Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has not had a coherent, comprehensive strategy toward Russia. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrates, the U.S. has paid a price for this failure and, of course, many of Russia’s neighbors have paid far higher prices. At the core of the U.S. failure has been an unwillingness to assess the nature of the Russian regime realistically and to base its policy on that assessment. Too often, the U.S. has relied on wishful thinking.
Comprehensive strategy is commonly held to be a serious and ongoing effort to relate the means and ends of national policy and—within the limits of the U.S. system—to mobilize all national assets to achieve those ends. Yet it also requires something more fundamental: a sense of where you are.
U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia must be part of an even larger strategy and cannot be an end in itself because—unlike during the Cold War—Russia is not the U.S.’s primary opponent, even though Russia has defined itself as a geopolitical adversary to the U.S. But precisely because part of Russia’s strategy relies on returning to the Soviet approach of playing the spoiler, Russia is irresponsibly involved in many of the world’s problems, hot spots, and crises.
Within the overarching need for a U.S. comprehensive strategy, Russia poses four distinct, but related problems for U.S. policy:
- First, Putin’s Russia is a regime that combines a lack of respect for political, civil, and economic rights with a dysfunctional economy.
- Second and most dangerous for the United States, Russia poses a series of worldwide strategic and diplomatic challenges, including buildup of its nuclear arsenal and military.
- Third, Russia poses threats to discrete U.S. friends, allies, and interests around the world.
- Fourth, Russia’s cooperation with bad actors and its increasing tendency to play a spoiler role pose another set of threats.
This report addresses all four problems in turn after setting out the comprehensive strategy on which the U.S. should base its response.
Section One The Framework of U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Toward Russia
U.S. strategy toward Russia should begin with a basic point. Since 1991, U.S. policymakers, scholars, and journalists have largely operated under the assumption that post-Soviet Russia was on a bumpy and faltering, yet real road to democracy. This assumption has blinded observers to the reality that Russia was on a successful road to becoming a kleptocratic autocracy. Of course, this regime has not succeeded in modernizing the Russian economy, reversing its catastrophic demographic collapse, or fostering the creation of widespread wealth. But since the mid-1990s, Russia has not been journeying haltingly toward freedom. Instead, its leaders, in particular Vladimir Putin, have intelligently and systemically directed it toward becoming what it now is: a functioning, well-developed tyranny.
The U.S. failure to recognize Russia’s direction of travel and its destination has led the U.S. to adopt a strategy based fundamentally on the belief that the best way to foster democracy in Russia was to engage with it. Russia was invited into international organizations that nominally required its members to be wealthy democracies, when in fact Russia was neither. The arrival of Dmitry Medvedev as Russia’s president in 2008 was taken as a serious advance of Russian democracy and a harbinger of better things to come, not as the head fake it actually was.
In 2001, President George W. Bush “looked the man [Putin] in the eye…[and] found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy.” By late 2008, after Russia’s attack on Georgia, Bush’s error was obvious. In 2009, the Obama Administration launched its “reset” of relations with Russia, which was premised on the argument that the U.S., not Russia, was responsible for the post-Georgian deterioration of U.S.–Russian relations. By 2015, after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, President Barack Obama’s error was also obvious. U.S. concessions did not improve U.S.–Russian relations; instead, they convinced the Russians that the U.S. was willing to accord Russia an equality of status and a regional role that Russia’s actual achievements did not merit.
The engagement strategy sought to treat Russia as the U.S. hoped it would become, not as it actually was, in the belief that this was the best way to ensure that Russia made progress. In practice, all this strategy did was enable Russia’s move to autocracy and, far more importantly, encourage the U.S. to excuse Russia’s failures on the grounds that, because Russia was a developing democracy, the U.S. should expect less of it. By this way of thinking, pointing honestly to Russia’s human rights abuses or its wars in Chechnya and Georgia was an impediment to the development of democracy in Russia, because by pointing out the negative, the U.S. failed to accentuate the positive. This is a textbook example of the soft bigotry of low expectation.
Russia’s apologists argue, vociferously, that the U.S. was responsible for the deterioration in U.S.–Russian relations. They point to the NATO campaign in Kosovo in 1999, the U.S. missile defense program in Eastern Europe, U.S.-supported efforts to promote democracy and good governance in post-Soviet nations, and above all the expansion of NATO. This argument assumes that Russia has a right to exercise a neo-imperial control over its neighbors and that those neighbors have no corresponding right to determine their own destiny. What the Russian regime could not tolerate is quite simple: any independent sources of power on its borders or inside them that could resist the regime’s will.
The long-run history of Russia’s relations with the West raises a fundamental question for American comprehensive strategy. Since at least the 17th century, Russia has been torn—and has oscillated—between viewing itself as a basically Western nation or as a great and imperial power that embodies values apart from those of the West and has historical license to control its neighbors in the name of increasing its power and advancing its concept of civilization. It is possible to view the rise of the Putin regime as simply another moment in Russian history when the pendulum has swung away from the West. If that is the case, Russia is a problem that will be with the West for a very long time, although its urgency will wax and wane.
If Russia was bound to swing toward autocracy regardless of the West’s actions, then the West—having won the Cold War—was wise to take chips off the table while it could. In other words, it was wise to lock in its gains in Eastern Europe before Russia’s belief in its imperial destiny revived. On the other hand, if a Russian transition to democracy was genuinely possible in the early 1990s, that would surely have entailed a recognition that its neighbors were not imperial possessions and a corresponding recognition that their membership in NATO posed no threat to Russia. In short, no matter what view one takes of the question of NATO enlargement, the problem ultimately comes back to Russia’s view of its own national identity and role in the world.
These questions are not answerable with any finality, but they are still vital. By the same token, it is important for U.S. policymakers to consider whether the Putin regime is fundamentally driven by ideology (i.e., regret at the collapse of the Soviet Union, hatred of the U.S. and the Western world order, and a desire to recover as much from the wreckage as possible) or more traditional Russian imperialism. This is not a new question: The U.S. had to consider it during the Cold War as well. It was possible to view the Soviet Union as being little more than Tsarist imperialism in a new guise. It was equally possible to view it, thanks to Communism, as far more ideological, aggressive, and expansive than Tsarist Russia ever was. If Putin is fundamentally motivated by ideology, he will go further and faster, and he will be less inclined to respect internal or external constraints than if he is motivated fundamentally by a desire for power.
In the end, during the Cold War, it was not an either/or question: Both ideology and power mattered, and their relationship was complex. The same is true today. Even historians will find it challenging to decide what motivated Putin, but that does not absolve U.S. policymakers from considering the question. If comprehensive strategy begins with knowing where you are, much of that, in turn, comes down to trying to understand other actors not as you wish to see them, but as they see themselves and as they actually are. For now, the U.S. can only observe that Putin’s Russia—and Putin himself—advance a harshly anti-American ideology and that his actions at home and abroad are those of a national leader who wishes to be as strong and as unopposed as he can be, and to appear even stronger than that.
Yet the gap between appearances and reality is large. While American policymakers need to recognize the reality of Russian autocracy and hostility, they should not give Russia too much credit. The fundamental reality is that time is not on Russia’s side. It has made a geopolitical splash for reasons that are as simple as they are fragile: Russia has many weak neighbors. It benefitted from the high price of oil. It faced little effective Western pushback, and as an autocracy it is capable of mobilizing force and subversion in ways that Western democracies find difficult. Yet none of its actions since the mid-1990s have added in any enduring way to its strength. The path to world power does not lie in crushing Chechnya, occupying slices of Georgia, or taking Crimea. These are not assets. They are liabilities.
Russia is a declining power with feet of clay in every way except for the size and geopolitical centrality of its territory, its energy resources, its nuclear arsenal, the modern portion of its conventional armed forces, and above all its willingness to attack, subvert, and play the spoiler. If not for these factors, Russia would be of only very limited significance to U.S. policy. It can play what is fundamentally a weak hand because it is regionally strong and acts stronger than it is, while the U.S. and Europe have cared little, done less, and shown less will. Russian weaknesses would come into play if the West pressed its advantages.
As it is, Russia’s assets are still formidable, particularly because Russia uses them without restraint. Yet the differences between today’s Russia and the Soviet Union are immense. In the aftermath of the Second World War and during the decline of the European empires, Communism was—regrettably—an appealing ideology for many. Today’s Russia has no wide ideological appeal. It is too assertively Russian to appeal to others. Putin’s hatred of the West has a broader appeal, but is not unique to him, and those who share it—such as the Islamists—frequently detest Putin as well. Finally, although nations such as China may also resent the Western international order, they are at best ambivalent allies for Russia. They challenge the order not for Russia’s benefit, but for their own. Russia does not direct or control them, or even inspire them ideologically: It tags along in their wake.
Nor does Russia have the economic advantages of the Soviet Union. While the economy was the Soviet Union’s greatest weakness in the long run, forced industrialization before and after the Second World War did—at an inconceivable human cost and with tremendous inefficiency—change and modernize the Russian state and society. The problem was that forced industrialization was a fading asset. Soviet leaders could order construction of steel plants, but they could not order engineers to invent the microchip.
Russia does not even have the relative and temporary advantages of the Soviet Union’s industrialization. Apart from its energy resources, it is not a major economic power. Accurately measuring the size of a nation’s economy is not easy, but according to the World Bank, Russian gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, before the energy price crash, was just over $2 trillion, approximately the size of Italy’s economy. The energy sector accounts for up to 30 percent of Russia’s GDP, which makes it particularly vulnerable, financially and socially, to energy price declines.
Comparisons between the Soviet Union and contemporary Russia are therefore misleading, no matter how much the Putin regime promotes them to justify its own rule or to project an image of equality with the United States. Yet just because Russia is far weaker than the Soviet Union does not mean that the U.S. should ignore facts. As long as Russia openly and avowedly defines itself against the U.S. and the Western order, a rivalry is inevitable. Acknowledging this is not to wish for or to start a new Cold War: It is recognizing reality. Indeed, defining the U.S.–Russian rivalry as a new Cold War would be profoundly misleading. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the center of U.S. foreign policy and comprehensive strategy. Today’s Russia is not important enough to merit that role.
But Russia is important, hostile, and active enough to take seriously. The U.S. cannot do that without a working understanding of Putin’s goals. Debate should and will continue about how seriously he takes his regime’s ideology, but clearly, Putin’s primary goal is to stay in power. For that reason, he has murdered, driven abroad, imprisoned, or bribed the domestic opposition, and therefore views the possibility of a Western-aligned Georgia or Ukraine as a threat. He does not fear their power or worry that they will be the avenue for a Western attack. He worries that they will give the Russian people ideas.
The risk of a direct U.S.–Russian clash is limited, but real. The danger arises because Putin appears to believe that he can lock in geopolitical advantages by using violence in ways that the West and his victims cannot or will not effectively counter. One implication of this strategy is that Putin correctly assesses that time is not on his side. This is a dangerous position, not very different from the position of Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1914, who were willing (and in some cases eager) to use force in the short run to solve problems that they feared would be more intractable in the long run. In this environment one mistake could easily lead to another. Therefore, one essential element of U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia is to be calm, and to commit clearly and credibly to defending its allies and interests. In a situation in which one side believes that force works, ambiguity is a dangerous strategy.
The U.S. would be wise to play the long game for two reasons:
First, the very policies of Putin’s Russia—relying on a small collection of kleptocrats at home, the export of energy, and the use of threats and force against relatively weak border nations—are the worst possible answers to Russia’s long-run social, economic, and demographic challenges. Russia is getting a short-term boost at the cost of long-term failure. Using these tactics to lock in limited gains today will prevent Russia from making sustainable and larger gains tomorrow.
Second, Russia is willing and able to play the spoiler. Precisely because it has no great need for day-to-day ideological consistency and no democratic accountability, it can play the spoiler extremely effectively. For example, it welcomes Edward Snowden and plays the role of friend of the Internet, while simultaneously launching cyber attacks and practicing online censorship. It demands a seat at the table on the nuclear negotiations with Iran, while simultaneously helping to build the Iranian reactor at Bushehr. It has little to gain from involvement in Latin America, but it is involved nonetheless, primarily to annoy and threaten the U.S. It demonizes the supposedly morally corrupt West and uses religion as a tool of the state, while simultaneously practicing corruption and repression on a massive scale.
The U.S. cannot hope to match Russia’s tactical ability to gain leverage by causing problems. The U.S. is too large and too democratic to play that game effectively. The U.S. strength rests in the long-run competitive economic and political superiority of its system, which is precisely Russia’s weakness. Of course, this does not eliminate the need for short-term U.S. responses and initiatives as part of a long-term strategy of trying to match U.S. strengths against Russia’s weaknesses. But in many areas, the U.S. can afford—and should want—to play defense. For example, U.S. missile defense programs are a perfectly reasonable response to Russia’s (and Iran’s and North Korea’s) willingness to invest in and flaunt their nuclear programs.
The Putin regime’s fundamental weak points are that it:
- Lacks wide ideological appeal outside Russia;
- Has no coherent economic strategy that can address its long-run problems; and
- Relies on the appearance of strength, on having or inventing a run of successes, and on repression to remain in power.
Thus, the basis of a U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia is to play on its lack of ideological legitimacy by emphasizing its reliance on repression, to employ policies that increase the costs to Russia of Russian actions that the U.S. finds undesirable, and to make it harder for the regime to project an appearance of strength and success by placing Russia in positions where it must pay these costs or give up.
When Americans think about comprehensive strategy toward Russia, they often return to the policy of containment. This is not a helpful approach:
First, containment was not a policy. It was an umbrella term for a wide range of policies in many different areas that changed substantially over time. Today, containment is too often used as a magic incantation to minimize the complex and demanding reality of containment as it was actually practiced. As such, the term today embodies little more than the thoughtless transfer of a concept from one era to another.
Second, containment was not very successful in some areas, which is why a Communist regime still rules Cuba today.
Third, containment offered no useful guide to U.S. decision makers or the U.S. public in assessing which interests were vitally important to defend and which were less significant.
Fourth, while containment emphasized the importance of U.S. action, it said nothing very helpful about what the Soviet Union could or could not sustain economically.
Fifth, containment was fundamentally justified by the argument that the Soviet Union’s ideological drive would exhaust itself and the regime would become tractable. That forecast was partly right. The drive did wear down, but the result was that the Soviet Union collapsed, not that it was tamed. It is similarly hard to see Putin’s Russia moderating into normalcy.
Sixth, containment was a reasonable approach to the Soviet Union because it was large and very threatening. Putin’s Russia is nowhere near the power that the Soviet Union was in the late 1940s, when containment was devised. Calling for the U.S. to apply containment to Putin’s Russia gives Russia more credit than it deserves.
The U.S. approach should instead be to seek to impose costs on Russia—reputational, rhetorical, economic, financial, and military costs. The U.S. is vastly better equipped to bear costs than Russia because it has a larger and more flexible economy and political system. In any long-run competition, Russia will be at a profound disadvantage to the U.S. unless the U.S. imposes costs on itself, imposes them inefficiently on Russia, or simply fails to respond to Russia at all. Russia cannot afford to pay at anything like the U.S. rate. Russia will always be able to gain a short-term advantage by doing something, such as invading Ukraine, that the U.S. cannot immediately counter. But the long-term cost of such victories for Russia will be high, and the U.S. can and should make them higher.
In short, this is not a policy of containment, but of constrainment. The U.S. approach should be to defend its allies and interests and to respond to destructive Russian actions with policies that raise Russian costs going forward and thus incentivize Russia to choose other, more desirable actions. A key requirement for this strategy is predictability. The U.S. must be willing to draw a clear line around its most vital allies and to make it clear that it has interests in other areas that can be defended in ways that are compatible with reasonable Russian concerns. Finally, it must reply to undesirable Russian actions calmly, firmly, and without evasions, so that the Russian regime will understand in advance that it cannot act without consequences.
The U.S. would ideally like Russia to become a normal nation that defends its interests, but that views the existence of independent nations on its border as not fundamentally threatening or a challenge to its sense of self. But this is not a realistic goal for U.S. policy. The experience of the past two decades implies that this ideal is, at best, a very long way off. Stating it as an aim would encourage the U.S. to delude itself about the limits of the possible.
Instead, the long-term goal of U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia should be to embed firmly in the minds of Russia’s leaders, whoever they may be, that their actions will have consequences and that Russia’s problems will become steadily worse if it continues on its current path. Genuine improvements in Russia’s behavior should meet a genuine U.S. response, but the essence of this strategy is that the U.S. should reciprocate fairly for cooperative actions, while imposing disproportionate costs for undesirable actions.
A comprehensive U.S. strategy toward Russia cannot be viewed in isolation. Russia is not the only or even the most important international actor in the world, and U.S. foreign policy cannot be viewed in isolation from U.S. comprehensive strategy at the highest level, which includes U.S. domestic policy. Stating a comprehensive strategy is easy, but carrying it out is much more difficult.
The essence of U.S. comprehensive strategy writ large is to defend the values embodied in the Constitution, which emphasize liberty, flexibility, and adaptability and which discourage autocracy, top-down control, and centralized direction. Of course, liberty has a fundamental and inherent value of its own, but the growth and power that have resulted from it has made the U.S. a superpower.
A U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia that relies fundamentally on the long-run superiority of the American system is simply a facet of an even wider strategy that values liberty under law at home and abroad and that views the international realm as a domain where power matters, but that can be structured by responsible nations for their mutual advantage. Today, regrettably, Russia is not a responsible nation.
Section Two The Regime of Vladimir Putin
At the heart of the problems in U.S.–Russian relations lies the Putin regime. While a different leader would not necessarily act differently—the interests of the regime Putin has built might be much the same even if he was no longer leading it—Russia’s relations with the West have undoubtedly worsened in tandem with Putin’s autocratic rise. While the ability of the U.S. to affect politics inside Russia is limited in the best of times, the U.S. should take note of the regime’s nature and weaknesses in formulating its response to Putin’s aggression.
Issue: Human Rights in Russia
Problem. Russia is not a free country. Freedom House ranks Russia’s 2015 status as “Not Free,” and its freedom, civil liberties, and political rights scores all declined in 2014. Russia ranks on par with Iran, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow in February 2015 eliminated an outstanding democratic voice in Russia. Most U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have moved their offices outside Russia, and most Russian opposition figures are now in exile, although living abroad is no guarantee of safety as the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006 demonstrated. Even campaigners who are not directly political have fled. In mid-April, Yevgenia Chirikova, Russia’s leading environmentalist, departed for Estonia, commenting that the only way to campaign in Russia is “leaderless resistance so that it’d be unclear who to target.”
The Russian media is similarly controlled, and the Kremlin wages a quiet but well-funded war on social media, where hundreds of paid employees crowd municipal Russian forums with pro-regime comments and fake arguments, all relentlessly and frequently crudely anti-American and anti-Western. Behind this effort and Putin’s victory in the fraudulent 2012 election rests an obvious unease with both the West and the Russian people, which was sparked again by the poor performance of his United Russia Party in the December 2011 parliamentary elections.
The common thread in Russia’s dismal human rights record—from efforts to prevent Ukraine and other formerly Soviet nations from turning to the West to Russia’s theft of foreign-owned assets and murders of journalists and lawyers to its populist, anti-American rhetoric—is the regime’s effort to delegitimize and, if necessary, to eliminate any potential challenge.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Be honest. The U.S. has much to lose by not being candid about the human rights failings of the Putin regime because these failings exist to bolster a regime that defines itself against the United States. Yet the U.S. State Department was less critical of the fraudulent 2012 election than, for example, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The 2014 State Department country report on Russian human rights, although published four months late, is a step in the right direction. But as former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has stated, the U.S. has sought to “de-link” particularly divisive civil rights issues from other, directly bilateral issues. Regrettably, these issues are linked for the Putin regime, precisely because it is an autocracy that does not respect the independence of civil society: It is in the regime’s nature to be abusive. The U.S. should recognize this and act accordingly. Moreover, the U.S. should emphasize that, just as the domestic abuses of the Russian regime are linked, so are its international outrages against human rights. The trail runs from Chechnya to Georgia to Ukraine. Regarding any of these abuses as a local and limited problem is a dangerous illusion.
- Make examples. The U.S. cannot respond in detail to every Russian abuse, but during the Cold War the U.S. regularly made examples of major, or particularly eye-catching, instances of Soviet misconduct. The U.S. should do the same today. What Putin’s regime fears above all is not the hostility of the U.S., but the hostility of the Russian people, who might be aroused by the revelations of the regime’s misconduct, thievery, and mismanagement. The U.S. should emphasize those misdeeds.
- Target the abusers. The Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, commonly known as the Magnitsky Act, punishes Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian lawyer and auditor Sergei Magnitsky. The Obama Administration has sought to obstruct the act and has taken only modest steps to implement its provisions. While the act is no cure-all, it does offer a mechanism for putting pressure on the abusive Russian elite who support Putin. The U.S. should fully implement the act and coordinate with its allies in Europe and elsewhere to promote similar legislation.
Issue: The Russian Economy, Trade, and Economic Sanctions
Problem. The long-run prospects for the Russian economy are bleak. Russia is a failed, corrupt petrostate with a rapidly aging population. Russia’s economy is deteriorating. It was slowing significantly before the rapid fall in energy prices and is expected to contract by 4 percent in 2015. Capital flight has accelerated, and the ruble’s depreciation has increased inflation to double digits.
Russia is an energy giant with massive oil and gas exports to Western Europe. It supplies 30 percent of the region’s natural gas. Its share of the European market gives it significant geopolitical leverage, and replacing Russian exports with other suppliers over the short run is not feasible. Half of the Russian budget comes from taxes on oil revenue, and oil and natural gas sales accounted for 68 percent of Russia’s total export revenues in 2013. In 2014, Russia signed a $400 billion energy deal with China in an effort to pivot away from the EU.
Russia is the EU’s third largest trading partner while the EU is Russia’s largest trading partner. Europe, including Turkey, receives most of Russia’s exports of crude oil products as well as virtually all its natural gas exports. Russian imports have grown enormously over the past decade. Valued at $45 billion in 2000, they had risen to $341 billion in 2013. At least 6,000 German companies and 300,000 jobs depend on Russia. With the eurozone economy already weak, deteriorating trade with Russia is yet another headwind, albeit a modest one, the eurozone must surmount.
The deteriorating economic conditions may make Russian economic and foreign policy more unpredictable. Putin might respond to the crisis by becoming more aggressive. He will likely continue his economic and foreign policy pivot to China. One consequence of slower growth over the short and medium terms is that Russia will have fewer resources to continue modernizing and expanding its military.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Resist European pressure to reduce or remove sanctions on Russia. The sanctions include bans on oilfield equipment, the import and export of arms, and exports of dual-use technology. Russian banks have been cut off from Western capital markets. Continuing the sanctions will increase pressure on Russia over the long run by reducing its ability to diversify its economy in the face of lower world energy prices.
- Work to improve the ability of Europe to implement sanctions. The European sanctions regime is not as well-based legally as the U.S. sanctions are, and it has been subjected to frequent and often successful legal challenges. It is incumbent on European nations to implement sanctions professionally and successfully and in cooperation with other democratic nations, particularly the U.S.
- Support the construction of pipelines that avoid Russia. The U.S. should pursue a free-market energy policy and encourage construction of pipelines, such as the contemplated trans-Caspian gas pipelines from Turkmenistan through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey, that would diversify supply and reduce Russia’s ability to control Europe’s energy supplies.
- Eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers against relevant EU products. Because the sanctions against Russia have hurt EU exports, the U.S. should provide the EU with alternative markets and encourage them to support the sanctions regime.
- Remove all restrictions on U.S. exports of oil and natural gas. This will give Europe and Asia alternative energy sources. While these exports cannot come on stream immediately, over time they will reduce Russia’s geopolitical leverage.
- Use the WTO dispute resolution system. The Russian ban on food imports from the U.S. and many European nations may violate the commitments that it made when it joined the WTO in 2012. If so, the U.S. and affected European nations should impose appropriate additional sanctions to encourage compliance with WTO rules.
- Exclude Russia from the SWIFT banking system. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) network carries most international messages between banks. Excluding Russia from SWIFT is an option that should be held in reserve and employed if Russia threatens, directly or indirectly, a member of the NATO alliance. It would seriously complicate all bank payments with Russia and increase the economic pressure on Putin’s regime.
Section Three Worldwide Foreign and Security Policy Challenges
Many of the issues that pose important challenges for U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia are not limited to a particular part of the world. Instead, they center on the worldwide strategic need to protect the U.S. and its allies from the threats of nuclear and cyber attack and to recover the U.S. ability to access the commons of outer space. The worldwide issues also include central foreign policy problems, such as the need to challenge Russian propaganda and the need for U.S. diplomacy toward Russia and in international institutions to accurately reflect the reality that Putin’s regime is an anti-American autocracy.
Issue: Arms Control and Nuclear Policy
Problem. Russia’s nuclear weapons modernization program and arms control violations require the U.S. to change its approach toward arms control with Russia and toward U.S. nuclear forces and infrastructure. Russia has at least a 10 to one advantage in tactical nuclear weapons over the United States and has a more capable nuclear weapons complex.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Modernize U.S. nuclear weapons. U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery systems are aging. The Obama Administration failed to provide the funding that it promised prior to ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). In addition, the Budget Control Act is increasing pressure on funding for U.S. weapons systems. Both of these constraints will delay nuclear infrastructure improvements, including further delay of nuclear certifications for the next-generation bomber and the development of the follow-on strategic submarine. These delays will increase the overall costs of the programs and leave the U.S. less capable of responding to unexpected developments in the nuclear programs of other nations.
- Advance a “protect and defend” strategic posture. There is a fundamental asymmetry between the values of the U.S. and the values of its adversaries. While the U.S. values its citizens, economic prosperity, and institutions, U.S. adversaries value leadership survival above all. The U.S. should develop precise means to credibly threaten what its adversaries value and deploy both passive and active defenses to remove the benefits adversaries might gain by attacking the U.S. or its allies.
- Withdraw from New START. New START is a flawed treaty that undercuts the security of the U.S. and its allies. It does nothing to advance U.S. security while handing Moscow a significant strategic edge.
- Do not negotiate a treaty banning or reducing tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The Russians have a significant numerical advantage in tactical nuclear weapons. Treaty negotiations would pressure the U.S. to remove its weapons from Europe, while allowing Russia to keep its weapons behind the Ural Mountains, where they would still threaten Europe.
- Emphasize Russian treaty violations. Russia has rarely, if ever, signed an arms control treaty that it did not violate. Russia is in violation of the Helsinki Final Act, the Istanbul Commitments of 1999, the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, an agreement to remove its military from Georgia and Moldova, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, the Budapest Memorandum, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russia is possibly in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as interpreted by the United States. The U.S. should itemize, publicize, and emphasize all of these violations and refuse to negotiate additional agreements or renew previous agreements until the original Russian violations are corrected.
Issue: Missile Defense
Problem. Russia objects to the U.S. missile defense program, especially its long-range component, because Moscow seeks to keep the U.S. and allies vulnerable to its ballistic missiles. Russia has been modernizing its nuclear forces and developing its own missile defense system. Its violation of the INF Treaty is particularly troubling for the U.S.’s NATO allies.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Increase investment in the U.S. missile defense program and develop a layered, comprehensive missile defense system. The system must be capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, including salvo launches, in the quantities that Russia can launch. Space-based interceptors provide the best opportunity to accomplish these tasks at the lowest cost per interceptor.
- Deploy an X-band tracking radar to a European member of NATO. The Czech Republic was previously assessed to be the best location for tracking incoming ballistic missiles from Iran. The radar would improve the capability of U.S. homeland missile defense systems.
- Encourage NATO allies to enhance their ballistic missile and air defense capabilities. Where applicable, the allies should also make their naval assets compatible with the U.S. Aegis weapons system.
- Make a public statement that “strategic stability” is no longer a basis for U.S.–Russia relations due to Russia’s extensive nuclear weapons modernization programs and investments in ballistic missile defense (BMD) technologies. Rather, the U.S. should emphasize the defensive nature of its force posture and consider ballistic missile defense an essential element of this posture.
Problem. Russian cyber capabilities and cyber aggression pose a military and economic threat to the U.S. U.S. military, critical infrastructure, and government and private-sector networks are potential and actual targets for Russian aggression, and the U.S. needs to do more to defend itself in cyberspace while pursuing additional deterrents.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Enable cybersecurity information sharing among the private and public sectors. While not specific to Russia, the U.S. needs to do more to protect its networks. Information sharing helps the government and the private sector to become aware of potential threats or vulnerabilities and to avoid costly breaches or attacks. This means removing ambiguities and restrictions in current law; protecting companies that voluntarily share with liability, regulatory, and Freedom of Information Act protections; and stabling a clearinghouse for shared information.
- Define the limits of self-defense. U.S. companies are prohibited from engaging in many nonmalicious acts of self-defense. If the U.S. private sector is to become an ally in combatting malicious cyber behavior, it should be given clear guidelines on how it can help track, identify, and stop hackers.
- Undertake more significant deterrent measures against Russia. The U.S. should start by assertively “naming and shaming” Russian cyber aggression. Such diplomacy must be backed up with legal and economic penalties against the individuals and companies that are connected to such malicious actions. If Russian belligerence persists, the U.S. should expand its support of democracy promotion and Internet freedom efforts in Russia. The U.S. should also build a coalition of partners to make such efforts more effective.
Issue: Space Policy
Problem. The American space program has become dependent on Russia for a number of mission areas, including access to the International Space Station (ISS) and provision of rocket motors for certain essential satellite launches. Russia continues to develop military space systems, including possibly a new anti-satellite effort—an area where the U.S. is increasingly falling behind.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Modernize America’s space industrial base. The U.S. should not depend on the kindness of states such as Russia to access the ISS or to launch national security payloads into orbit. The ability to field man-rated launch systems that can reach the ISS or rocket motors suitable for the current families of launchers is limited only by a willingness to spend the money necessary to open production lines. Indeed, the United States already has the designs for the RD-180 rocket motor. Ongoing delays in breaking ground on production facilities are rooted in the high costs and an apparent belief that U.S.–Russian relations will soon return to their previous, warmer state. These delays are ensuring that the U.S. has no alternative to relying on Russia. The FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Secretary of the Air Force to terminate existing contracts for rocket engines designed or manufactured in Russia by the end of 2019.
- Commit to maintaining U.S. space security. The U.S., as an expeditionary military, especially depends on space-based systems to coordinate forces and activities around the globe. Where potential adversaries are fighting on “home ground,” the United States has to play an “away game.” Consequently, it is vital that the United States always retain the ability to access space to communicate with far-flung forces, employ precision-guided munitions, and maintain situational awareness through persistent overhead surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.
Issue: Russian Propaganda
Problem. Audiences within reach of Russia’s growing media empire are increasingly subjected to manipulation and rampant anti-Americanism. This trend has intensified since the Russian annexation of Crimea and its invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Through Russia Today’s global network, the Kremlin broadcasts globally in five major languages, including on cable stations in the United States. Free Western media has no comparable presence in Russia.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Use public diplomacy to counter anti-American and pro-Russian propaganda by the Russian government. U.S. efforts should include international broadcasting, a new Russian satellite channel, the Internet, social networking, print media, and revamped academic, student, and business exchange programs.
- Respond publicly and vigorously to high-profile Russian falsehoods, while regularly emphasizing the regime’s suppression of independent media in Russia.
- Launch a comprehensive audit of Russian information operations in the United States and its allies. U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department’s International Information Programs office should lead this audit to evaluate the extent and effectiveness of these campaigns and understand their strategic implications.
- Publicize Russian support for Western media outlets and its involvement in Western civil society. If this support is overt, it should always be emphasized. If it is covert, Russian support should be publicized to the extent that is compatible with the security of intelligence sources. The goal in either case is to deprive these outlets of their credibility.
- Give the same visa treatment to personnel working for Russian state-controlled media that Russia gives to journalists from the U.S. and allied nations. The U.S. should not give Russian state journalists any better treatment, including visas, than Russia gives to free journalists from the West.
- Recognize that nations such as Georgia and U.S. allies in Central and Eastern Europe are particularly vulnerable to Russian propaganda. Focus U.S. support for independent media and journalists on these nations, while at the strategic level backing NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Latvia.
Issue: Bilateral U.S. Programs with Russia
Problem. Not all U.S. bilateral programs with Russia are inherently bad. From 1991 until 2012, the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program worked constructively to reduce the threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. In 2013, Russia allowed the agreement authorizing Nunn–Lugar to expire, with Putin stating that Russia’s nonproliferation priority was not cleaning up after the Soviet Union, but opposing U.S. missile defense programs in Europe intended to prevent attacks from Iran. In 2012, Russia also expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development, having withdrawn from participation in the Peace Corps in 2003.
The Obama Administration’s main bilateral initiative was the U.S.–Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission, created in 2009 as part of the “reset” of relations with Russia. The commission created working groups across a range of issues, but the effort was premised on the assertion that the U.S. and Russia had “many common national interests” and would embody “friendship, cooperation, openness, and predictability.” In practice, those hopes were completely falsified. In April 2014, a number of the commission’s bilateral projects were suspended, and the funds were given to Ukraine.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Terminate the U.S.–Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission. The commission appears to be moribund. Even during its active existence, its activities ranged from unproductive to embarrassing. Vladislav Surkov, the lead Russian delegate for the working group on “civil society,” was best known for developing the concept of “managed” democracy (i.e., the autocratic control and suppression of civil society) as the basis for Putin’s rule. Any remaining funding allocated to the commission should be used to support democratic movements in Eurasian nations that are threatened by Russia.
- Audit U.S. bilateral programs. The National Security Council should lead an all-government audit of U.S. bilateral programs with Russia. The U.S. should immediately terminate any programs that are predicated on assisting Russia in its supposed transition to democracy or are based on the assumption that Russia is a responsible international actor. Programs should continue only if they deliver regular, verifiable results that enhance U.S. or allied security.
Issue: Russia’s Destructive Role in International Organizations
Problem. Russia is a member of many international organizations, including most of the significant ones, and it holds a veto on the U.N. Security Council. With its accession to the WTO in 2012, it has continued to expand its representation. Other nations in the world are undeniably governed more poorly than Russia, and some are less responsible, but Russia is a particularly toxic mix of size, military capacity, autocratic instability and aggressiveness, and geographic reach. Its role in the international realm is thus more significant and poses more risks than most other nations.
The fundamental problem is that many international organizations are nominally based on the acceptance and implementation in practice of certain values or standards of conduct. In most cases, these values are fundamentally those of Western-orientated, free market, democratic capitalism because the organizations were created by nations founded on those values. Regrettably, many organizations do not live up to these values, in large part because, in seeking to engage with nondemocratic nations, the organizations gave them seats at the table. As a result, the organizations cannot practice the values they nominally preach.
The U.S. cannot remedy this problem, which is considerably larger than Russia, but it should try to hold the line and make progress where possible. Russia’s suspension from the G8 in 2014 was a welcome step in the right direction, in that it recognized that Russia was not a leading industrial democracy, unlike the members of what was previously the G7. The suspension of NATO–Russia cooperation was equally wise. However, the G8, as a forum for discussion, and NATO, as a collective defense organization, are very different kinds of organization than the WTO or the United Nations.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Support standards for membership. Some international organizations are purely technical, and if Russia can participate usefully in these organizations, there is no reason to oppose Russian membership or to seek to expel it. Yet in cases where the organization is based on common values or accepted standards of conduct, the U.S. should support Russian accession only if Russia actually embodies those values or standards. It should not support accession in the hope that this form of engagement will reform Russia.
- Seek Russia’s suspension or expulsion from selected organizations. Suspending or expelling Russia from even one international organization will not be easy, if only because the world’s other bad actors will resist such a step. Yet in particular organizations, the case for action is overwhelming. Russian membership in the G8 should be terminated along with its membership in the Council of Europe, from which it was suspended in 2014. Russia has also persistently sought to abuse Interpol to harass dissidents and refugees. Under Interpol’s constitution, this warrants its suspension.
- Establish a process for assessing Russia’s existing memberships. The State Department and the National Security Council should lead a review of Russia’s status and actions in other international organizations. In some organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the U.S. should resist Russia’s efforts to neuter and distort the promotion of democracy. In others, continued Russian membership may be acceptable. This review should be based on the twin premises that Russia is not a democracy and that the purpose of many international organizations is to advance shared aims and values, not to reform its members merely by the process of admitting them.
Section Four Defending U.S. Friends and Allies and Reducing Russian Influence
One core aim of U.S. comprehensive strategy as it confronts Russia should be to secure U.S. treaty allies and friends from Russian threats, while reducing Russia’s ability to influence or dominate other nations in ways that undercut the U.S.’s interests. These nations range from NATO members to nations such as India that have steadily improving ties with the U.S. but no formal security agreements with the U.S. to nations such as Ukraine that are under active attack by Russia. These allies, friends, and other nations are widely spread geographically and politically diverse. The common thread among them is their need for U.S. support.
Issue: The Future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Problem. Russia’s goal is no different now than the Soviet Union’s during the Cold War: It seeks to neutralize or even break up NATO. Precisely because the West perceived Russia as less threatening than the Soviet Union, this goal appeared to be easier to achieve: Before Ukraine, the Alliance had less reason to hang together. Russia’s bellicose behavior is especially threatening to Eastern European allies due to their geographic proximity. Russia is already waging psychological and public diplomacy warfare, especially in the Baltic NATO member states.
For its part, NATO must be capable of defending its members’ territorial integrity. The 1949 North Atlantic Treaty is clear that NATO’s area of responsibility is “in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.” First and foremost, NATO is a collective security alliance. Everything else the Alliance does is secondary to this mission. NATO members need to be diligent in providing for their own and Alliance defense. To stay relevant, NATO needs to prepare to defend against 21st-century threats in the North Atlantic region, including Russia.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Ensure that the Alliance is clear on its mission and purpose. The declaration issued after the 2016 NATO Summit, to be held in Warsaw on July 8-9, should make it clear that collective security and territorial defense will underpin everything NATO does.
- Slowly shift NATO training in Europe from counterinsurgency operations to collective security operations. For the past several years, training has focused on NATO’s counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan—and rightly so. As the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan ends, NATO should resume regular training exercises for its Article 5 mission.
- Press allies on defense spending. The President should address this directly with his European counterparts leading up to each NATO summit. To date, President Obama has been reluctant to do so, usually leaving this task to his Defense Secretary.
- Involve the finance ministers. Every NATO summit should include a special session for finance ministers (or their equivalent). In many parliamentary democracies, the finance minister controls public spending. Educating finance ministers on the importance of military investment might help to secure increased defense spending.
Issue: The Security of the Nordic and Baltic nations
Problem. The Baltic nations are on NATO’s front line and view Russia as an existential threat. Russian air incursions, maritime incursions, and incursions across the Estonian–Russian border, have kept tensions high in the region. In 2014, NATO scrambled planes 400 times—a marked increase since 2013—to intercept Russian planes flying close to or even violating NATO airspace.
In June 2014, Russia carried out a simulated strike against Bornholm, an island in the Baltic that belongs to Denmark, a NATO member. Bornholm was hosting a music festival with 90,000 attendees at the time. This incident sparked national debates in the region about increasing defense spending and whether Sweden and Finland should join NATO.
Both Finland and Sweden have been the object of multiple air and maritime incursions by Russian forces. Russian warships twice disrupted the work of Finnish marine research ships. In October 2014, a suspected small submarine, widely thought to be Russian, illegally penetrated Swedish territorial waters, setting off a weeklong sweep of the nation’s many archipelagos—the first such search since the end of the Cold War. Some reports indicate that two submarines, one larger and one smaller, were operating in Swedish waters, a tactic that would reportedly be consistent with actions by Russian Special Forces.
In March 2013, a simulated strike by two Russian bombers and four fighters against Stockholm was met by Danish fighters based in Lithuania: Sweden’s air force did not react because it was on low alert over Easter.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Carry out and expand the decision to pre-position equipment in the Baltics. As NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently wrote, “Speed is of the essence to deter sudden threats along NATO’s borders. We also need to pre-position equipment and supplies, so that they can travel light but strike hard if needed.” The U.S. should carry out its June 2015 decision to pre-position heavy equipment in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, but should increase the amount of equipment beyond the current battalion-size commitment.
- Improve the U.S. security relationship with Finland and Sweden. Although not NATO members, Sweden and Finland play an important role in regional security. Access to Swedish and Finnish territory and airspace will be crucial if NATO is called on to defend the Baltic nations.
- Consider establishing a Baltic Sea Rotation Force. The U.S. Marine Corps currently operates a Black Sea Rotational Force that consists of a special-purpose Marine air-ground task force. The U.S. should consider establishing a similar task force for the Baltic Sea region.
- Enhance cybersecurity cooperation with the Baltic nations. The increased American contribution to and focus on the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, are welcome. However, this represents only a small portion of existing and potential U.S.–Baltic cooperation in this area. The U.S. should explore ways to broaden cooperation in cyber defense, including sharing experience, expanding contingency planning, increasing training and exercises, and developing capabilities.
- Continue with joint training exercises. Training exercises with allies are invaluable opportunities to improve interoperability, camaraderie, and success in simulated battle conditions. The U.S. should prioritize training missions in the Baltic region and ensure that defense cuts and sequestration do not harm U.S.–Baltic relations.
- Commit to a speedy and robust ballistic missile defense in Europe. The U.S. should recommit to robust ballistic missile defense in Europe, including potentially BMD-capable ships operating in the Baltic region.
- Facilitate U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to the Baltic region. The security of energy supplies is a serious concern of the Baltic nations. It also affects military readiness, which is why the U.S. and NATO should be concerned. The U.S. should help by providing the Baltic nations with access to American LNG.
- Continue contributions to Baltic air policing. The Baltic air policing mission is an example of NATO collective security guarantees. The U.S. should continue contributing to the Baltic air policing mission.
Issue: Russian Threats to Central Europe
Problem. Central European countries have long understood the security risks posed by Russia. In January 2015, the United States announced $500 million in further European base closures and consolidations, removing troops from approximately 15 bases, mostly in the United Kingdom and Portugal. The U.S. and NATO also suffer from a lack of forward-deployed resources. Despite repeated calls by many central European member states, NATO does not have any permanent basing in the region.
Since the Wales Summit in 2014, NATO has rotated temporary equipment and manpower through Central Europe as a means of providing additional assurance and deterrence. As part of the European Reassurance Initiative, the U.S. temporarily deployed 150 troops to each of the Baltic States and Poland. In 2015, NATO announced deployments of a few dozen personnel to the Central European nations of Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania in addition to the Baltic States to assist in command and control. The troops will assist in coordinating and executing exercises in the region. While the new deployments, with those announced in June 2015, are a step in the right direction, they do not make up for the 10,000 U.S. combat troops removed from Europe since 2009 or for the lack of permanent military infrastructure in Central Europe.
Further adding to Russian influence in the region, much of Central Europe depends on Russian energy to keep their lights on. In 2012, Russia supplied most of the natural gas for the Central European nations of Austria (98 percent), Bulgaria (83 percent), the Czech Republic (89 percent), Hungary (80 percent), and Slovakia (91 percent). Particularly in the Czech Republic and Hungary, dependence on Russia’s oil and gas, together with political corruption, has led to a fragmentation of the political spectrum and a spread of Russian influence, with figures such as the Czech President Vladimir Zeman and the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban opposing sanctions on Russia altogether.
Russia has deployed Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave and undertaken large training exercises, often aimed at Central Europe. In an exercise in 2009, Russia simulated a nuclear strike on Warsaw, Poland. In 2014, General Breedlove warned of the threat that Russia might annex the breakaway region of Transnistria, Moldova.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Establish a permanent NATO presence in Eastern Europe. It makes no sense, either militarily or diplomatically, not to have robust capability in Central and Eastern Europe. Deterring threats and defending the region from Russia will be far easier than liberating it.
- Adopt a new global free-market energy policy. The U.S. should work immediately and comprehensively to eliminate barriers to U.S. energy exports. The benefits of this are obvious—reducing Europe’s dependence on Russia to keep the lights on.
- Commit to a robust ballistic missile defense in Europe built in a timely fashion. Central and Eastern European countries view NATO’s ballistic missile defense system as a fundamental part of the Alliance’s defense. It is essential that the Administration uphold missile defense commitment to America’s allies in Europe, especially after its loss of credibility after abruptly cancelling the third site in 2009.
Issue: Russian Influence in the Balkans, Greece, and Cyprus
Problem. While security in the Balkans region has improved dramatically since the 1990s, sectarian divisions remain and have been exacerbated by sluggish economies, high unemployment rates, and political corruption. Moscow has exploited these tensions to advance a pro-Russia agenda with the goal of keeping these countries out of the transatlantic community.
Serbia. In 2014, Serbia and Russia signed a strategic partnership agreement on economic issues, but Russia’s recent decision to scrap the South Stream gas pipeline is a blow to Serbia and will likely cost Serbia billions of euros of inward investment and thousands of local jobs. Despite these developments, Russia signed an agreement with Serbia to allow the basing of Russian soldiers at Niš airport, which Serbia has used to meddle in northern Kosovo.
Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina is on the path to joining the transatlantic community, but has a long way to go. It negotiated a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, but the agreement is not in force because Bosnia and Herzegovina has not implemented key economic and political reforms. Progress on full NATO membership has been stalled because defense properties in the country are not under the Ministry of Defense’s control. Moscow knows that the easiest way to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina from entering the transatlantic community is to exploit internal ethnic and religious divisions.
Montenegro. Russia and Montenegro have had close relations for three centuries, and Montenegro walks a fine line between maintaining close ties with Russia while strengthening ties to the West. The country has been successful in keeping the nation focused on joining the transatlantic community, but there are signs that public opinion is losing patience with the West after long delays in joining NATO and the EU.
After Russia annexed Crimea, the Montenegrin government backed European sanctions against Moscow and even implemented its own sanctions. However, when NATO failed to invite Montenegro to join the Alliance at the September 2014 Wales Summit, some senior Montenegrin officials, including the prime minister, questioned whether sanctions were the right course of action. Russia has significant economic influence in Montenegro and is the country’s largest inward investor.
Greece. The victory of the leftist Syriza party (Greek Coalition of the Radical Left) in the January 2015 Greek elections has given Russia a potential ally inside the European Union. The Russian ambassador was the first official visitor received by newly elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The shambolic state of the Greek economy affords Russia leverage inside Greece. Tsipras has called Western sanctions against Russia a “road to nowhere,” which led to concern that Greece would block efforts to renew the sanctions when they lapsed in July, because all 28 EU member states would need to agree their renewal.
Tsipras visited Moscow in April 2015 and signed an agreement for a “year of cultural exchange,” between the two nations beginning in 2016. More substantively, Greek officials have signed a pipeline deal with Gazprom, which is controlled by the Russian government. While Greece may be using Russia as leverage in its relations with the EU, the ideology and actions of the Syriza-led government are cause for concern.
Cyprus. Cyprus is a major offshore banking center for Russian cash and is still suffering the effects of its 2013 bank solvency crisis. President Nicos Anastasiades has criticized sanctions against Russia and visited Russia in February 2015. Russia’s agreement to restructure a €2.5 billion loan, which included an extension of the debt maturity from 2016 to 2018–2021, may have played a role in the 2015 Cypriot decision to allow Russian naval assets regular access to its ports. What seems clear is that Greece and Cyprus will remain prime targets of opportunity for Moscow in an effort to weaken the resolve of European nations to confront Russian aggression.
Recommendations. The U.S. has invested a lot in the Balkans since the end of the Cold War. Tens of thousands of U.S. service members have served in the Balkans, and billions of dollars in aid have been spent there—all in the hope of creating a secure and prosperous region that will someday be part of the transatlantic community. As Russia attempts to undermine the political and security situation in the region, the U.S. should:
- Stay engaged in the region. Russia hopes that the U.S. will be distracted by other international events and disengage from the region.
- Stay committed to NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission. Ethnic tensions are increasing in Kosovo, especially in the ethnic Serb areas north of the Ibar River. With the potential for conflict present, the U.S. needs to ensure the KFOR mission continues.
- Work closely with European allies. The U.S. should work closely with its European allies to keep the Balkans out of the Russian sphere of influence. In this regard, close cooperation with Germany is essential.
- Support a realistic approach on Greece and Cyprus. Greek alignment with Russia is a reflection of Greek anger at its Western creditors, led by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the straightjacket of the euro. By the same token, Cyprus’s turn to Russia partly reflects its resentment of the European Union, which prompted a run on the banks in 2013. The U.S. should recognize that a Greek debt restructuring is unavoidable, that the same is true of Cyprus, and that a Greek exit from the euro is highly desirable.
- Crack down on Russian ties to Cyprus. Corrupt Russian oligarchs with extremely close ties to the Putin regime prefer Cyprus because its governance standards are low and its climate is pleasant, making it a convenient bolt hole and vacation destination for rich Russians. The U.S. should make it clear to Cyprus that its future lies with the West and push Cyprus to reject ties with Russia and upgrade its governance.
Issue: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
Problem. In 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea. The most recent cease-fire agreement is on the verge of complete collapse. On July 17, 2014, Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17, killing almost 300 people. Vladimir Putin used the tragic incident as a pretext to send in an estimated 4,000 additional Russian troops. In response, the Ukrainian government launched an initially successful major military offensive to retake control of territories from separatists. With the help of Russian troops, the separatists pushed back Ukrainian forces.
Consequently, in September, the government in Kyiv agreed to a cease-fire—the Minsk agreement—brokered by the OSCE, which was followed by a second Minsk agreement in February 2015. Although this cease-fire officially remains in effect, the region is on the edge of renewed, open war. Furthermore, NATO has confirmed the buildup of Russian military equipment and troops inside Ukraine. This latest Russian military buildup is clearly an effort to consolidate gains in the region and may constitute preparations for a renewed offensive.
Since Ukraine is not a NATO member, it does not enjoy a security guarantee from the U.S. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, apart from being a violation of the peace of Europe, is widely perceived by U.S. allies as a threat to their own sovereignty and territorial integrity. The alternative to U.S. military intervention is not to do nothing. The U.S. can and should help Ukraine.
The most recent IMF rescue package for Ukraine, promoted by both the Americans and Europeans, totals $40 billion in international funding over the next four years, of which $10 billion will come from new funding: half from the IMF and half from loans from the U.S., EU, and other donors. The deal commits Ukraine to a significant number of economic reforms to improve its economy over the long term, including more energy independence from Russia, reducing the government’s share of the economy, improving corporate governance, and reducing endemic corruption.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Provide defensive weaponry to the Ukrainian armed forces. Every country has the inherent right to self-defense. The U.S. should increase its assistance to the Ukrainian military to include anti-armor, anti-aircraft, and small-arms weapons of a defensive nature. Any planned joint training exercises between the U.S., NATO, and Ukraine should continue, and more such exercises should be scheduled.
- Expand the target list of Russian officials under the Magnitsky Act. Washington should implement a greater range of sanctions aimed directly at Russian officials responsible for violating Ukrainian sovereignty, including freezing financial assets and imposing visa bans.
- Promote economic and political reform in Ukraine. The U.S. and Europe should cooperate in enhancing Ukraine’s governance. If Ukraine does not improve its ability to defend its own territory, U.S. and Western assistance will likely not deter further Russian aggression over the long run.
Issue: The Russian Assault on Georgia
Problem. Georgia sits at a crucial geographical and cultural crossroads and has proven to be strategically important for military and economic reasons for centuries. Few countries in the Euro-Atlantic region express as much enthusiasm for NATO as Georgia, even though it is not yet a NATO member. Georgia also welcomes the presence of U.S. forces.
After the Russian invasion in 2008 and the subsequent Russian occupation of 20 percent of Georgia’s territory, Georgia decided to transform its military and participate in numerous overseas military operations to gain vital combat experience. Today, Georgia has 750 troops in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, making it the largest troop-contributing nation per capita. It has recently implemented major defense reforms to ensure that it can operate effectively alongside NATO, including greater civilian control and transparency, improvement and investment in key defense capabilities, and more support to service personnel and their families.
Georgia’s recent elections, in which the ruling United National Movement Party lost its majority, represented a coming of age for Georgia as a democracy. The elections were peaceful, and international observers gave it high marks for openness and fairness. However, multiple investigations have recently been launched against former government officials and ministers, and the U.S. State Department has expressed “concerns about political retribution, particularly when legal and judicial institutions are still fragile.”
Recommendations. The Georgians have proven themselves to be capable in combat. They also are undertaking a defense transformation program that is an example to all of NATO. In addition to thanking the Georgians for their contribution and sacrifice in Afghanistan, the U.S. should:
- Help the Georgians defend themselves. Every country has the inherent right to self-defense. The U.S. should sell defensive anti-tank missiles—such as the FGM-148 Javelin “fire and forget” anti-tank missile—and anti-aircraft weaponry to Georgia. The Georgians live under a constant Russian threat. As long as the weapons are defensive in nature, there is no reason not to provide them to the Georgian military.
- Continue U.S.–Georgia military training. The U.S. should safeguard funding for training exercises in Georgia from defense cuts. The U.S. should work to maintain this close relationship when the mission in Afghanistan winds down. U.S.–Georgia military training also places U.S. forces in the heart of a region with deep U.S. interests.
- Increase multilateral training inside Georgia. The more the NATO flag flies in Georgia, the more committed the Georgian people will be to remaining on a path toward Euro–Atlantic integration. Military training exercises are a visible sign of NATO’s support and demonstrate the progress that Georgia has made in defense and military reform.
- Promote institutional ties between Georgia and NATO. Georgia’s defense transformation has created the basis for building a closer and more enduring relationship with NATO. The U.S. should work within NATO, and bilaterally and multilaterally with Georgia, to further enhance their institutional ties, with the eventual goal of NATO membership. The U.S. should strongly back and accelerate NATO’s decision to open a training center in Georgia in 2015, but this center cannot be a substitute for deeper ties.
- Shift NATO training from counterinsurgency (COIN) operations to area defense operations. For the past several years, NATO training has rightly focused on Georgia’s COIN operations in Afghanistan. However, with NATO’s combat mission coming to an end, training should gradually shift to reflect Georgia’s security challenges.
- Emphasize Russia’s failure to live up to the 2008 cease-fire. Russia’s continued military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia violates the terms of the cease-fire. The U.S. should emphasize that this is a continuation of Russia’s aggression. It should describe these regions as “occupied,” not with other terms that imply that these regions left Georgia of their own free and independent will.
- Put Russia on the defensive at the U.N. The U.N. Security Council agenda item “The Situation in Georgia” has not been actively discussed since 2009, although the U.S. does support Georgia’s annual humanitarian resolution in the General Assembly. The U.S. should use U.N. forums such as these to put Russia on the defensive and work with Georgia to build support in the Security Council and the General Assembly, and to build awareness of the continuing creeping Russian annexations in South Ossetia that now threaten Georgia’s main east-west highway.
- Promote visa liberalization. The U.S. should pressure the European Union and European nations not in the EU to grant Georgia visa-free travel. The U.S. should also work with Georgia to bring Georgia into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows residents of member countries to visit the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days in exchange for security-cooperation and information-sharing arrangements and reciprocal travel privileges for U.S. residents, though Georgia has already liberalized its visa policies. Extending the VWP to Georgia will have diplomatic, economic, and security dividends. It will also signal that both the U.S. and Georgia see the nation’s future as resting with the West.
- Emphasize the value of a peaceful transfer of power in Georgia to the negotiation of a U.S.–Georgian Free Trade Area. In 2012, President Obama stated that the U.S. wanted to explore “the possibility of a free trade area” with Georgia. Georgia’s still fragile political environment and the U.S. focus on other trade negotiations have stalled this exploration, but the goal of a free trade area remains the right one for both strategic and economic reasons. The U.S. should emphasize the importance to this goal of a peaceful transfer of power after the 2016 Georgian parliamentary elections.
- Assist Georgia in improving its emergency response capability. Major floods in Georgia in mid-June 2015 demonstrated that Georgia should seek to improve its ability to respond to crisis situations, whether the result of geopolitical challenges or internal vulnerabilities. The U.S. should assist Georgia in conducting contingency planning, securing critical infrastructure, improving civilian defense, and enhancing communication between Georgia’s defense and security agencies as well as between its central government and regional authorities.
- Lower tariffs on Georgian goods and open U.S. markets to Georgian products by reforming the Generalized System of Preferences. The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) is a preferential trade program that grants duty-free access to 3,509 products from Georgia and other developing economies. Reforming the program by liberalizing rules of origin, allowing accumulation, and expanding the number of eligible products would lower the costs of trade with the U.S. and help to diversify Georgia’s export composition to higher value-added activities.
Issue: The ‘Frozen Conflicts’ on Russia’s Periphery
Problem. It is a serious error to believe that Russia’s post-Soviet aggression began with its occupation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine in 2014, or even with its war with Georgia in 2008. In the 1990s, Russia played a key role in supporting Armenia in its war with Azerbaijan, a conflict that continues to simmer. From 1994 to 1996, Boris Yeltsin waged and lost a war with Chechnya. In 1999–2000, Putin, in one of his first acts as prime minister, waged and won a brutal second war. These conflicts played a key role in radicalizing regional Muslims and in turning conflicts with long historical roots into ones that are part of the Islamist challenge.
It is significant that in none of these cases, except for Chechnya, has Russia occupied an entire neighboring state. It has instead sought to create and perpetuate “frozen conflicts.” The lesson of the Cold War, as far as contemporary Russia is concerned, is that trying to hold down subject peoples is difficult, dangerous, and expensive. The “frozen conflict” strategy seeks to use—or to create via ethnic cleansing in the case of Georgia—Russian ethnic minorities or territorial claims to occupy the portions of its neighbors that are relatively easy to hold down. Russia then uses the resulting conflict to intimidate the occupied state and others in the region, while—precisely because it is part of the problem—demanding a seat at the table to negotiate a solution. It then obstructs the solution while benefitting from the prestige of inclusion.
Russia’s close relationships are limited to a few nations in the so-called Eurasian Economic Union, including the tyranny of Belarus and Russia’s traditional ally Armenia. Central Asia’s participation in the union in the form of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan is limited and tentative. Russia has many more frozen conflicts than genuine friends.
The conflicts include Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania; Ukraine; the breakaway, Russian-supported enclave of Transnistria in Moldova; the struggle between Armenia and Azerbaijan; Georgia; Chechnya; and the Kuril Islands, claimed by Japan, but occupied by Russia. More than any other single factor, Russia’s ability and desire to create and sustain frozen conflicts and territorial disputes make it a threat to its neighbors.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Recognize the danger of Russia’s frozen conflict strategy. The U.S. and its allies need to develop a dual-track approach: one toward managing and resolving the existing frozen conflicts and the other toward preventing new such conflicts. The major existing conflicts are treated in more detail in other sections of this report. The general principles that the U.S. should follow are (1) to support the nation under threat while encouraging it to improve its governance; (2) to pressure the occupied or breakaway regions; and (3) to expose Russia’s role in fomenting rebellion and refusal to abide by its agreements.
- Delegitimize Russia’s claim to be a protector of minorities. The Russian strategy in most of these conflicts has been to claim that it is protecting oppressed minorities. This claim is designed to appeal to the West’s tender conscience. The West should maintain the standard that while revolt against oppressive regimes is a right, there is no right to revolution without just cause—and certainly not to external support for revolution. Without such a standard, it will not be possible to reject Russian efforts to fan the flames of new conflicts.
- Emphasize the blowback from Russia’s interventions. Russia faces a radical Islamist challenge that has common ideological roots with the one facing the U.S. However, the challenge to Russia was largely of Russia’s own making. If it had allowed Chechnya to go its own way, the Islamists would have found recruitment far more difficult. The U.S. should oppose Islamism, but not as Russia’s apologist, and it should clearly set out the narrative of Russian assaults on its neighbors, including Chechnya, that created the current situation.
Issue: Russia and Central Asia
Problem. The Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are commonly grouped together, but have significant differences. Kazakhstan, the largest, richest, and most stable, is the only one that shares a border with Russia, Kyrgyzstan is the freest, while Uzbekistan’s population is almost as large as the other four nations put together. There are significant regional rivalries, and substantial differences in their politics, natural resources, and levels of development. On the other hand, the nations are similar in that all are post-Soviet states, most rank relatively low on indices of government performance and political freedom, and none has a fully cohesive national identity.
Central Asia is also unusual in another way. The periphery of Russia is composed either of relatively stable and well-organized states (from Norway at one end to China on the other), or of nations that have suffered from direct Russian aggression (Ukraine and Georgia, most prominently). The nations of Central Asia including Mongolia are unique in that they are not particularly stable, but have not been subject to post-Soviet occupation. Russia has no obvious current need, or desire, to create a “frozen conflict” in Central Asia, but if a crisis should arise, the region lacks the ability to defend itself, either through its own resources or through allies.
Especially as the U.S. draws down its forces in Afghanistan, its interests in the region are limited. It has a general desire to support the independence and territorial integrity of the Central Asian nations, which have as much right to responsible sovereignty as any other people, and a number of Central Asian nations could become increasingly important suppliers of natural resources and raw materials. Yet more than anywhere else in the world, the U.S. in Central Asia suffers from strategic asymmetry. Russia is close and cares a lot, while the U.S. is far away and cares less. This substantially limits U.S. options, particularly since China also borders the region.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Remain engaged in the region. The U.S. cannot credibly pretend that Central Asia will be a focal point of its foreign policy. But Central Asia’s location between Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, and China makes the region geopolitically significant, and a hands-off policy by the U.S. would only embolden Russia to make the most of its asymmetrical advantage.
- Emphasize low-key U.S. support. One of Central Asia’s key weaknesses is its generally low standard of governance, including border control and military performance. The U.S. cannot fix these problems, but it can seek to ameliorate them. Without enabling repressive security regimes, it should concentrate its assistance on pragmatic military-to-military cooperation to develop effective border control forces, and on support for civil society and economic freedom, with a focus on strengthening the court system and reducing regulatory burdens for business start-ups.
- Promote competition and diversity in the region. Since the U.S. cannot fix the problems of Central Asia, and, for the foreseeable future, lacks the ability and desire to bring it into a security sphere akin to NATO, it should seek to ensure that no one external power dominates the region, and the U.S. should encourage more powers outside the region—including China, India, and Europe—to take an interest in its independence and success. That will not guarantee a happy outcome, but it will at least raise the stakes for a unilateral Russian intervention, while at the same time constraining China’s options.
- Apply the “New Silk Road” strategy more seriously. The Obama Administration’s “New Silk Road” strategy emphasizes the sensible goals of promoting regional economic integration, trade liberalization, and increased trade flows, which may calm some rivalries inside the region and allow the Central Asian nations to raise more indigenous financial resources. Regrettably, the strategy suffers from a lack of U.S. leadership and financial resources. Ultimately, it is little more than an effort to give the appearance of a commitment to the region in the aftermath of the U.S. pull-out from Afghanistan. It is not realistic to recommend a new strategy that requires even greater U.S. commitment, but the current strategy deserves to be as well-executed in reality as it is coherent on paper.
Issue: The Russian Role in Afghanistan
Problem. Russia shares the U.S. goal of preventing Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan: Russia worries that the country will again become a haven for Islamist terrorists, including those focused on fighting in Chechnya. Moscow also is concerned about Afghan instability spilling over into the Central Asian states in the form of refugees, drug trafficking, and other cross-border criminal activity.
However, tensions with Russia over Ukraine and elsewhere have complicated Washington’s ability to cooperate with Moscow to promote stability in Afghanistan. Past U.S. efforts to win Russian support for its campaign in Afghanistan have made the U.S. vulnerable to Russian demands for support, or acquiescence, in other policy areas. In mid-May 2015 the Russian government closed down an important transit corridor that the U.S. and NATO had used to supply their forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. has other options to move cargo in and out of Afghanistan, but the Russian move signals that tensions over Ukraine and Crimea will likely impede the two countries’ ability to cooperate in Afghanistan.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Not depend strategically on Russian support in Afghanistan. The U.S. should welcome Russian economic development, and even limited military assistance to the Afghan government to the extent that it facilitates U.S. counterterrorism objectives. At the same time, the U.S. should maintain its own engagement and assistance programs to achieve American strategic objectives, which will likely diverge somewhat from Russian strategic goals.
- Be open to Russian efforts to work diplomatically with Afghanistan’s neighbors. If Russia seeks to promote stability in the country, its efforts are welcome, but the U.S. should encourage Moscow to maintain neutrality in internal Afghan politics.
- Cooperate with Moscow on mutual interests. These include combating Afghanistan’s rampant drug industry. The U.S. and Russia have worked together with Afghan forces in the past on anti-narcotics operations, and this type of cooperation is more crucial now that the U.S. and NATO forces are departing.
- Not seek to promote cooperation with Russia by making concessions in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Rather, the U.S. should rely on Russia’s assessment of its own national interests to lead it to cooperate on objectives that it genuinely shares with the U.S.
Issue: Russia’s Relations with India
Problem. India maintains close relations with Russia, its Cold War partner and major supplier of arms as well as civilian space and nuclear technology. Although India is diversifying its military imports by buying from the U.S., France, and Israel, Russia continues to provide 65 percent of India’s defense needs, and Russia has backed India in its disputes with Pakistan, particularly over Kashmir at the U.N.
When the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, India and Russia cooperated against them. More recently, they have completed a deal in which India will pay Russia to supply arms and equipment to the Afghan military. India’s ties with Russia have led to its reluctance to condemn Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its failure to support Western sanctions against Moscow. New Delhi is also concerned that Moscow will develop closer ties with Beijing as Russia’s relations with the West deteriorate.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Recognize that this is a long-term project. Reducing Russian influence in India will depend on the state of Indo–Pakistan relations and the broader realignment of India in the post–Cold War world toward the West.
- Seek to increase defense trade and cooperation with India to provide it with an alternative to Russia. The U.S. should review its export control policies toward India and move forward with co-production and co-development of sophisticated technologies.
- Observe Russia–India–China trilateral cooperation carefully. The U.S. should take diplomatic countermeasures such as promoting regional groupings and networks that bind nations such as the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia together based on shared democratic values.
- Not object to Indian cooperation with Russia in Afghanistan. As long as both countries broadly share U.S. objectives for preventing Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, Indian cooperation is acceptable and even welcome.
Section Five Bilateral Russian Relations and Regional Challenges
The final focus for U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia should be the need to recognize, and oppose, Russia’s efforts to play the role of regional spoiler. From the Middle East to the Western Hemisphere, from North Korea to the North Pole, Russia is increasingly returning to the Soviet Union’s strategy of being involved in international affairs not necessarily to advance clear interests of its own, but to cause problems for the U.S. and to win significance by making itself a player. For Russia, this is fundamentally an effort to impose nuisance value costs on the U.S., to which the U.S. should respond by turning the costs back on Russia and its allies.
Issue: Russian Activity in the Middle East
Problem. Moscow has reinstituted its zero-sum Cold War policies in the Middle East to undermine the U.S. role and restore Russian influence in a region that it largely withdrew from during the 1990s. Under Putin, Russia has built strong ties to the Assad regime in Syria; increased trade, nuclear cooperation, and arms sales to Iran; courted Sunni Arab regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates; and maintained diplomatic contacts with Hamas (the Palestinian Islamist terrorist organization) despite Hamas’s failure to recognize Israel, halt terrorism, and join peace negotiations, as required by the Quartet’s (the U.S., the EU, the U.N., and Russia) “Roadmap for Peace.” In September, Russia began an open intervention in Syria, using airpower and cruise missiles to strike groups opposed to the Assad regime in coordination with Iranian forces fighting in support of the regime.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Recognize the enemy. Opposing Russian influence in the Middle East means opposing the Assad regime in Syria, the Khamenei regime in Iran, and terrorist groups such as Hamas that are affiliated with Iran.
- “Name and shame” Moscow for its close ties with Syria and Iran. Focus on developing awareness of Moscow’s activities in the Sunni Arab states.
- Develop a sanctions regime against Russian firms and banks that supply arms and dual-use technology to Syria and Iran. Any Russian sale or transfer of increasingly sophisticated weapons systems to terrorist-supporting nations in the Middle East should meet a robust U.S. response.
- Suspend cooperation with Russia in the framework of the Quartet. Until Moscow breaks diplomatic contact with Hamas, it is not a trustworthy diplomatic partner.
Issue: Russia’s Threats to Northeast Asia
Problem. Russia has reached out to North Korea in ways that could counter U.S.-led efforts to isolate and pressure Pyongyang for its repeated violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Moscow has:
- Announced plans for joint military exercises in 2015 with North Korea.
- Announced that Russian businesses trading with North Korea can make payments in rubles, thus undercutting U.S. financial sanctions that regulate international dollar-denominated transactions.
- Confirmed that Kim Jong-un would visit Moscow and meet with Putin in May. In April, Kim backed out of the trip, which would have been the North Korean leader’s first summit meeting since assuming power.
- Dismissed North Korean debt and agreed to help North Korea to repair and improve its dilapidated power grid and railroad network in return for rare-earth mineral exports.
- Russia regularly intrudes into Japanese airspace with bombers and spy planes, forcing Tokyo to scramble interceptors at a rate not seen since the Cold War. Moscow and Tokyo dispute the sovereignty of the Northern Territories (Kuril Islands) claimed by Japan, but held by Russia.
- Fund the U.S. defense commitment to Asia. While the Administration has spoken of an “Asia Pivot,” it has not spent the money necessary to fund U.S. security commitments in the Pacific. Budget cuts are affecting U.S. capabilities, increasing risk to allies, U.S. security and economic interests, and U.S. service personnel and citizens.
- Fully implement existing U.S. laws against North Korea’s illicit activities. Contrary to depictions of North Korea as the most heavily sanctioned nation in the world, the U.S. has imposed stronger sanctions on the Balkans, Burma, Cuba, Iran, and Zimbabwe.
- Impose stronger sanctions on North Korea. The U.S. should ban North Korean financial institutions’ correspondent accounts in the United States, publicly identify and sanction all foreign companies, financial institutions, and governments assisting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and impose third-party sanctions on foreign entities that trade with those on the sanctions list.
- Affirm support for Japan against incursions by Russian military forces. While Tokyo should bear the responsibility for defending its territory, Washington should ensure Moscow has no doubt of the U.S. resolve to defend its allies.
Issue: Relations Between Russia and China
Problem: Russia and China have been drawing closer, especially after Western sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its intervention in Ukraine. Closer Russo–Chinese economic ties will not necessarily lead to a strategic alliance. Moscow and Beijing share antipathies but have few mutual sympathies. Nonetheless, closer cooperation between the two nations will pose a major diplomatic, political, and military challenge to the U.S. in regions as diverse as East Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Understand the two nations’ respective interests. While both China and Russia have problematic relations with the United States, in only a few instances do they have the same outlook or the same priorities. Lumping the two together is a mistake and overlooks opportunities to identify and exploit differences between the two.
- Understand that neither nation will side clearly with the U.S. At the same time, the U.S. should recognize that neither Russia nor China is motivated to align permanently against the other. Instead, all three nations—the U.S., China, and Russia—will take each issue in turn and act in accordance with the outcome they desire.
- Strengthen U.S. alliances. The U.S. should balance Moscow and Beijing in Europe (with NATO), and in Asia (with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia), while expanding cooperation with long-standing partners (e.g., Singapore and Taiwan), and fostering closer ties among these friends. Closer U.S. alliances will be more capable than any Sino–Russian alignment, and fostering those alliances should take priority over rhetorical “resets” and public agreements with Russia that have little substance.
Issue: Increasing Russian Activity in Central and South America
Problem. Even before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared in 2013 that the “era of the Monroe Doctrine is over,” the U.S.’s commitment to countering adversaries in the region was questionable. Effectively opposing Russia will require the support and collaboration of regional governments, but the U.S. has failed to support regional democrats and democratic movements.
As a result, Russia has found receptive partners that share its view of the U.S. as an ideological adversary. Countries such as Argentina and the regional bloc of the Bolivarian Alliance—Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Bolivia—have condoned and at times participated in Russian hostility against the U.S.
Russian military and intelligence activities in the region are increasing. Russian bombers have been deployed to Venezuela and Nicaragua. Russian naval vessels have made high-profile visits to Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Russia has announced plans to build military bases in all three nations. From 2001 to 2014, Russia sold $14.5 billion in arms to Latin America, with Venezuelan purchases (including a license to produce AK-47s) totaling $11 billion. In 2014, Cuba and Russia reached an agreement to reopen the previously Soviet-run Lourdes signal intelligence base in Cuba, located 150 miles from the U.S.
Private energy firms affiliated with Russia’s Gazprom, Rosneft, and Lukoil are operating in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil. With the Hong Kong-based firm HKND, Russia will be a key player in constructing the Nicaragua Canal, which could become the first alternative to the Panama Canal.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Recognize that countering Russia in Latin America means countering Venezuela. For the past 16 years, the Venezuelan government has promoted an aggressively anti-American foreign policy in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. With the cooperation of the Castro regime in Cuba, it has coerced the energy-dependent Caribbean and supported regional autocrats with its energy resources. Yet as a result of its socialist economic ineptitude and the decline in world oil prices, Venezuela’s ability to finance these movements, which often cooperate with Russia, is declining. The U.S. should seek to increase the economic and political pressure on Venezuela and its allies, while supporting friendly governments threatened by its meddling and subversion.
- Reduce dependence on Venezuelan oil imports. U.S. domestic policies should increase access to domestic energy sources by opening up federal lands and waters to exploration and development, devolving environmental review and permitting decisions to state regulators, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and preventing federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing. While oil imports from Venezuela have decreased, they are still 9 percent of U.S. foreign oil purchases. This limits U.S. options.
- Prevent U.S. engagement from benefiting Cuba’s military and intelligence services. Cuba is one of Russia’s staunchest regional allies. The U.S. is seeking to expedite normalized relations with the Castro regime and has prematurely removed Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. Despite the regime’s more than half a century of hostility to the U.S., both on its own and in collusion with Russia, the U.S. government limited its review to Cuban activities conducted in the past six months. As the U.S. pursues relations, it should prohibit engagement that enriches the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior. Currently, White House regulations make exceptions for only “certain officials of the government or the Communist party.”
Issue: Russia’s Challenge to Arctic Stability
Problem. While the West has focused on Russia’s actions in Eastern and Central Europe, and in the Caucasus, Moscow has continued to militarize the Arctic. Russia’s strategic goals in the Arctic are to secure current and potential energy resources in the region and to maintain military superiority above the Arctic Circle. Although the threat of armed conflict among the Arctic powers is low, the U.S. should consider the implications of Russian militarization of the region in light of Moscow’s recent aggression in Ukraine.
As Russia builds up the Arctic, the United States has struggled to maintain a presence in the region. Although the U.S. assumed chairmanship of the Arctic Council in April 2015, it is falling behind both Russia and its own assessed need for assets to provide awareness of and a presence in the Arctic region. The U.S. should use its role in the Arctic Council to build relationships with other Arctic nations, including Russia, while also making investments in naval assets to demonstrate that its interest in and commitment to the region are serious.
Recommendations. The U.S. should:
- Work with allies to develop a NATO Arctic strategy. It is time for NATO to develop a comprehensive Arctic policy to address security challenges in the region. This should be done in cooperation with non-NATO members Finland and Sweden.
- Work with the non-Arctic members of NATO. Countries such as the U.K. and the Baltic nations take an active interest in the region to promote an Arctic agenda. The U.S. should leverage its relationships with these countries to advance an Arctic agenda inside NATO.
- Recognize the strong stand that Canada has taken. Canada has opposed Russian militarization and seeks to defend its sovereignty in the Arctic. The U.S. should emphasize the importance of U.S.–Canadian cooperation and unity in the region.
- Continue participating in Arctic training exercises. Exercises above the Arctic Circle, such as Cold Response 2014, are vital to ensuring that NATO is prepared to meet potential threats. The U.S. should consider hosting NATO exercises in Alaska.
- Ensure that the U.S. maintains robust capabilities in the Arctic. The U.S. Coast Guard has the primary responsibility for the Arctic waters of the U.S. Currently, the Coast Guard is not properly funded to carry out the tasks to secure the U.S.’s Arctic region and to defend U.S. sovereignty in the region.
Vladimir Putin has managed a remarkable feat. He has successfully fooled two successive Presidents of the United States—who could not have had more different personalities and political beliefs—into believing that he was, or could become, a reliable, and possibly even a democratic, partner with the United States. In both cases, the U.S. ultimately became disillusioned, but reality did not dawn until well into each President’s second term.
The United States cannot afford to be fooled a third time. Nor can it afford to approach Russia, and the problems it is creating, as though they are separate and unrelated. Naturally, no solution can address every problem. But at the heart of all these problems is a single one: the nature of the Russian regime. Clarity in U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia begins with understanding that Russia is not on a rocky road to democracy. It is an autocracy that justifies and sustains its hold on political power by force, fraud, and a thorough and strongly ideological assault on the West in general, and the U.S. in particular. The U.S. needs to approach Russia as Russia actually is, not as the U.S. wishes Russia might be.
In 1943, Winston Churchill, frustrated by years of Soviet complaints, perverted accusations of bad faith, and maltreatment, decided he had enough. As he put it, “Experience has taught me that it is not worth while arguing with Soviet people. One simply has to confront them with the new fact and await their reactions.”
That is the correct course for the U.S. to follow toward Russia today. The U.S. has nothing to gain from seeking to argue its case with Russia. It should speak the truth, calmly show the Putin regime that the U.S. does not regard it as a fit international partner, and make clear that Russian aggression and hostility will henceforward carry predictable rhetorical and actual costs for Russia. It should then await the Russian reaction, and respond accordingly.
James Jay Carafano, PhD, is Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy and E. W. Richardson Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Ted R. Bromund, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow in Anglo–American Relations in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, of the Davis Institute. Dean Cheng is a Senior Research Fellow for Chinese Political and Security Affairs in the Asian Studies Center, of the Davis Institute. Luke Coffey is Margaret Thatcher Fellow in the Thatcher Center. Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center. Helle C. Dale is Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy in the Davis Institute. Michaela Dodge is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and Strategic Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, of the Davis Institute. David Inserra is a Research Associate for Homeland Security and Cyber Security in the Allison Center. Bruce Klingner is Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center. Daniel Kochis is a Research Associate in the Thatcher Center. Ryan Olson is a former Research Associate in the Center for Trade and Economics, of the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity, at The Heritage Foundation. James Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs in the Allison Center. Ana Quintana is a Policy Analyst for Latin America and the Western Hemisphere in the Allison Center. Bryan Riley is Jay Van Andel Senior Analyst in Trade Policy in the Center for Trade and Economics. Brian Slattery is a Policy Analyst for Defense Studies in the Allison Center. William T. Wilson, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Studies Center.