Putin 4.0: West needs asymmetric response


Reports that Vladimir Putin has been invited to the White House coincide with calls for Russia to be placed on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The international effort to punish Putin for the March 4 attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal and his daughter is an enormously encouraging sign that free nations are at last turning against the Kremlin and its dictator, the Weekly Standard notes.

The Putin regime is a serious threat to the Western world and the United States needs to develop a tougher policy of containment and pushback, argues David J. Kramer, an Affiliated Senior Fellow with the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University.

“In the past few years, U.S.-Russian relations have become particularly challenging, largely due to the actions of the Putin regime” notes Kramer, author of “Back to Containment: Dealing with Putin’s Regime.”*

“Preventing tensions in the relationship from exploding into full-blown confrontation is in everyone’s interests, but this cannot be achieved by sacrificing Russia’s neighbors to a Russian sphere of influence, swallowing our concerns about the appalling human rights situation inside Russia, or appearing weak or irresolute in the face of Putin’s threatening behavior,” adds Kramer, currently a Senior Fellow at Florida International University’s School of International and Public Affairs in the Vaclav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy.

The Skripal case shows that “the Kremlin prefers cheap asymmetric or hybrid warfare, such as the hacking of elections, cyberwarfare, manipulation of social media and the corruption of foreign politicians,” notes Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. Similarly, the West “needs to respond asymmetrically, hurting the Kremlin more than it hurts us,” he writes for the Washington Post.

“The best British and American asymmetric response to the Kremlin’s hybrid warfare is to unearth the holdings of Putin and his sanctioned friends in our countries and freeze them” in line with the Sergei Magnitsky (left) Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, Aslund suggests.

Putin has spent years trying to divide the West by undermining elections, invading neighbors and aggressively using Russian oil and gas as a ham-handed bargaining tool, argues Markos Kounalakis, a senior fellow at Central European University. These concerted and clever efforts have suddenly, however, revealed the New Putin: Despite his best efforts and plans, he’s become a uniter, not a divider of the West.

Russia’s big-picture strategic goal is to “end the U.S.-dominated, Western, liberal order,” Yuval Weber, a fellow at Daniel Morgan Graduate School and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told ThinkProgress:

One way of doing that is for Russia to be everywhere the United States is and to offer an alternative to local governments. Unlike the American model, Russia’s diplomatic practice is to, “Just do diplomacy, leader-to-leader, and not dictate to local leaders to change anything about the way they govern,” said Weber.

But the Skripal affair demonstrates that Putin’s “delusional sense of invincibility …led him to overreach and miscalculate,” writes Kounalakis, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution:

A weakened West was clearly comfortable accommodating Russia, building more gas pipelines and energy dependencies while also congratulating Mr. Putin on his power, politics and personal magnetism. Felling a former spy, however, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It catalyzed a coordinated, collective Western response.

The British government is going about pressuring Russia in all the wrong ways, the eminent Russia historian Robert Service writes in Foreign Policy. “The way to hit Russia where it hurts is to make clear to Putin that Russia’s need for engagement with the West is much greater than the West’s need for Russia,” adds Service, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and emeritus professor of Russian history at Oxford University.

Putinism as It Is

Putin’s modus operandi is based on “the ideology of a third world dictator,” says Radio Svoboda analyst Artem Kruglov. Tthat becomes obvious if one compares Putin with ether of these dictators: “the very same power without limits, the unrestrained enrichment of himself and his clan,” and the claim that the regime reflects “the special path” of his people (HT: Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia).

Putin faces a conundrum common in authoritarian regimes, note analysts Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz. These political systems lack institutionalized mechanisms for leadership transition and often collapse when a leader exits. Research on authoritarianism shows that Putin and leaders in his position have three primary options for succession, they write for Foreign Affairs:

  • The most straightforward path would be for Putin to identify a successor and orchestrate an election to legitimize his chosen protégé and manage a power handover…. Although this option seems straightforward, it is not without risks. Research shows that when authoritarian incumbents do not stand in elections but instead throw their weight behind a chosen successor, there is an elevated risk that their candidate will lose the race. …
  • The second path that Putin could follow would be to change the constitution to strengthen the legislature or other governing body and then to change his job title. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took this route to retain control. …This path is wide-open to Putin, who has the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to alter the constitution.
  • Putin’s third option is to amend the Russian constitution to extend term limits or remove them altogether, as President Xi Jinping just did in China. …

If trends elsewhere are any indicator, we are likely to see Putin pursue this option, they suggest. However…

“Although a decision to prolong Putin’s time in office might seem appealing to Putin’s inner circle—allowing them to retain access to the perks of power in the near term—they would become more vulnerable in the long run as a consequence,” they conclude. RTWT

Putin “knows that, no matter how many votes he ends up with, vast numbers of Russians are dissatisfied with their lot,” Stephen Sestanovich, a professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University, wrote in a recent column for The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 consider corruption a big problem; just as many feel they are unable to do anything about it; and a shrinking number believe he will address it seriously,” said Sestanovich, a former National Endowment for Democracy board member. “For a leader thought to have profited from foreign adventures, Putin’s support for specific policies has also started to look shaky. Polls show an astonishing 49 percent of Russians want out of Syria.”

“Putin 4.0: Perspectives on the Russian Election and Beyond” is the subject of a discussion at The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Panellists: Chris Miller, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program; David Szakonyl, assistant professor at George Washington University; and Alina Polyakova, adjunct professor of European studies at SAIS.

12 noon: April 3, 2018. Venue: SAIS, Rome Building, 1619 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Auditorium, Washington, D.C. RSVP: Stacy Anderson, 202-663-5620, sande100@jhu.edu; http://www.sais-jhu.edu

*An e-book version is available for download here for Kindle (.mobi) or here for other e-book platforms (.epub).

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