On March 16, 2017, The Atlantic Council launched a report to opinionate on the possible strategies that can be taken to hold Russia to account for its actions in Ukraine and Syria. An excellent panel was hosted to discuss the report.

Panelists: Ash Jain (Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security) James Nixey (Head, Russia and Eurasia Program, Chatham House) Constanze Stelzenmuller (Robert Bosch Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution)

Moderated by: Carol Lee (White House Correspondent, Wall Street Journal)

The report provided by the Atlantic Council concludes with five pillars for Russian “constrainment”:

  1. Defending against and deterring potential Russian threats – to strengthen NATO, defense, and cyber capabilities. It is important to stress that helping Russia’s neighbors defend themselves is help to NATO. The report recommends lethal defense weapons to Ukraine.  
  2. Penalizing Russian violations of global norms – as there is a clear relevance to Ukraine, it is essential to maintain the transatlantic consensus regarding the imposed sanctions against Russia.
  3. Waging a battle of narratives to counter Russian propaganda, disinformation, and fake news. There is a need to upgrade the US government and European allies’ efforts to assess and counter Russian propaganda. It could be done through new NGO along with the lines of the National Endowment for Democracy, to generate more diverse content to indicate what democracy stands  for to a Russian audience.
  4. There is a need to continue supporting the aspiration of Russian people, by speaking out of democratic rights and meeting with opposition parties. Russian society is becoming very hard; the Kremlin is scared of a Russian Maidan. There is a need to support what remains of Russian civil society as they are the key to Russian future.
  5. Further, there is a need for collaboration among leading democracies in dealing with Russia.

Ash Jain states that the strategy of constraiment begun on the premise that it is backed by the US and its allies. The idea to provide a common strategy that would bring together the democratic countries as they have the biggest stakes in keeping up world order. Russia is involved in actions that counter fundamental values; the strategy includes identifying some objectives and then put forward how to achieve them.

The speaker states that most European countries would want to partner with Russia, and for the state to promote Western values, although that is unrealistic under the Putin regime. The proposed goal is to constrain Russia’s action, to limit its ability to challenge the west and acknowledge the fundamental values. The report states that the goals could be achieved through the five pillars of containment.

Further Ash Jain argues that the democratic aspirations of the Russian people need to be supported. A democratic Russia is likely to abide by the rules of the International System. There have been many who were publically prevented from sharing their view on moving to the West. There is a need for the leaders to show that they are with the Russian opposition, although the process needs to be done very carefully, so the image of the opposition is not tainted. There is a need for coordination between the US and its allies. There is a need to engage with Russia as there are many interests where they need to cooperate such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Russia has its interests, e.g. the preservation of the Assad regime more so than taking out ISIS. It is hard to avoid trade off and give Russia a free pass for violating these norms.

James Nixey states that clearly Western countries are stronger together. The Brexit is not helping the process but increases disintegrative ideas in Europe.  It is hard to expect perfection regarding unity. For example, Hungary will not be on the West’s side as they have strong, long-standing ties with Russia. It is different in Portugal as well. A strategy of Russian constrainmnet will take a bit of sacrifice. For example, sanctions, hurt the rest of the world although they hurt Russia the most. It is a wake-up call for Europe to do more in its neighborhood.

He further argues that the UK is very realistic about the threats posed by Russia. There have many issues in the past, were Russia conducted unconventional activities on British soil. There were some bilateral issues where the British understood the nature of Russian threats. England is compromised as London is the center for Russian money launders, especially in the property sector. The money is too attractive for the British. The UK needs to be watched very carefully, the speaker does not trust the British, although he is British. There is a need for Western governments to track the Russian money.

The speaker sustains that Russia’s goals are to be one of two global powers, it wants a sphere of influence, and it believes that it can control former Soviet states. It does not only want Ukraine but starts with it. Further, the Kremlin also wants influence and a piece of the action in the Middle East.

Constanze Stelzenmuller states that the Russian are meddling in Germany too, per say in the case of Lisa. The Germans were critiqued by the Russians of not correctly accusing the offended, although it later turned out that it was the result of Kremlin active measures. The state is not good at calibrating what they are doing. Per se, in Germany, they were already upset that the Russians went into Crimea. Now Ukraine is very close to the German homeland and particularly to Poland, a country with whom the state has excellent relations. They are stories about Russian buying people in Germany.

Stelzenmuller maintains that the Europeans do not have the power to selective attentions. They are not able to have the same choices as the US due to strategy. Whatever Russia does will affect them in a way or another. The European strategic interests are more sharply hurt than the ones of the US.

Synthesis by: Patricia Besciu, all opinions are those of panelists, no personal ideas included

For more information visit: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/events/upcoming-events/detail/a-new-western-strategy-to-counter-putin’s-russia