Kirovograd region with Russia’s assistance, but
the crisis has stalled this work.
In 2014, the Ukrainian gas market consumed 42.6 billion cubic metres
of gas, thus placing it fourth in Europe after Germany (86.2 billion), Great
Britain (78.7 billion), and Italy (68.7 billion). In 2015, consumption was
expected to decrease to 34 billion cubic metres.6 In 2013, Russian gas
supplies accounted for 85% of gas consumption in Ukraine, but in 2014
Ukraine cut gas imports from Russia,7 replacing them with reverse flow
deliveries of Russian gas from Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary. In mid-
2015, the gas price for Ukraine stood at $247 per 1000 cubic metres,
which was less than Russian gas cost for the majority of consumers in the
European Union. However, Ukraine demanded a further decrease in the
price to $200 per 1000 cubic metres. The unresolved dispute resulted in
Russia stopping gas supplies to Ukraine twice in 2015.8
Half of Russian gas supplies to EU countries go via Ukraine, which
makes gas transit through Ukraine of vital interest for Russia, at least until an
alternative gas pipeline across the Black or Baltic Sea is put into operation.
An agreement with Ukraine on gas supplies for the heating season of 2014
was reached only thanks to direct cooperation between Russian and EU
officials. Transit risks in Ukraine are increasing and this does not apply
only to pipelines. Also at risk is the security of transportation by road and
rail, and cargo deliveries via Ukrainian ports. As a result, Russia has had to
change routes for the supply of its goods to Central and Southern Europe.9
Industrial production was also a major area of Russian-Ukrainian inter-
dependence, especially in the defence sector. Ukrainian components were
used in 186 models of Russian-made weapons and military equipment.
The 2014 crisis led to the end of cooperation between the two countries
in the defence industry, and Russia now has to urgently revise its 2020
rearmament program.10
In terms of trade, in 2013, Russia was Ukraine’s largest trading partner
(27.3%), second only to the EU (31.2%). In 2014, Russian-Ukrainian trade
collapsed, falling by US $18 billion (40.2%) from 2013.11 Simultaneously,
Ukraine’s trade with the EU increased 12%, which, however, did not cover
Ukrainian losses on the Russian market.
These figures show the depth of economic interdependence between
Russia and Ukraine. In addition to the Soviet industrial legacy and eco-
nomic ties, from the very beginning the economy of independent Ukraine
developed with significant Russian participation. The destruction of this
interdependence will lead to a systemic decline in GDP by 20–30% in

Ukraine, and by 3–5% in Russia.12 In addition to this, the new Ukrainian

authorities have proposed cancelling the visa-free regime with Russia as part
of their concept of building a “wall” along the Russian border. This move
will lead to a reduction in remittances from Ukrainians working in Rus-
sia and will undoubtedly cause significant economic damage to Ukraine,
affecting most strongly its citizens’ personal consumption. Russian experts
estimate possible earnings losses to Ukraine of US $11–13 billion a year
(7% of GDP).13

Consequences of the Unexpected Break in Relations

in 2014
In the past, the close interdependence between Russia and Ukraine caused
the two neighbouring countries to separate politics and the economy. How-
ever, during the current crisis the countries have tied them closely together
and are on the verge of severing their relations. Ukraine’s new National
Security Strategy describes Russia as a “long-term strategic threat,” while
Ukraine is called an outpost of the West in the struggle against Russia.14
Russia, too, is moving towards a break in its dependence on Ukraine. Rus-
sian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in 2014 that:

Russia plans to firmly follow its own national interest. While building relations
in the new environment, we will put emotions and family sentiment aside.
We will no longer support the Ukrainian economy. This is disadvantageous
to us. And, frankly, we’ve had enough of it.15

In the past, Russia has pursued three different strategies towards Ukraine,
depending on that country’s readiness to cooperate. The first strategy was
for a friendly Ukraine that sought to integrate into a common economic
space of the Commonwealth of Independent States and jointly develop on
the basis of the Soviet economic legacy. The second—and longer term—s-
trategy was applied to a hesitant Ukraine inclined towards neutrality. In this
scenario, Russia sought to form a tripartite economic regime with Ukraine
and the EU with a view to building a “bridge” on the territory of Ukraine.
Finally, the third strategy, pursued in 2004–2008 and again since 2014,
deals with a hostile Ukraine, on which Russia continues to depend quite
heavily. In this case, Russia seeks to gradually reduce this dependence, bring
its interests out from under Ukraine’s influence and create the conditions
for this by maintaining the stability of Ukraine.

The twenty-five years of Russian attempts to establish friendly relations

with Ukraine have failed. Today, Russia believes that no achievement will
be lasting if it continues to rely on the present Ukrainian political class.
This understanding has lowered Russia’s goals in Ukraine. Indeed, the pri-
ority has shifted from integration to the preservation of Ukraine’s stability
and neutrality. Contrary to Western perceptions, Russia’s current Ukraine
strategy is therefore not to interfere, and if possible, to limit the damage
that Ukrainian processes can inflict upon Russia.

Sources of Ukrainian Instability

Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are countries with strong central govern-
ments, efficient consolidation and distribution of resources by the central
authorities, developed administrative apparatuses, and, most importantly,
consensus between elites and society on national interests. By contrast, the
political trajectory of Ukraine has produced a different result.
Since gaining its independence, Ukraine has failed to form a consol-
idated political class and its politics are often reflective of private rather
than state interests. Ukraine’s political system suggests that the winner of
elections receives absolute power in the country. This is why new elites
have filled the ruling clique in Kiev with loyal people each time there was a
new administration, but this also applies to the heads of all 24 administra-
tive districts of Ukraine. This practice has resulted in the emergence of a
political system where the logic of checks and balances does not work and
where the winner takes all.16 Since the stakes are so high, any national elec-
tions lead to a crisis. The weakness and instability of the position of each
new ruling group has caused Ukrainian elites to use all available resources,
including populism and nationalism, to struggle against each other. More-
over, the political class of Ukraine actually stimulated the interference of
outside forces in Ukrainian affairs.
Taken together, these factors did not allow the Ukrainian political class
to reach a consensus about the country’s national interest, which made it
impossible to devise a long-term development strategy based on the protec-
tion of sovereignty from outside interference. Over time, Ukraine stopped
viewing itself as an equal player responsible for its own decisions and began
to use external interference in Ukrainian affairs for its own interests. This
situation exacerbated the instability of the political system in Ukraine and
thwarted Russia’s efforts to establish a stable and close partnership with

The West Goes East: Ukraine in a Vice

When Russia saw that it was impossible to build a constructive partnership
with Ukraine, the Russian leadership abandoned attempts to integrate its
neighbour into the Eurasian Economic Union—not least because a final
choice between Russia and the EU would have been fatal for such a fragile
country as Ukraine. However, the EU kept trying to bring Ukraine into
its sphere of influence. At the same time, the EU’s economic and regula-
tory expansion to the east forced Eastern European countries to make a
definitive choice between the West and Russia. Recently, the West has been
increasingly insistent in demanding that Ukraine makes a choice.
In 2013, Russia proposed holding tripartite consultations with the EU
and Ukraine to discuss the latter’s Association Agreement with the Euro-
pean Union. However, instead of building a “bridge” in Ukraine between
Russia and the EU, amid the crisis of 2014 Western countries rejected Rus-
sia’s proposal for dialogue and supported Ukrainian political forces that
sought to turn Ukraine into an outpost of the West’s confrontation with
Russia. Unrest in Ukraine and external pressure resulted in the overthrow of
the legitimate President Victor Yanukovich and the formation of a “gov-
ernment of winners” in Ukraine. These developments triggered a chain
reaction in the south and east of Ukraine, putting the country on the brink
of civil war.
Suspected Western interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine dur-
ing the Euromaidan protests in 2013 made many people in Russia think
that such action was intended to undermine Russia’s interests by enlarging
NATO to include Ukraine and ousting Russia’s fleet from Crimea. Despite
statements by the US that Russia’s actions in Crimea and Donbass had
caught the Washington by surprise, few people in Russia believed that this
was the case. In fact, Russia had repeatedly stated its interests in Crimea
and Ukraine to US and European elites, and in no uncertain terms. There
are grounds to believe that the US government correctly understood these
Russian signals. Cables published by WikiLeaks from the US Embassy in
Moscow in February and May 2008 contained an in-depth analysis of Rus-
sia’s stance on the Ukraine issue. One cable noted that Russian government

…officials publicly and privately do not hide that their endgame is the status
quo. Russia has accepted Ukraine’s westward orientation, including its possi-
ble accession to the EU and closer ties with NATO, but NATO membership

and the establishment of a US or NATO base in Ukraine remain clear redlines.

Ideally, Russia aims to secure a written neutrality pledge from Ukraine.”17

Another cable provided a forecast for possible Russian actions:

Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in
Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian commu-
nity against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at
worst civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to
intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.18

Based on this information, Russia rejected the possibility that the US did
not realize the consequences of its policy of supporting the Euromaidan
protests. The prevailing opinion in Russia, repeatedly expressed by its top
officials and president,19 was that the US deliberately sought to force Rus-
sia into defending its interests in Ukraine, and thus to draw it into an
exhausting conflict.
Of course, it can be argued that the issue of Ukraine’s accession to NATO
was never truly on the political agenda. However, it is more important to
consider how the Ukrainians viewed this issue in 2014: Euromaidan sup-
porters advocated a “European future,” which they saw as being realized by
Ukraine’s membership of NATO and the EU, while their opponents were
opposed to Western influence and defended ties with Russia. NATO mem-
bership remains a source of deep divisions in Ukraine even after Crimea’s
secession and the beginning of the war in Donbass. According to the Kiev-
based International Institute of Sociology, 45% of Ukrainians supported
NATO membership in September 2017, 27% were against it and 28% were

Major Social Groups in Ukraine: Nationalists,

Russians, and Statists
The incumbent Ukrainian government appears to have given up its strategy
of balancing between Russia and the West. Thus, it has abandoned the
concept of Ukraine as a fragile and multi-component state located at the
junction of two centres of power. The logic of action by the “government of
winners” is to use this historic opportunity to “turn the country towards the
West,” despite the possible costs, including the possibility of the country’s
division and disintegration.

The current situation may not be final. Several systemic political con-
flicts are taking place in Ukraine that involve central authorities, regional
groups, major oligarchs, and non-systemic paramilitary groups. Social dis-
content over the government’s inefficiency is increasing. This discontent is
expressed in the very low popularity rating of the authorities and occasional
protests. The situation is aggravated by public discussions in the country
that proceed along three major lines, two of which are radical.
Representatives of the mainstream—the largest and best-organized
group that is present in the media—advocate a nationalist program known
as “Ukraine for Ukrainians” and see Ukraine in the forefront of the West’s
struggle with Russia. This group seeks to build Ukrainian state of people
with Ukrainian identity. The size of this group is estimated based on cer-
tain public opinion polls, and suggests that 47% of Ukrainians support the
anti-terrorist operation in Donbass and 24% support the settlement of the
conflict in the east of the country by force.21 Also, the nationalists are ready
to take drastic measures, such as displacement of the “disloyal” population
and even secession of territories with “alien” values from Ukraine (above
all, Donetsk and Lugansk).
The second group includes people with Russian identity, such as Ukraini-
ans, ethnic Russians, and other ethnic groups that do not share the goals
and values of the Maidan, and who view Russia as an important actor in
Ukrainian politics. Many of them have despaired of finding protection for
their interests among Ukrainian politicians and are now at a loss as to why
Russia is not protecting their interests, as it did in Crimea. This group is not
as large as the first one; at least, it is much less present in the media. This
is not surprising since its members are under political pressure and in some
cases are persecuted. Many of them have developed an underground men-
tality and their movement may become radicalized. The size of this group
can be determined from the results of an opinion poll in which people
were asked about the vector of Ukraine’s foreign policy: 19% of respon-
dents openly supported the idea of Ukraine joining the Customs Union.22
39% also spoke out against the antiterrorist operation.23
The third group of Ukrainian elites includes supporters of inclu-
sive statehood as a condition for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Statists
give the main priority to the preservation of the vast Soviet legacy
in Ukraine, ranging from territory to geo-economic ties and a multi-
ethnic population. They understand that Ukraine must choose the
policy of neutrality and sovereignty in order to preserve state unity.
After the victory of the Euromaidan protesters, some members of this

group proposed renouncing radicalism to prevent Crimea’s secession from

Ukraine.24 Statists also advocate concessions on ethnic issues; they reject
radicalism and promote an ideology of state interests. They are in the major-
ity in the opposition and are present in the Pyotr Poroshenko bloc. Unfor-
tunately, this group is clearly in the minority overall. Paradoxically, support-
ers of the mainstream often describe members of this group as “vatniks,”
that is, people with pro-Russian jingoistic views.

Russia’s Policy of Force Majeure Towards Ukraine

In the twenty-five years since the end of the Cold War, Russia had never
initiated fundamental changes along its borders, either peacefully or by
force, even if the status quo was not favourable. Why then did the Kremlin
decide to violate this principle in Ukraine in 2014? The answer is that Russia
was the last to join in the destruction of the status quo and it did so only
after it had realized that the other actors had violated the rules of the game.
The EU and the US were the first to intervene in Ukrainian internal affairs
when they supported one of the two political parties that sought a change
of power by force. The coup in Kiev drastically changed the status quo,
and the West did not try to integrate the new Ukrainian opposition into
the established system or heed Russia’s interests.
After the overthrow of Yanukovich, the situation in Crimea left Russia
with little room for manoeuvre. The Crimean population had for decades
sought to come out from under the sovereignty of Ukraine and reunite with
Russia. However, during the 1990s and the 2000s, Russia was opposed to
such a move because it wanted to build friendly relations with Ukraine.
The Russian Black Sea Fleet was based in Sevastopol and the total number
of Russian troops on the peninsula stood at 13,000 (with the limit set at
25,000). Simultaneously, Sevastopol also served as a base for the Ukrainian
Navy, which numbered up to 11,000 personnel.
The rough military parity between the two navies made the situation
in Crimea particularly tense. Importantly, both navies’ personnel included
mostly Crimean’s, whose sympathies were with Russia. However, this cir-
cumstance would not have prevented bloodshed if Russia had not taken
the initiative. The plan was to avoid violence: as soon as the Crimean elites,
supported by the people, expressed their desire to come under Russian
jurisdiction, Russia took measures to ensure the security of the referendum
in Crimea.

If Russia had not intervened, the pro-Russian sentiment of the Crimean’s

would in any case not have disappeared. Ukraine would not have accepted
Crimea’s desire to secede and would have used force, as it did in Donbass.
Ukrainian troops would have attempted to block Russian bases and pre-
vent the movement of their personnel. That would inevitably have been
followed by guerrilla warfare, involving local militia and individual Russian
servicemen from Crimea. Volunteers from Russia would also have joined
the fight. Russian military bases might have come under intentional or
unintentional fire. In such circumstances, Russia would have been accused
of interfering in Ukrainian affairs and would have been hard-pressed to
withdraw its base and fleet from Crimea. Either way, in the case of Crimea,
the choice between supporting the referendum and having to withdraw the
fleet was a choice between two bad options.
Ukraine refrained from using force in Crimea since it would probably
have led to direct military confrontation with Russia. The situation in Don-
bass, however, was different, and Ukrainian President Poroshenko chose
to start a military operation. Russia repeatedly urged Ukraine not to use
force against the protesters. It was only after three months of armed clashes,
which claimed hundreds of lives and caused a flow of refugees into Russia,
that Russia decided to support the insurgents.
The domination of nationalists in the Ukrainian mainstream stands in
the way of preserving the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Influenced by
them, Ukraine does not seek to fulfil the political part of the Minsk accords
of 12 February 2015. The Ukrainian authorities are ready to sacrifice “pro-
Russian” Donbass in order to consolidate the other territories under their
control. Russia insists on a deep settlement. Therefore, Russia wants to
ensure that the rights of Donbass and other potentially unstable regions
of Ukraine are guaranteed in a renewed Ukrainian Constitution. The West
is suspicious of these initiatives since it views them as Russia’s desire to
intervene in Ukrainian affairs and is not interested in Ukraine’s internal
divisions unless they become public. Russia would also like to ensure that
these divisions never come to the surface.
Ukraine is not ready for a compromise with Donbass and continues
its attempts to resolve the crisis unilaterally. However, whereas President
Poroshenko had earlier planned to achieve his goals militarily, now he
seeks to reduce Kiev’s dependence on Donetsk and Lugansk by isolating
them from the rest of Ukraine. Poroshenko wants to impose an economic
blockade on those regions and encircle the territory controlled by insur-
gents with fortifications. If implemented, this plan will make a political

settlement in Donbass impossible. Over time, Donetsk and Lugansk will

become established as autonomous entities and de facto states. Apparently,
Kiev is ready to pay this price for maintaining unchallenged control over
the rest of the country.
The freezing of the conflict in Donbass harms the interests of Russia,
which seeks to normalize its relations with Ukraine in the new conditions.
The main consequence of unresolved differences over Donbass will be a
further weakening of Russian-Ukrainian economic interdependence.

Russia’s New Ukraine Policy: Gradual Reduction

of Interdependence
More concerned about its own growth, a decade ago Russia initiated
a new Ukraine policy that was based not on the concept of “brother-
hood at any cost,” but on the idea of reducing Ukrainian influence over
Russia’s vital interests. As part of this policy, Russia built the Nord Stream
gas pipeline, which was to be followed by the South Stream project;
launched the construction of a new Black Sea Fleet base in Novorossiysk
and began to reallocate defence orders from Ukrainian to Russian com-
panies. It would have taken a long time to implement these projects, but
Russia was planning to peacefully “let Ukraine go” if the latter so desired
during the next 20 years.
The forced changes as a result of the February 2014 coup in Kiev hit
Russia’s vital interests hard. The threat that the Black Sea Fleet would be
ousted from Crimea and that Ukraine would join NATO caused Russia
to encourage the secession of Crimea and Sevastopol from Ukraine. Thus,
Russia showed that it was ready to act resolutely to protect its vital inter-
ests and warned of consequences if the new authorities in Kiev continued
to encroach on them. In all other spheres, though, Russia stands for the
preservation of the status quo in the fullest sense of the word. This is why
Russia has recognized the new authorities in Kiev, ignoring the demands for
interference from the resistance leaders in eastern Ukraine; continued to sell
natural gas to Ukraine at a 25–40% discount; refrained from instrumental-
izing Ukrainian debt; and displayed unusual tolerance towards an attack on
the Russian Embassy in Kiev in June 2014. Russia does not want to exacer-
bate the damage to its interests and has proposed measures to preserve the
integrity of Ukraine within its present borders through decentralization.
Russia’s support for stability in Ukraine is conditioned on a mutual
understanding with the new authorities in Kiev on gas prices, unimpeded

transit of energy resources to the EU, the trade regime in the Russia-
Ukraine-EU triangle, and the inviolability of the property of Russian com-
panies. If reckless and aggressive forces prevail in Kiev, Russia will have to
deter threats coming from Ukraine. However, Russia will not seek to set-
tle its differences with Ukraine by force, for this would be too expensive
and unreliable. An escalation of the civil conflict in eastern Ukraine is also
disadvantageous to Russia because it creates security threats: violations of
cross-border trade, growing numbers of refugees, migration of combatants
between the two countries, casual and intentional military damage to Rus-
sia’s assets, and increased railroad and air travel risks. Therefore, the only
goal of Russian support for the insurgents in Donbass is to show Ukraine
that the conflict cannot be resolved militarily, and to induce Ukrainian
leaders to sit down at the negotiating table with officials from Donbass.
A negative scenario for Russian policy will look different. Russia would
likely develop alternative routes for energy supplies to the EU, block its
investment in the Ukrainian economy, revise preferential trade and visa
regimes, and limit labour migration. And, more importantly, Russia will
stop subsidizing gas prices in Ukraine. Together, these measures will bring
about an economic crisis in Ukraine and, at the same time, will damage
Russia’s interests, since such action will slow down its annual GDP growth.
Russia will seek to avoid this scenario, but it will not try to dodge it if
Ukraine leaves it with no choice. Russia will re-invest and re-direct resources
formerly used to support its neighbour into its own domestic production.
As the gap in development grows, Russia will become more attractive for
Russian-speaking migrants from Ukraine. The policy of reducing Ukraine’s
influence on Russia’s vital interests will therefore be stepped up.
Russia’s new Ukraine policy will be aimed at “normalizing” relations
with Ukraine by terminating politically motivated economic assistance and
developing commercial and industrial relations with on a non-preferential
basis. After a significant decline, bilateral relations will reach a “new norm”
on the basis of a new economic balance. In the long term, the hope is that a
pragmatic policy will help improve relations and pave the way for a trilateral
trade regime among the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the EU.

Conclusion: Ukraine—A Common Problem

or a Battlefield for Russia and the EU?
Instability brings changes everywhere, and Ukraine is no exception. In
the past, it was Russia, rather than the EU, that provided the strategic

conditions for Ukrainian economic growth. Ukraine’s exit from the free
trade area with Russia and the deterioration of bilateral relations caused
Russia to stop guaranteeing Ukraine’s stability on its own, for this is exactly
what Ukraine desired itself. The need to stop the conflict, stabilize Ukraine,
and ensure its future growth will require joint efforts from the EU and
Russia, which are closely united by a common goal of localizing damage
from the crisis in Ukraine. Brussels understands that an energy crisis in the
EU may be the next stage in the Ukrainian drama and wants to prevent it.
One can imagine a scenario involving steps towards solving structural
problems in Ukraine. But this will require above all the strengthening of
the state governance system and the removal of oligarchic groups from
power. Ukraine should seek to become a bridge between Russia and the
EU, rather than an anti-Russian outpost in Eastern Europe. As such a
bridge, Ukraine will guarantee its own neutrality and support the normal-
ization of trade relations in the Russia-EU-Ukraine triangle. This will return
Russian investment and create favourable conditions for trade, which, in
turn, will prompt a new round of industrialization in Ukraine and create
new jobs. However, at the time of writing, there appears to be little chance
that such an optimistic scenario will prevail. The good intentions of both
the West and Russia for various reasons are unlikely to materialize into a
joint program of assistance to Ukraine. Without such a program, Ukraine
will experience a 20–30% decline in GDP from the 2013 level, deindus-
trialization of its eastern and southern regions, the loss of jobs, and mass
migration of the able-bodied population to Russia and the EU.
As of late 2018, there is no clear long-term solution to the Ukrainian
crisis. The EU does not realize the extent of the annual subsidies that
stabilization in Ukraine will require if it comes out from under Russia’s
patronage and is not ready to provide them. The US is not yet playing the
role of a stabilizing force, while Russia is seeking to insure against future
risks and take its assets out of jeopardy. The motivation to make a deal
will probably only emerge when the EU feels a painful blow to its energy
All external actors in the Ukrainian crisis must take into account the
possibility of its new phase during the electoral cycle in 2019. A scenario
similar to the Euromaidan protests may again take place and threaten to
turn the crisis into an international one. It is in our common interest across
the Euro-Atlantic space not to turn Ukraine into a battlefield between
Russia and the West, but to encourage it to become a “bridge” between

1. Dmitriy Medvedev, “Rossiya i Ukraina: zhizn’ po novym pravilam”, Neza-
visimaya Gazeta (15 December 2014),
2. Naja Bentzen, “Ukraine’s Economic Challenges: From Ailing to Fail-
ing?”, European Parliamentary Research Service, Members’ Research Service
(June 2015),
3. “Ukraine’s Economy Needs Russia”, Stratfor (18 February 2013),
4. The World Bank Group, Ukraine Profile,
5. “Ukraine: Electricity and Heat for 2015”, International Energy Agency,
6. “Potrebleniye gaza v Ukraine snizitsya do 34 kubov v etom gody – Ukr-
transgaz”, RIA Novosti Ukraina (25 June 2015),
7. Ilya Usov, “Ukraina v 2014 godu sokratila potrebleniye gaza, ego dobychu
i import iz Rossii”, Vedomosti (15 January 2015), http://www.vedomosti.
8. “Postavki gaza iz Rossii na Ukrainu prekratilis”, Russian Service of the
BBC (1 July 2015),
9. “RZhD i Minoborony podpisali dogovor o stroitel’stve dorogi v obkhod
Ukrainy,” (30 June 2015),
10. “Rogozin poobeshchal zameshcheniye ukrainskikh complektuyushchikh v
oboronke k 2018 godu”, (1 July 2015),
11. “Trade and Economic Cooperation Between Ukraine and Russia”, Embassy
of Ukraine in Russia,
12. P. Sutela “The Underachiever: Ukraine’s Economy Since 1991”,
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (9 March 2012),
13. Dmitriy Medvedev, “Rossiya i Ukraina: zhizn’ po novym pravilam”, Neza-
visimaya Gazeta (15 December 2014),
14. Ukaz of the President of Ukraine No. 287/2015 (26 May 2015), “Pro
pishennya Rady natsional’noi bezpeky i oborony Ukrainy vyd 6 travnya
2015 roku ‘Pro Strategiyu natsional’noi bezpeky Ukrainy”, http://www.

15. Dmitriy Medvedev, “Rossiya i Ukraina: zhizn’ po novym pravilam”, Neza-

visimaya Gazeta (15 December 2014),
16. By admission of the leaders of Crimea in the period of the referendum,
especially R. Temirgaliyev, one reason the local elites aimed to extract
themselves from Ukrainian jurisdiction was that the Donetsk group of V.
Yanukovych, which was closest to Crimea, did not fulfil their expectations
and had begun expanding into Crimea. See Peter Kozlov, “Esli eto
imelo opredilennuyu rezhissuru, rezhisseru nuzhno postavit’ pyat’s plyu-
som”, Vedomosti (16 March 2015),
17. “Russian-Ukrainian relations monopolized by Ukraine’s NATO bid”,
Wikileaks (30 May 2008),
18. Wikileaks, “Nyet Means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Redlines”,
Moscow Embassy #000265 (1 February 2008), https://cablegatesearch.
19. Meeting on military planning questions, Site of the President of Russia (26
November 2014),
20. “Geopoliticheskiye Oriyentatsii Zhiteley Ukrainy”, Kiyevskiy Mezhdunar-
odnyy Institute Sociologii (25 October 2017),
21. “Politicheskaya situatsiya b Ukraine. Reytingi partiy i politikov”, R&B
Group (19 March 2015),
22. “Kakim integratsiyonnym putem dolzhna idti Ukraina: referendum po vys-
tupleniyu v Tamozhennyy soyuz, EC, NATO (September 2017)”, Kiyevskiy
Mezhdunarodnyy Institute Sociologii (27 September 2017), http://www.
23. “Politicheskaya situatsiya v Ukraine”.
24. Olexander Chalyy, “Vidlik chasu pishov: Plan dii iz vregulyubannya
krymskoi krizi,” Radio Free Europe (11 March 2014), http://www.

The Ukraine Crisis and the Future

of the Euro-Atlantic Security System

Oleksiy Semeniy

Following the adoption of the Paris Charter and the dissolution of the
Soviet Union, the vast majority of politicians and intellectuals in the Euro-
Atlantic space, and indeed globally, were convinced that the East-West
confrontation had been ended and a sustainable security system in Europe
could be established. The general mood was in favour of building a new
peaceful, prosperous, and united Euro-Atlantic space on the basis of the
liberal democratic model, which seemed to be the optimum choice for
all states in the region, especially for the “newcomers”, i.e. former post-
socialist/communist states. Wars and territorial claims seemed to have been
finally consigned to history.
This optimism was substantially lessened after numerous bloody con-
flicts in the 1990s resulting from the dissolution of both Yugoslavia and the
Soviet Union. Many newly emerged states were confronted with difficult
disputes with their neighbours, often resulting in the use of military force.
Moreover, following years of internal turmoil, Russia started to question

O. Semeniy (B)
Institute for Global Transformations, Kyiv, Ukraine

© The Author(s) 2020 197

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,

the proposed Western model of European security,1 claiming that the West
had not provided Russia with any suitable place in the new security archi-
tecture and had ignored its “justified interests”. The Russian leadership felt
that it was pushed away from the Western alliance system and that Russia’s
proposals on cooperative security models were not taken into account.2
There is strong evidence to suggest that the West did indeed ignore almost
all such Russian proposals or claims, either finding them unacceptable or
unjustified. It was assumed at the time that Russia would eventually adapt
itself to the Western system. This perception of “being ignored” or even
“cheated” is a significant foundation of the anti-Western agenda in Russia
today, and might have pushed it to undertake dangerous actions.
The “cooperation and common home” epoch clearly ended in 2014,
when for the first time since the Second World War one state in Europe offi-
cially annexed a part of another state using military force, namely Crimea.
There are of course a few other cases during this period when states lost
control over their own territories with the involvement of outside actors,
which in turn produced a number of so-called frozen conflicts or separatist
entities. But 2014 became a clear watershed in this regard, clearly dividing
the previous phase (with its own ups and downs, but having a definite final
aim of building system of common or shared security in Europe) with the
current one, where we have once more officially acknowledged confronta-
tion (or at least a renewed level of threat)3 between key actors in Europe;
in general between Russia and the West, specifically between Russia and
the US, Russia and the EU and Russia and Ukraine.
However, it remains to be seen whether this new period of confrontation
will be a transitional phase in a move back towards the previous period of
cooperation (an “escalate to de-escalate” approach). Or represent some-
thing new (sui generis), which will lead us either to establishing a new
modus vivendi in the Euro-Atlantic security architecture or the failure of
one (or more) of the main actors as a result of such confrontation. The
answer to this question will define the security architecture in Europe and
the destiny of all states in the region for next few decades. This is because
we stand at a crossroads in the story of European and Euro-Atlantic security
in twenty-first century.

The Ukraine Crisis

The start of this new phase in the development of Euro-Atlantic security
was the Ukraine crisis of 2014.4 At the beginning of the crisis, it was possi-

ble to believe that a successful resolution could substantially reverse many

of the negative developments in regional security of the last few years. But,
with the crisis now in its fifth year, the canon of thought is much more scep-
tical; the political agenda has become increasingly negative, and relations
between the main actors have become more and more confrontational.
In any case, since the beginning of the crisis the whole security system in
the region has deteriorated. There are many reasons for this, but first of
all, it is due to the obvious violation of the basic principles and norms of
international security. Therefore, it represents a crucial “stress-test” for the
sustainability of all previous security arrangements in Europe.
The crisis itself is complex and its settlement will need to include solu-
tions on many different levels. The first level is geopolitical and can be
explained by the competition between Russia and the West, especially over
so-called “in-between states”—of which Ukraine is the most crucial and
recent manifestation. The second level is geo-economic and derives from
the competition between Russia and the West over key markets with regard
to their own economic integration projects, i.e. the history of attempts to
conclude a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA)
with countries in-between like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia versus Rus-
sian attempts to involve these states in a Eurasian Economic Union. The
third level could be defined as bilateral and refers to the post-imperium
development of bilateral relations between Ukraine and Russia, where Rus-
sia supposes itself as the successor of the empire and Ukraine as the suc-
cessful destroyer of it. The fourth level of the crisis is domestic and relates
to the tensions inside Ukraine which have been deepened and exaggerated
during the crisis. Therefore, attempts to tackle only one, two or even three
levels of the Ukraine crisis will fail to find a sustainable solution.
There are a number of actors that will play a central role in any resolu-
tion: notably Ukraine, Russia, USA, the EU (especially Germany, France
and Poland) as well as a few different actors inside Ukraine.5 All of these
actors have different levels of involvement and different interests. Nev-
ertheless, representatives of the EU and US will likely try to coordinate
their standpoints both in terms of the evaluation of the situation and the
prospects for the settlement, including the necessary set of measures that
will need to be undertaken by all stakeholders. Russia sees itself in a defen-
sive mode (drawing redlines and mapping out its “own spheres”), although
all other actors see it as an aggressive power. Ukraine has coordinated with
its western partners, but this is yet to be fully supported by the overwhelm-
ing majority of its citizens. This situation creates some ambiguity about

the future, especially if the political elite in Ukraine changes once more in
All of the main actors have committed mistakes (some of them strategic
ones) before and during the crisis. Many actors still don’t have a genuine
will to find a resolution, waiting until other party(s) change their stand-
points or general shifts in the situation occur. Therefore, the situation some-
times looks like it’s in deadlock, and may even be transitioning towards the
“frozen conflict” category. At the time of writing, neither Ukraine nor Rus-
sia can find an acceptable solution, and the issues about Donbas and Crimea
have become major spoilers in relations between the two states. The mili-
tary confrontation in Donbas represents a case that could either be a trigger
for escalation or the start of a normalisation process. In addition to this,
the conflict in Donbas is unlikely to become “frozen” (for a variety of rea-
sons) and will therefore have to be resolved (be it positively or negatively)
in the medium-term. Solution of the problem with Crimea needs a more
comprehensive approach and strategic patience from all parties involved.

Dynamics and Development of the Crisis Since 2014

The timeline of the crisis and its development has been analysed by numer-
ous different analysts. While many differ in their explanations about how
the crisis originated, they mostly agree that the main trigger was the pro-
cess of signing the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU,
which culminated at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in Novem-
ber 2013. From the beginning the crisis was not simply a matter of domestic
Ukrainian affairs, but also quite visible on the international agenda too.6
Coincidentally, Ukraine was OSCE chair in 2013 and the respective annual
OSCE summit took place at the beginning of December 2013 in Kyiv, pro-
viding the possibility for many representatives from official delegations to
visit protesters in the central part of the city and make their own evaluation
about the unfolding events. Numerous foreign missions to Kyiv during the
initial phase of the crisis accelerated its quick internationalisation. The cul-
mination of such activities in the first period was a visit by foreign ministers
from the EU (after dozens of people were shot and killed on the streets in
the centre of Kyiv) to promote compromise between president Yanukovych
and opposition forces. This resulted in the agreement of 21 February 2014,
which has not been implemented.
After President Yanukovych escaped from Ukraine, Russia immedi-
ately began military operations in Crimea, which ended with its illegal

annexation on 18 March. This was followed by the first set of US sanctions

against Russia; and the start of the second period of active US engagement
and the growing involvement of Germany and France. This phase lasted
until 17 July when the MH-17 aeroplane was downed in Donbas by the
rebels.7 A few attempts aimed at resolving the crisis were undertaken during
this period (for example the meeting of the Ukrainian and Russia foreign
ministry’s, the US Secretary of State, the EU High Representative for For-
eign Affairs and Security Policy in Geneva, and the subsequent adoption
of the joint declaration8 ), but all failed to prevent further escalation.
The next phase of the crisis was also firmly connected to the dynam-
ics in Ukraine. It started with the aforementioned tragedy of the civil-
ian aeroplane crash in Donbas and ended with the signing of second set
of Minsk agreements in February 2015 (the first package was signed in
September 2014). On the one hand, both Russia-Western relations and
Ukrainian-Russian relations deteriorated further during this time. But on
the other hand, there were justified hopes that the conclusion of the Minsk-
II agreements, with the direct involvement and presence of the four lead-
ers from the main stakeholders (Merkel, Hollande, Poroshenko and Putin)
could result in crucial change in the conflict, perhaps establishing some
new modus towards de-escalation and even settlement. Nevertheless, the
Minsk accords became de facto not a settlement, but merely “ceasefire
The third phase was also characterised by a reduction in the level of
cooperation between Russia and the West, fixing mutual sanctions for the
longer term, growing mutual allegations about interference into domestic
affairs, and the escalation of negative rhetoric. The situation did improve
after the fighting in January–February 2015, but no sustainable ceasefire
was achieved. Many Western countries modified or amended their security
and defence strategies, naming Russia among the main challenges to their
security. Russia itself revised its basic documents regarding its security pol-
icy, with the NATO alliance being identified as a key threat. Both Russia
and Ukraine continued actively developing military infrastructure along
their common border. The election of the new US president in November
2016 raised hopes in Russia for a dramatic turn, but resulted in the contin-
uation of previous US policy, itself very actively driven by the US Congress.
The end of this period was marked by the adoption by Congress of new
legislation in July 2017, imposing more US sanctions against Russia.
After President Trump signed the aforementioned bill on 2 August 2017
the next period of the crisis began. The adoption of the new US National

Security Strategy9 together with a new US Defense Strategy, where Russia

was clearly identified as an opponent, created a solid basis for a renewed
confrontation between the US and Russia, transforming the conflict into
a long-term problem. A number of elections in EU countries also showed
that improvements in relations with Russia were firmly connected with
progress in the “Ukrainian track”. Although a readiness to “normalise”
relations is always declared, this is always with more or less the same set of
pre-conditions. Presidential elections in Russia and declarations by Presi-
dent Putin in March 2018 (for example his address to the Russian Federal
Assembly10 ) indicate that no substantial change of Russian policy in the
Ukraine crisis can be expected in the near future, although a few attempts
(for example, the option of UN peacekeepers in Donbas) could be under-
taken for de-escalation. Ukraine is entering an electoral cycle (both par-
liamentary and presidential elections take place in 2019) that minimises
options for possible compromise agreements aimed to reach resolution,
first of all regarding conflict in Donbas. The latest sign of such develop-
ments was the adoption of the law regarding Donbas,11 which clearly iden-
tifies Russia as the aggressor-state. This was viewed by Russia as breach of
the Minsk Accords by Ukraine. In general, the implications of the elec-
tions in Russia (March 2018) and the US (November 2018) together with
internal political dynamics in Germany and France, and finally the results
of elections in Ukraine (Spring–Autumn 2019) will give more clarity about
possible future directions of the Ukraine crisis.
Taking into consideration the latest developments, there are grounds
both for pessimism and optimism regarding the prospects for progress in
resolving the crisis. Key challenges include: the number of revised security
policies/strategies adopted by all main actors; the implementation of the
US bill signed by President Trump on 2 August 2017 and declared plans
for new set of sanctions; the actions of the US representative to Ukraine
Mr. Volker and his counterpart in Russia Mr. Surkov; the start of detailed
discussions on the possibility of a peacekeeping mission in Donbas by all
stakeholders (for example on the basis of a special report from Hudson
Institute12 ); and the outcomes of the aforementioned elections. Analysing
the chances for success, I would suggest that there could be a window of
opportunity in 2019, first of all because of elections in Ukraine. If this
change succeeds in providing an additional impetus to start conflict reso-
lution in Donbas, then we could get some impetus for lessening tensions
in Russian-Western relations more broadly or at least preventing further

Options and Possible Scenarios

Having explained the main causes of the crisis, its actors and dynamics,
this Chapter will now move on to analyse the available solutions. There
are four possible scenarios, almost all them have both negative and positive
implications for different actors.

1. The first is concentrated on “deep freezing” the conflict, i.e. max-

imising military de-escalation on the one hand, coupled with con-
solidation of the situation on the ground (modus vivendi) on the
other. This case could have historical analogies with a divided Ger-
many until 1989 and Cyprus until now. This option could become
the most likely scenario, if confrontation between all stakeholders in
the Ukraine crisis continues.
2. Second is “permanent controlled escalation” or “neither peace, nor
war”—which is probably where we are today. It is focussed on doing
constant damage to your rival, thus keeping pressure and retaining
influence over the conflict. But this option is now obviously coming
to its limits and will probably evolve into the first or third scenario.
3. The third is “resolution”, where all four levels of the crisis are taken
into account and comprehensive solutions are found. The first step in
this direction would be the introduction of UN peacekeepers to Don-
bas, thus beginning to de-escalate the centrepiece of the crisis. This
should be followed by a general agreement between the main stake-
holders on the future security status of Ukraine, initially developed by
Ukraine and then presented to outsiders for acceptance or disagree-
ment. Finally, a general agreement on European security architecture
could be concluded.
4. Fourth, “full confrontation”. This includes the possibility of large-
scale military conflict (the initial trigger could be located in-and-
around Donbas) between Russia and Ukraine, which would bring
the West to the brink of open military confrontation with Russia.
In this case, Ukraine will likely become the main “battleground” for
defining the future framework of Euro-Atlantic security. Following
a definite victory for one of the parties, a new status quo could be
established with interrupted economic ties and financial transactions
between the parties involved.

The Euro-Atlantic Security System

At the time of writing we are witnessing a substantial change in the security
model in the Euro-Atlantic space driven by changes in the policies of its
main actors (particularly the USA, EU and Russia), and the respective de
facto rejection by all major actors to move forward in establishing a joint
or common security system in the region. The main reasons for such a
change lay in both domestic developments and the substantial shift in the
outside environment since the beginning of the 1990s. As a result of such
negative trends we are back to a modus of confrontation, mostly along the
lines of Russia versus the West, but not excluding the emergence of other
tensions too. Moreover, some old rivalries in Europe seem to have been
revitalised—be it disputes among neighbours (mostly related to historical
claims and their respective utilisation by domestic parties in political pur-
poses) or between other groups of countries. The previous system based on
liberal democracy has definitely entered a period of serious transformation
and nobody knows what the outcome will be.
The main actors in establishing and balancing the regional security sys-
tem in the Euro-Atlantic space today are the USA, the EU, Russia and neu-
tral and other “in-between” states (these are crucial connecting elements).
All of these actors are actively revising many of their previous policies and
strategies regarding their own security and cooperation with outside part-
Following the election of Donald Trump, the US has entered a “recon-
figuration period”; actively promoting transactionalism, putting empha-
sis on its own interests, demanding more outcomes from its partners and
harshly pressing its opponents/rivalries. Despite the fact that this was quite
unexpected, it is a logical reaction to important and ambiguous changes
both inside the US and globally. This development presents a substantial
change compared with previous US policies and has presented all of its
partners with difficult dilemmas. Therefore, the main US interests regard-
ing the security model in the region relate to retaining its superiority and
status, not allowing other actors to question it, coupled with release of
resources from Europe to the Asia-Pacific area.
When the Ukraine crisis began, the EU had not fully recovered from
the economic-financial crisis of 2007–2009. But today it appears keen to
return to discussions of various integration options inside the Union, pre-
serving unity among EU members, arranging Brexit, responding to new
US policy towards Europe, finding solutions against the rise of extremism

and populism in EU-states, and providing answers to external shocks be

it the Ukraine crisis or destabilisation of the neighbouring Middle East.
Therefore, the EU is concentrated on stabilisation inside the Union and
averting or avoiding challenges from outside that could negatively impact
this agenda.
Since 2014, Russia has entered unchartered waters with no visible answer
to the question of how the whole endeavour it had started will end.
Despite many explanations and statements, it remains unclear what Russia
actually wanted as a final result of its actions; it is reasonable to believe that
the desires of the Russian elites differ quite considerably from the current
reality.13 In addition, Russian actions have raised questions over its own
status as a reliable and predictable partner, and many crucial statements
don’t correspond to current reality. For example, on the one hand Russia
has officially claimed itself to be a Eurasian power (no more a European
one), but on the other hand, this contradicts the current main focus of
Russia’s financial, economic, social and cultural networks with outside
world. An emphasis on developing ties with the Asia-Pacific hasn’t quite
worked as planned, and connections with Europe have turned out to be
hard to abolish.
As a result, Russia finds itself in an ambiguous and tricky position
—advocating for a conservative approach in global politics (with a par-
ticular emphasis on the sovereignty of states), but at the same time, is chal-
lenging the whole previous model of global governance and cooperation.
This ambiguity provokes leaders in the Euro-Atlantic like the US and EU
towards a policy of containment towards Russia and heightens feelings of
insecurity among all its European neighbours. It is difficult to understand
where Russian interests regarding regional security actually lay and to what
extent the interests of its ruling elite coincide with the interests of its society.
This ambiguity needs clarification if Russia wants to participate in forming
a new Euro-Atlantic security architecture and restoring its relations with
all of its neighbours.
But the major challenge of the current ambiguity and “reshuffle peri-
od” in European security refers to neutral states or “in-between con-
nectors”. On the one hand they suffer dramatically (including risks to
their sovereignty and peaceful existence), if they are currently located on
dividing lines between the great powers of the Euro-Atlantic. Especially
if none of the “greats powers” accept de facto their neutral stance, and
categorically demands them to make a choice whether they are “for or
against”. The example of Ukraine is the best-case study for this, when both

the EU and Russia categorically demanded the country make a choice in

favour of one trading system, rejecting all Ukrainian attempts somehow
to connect/reconcile between the EU and Russia. On the other hand, all
“in-between countries” could learn and apply successful lessons of such
non-alignment or neutral policy conducted by states like Austria, Finland
and Switzerland during difficult periods of the Cold War. Nevertheless,
it should be mentioned that not everything in these cases depends on the
pro-active policy of such states, but rather a great responsibility is conferred
upon important outside actors. It is in the interest of all states involved to
find a way to normalise this period of ambiguity as soon as possible. The
best-case scenario is a period of détente or even a general agreement on
the common security architecture in Europe. But even a clear definition
of dividing lines and mutual obligations would be well accepted by neutral
or “in-betweens” as this would provide clarity for their positioning and
respective policies.

The Main Scenarios/Options for Future

Given current dynamics and mostly negative trends, the most likely sce-
nario for the next few years will be escalation and confrontation. Whether
this confrontation can be managed or will come to the brink of war (like the
Caribbean crisis of 1962) is an important question. Nevertheless, despite
many explanations referring to a “Second Cold War”, the confrontation
is unlikely to play out in a similar manner. Today the ideological competi-
tion is not like it was 40–50 years ago, we have more than two influential
actors globally, interconnectivity has made the distinction between attack
and defence quite illusionary, and the ruling elites of the key players are
not willing to fight an existential war. These factors suggest that the con-
frontation period this time will be much shorter than during the Cold War,
but at the same time, more dangerous and ambiguous due to less clarity
and increased misperceptions. Despite all of these differences, there remain
some similarities, especially if former Cold War warriors become active and
influential, creating the possibility of refreshing old recipes and seeking to
“re-play the game”.
The second scenario will be “normalisation”. There is a small chance
of this in the next few years, but in the longer term its chances for imple-
mentation will grow. As in the Cold War analogy, we shouldn’t expect a
new détente to be the same as before, although many elements could be

the same. Normalisation can start either after serious escalation or serious
changes in one of the confronting parties. It may be accelerated by certain
driving forces, having such an aim and starting positive developments on
different tracks. It may be fixed by some joint and formally binding agree-
ments or by undertaking small steps seeking to alter the current reality
and de-escalate tensions. Either way, it might be unrealistic to expect such
normalisation for many years.
The last scenario is a global conflict or war, which we unfortunately can-
not exclude from the list of options. It could happen due to a combination
of negative factors, misunderstandings and mistakes, which together could
bring all us to the brink of disaster. In this case we have a historical anal-
ogy in the dynamics that led to WWI and WWII. Taking into account the
weight and capabilities of the main powers in the Euro-Atlantic area, such
a war in the region could become global very quickly. Therefore, despite
all the differences and diverging interests of all the main actors, everybody
should seek to avert and avoid this scenario by all means.

The Significance of the Ukraine Crisis

for the Euro-Atlantic Security System
Initially the Ukraine crisis challenged the security architecture in the Euro-
Atlantic region, but with the course of time, it has become one of the main
reasons for confrontation between Russia and the West. It has served as a
trigger for a new confrontation between the main powers in the region,
with a possible final aim of “defeating” the adversary. Thus it could mark
a milestone in the formulation of a new geopolitical reality in the Euro-
Atlantic space, where Russia could distance itself from Europe (as far as
it declares itself a Eurasian power) and either move more closer to the
Asia-Pacific (with a key emphasis on partnership or even soft alliance with
China) or towards isolation; the US concentrates on a transactional/ad hoc
approach to its relations with the outside world, becomes more demanding
of partners and harsh towards its adversaries; and the EU tries to establish
itself as the new security pole (taking on more responsibility for security
in-around Europe), but remains preoccupied with its own internal crises.
Due to the declared and fixed positions of the major stakeholders, the
Ukraine crisis has become a crucial crossroads not just for the future devel-
opment of the security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic space, but also
globally. Some of the issues connected to the crisis (for example, the non-
proliferation regime, nuclear security, the validity of international treaties

or commitments, etc.) play a very important role and have serious impli-
cations for the actions the USA, EU and Russia in other regions of the
world (e.g. DPRK or Iran). Many global or regional actors are also care-
fully looking at the outcomes of the crisis and seeking to draw lessons for
their future actions and policies.
In this regard, the Ukraine crisis has sharpened a number of questions
which were postponed after the Cold War due to being “uncomfortable”,
such as the real limits of free sovereign choice, the rules of conduct for influ-
ential actors in case of conflict with international law, adherence to one’s
own commitments and obligations in a crisis situation, the responsibility
of integration entities, etc. Moreover, it has put many previous incidents
(the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the conflicts in Kosovo and Geor-
gia) into some logical and structured timeline of systematic transformation,
whereas previously they had been viewed as aberrations. Only now can we
look back at statements, declarations and actions that might have warned us
about further escalation and crisis, but we didn’t listen or understand them.
In this sense, perhaps some time in the future when the Euro-Atlantic secu-
rity system has found a new balance and shape, we might view the Ukraine
crisis as the last stone which provoked the “earthquake” resulting in a new
The crisis itself has become not only a watershed, dividing past and future
epochs of European security, but has also presented a number of crucial
questions. Among the most important issues raised by the crisis is whether
the previous security system, based on the end of the Cold War and agree-
ments signed and adhered to during the Cold War, should be continued
or adapted. Are we going to establish a new balance of power and coop-
eration (or confrontation) in the Euro-Atlantic area, or invent something
new? And to what extent will international agreements and commitments
that were in force until 2014 remain part of this? Ultimately, whether states
in this space will play by the rules or with the rules in future?

The Ukraine crisis didn’t come from nowhere. There were many indicators
that sooner or later crucial issues regarding Ukraine needed to be agreed
and solved, rather than simply postponed, as many actors seemed to prefer.
Although the crisis itself has been deepened and developed by a number of
unfortunate actions from one or another party, it also has its own logic and

dynamics that are deeply connected or even synchronised with the security
context in the Euro-Atlantic space.
The crisis must be settled as soon as possible because it presents a tick-
ing bomb for the whole continent, in some ways similar to the conflict
between France and Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
which caused two world wars. Today, by some indicators and dynamics14
we shouldn’t exclude the possibility that events in Eastern Europe could
follow the same negative track as it was the case for Western Europe a hun-
dred years ago. Without urgent steps to settle relations between Ukraine
and Russia, Euro-Atlantic security could be poisoned and destabilised for
decades. This is a scenario that we should seek to avert by all possible means.
Unfortunately, we more often see evidence of political games based on
self-interest rather than a strategic approach to solve the problem. The
resolution of the Donbas conflict could and should be the first step in
this process. There are feasible options available for this aim, such as the
deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to the temporary uncontrolled
territory of Donbas. In order to achieve this, all parties involved need to
demonstrate real political will to find a solution and apply smart diplomacy
instead of hard power and confrontation or even a “wait-and-see” logic.

1. The author supposes that the first indications of such claims started in
middle of 1990s and became fixed in the end of the decade with conflict in
and around Kosovo.
2. The last among such attempts was the “Draft of the European Secu-
rity Treaty” presented by Russian president Dmitriy Medvedev in 2009,
3. More or less fixed as a fact in number of documents or offi-
cial statements of main actors in the Ukraine crisis, for example in
the following: National Security Strategy of the United States of
America (December 2017),
uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf; Russian Federation
National Security. Approved by the President on 31 December 2015.
Retrieved at:; Presidential
Address to the Federal Assembly (1 March 2018), http://en.kremlin.
ru/events/president/news/56957; White Paper on German Security
Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr. The Federal Government
The National Security Strategy of Ukraine, approved by the Decree of

the President of Ukraine as of 26 May 2015,

4. The definition more or less explains the outside and inside nature of the
crisis with focal point on Ukraine. Apart of the term the other is also used
to describe it, namely “the crisis in and around Ukraine”. The same refers
to “in-between states” definition. Both of terms are firstly officially men-
tioned in the following high-level document, “Back to Diplomacy: Final
Report and Recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons on Euro-
pean Security as a Common Project”, OSCE (3 December 2015), https://
5. I divide Ukraine into 5 matrixes (an innovative idea for better explaining
the Ukrainian landscape, taking leave of the simplified and destructive East-
–West approach); this includes: Western, Central, Southern, South-Eastern
(Donbas) and Crimea. Two of these were until 2014 the most active and
influential, although the Central is the most significant (be it by population,
GDP, territory, etc.) More on this can be found in a survey conducted by
the Kyiv International Sociology Institute and published in April 2014 in
“Mirror Weekly”,
6. Very few important events in the Euro-Atlantic area are directly connected
to the crisis, but quite a lot of decisions and steps (even in domestic affairs)
utilised the crisis as an explanation or justification for other actions.
7. According to the results of criminal investigation conducted by Joint
Investigation Team. More information to be retrieved at special website
of Netherlands government:
8. The Geneva Statement of 17 April 2014 agreed by the Ministers
of Foreign Affairs of Russia, USA, Ukraine and the EU High Rep-
resentative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, http://www., http://archive.mid.
9. National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Decem-
ber 2017),
10. Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly (1 March 2018), http://en.
11. Law of Ukraine, “On peculiarities of state policy on securing Ukraine’s state
sovereignty over temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Lugansk
oblasts” (signed by the president on 21 February 2018), http://w1.c1.

12. Richard Gowan, “Can the United Nations unite Ukraine?” The Hudson
Institute (29 January 2018),
13. If the real strategic aim was to prevent Ukraine from moving towards the
West, or diminishing Western influence in Ukraine, then the current context
can be defined as a catastrophe. If the aim was to draw clear redlines for the
West and increase its own influence in Europe, then it has achieved some
tactical successes, but at the expense of considerable negative collateral
damage, namely a negative attitude to Russia in many European states.
14. We can analyse for example the tempo and scale of the military build-ups
along both sides of Ukrainian-Russian border, which is soon going to be
the most militarized border in Europe.

The US’s Strategic Dilemma: Saving

Transatlantic Security or Rebalancing to Asia?

Beka Kiria

Introduction: The Evolution of the European

Security Structure
The global system is in a state of flux, and security challenges are being felt
very differently by the United States and Europe. This is having a signifi-
cant impact on what we might think of as the “Euro-Atlantic space” and on
the interests and policies of its members. European nations are wrestling
with an unprecedented refugee crisis1 and Brexit, while the United States
is increasingly concerned about a growing power competition with China.
There even seems to be a transatlantic split on the implications of Russian
activities in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and of the
war with Georgia in 2008. The risk is that the current Euro-Atlantic secu-
rity architecture, designed for a different time and set of challenges, may
be unravelling in the face of a new type of global security landscape, and
especially a transition to Asia as the fulcrum of the twenty-first century.

B. Kiria (B)
Gagra Institute, Tbilisi, Georgia

© The Author(s) 2020 213

A. Futter (ed.), Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, New Security Challenges,
214 B. KIRIA

The notion of collective defence, central to NATO and to European

security since the early days of the Cold War, as well as key bilateral rela-
tionships across the Atlantic and the overall sanctity and credibility of the
US commitment to the security of Europe, are all being questioned. NATO
member states are alarmed by what appears to be a resurgent and embold-
ened Russia more willing to use power and military force beyond its borders
and see NATO as the central means of countering this possible threat to
the European security order and a bulwark against possible future Russia
aggression in the Euro-Atlantic space. However, political rhetoric and state-
ments from the Trump White House are at best contradictory and at worst
cast doubt on these questions and have caused great concern in European
capitals. As a result, European states have renewed efforts towards building
new European defence and security structures to manage the problems of
Euro-Atlantic security, and especially any future challenge from Russia. If
we assume that in the past shared values and commitments were particularly
important to the notion of Euro-Atlantic collective security, then we may
have to accept that today that the security architecture might not remain
fit for purpose.
Beyond the military equation, a further key reason for this split is a grow-
ing divergence in policy towards global trade, and especially trade with a
“rising” China. The United States under President Trump appears strongly
against further liberalisation and is currently engaged in a “trade war” with
China, while the majority of European states favour responsible globalisa-
tion and an ever-more liberal and open training relationship with Beijing.
Indeed, while the EU has signed a series of free trade agreements (FTAs)
and has reached out to Asia for trade, the United States has renounced
trade agreements with China, notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Taken together, this presents an increasingly inward-looking United
States under President Trump publicly focussed on “America First”, with
a dilemma of where it should focus its time, resources and political capital:
the Euro-Atlantic or Asia. Specifically, whether the United States should
or can seek to repair and reinvigorate the structures that undergird Euro-
Atlantic security while at the same time “rebalancing” towards a set of new
and arguably more pressing priorities to the east. It seems unlikely that the
United States can or wants to do both. Consequently, this Chapter explores
the current situation and begins to think through some future pathways
and possibilities.

The Euro-Atlantic Security Framework

in Transition
The end of the Cold War in 1991 is often viewed as a “victory” for the
West and the social model of democratic-capitalism. It also saw important
developments in four key components of the Euro-Atlantic security archi-
tecture, each with different aims and intentions: NATO, a new Russian
Federation, the OSCE and the EU. While efforts were initiated to develop
a new set of meaningful and cooperative relationships between the EU,
OCSE, NATO, and Russia, these four pillars increasingly moved apart.
In the past three decades, NATO has expanded exponentially, first
through German reunification, then the Visegrad and Vilnius Groups, and
finally reaching out to aspiring Eastern European countries like Georgia
and Ukraine. During this period, NATO’s remit appeared to expand both
geographically and thematically, and the Alliance became the go-to institu-
tion for enforcing global norms, responding to global crises, and increasing
stability across the Euro-Atlantic space. This was bolstered by ever-closer
integration of member states’ military forces. However, NATO expansion
“eastwards,” and especially into the post-Soviet space was viewed with ever
growing concern by policymakers in Russia. The idea that Georgia and
Ukraine might join the Alliance was particularly troubling for Moscow,
and indeed was viewed as problematic by both Germany and France (two
leading EU and NATO nations).2
Due to different visions of Euro-Atlantic security within the Alliance,
and what should be its primary purpose, the challenge of reviving and
redefining the Euro-Atlantic security architecture has stalled. Fundamental
questions remain: should NATO pursue further enlargement and extend its
security umbrella beyond the Euro-Atlantic, accepting new members based
on their democratic and free market credentials? Should the Alliance focus
beyond the territorial defence of its members to include other common
interests as well? And whether fragmentation driven by different political
agendas and interests between member states, and particularly between
both sides of the Atlantic, can be prevented from eventually pulling the
Alliance apart. Part of the problem is that while NATO members on the
“eastern flank” (the Baltic states and Poland), are increasingly concerned
about Russia and want a greater military commitment to their security from
the United States,3 other members (particularly in “old Europe”), seem
more interested in preventing further NATO enlargement and finding a
way to repair and rebuild relations with Russia.
216 B. KIRIA

Responding to this rift within the transatlantic political order, the EU

has increased efforts to develop its own defence and security dimension.
Consequently, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) frame-
work was established as part of the European Union’s Common Security
and Defence Policy (CSDP), where out of 28 nations, some 25 are work-
ing on the structural integration of their national armed forces. Despite
numerous differences between the roles of NATO and PESCO, the broader
evolution of transatlantic security dynamics indicates a significant tilt. The
establishment of the EU’s military dimension is also widening the gap in
the Euro-Atlantic security structure and challenging the role of the United
States within NATO and Europe. Eventually, it could result in partial or
even complete undermining of NATO’s role, which in turn, would dimin-
ish the defence and security capacity of Western states to respond to crises
and reduce stability across the Euro-Atlantic space. As an example, the
White House criticised NATO allies and decided to let the EU face the
refugee crisis unaided, this in turn illustrated that the EU was unable to
handle the emerging crises alone.4
Lastly, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE)—whose remit was to establish common norms and principles,
guard the inviolability of borders and aid the peaceful settlement of con-
flicts among sovereign states, without disregarding the human dimension of
security—has been failing in its role as a guardian of Euro-Atlantic security.5
Instead, the primary function of the OSCE has become election monitoring
and overseeing issues of minority rights.

The US’s Global Dilemma

With internal disputes about its future scope and direction, and apparently
challenged by the establishment of the EU’s PESCO framework, uncer-
tainty about NATO is aggravating the strategic dilemma facing the United
States. It is straining the US’s capacity to act globally. It therefore seems
clear that the United States should work with European allies to establish a
new structure for Euro-Atlantic security. This must happen soon before the
European military dimension progresses much further, and before NATO
is potentially undermined. Despite projected low expectations regarding
the PESCO as “complementary” to NATO, PESCO is a risky undertaking
for the United States because it is an alternative homogenous European
framework. The United States risks finding itself out of European security
arrangements and hence, losing its political leverage on the continent.

The United States should therefore focus on two key objectives. Begin-
ning work right away to redefine the defence and security architecture
in the Euro-Atlantic space and at the same time pushing ahead with the
rebalancing strategy in Asia. Second, the United States should examine the
risks and rewards of a NATO or PESCO led response to tackling the key
challenges posed to the Euro-Atlantic space. Above all the United States
should reassure European allies that strengthening and bolstering NATO
and rebalancing to Asia are both essential measures for the Atlantic politi-
cal order to survive the current mixture of modern threats and challenges.
The United States should change its current defence and security policy
planning process, and adjust its strategic, operational capacity to two dis-
tinctive continental realities, Europe and Asia. It is also crucial for the
United States to take into consideration that the rapidly changing geopo-
litical landscape around the European Union is testing the firmness of the
transatlantic bond. Euro-Atlantic security planners missed or ignored the
early signs of the damage that could be caused by the Libyan Civil War,
the Syrian Civil War and refugee and migrant crises striking the EU.6 As
a result, these events shook the Euro-Atlantic security framework. During
the Syrian Civil War, Europe was supposed to be able to export stability. In
reality, it became engulfed by instability, and chaos spilled over from this
seemingly remote conflict. The US-European response to these events was
neither well calculated nor coordinated, triggering a domino effect which
hit at the very heart of the Euro-Atlantic security arrangement.
In fact, at the beginning of both the Libyan and Syrian conflicts and
the instigation of the Islamic State, Western security planners could nei-
ther envisage nor estimate their consequences for the Euro-Atlantic frame-
work. These developments have accelerated efforts to develop a European
military capability. As a result, European political leaders distanced them-
selves from the United States, and slowly came to the realisation that the
destabilisation of Euro-Atlantic security was the result of miscalculated and
uncoordinated actions by the Alliance as the whole, which in turn has been
exploited by the Kremlin.
Resolving the current US strategic dilemma must be a two-pronged
approach that begins in Europe. Before “pivoting” eastwards, the United
States should work to bolster the European security structure and be
actively involved in assisting European allies in taming the refugee crises
and protecting against Russian threats. The US Asian rebalancing strat-
egy requires active and close allies as never before in Europe, the Middle
East and Asia. If the United States is not able to fortify European security
218 B. KIRIA

and address these pressing issues, Russia will hinder its rebalancing strat-
egy in Asia by challenging and dismantling the existing European security
arrangement. However, the United States is facing a complicated political
juggle; maintaining a strong Euro-Atlantic bond, avoiding the realisation of
the EU’s military dimension, protecting the European security framework
from aggressive Russian actions, and upholding the concept of a Europe
whole, secure and free.

Russian Challenges to the Euro-Atlantic Security

In the post-Cold War world, Russia was the first to recognise the signif-
icantly changed realities of the security landscape and open a discussion
about how it might address modern threats and challenges.7 As a result,
Russia seized an opportunity and occupied Georgia in 2008 and later
Ukraine in 2014, annexing Crimea, linking both with Ukrainian and Geor-
gian progress towards membership of the European Union and NATO.
Illegal referenda conducted under Russian military control recognised the
independence of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and incorporated Crimea into
the Russian Federation. More recently, Russia added the Kerch Strait with
closed access to the Azov Sea to its “acquisitions”.8
The Euro-Atlantic security structure missed endless opportunities
beginning in 2008 to respond to growing Russian hostility. While NATO
was focussed on enlargement on the European continent, Russia pursued an
“expansionist” programme with tanks and military occupations. However,
the incumbent frameworks of Euro-Atlantic security were slow to recog-
nise these risks, and Russia was able to successfully exploit many unresolved
issues in the Euro-Atlantic. As a result, Russia was able to become involved
in Syria, and along with Iran and Turkey gained significant leverage on the
European Union. In addition to this, the Kremlin helped to spark far-right
wing populist movements in Europe.9
The current refugee and migrant crises are also serving Russia’s inter-
ests and could even be seen as a “Trojan horse” intended to destabilise
European security arrangements. Especially, given that the Russian mili-
tary campaign in Syria intensified and triggered a flow of refugees from the
Middle-East.10 In the long term, these crises are also enhancing the power
of those across Europe who would like to leave the European Union,11
although some member states have attempted to “fight back”.12 Within
the European Union, the V4 (Visegrád Four) countries have refused to par-

ticipate in the EU relocation scheme for refugees and formed a concerted

political opposition against Brussels. As a result, the European Commis-
sion decided to take action and launched infringement procedures which
have widened the gap between member states; relations with Poland and
Hungary are at a historic low.13
The Russian approach will only work until European allies have an open
debate about the future Euro-Atlantic security structure and NATO’s role
within it. Russia’s destabilisation efforts are increasing the price of security
within the Euro-Atlantic security framework and chaining the United States
to the region area, rather than allowing it to refocus on the Asia rebalanc-
ing strategy. Therefore, alienation within the Euro-Atlantic security space
is growing, limiting US operational outreach to push the Asia rebalanc-
ing strategy and establish a new transpacific politico-military order in Asia.
Current Russian attempts to undermine Euro-Atlantic security have also
challenged the Western political mindset, notably through the adoption
of hybrid warfare.14 The adoption of “hybrid warfare” has allowed Rus-
sia to orchestrate hostilities against the Euro-Atlantic structure, notably
in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea and Donbas. More broadly, a lack of
preparedness among European states and NATO allowed Russia to under-
take hostile actions in Ukraine and Syria, orchestrate the refugee crises, and
support populist leaders across the European continent.
The NATO Bucharest Summit of 2008 became a watershed moment in
the post-Cold War European security order.15 Months later, the world wit-
nessed the Russian awakening process after the five-day war against Geor-
gia. Globally, this was a clear message that Russia desired a halt to NATO
expansion and a new different vision for Euro-Atlantic security. However,
in 2008, neither NATO nor the EU appeared to recognise the broader sig-
nificance of Russian actions against a relatively small country sited on the
other side of the Black Sea. Instead, Western states missed an opportunity
to stop Russian hostilities that would later engulf Ukraine. Two missed
opportunities in Georgia and Ukraine would lead in part to a humanitarian
crisis in Syria.
Dmitri Trenin has argued that each case involved a set of specific cal-
culations on behalf of Russia aimed at fortifying its Soviet-era “spheres of
influence”.16 However, looking at these processes through the prism of
Euro-Atlantic security shows a picture of increasing Russian hostility glob-
ally and particularly against the EU and NATO. Indeed, Russian President
Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 served
as a harbinger of the process of challenging and destructing the current
transatlantic security structure.17
220 B. KIRIA

The Growth of Chinese Power

and the Rebalance to Asia
An increasingly aggressive Russian stance has raised the price of security
for and within the NATO Alliance. At the same time, Russian military pos-
turing is forcing the United States to focus on the Euro-Atlantic. Both
factors are limiting the US capacity to refocus on the Asian continent and
to implement the Asian rebalancing strategy. As a result of Russian actions,
China is enjoying a certain freedom to establish a new transpacific politico-
military order, building new economic, military and political alliances across
the continent and strengthening the capacity of the Shanghai Coopera-
tion Organization (SCO). This is even drawing in new potential partners:
Turkey for example, is considering strategic realignment with China and
the SCO to reduce its attachments in the Euro-Atlantic.18 This could be
the beginning of a more wholescale strategic realignment towards the east.
Therefore, before Washington shifts to the Asian continent and applies its
rebalancing strategy, it is vital for US and European interests to engage
with Turkey, and potentially others too, as a strategically important partner
in the Euro-Atlantic security framework.
Despite the robust bond that undergirds the Euro-Atlantic security
structure, US and EU interests are continually drifting apart. Divergences
in transatlantic relations are on the increase and could have a significant
impact not only on the future of Euro-Atlantic security but also on the
US rebalancing strategy. It is also reflected in the scope and volume of
bilateral trade agreements, services, investments and protectionism policies
between Asia, Europe and the United States. As further illustration, figures
indicate that EU-Asia trade is consistently more than double the volume of
total transatlantic trade; and EU-China trade peaked at $1.8tn in 2013.19
Indeed, EU countries are exporting more to China than the United States,
meaning that Eurasian trade ties and relations are arguably more impor-
tant to both partners than trade with the United States. The EU is also
an important export destination for Asia. As a result, political-economic
considerations have a significant impact on intercontinental relationships
shaping the future of Euro-Atlantic security.
China’s rapid rise has fundamentally influenced the Asian security struc-
ture and the global economy, as well as the structure and dynamics of global
governance. This is now being felt in Europe too: notably, China’s new
investment bank has created a significant division within the transatlantic
partners. A number of US allies—the UK, France, Germany, and other EU

states have opted into the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)
as founding members.20 It demonstrates that in spite of the centrality of
traditional security structures, economic concerns are increasingly trump-
ing security, especially for EU member states that have been experiencing
economic difficulties. Thus, the EU seems likely to grasp the enormous eco-
nomic potential that the AIIB provides. The European Investment Bank
has also made significant strides to deepen its investment cooperation with
China by opening an office in Beijing.21
Practically, the US-Asian rebalancing strategy is facing a dilemma;
whether the United States should join the AIIB to move closer to its pri-
mary competitor and allow the United States to shift strategic weight away
from Beijing. However, it is not clear yet why the United States is hesitant
to do so and whether the rebalance is a strategy referring to a particular
geography or a certain competition in international governance intending
to fill gaps where the United States is behind.22 It is also unclear what the
United States will do to counterbalance the reliance of the EU on China.
Either way, this suggests that the United States should start defence and
security planning through the lens of political economy: if in the past the
United States sought to provide security to European allies through hard
means, today the new essential “security” is economic security.
Germany is a very important player in this scenario, for while Berlin
is a major backer of PESCO and renewed Euro-Atlantic security coop-
eration, it also has a strong economic relationship with China. In fact,
nearly half of all EU exported goods to China are made in Germany.23
Therefore, China’s economic attraction risks pulling Germany away from
Europe, and threatens the transatlantic bond. One illustration of this comes
from discussions of the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline project, often described
as a “commercial project” for German-Russian relations. In the past the
United States was able to force Berlin to support sanctions against the
Kremlin, but this may no longer be possible in the future. In the long-
run, Berlin’s closer economic relationship with China and Russia will likely
have a considerable impact on Germany’s foreign policy choices, and espe-
cially in the formulation of a future Euro-Atlantic security arrangement
(see Chapter 8).24 Therefore, within the strategic framework of rebalanc-
ing to Asia, the United States should make sure that German economic
interests will not undermine the transatlantic bond when it comes to policy
choices between Russia, China and the United States.
The rebalance is a multifaceted strategy, with economic as well as military
drivers and objectives. The United States has already worked to strengthen
222 B. KIRIA

and modernise traditional alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of

Korea and the Philippines; and a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-
east Asia has been signed by the US and Southeast Asian countries, found-
ing members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).25
At the same time, the United States began to push for a TPP trade agree-
ment that would have amounting to almost 40% of global GDP, but this
ultimately became defunct.26 The TPP signed on 4 February 2016 never
entered into force due to the withdrawal of the United States.27 Instead of
TPP, a new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific
Partnership (CPTPP) has emerged. The CPTPP incorporates most of the
provisions of the TPP, but importantly lowers the threshold for enactment,
so the participation of the United States is no longer required.28
In the framework of the rebalancing strategy, the TPP plays a pivotal role
by allowing the United States to pursue both economic and geopolitical
interests within the region. In the scope of geostrategic planning, it will
bolster US leadership in Asia and strengthen alliances, as well as giving a
boost to the US economy of an estimated $130 billion by 2030.29 China is
wary of these developments and has responded with the Regional Compre-
hensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes sixteen Asia-Pacific
countries minus the United States. China has also pushed the Belt and Road
Initiative hoping to stretch trade and energy influence into South and Cen-
tral Asia.30

The Future Asia-Pacific Security Architecture

When it comes to the future of the Asia-Pacific security architecture, the
role of the United States remains unclear. However, a White Paper released
by the Chinese Foreign Ministry has been very clear about its policies for
Asia-Pacific security cooperation based on the notion of economic integra-
tion.31 Further articulation of this policy was made at the Xiangshan Forum
where Chinese officials underlined the establishment of an Asia-Pacific
security architecture but with a moderate focus.32 Nevertheless, China
conceives the One Belt, One Road, the AIIB, the Conference on Inter-
action, the Confidence-Building in Asia (CICA) and Xiangshan Forums
all as platforms to increase intergovernmental exchange and strengthen
economic ties among the participant nations.33 The Asia-Pacific security
architecture is still in the early stages of development, and will be charac-
terised by competition between the United States and China, principally
over trade. Indeed, trade pacts and intergovernmental agreements among

nations could become the ultimate determinant of the future Asia-Pacific

Accordingly, China perceives the rebalancing strategy as a means to
maintain US hegemony in the Indo-Pacific and as a response to China’s
emergence as a new regional and global player. Therefore, the rebalanc-
ing policy serves as a tool to prevent further Chinese advancement on the
world political stage. As a result, China is building-up intergovernmental
ties and pushing trade deals within the region and working to create a new
perception of China as a major global player.34 China therefore sees the
US rebalancing strategy as an obstruction to Chinese efforts to establish
a conducive geopolitical and geoeconomic environment that will fulfil its
strategic vision.35
At this point, the competition between the United States and China lies
in trade pacts and in building an intergovernmental capacity. Therefore,
the United States should bolster the ratification process of a sophisticated
trade agreement and accelerate the ratification of the CPTPP. Competition
in trade and intergovernmental capacity is also likely to expand to matters of
Asia-Pacific security. With this in mind, the United States should consider
focussing on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and
track II initiatives such as the Shangri-La Dialogue. However, these should
not overshadow the Xiangshan Forum.
Due to increasing competition in trade, intergovernmental platforms,
and a rivalry for future security architectures in Asia, China-US friction will
grow and intensify. Keeping a balance of increasingly complex relations
will put pressure on both parties and may force allies of both countries
to “choose sides”. The United States should therefore avoid aggressive
postures while it is establishing important regional security partnerships.
Meanwhile, it is crucial that the United States pursue peaceful and con-
structive engagement and cooperation with China. Instead of aggression,
the United States should seek and emphasise support for the rules-based
order in Asia and outline political consequences for those who breach it.
This will weaken Beijing’s attempts to question the US rebalancing strat-
egy and its adherence to international norms. Moreover, the ratification of
the CPTPP would increase economic integration and, if accompanied by
other appropriate components, open the way for a better future security
arrangement in Asia.
224 B. KIRIA

Conclusion: Trans-Atlanticism Versus

Despite existing challenges and difficulties in the Euro-Atlantic space, the
strategic move from Europe to Asia is of critical necessity for US inter-
ests. But the United States is facing a complicated political balancing act.
The United States should bolster the Euro-Atlantic security structure, and
work to revive and redefine the future Euro-Atlantic security framework. It
should also seek to resolve all issues related to the role of NATO, agreeing a
clear vision with European allies about its role in future of the Euro-Atlantic
security. US and European nations need to decide whether NATO should
expand both geographically and thematically and whether it should enforce
Euro-Atlantic norms globally. Reviving the Alliance and resolving its inter-
nal issues will allow the NATO to be more influential and mobile when
it comes to responding to any future provocative and threatening Russian
actions. Alternatively, the NATO founding treaty signed in 1949 should be
updated to better reflect the nature of modern threats. The Treaty should
also clarify whether the Euro-Atlantic security arrangement should protect
not only the territorial integrity of its members, but perhaps common inter-
ests as well (including defining what those common interests are). Thus,
clarity about the future role of NATO will bring agility and decisiveness
within the Alliance when it comes to responding to threats and challenges.
The United States should seek to prevent further progression towards
an EU military dimension that could undermine the role of NATO, and
at the same time seek to protect its European allies from an increasingly
hostile Russia. It is only through addressing these considerable challenges
in transatlantic relations that the United States can begin to focus on its
Asian rebalancing strategy. The United States therefore needs to offer its
European allies a redefined and reshaped concept of Euro-Atlantic security.
Washington should reassure its European counterparts and discourage the
pursuit of a European military capability instead of NATO. Ignoring these
pressing issues within the Alliance could see the broader Euro-Atlantic
security structure fragment due to growing divergences, different agendas
and interests. There are already signs that a number of European states are
leaning towards pathways that could make NATO obsolete in the not too
distant future. Out of the debris of the Euro-Atlantic security framework
new arrangements could appear, perhaps led from Moscow. For instance,
shortly after the invasion of Georgia in 2008, Russia proposed a new Russia-
centric European security treaty.

NATO is congested and lacks decisiveness because it was designed for a

different time when the main purpose of the Alliance was to protect against
open military aggression. Therefore, it is pivotal that Alliance members
work to redesign transatlantic security frameworks capable of addressing
modern threats and challenges effectively. However, this new Euro-Atlantic
security framework must address three pressing issues: (1) Whether the
nature and types of threats and challenges are the same for Europe and the
United States; (2) If such threats and challenges should be tackled sepa-
rately by Europe and the United States; and (3) If both sides of the Atlantic
see the value in maintaining the Euro-Atlantic security architecture and in
what configuration. Finally, US policymakers must reassess whether the
Asian rebalancing strategy should encompass a broader geographic scope
and address other areas where US interests are questioned.

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