‘Constrainment’: A new Western strategy to counter Putin’s Russia?


A growing majority of French voters see Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front as a threat to democracy, but a third approve of its ideas, a poll showed on Tuesday, Reuters reports.

Right-wing extremist parties in Europe such as the National Front have received open or tacit Russian support, highlighting NATO and EU vulnerability, according to a new report from the RAND Corporation.Even short of actually entering government, these parties can influence their national debates, as the UK Independence Party was able to do in promoting British departure from the European Union,” adds the report, Russia and the West After the Ukrainian Crisis. European Vulnerabilities to Russian Pressures. “Actual assumption of governing power, for instance by the National Front in France, while not probable, has become a distinct possibility.”

Officials from several eastern and central European countries threatened by Russia urged the U.S. Senate on Tuesday not to give up on non-military efforts to influence Moscow, The Hill reports:

The eastern European emissaries also praised soft power programs like Fulbright scholarships and Voice of America programming…..The diplomats accused Russia of using “hybrid warfare,” by engaging in cyber attacks and propaganda along with the threat or use of force, DW adds.

“I myself am still old enough to remember the Soviet times, when my father was listening to Radio Free Europe,” said Lithuanian Ambassador Rolandas Krisciunas. “I know what kind of impact that was … It was really the word of freedom. And the more of the word of freedom you can spread through the region, the more secure region it will be because you will destroy the monopoly on news,” he said.

“The only effective response to aggressive actions of Russia should be international solidarity with Ukraine and strengthening political, diplomatic and economic pressure on the aggressor,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told the Senate subcommittee.

But Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic remain circumspect about countering the Kremlin or even playing into Putin’s hands, says Janusz Bugajski, a Senior Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).In some cases, political leaders display sympathy toward a more authoritarian political model or view Moscow as a potential counterbalance to Brussels,” he writes.

Political Vulnerabilities

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and effort to destabilize eastern Ukraine has forced the United States and its European allies to reassess their approach to Europe—a region once thought to be stable and secure, says the RAND report. The Kremlin could attempt to foster instability in a few countries, particularly Estonia and Latvia, which have large, disaffected Russian-speaking minorities, the report notes:

Further south, Greece and Cyprus face severe economic difficulties, and Hungary’s leadership has shown some sympathy for Vladimir Putin. However, none of these countries is likely to risk challenging the European Union or NATO on an issue of such fundamental political importance as sanctions against Russia. These countries may complicate the decision-making process in NATO and the European Union, but they are not likely to be able to force a revision of the sanctions in the near future.

Richard Tempest, a professor of Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Illinois, told Foxtrot Alpha that the Kremlin has been practicing how to best create English language news for Western audiences since the beginning stages of the Soviet era. At first it was clunky and lacked the sophistication of its Western counterparts, but recently its approach has become more advanced and mirrors the formats of something like CNN or NBC.

“[Vladimir] Putin’s aggression makes the possibility of a war in Europe between nuclear-armed adversaries frighteningly real,” notes Kimberly Marten, a professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University, and director of the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations at Columbia’s Harriman Institute. In a new Council Special Report on tensions between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), she outlines how U.S. policymakers can deter Russian aggression with robust support for NATO, while reassuring Russia of NATO’s defensive intentions through clear words and actions based in international law.

She lays out several scenarios that could lead to a dangerous confrontation, ranging from an inadvertent encounter between NATO and Russian military aircraft or ships to an intentional Russian land grab in Europe, in the report, produced by the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The situation in Europe warrants continued close monitoring as new vulnerabilities could appear, and small divergences may widen. European countries are at odds on how to respond to the Russian threat, the RAND report adds:

Some, especially the Baltic states and Poland, argue for a robust response, including the deployment and permanent presence of combat forces on the territory of eastern members of the Alliance. Others, especially Italy, Spain, Greece, and Slovakia, want to see the sanctions against Russia lifted and favor a return to business as usual. Germany’s role will be critical, and many NATO and EU members will be watching carefully to see what position Berlin takes. Thus, maintaining close ties and policy coordination with Berlin will be important. With other economic and security concerns competing for attention, some countries, such as Germany, are divided on how to respond to Russia’s increasingly assertive behavior. At present, these divergences appear manageable. However, if they were to intensify, they could pose a serious obstacle to European and transatlantic unity.

D-10 Strategy Forum: A New Western Strategy to Counter Putin’s Russia

Over the past year, strategy experts from the United States and its key democratic allies have been working to craft a new strategy for Russia — one that advances our shared interests and values, The Atlantic Council adds. Please join the release of this proposed strategy of “constrainment” – and a timely and important discussion of how the US and its allies should counter Putin’s Russia and preserve the legitimacy of the US-led international order.

A conversation with:

Ash Jain, Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council

James Nixey, Head, Russia and Eurasia Program, Chatham House

Constanze Stelzenmuller, Robert Bosch Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution.

This event is organized by the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and the Centre for International Governance Innovation. RSVP

Undermining Democratic Institutions and Splintering NATO: Russian Disinformation Aims

Hearing House Committee on Foreign Affairs. 03.09.2017 10:00am 2172 Rayburn Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.  Full Committee


His Excellency Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Former President of the Republic of Estonia)

The Honorable Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr. Chairman Emeritus and Distinguished Fellow The Stimson Center (Former Assistant Secretary for Political Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State)

Mr. Peter B. Doran Executive Vice President Center for European Policy Analysis

The Honorable Daniel Baer (Former U.S. Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)

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