.
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n July 1, Russian citizens voted on over 200 proposed changes to the Russian constitution. Of the 200 amendments listed, the most noteworthy change was the proposal to nullify the number of presidential terms held by Russia’s current presidential incumbent, thereby allowing the individual to serve for two additional six-year stints.

The results of the national referendum revealed a foregone conclusion. The conjured outcome claimed that 78% of voters had supported the constitutional changes, but the results were nothing more than a farce. The referendum means that current Russian President Vladimir Putin is now eligible to run for office in 2024 and 2030, indicating he could remain in power until 2036.

This referendum will not bode well for Russia’s neighbors and the international community as Russia has pursued an aggressive foreign policy throughout Putin’s presidential tenure. Most recently, the Russian leader’s ideologies and interpretation of past and current events were made public in a six-page opinion piece published by The National Interest. Given Putin’s imperial ambitions, what will 16 more years of Putin mean for Russia’s neighbors and the West?

Georgia and Ukraine

To understand Russia’s future aspirations, one must examine Russia’s past and current behavior under Putin. During his tenure, Russia attempted to impose its will on the former Soviet republics to ensure that they would not leave Russia’s sphere of influence. This was the case with Georgia and Ukraine and their ambitions to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). To thwart their desires, Russia launched military incursions into northern Georgia and eastern Ukraine in 2008 and 2014 respectively, to destabilize these countries. (Russia also annexed the Crimean Peninsula in the spring of 2014). The damage caused by these conflicts has been devastating, as the combined impact of these crises has resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions.

Georgia and Ukraine also face a significant financial burden, as it is estimated the restoration efforts in northern Georgia and eastern Ukraine will cost roughly €3 billion and €10 billion, respectively. Finally, according to the Study on NATO Enlargement, aspiring NATO members must resolve all of their territorial disputes before joining the Alliance. Currently, the Russian Federation controls territory in both countries, thus putting Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO aspirations on hold.

Venezuela, Libya, and Syria

Outside of Eastern Europe and the Caucuses, Russia has exerted its influence in places such as Venezuela, Libya, and Syria. In the case of these countries, Russia has opted to back the regimes of oppressive rulers. Putin has supported Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Libyan rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during their respective crises. While the conflicts in these states occurred for different reasons, Russia’s involvement in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria has been similar. In these instances, the Russians have served as an economic lifeline for the countries. Throughout the conflicts in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria, Russia conducted business with their respective energy companies, provided them with military assistance, and used its veto at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions on Venezuela, Libya, and Syria. Prominent Russian government officials, such as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have also met with the political figures from these countries. Meanwhile, the West has called for an end to these crises. Western leaders also attempted to enforce sanctions on the oppressive regimes as a way of forcing their hands, but to no avail. Based on the conflicting viewpoints on how to resolve the conflicts, altercations between Russia and the West have continued while the conflicts in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria remain unresolved.  

In an effort to destabilize Western democracies and their institutions, Russia meddled in the political and electoral processes of various states within the EU and the United States. Recent and well-known examples of Russian interference occurred in the United Kingdom’s 2016 EU membership referendum, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the 2017 French presidential election. During these events, Russia used similar methods to undermine the fair and free processes of these elections. Common patterns included hacking servers, collecting documents from prominent government officials, using social media platforms to spread disinformation, and creating false political advertisements. Due to the success of Russia’s previous operations, the EU and U.S. are working toward a solution on how they can counter Russia’s future efforts.

Belarus

With these examples in mind, Russia’s previous actions will indicate where it will conduct its future exploits. The first and most obvious location is Belarus. For 26-years, Alexander Lukashenko has served as the president of Belarus. Throughout his tenure, the leader of Belarus has sought to enforce the policies of the former Soviet Union by empowering the state. Under Lukashenko, the government has taken hold of the economy and the media. He has also developed a close relationship with Russia, where Belarus and Russia have worked toward a “Union State”. In terms of the economy, Belarusian exports rely heavily on access to the Russian market. Finally, Belarus and Russia have conducted several military exercises together. Their fragile relationship is now threatened because Belarus has been recently cast into a political crisis. After Lukashenko imprisoned several of his political opponents and falsified the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections, thousands of Belarusians swarmed to the streets to protest the election results. In response, riot police fired upon the protestors to disperse the crowds. Should the protests escalate, Putin could see this as an opportunity to intervene. If this were to occur, Russia would claim that it is acting on behalf of the Russian-speaking people in Belarus, similar to what the Russians stated when they annexed Crimea. Russia’s occupation of Belarus would put a swift end to the protests, and Russia’s expansion into Belarus would alter the geopolitical climate in Eastern Europe, particularly for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The Baltics

The Baltic States are the next probable flashpoint in the region, given substantial ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minorities reside in these states. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Baltic States quickly joined the EU and NATO. Their integration into these Western organizations was an attempt to escape Russia’s sphere of influence, but their efforts did not go unnoticed. Following their ascension into these organizations, Russia conducted a series of cyberattacks against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to cripple their critical infrastructures. Russia has also voiced its concerns about how the Russian minority groups are treated in these countries, as these groups make up roughly one-third of the population in both Estonia and Latvia. Finally, Russia has continued to violate the airspace of the Baltic States, and has conducted military exercises near their borders. Should Russia continue this provocation, this would put the NATO Alliance to the test. NATO’s Article 5 reads that “an armed attack against one or more [member states] shall be considered an attack against them all,” but the current political climate may suggest otherwise. According to a poll conducted by British firm YouGov in December 2019, survey participants from various NATO members states conveyed that they would be hesitant to aid their fellow member states during their time of need. Should these survey results hold, Russia could embark on its aggressive foreign policy strategy into the Baltics without consequence.

The Balkans

Finally, the Balkans are a third probable location for Russia’s future expansionary efforts, due to Russia’s historical, ethnic, and religious connection to the region. During the 1800s, Russia supported Serbia’s independence movement against the Ottomans. Russia also came to the aid of Serbia during the First World War, and most recently, Russia supported Serbia during the Yugoslav crisis in the 1990s.

Russia has always sought to exert its influence in the Balkans, as this would give the Russians a foothold in the mainland of Europe. NATO’s expansion into the region, however, has complicated Russia’s efforts. Montenegro and North Macedonia, two states that were part of former Yugoslavia, recently joined NATO in 2017 and 2020. Nonetheless, Russia still tried to halt their ascension into NATO. According to reports, Russia attempted to block Montenegro’s NATO membership by sending agents to the Balkan state to stage a coup. The plan also included an assassination attempt on then-Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic, but the plot was foiled. This demonstrated the lengths to which Russia would go to achieve its goals.

Russia has also sought to destabilize North Macedonia, NATO’s most recent member, by launching a series of disinformation campaigns against the state. Finally, Russia’s continual relationship with Serbia and its continued provocation in the Balkans have led to a rise in tensions in the region, and this has particularly put Kosovo on edge.

Should Putin look to spread Russia’s influence into Belarus, the Baltics, and the Balkans, the West will need to develop a strategy for how it will cope with Russian aggression. Russia’s aggressive behavior is unlikely to change during Putin’s additional 16-year rule, thus Western politicians and policymakers must react swiftly.

There are two options as to how the West might respond to Russia’s future ambitions. The first scenario would see the West and its allies stand up to Russian aggression. To date, the U.S. and the EU have continued to impose economic sanctions on Russia. The international community also took measures to punish Russia by removing it from the G8 and expelling Russian diplomats from various embassies and NATO. These decisions have led to a declining Russian economy and they have isolated Russia from the international community. If Russia were to continue its aggressive behavior, the West should take additional measures to punish Russia. For example, more severe sanctions would further weaken the Russian economy. This could see Russia alter its behavior, similar to how the West’s immense spending during the arms race led to the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union. While additional disciplinary actions against Russia may not lead to the collapse of the Russian state, it would force Russia to cooperate with the West, at least in the short term.

An alternative scenario, however, would be much more dangerous. As Russia continues its aggressive behavior throughout the world, some Western states have opted to develop an appeasement strategy with Russia rather than trying to force its hand. For example, Russia was expelled from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2014 following its illegal annexation of Crimea and its military incursion into eastern Ukraine. In order to be reinstated into the organization, PACE declared that Russia would have to change its actions in Ukraine. Five years later, Russia has not changed its behavior, yet it was readmitted into the organization. Some Western leaders have also advocated for a similar approach. During the summer of 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would pursue a new “Russia reset” policy while U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that Russia should be re-invited to the G7. More recently, some prominent U.S. diplomats, government officials, and policymakers have called for a “Russia reset”. Finally, some EU states have called for an end to Russian sanctions, citing that they have been “ineffective” while others have argued that the sanctions have brought harm to the economies of EU states. History, however, has shown that appeasing an aggressive state never works. Such was the case with the Second World War. If the West were to adopt a “Russia reset” policy proposed by these individuals, this appeasement strategy would demonstrate to the Russians that they can continue their aggressive behavior throughout the world without consequence.

Finally, the world has been forced to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. This global issue has resulted in tremendous losses. The gross domestic products of several nations have plummeted, millions of citizens have become unemployed, and over half a million people have perished from the coronavirus worldwide. While struggling to fight against this pandemic, the international community has also had to combat climate change while also having to cope with the global refugee crisis. As the West remains distracted by these issues, and if it were to adopt an appeasement strategy with Russia, this could lead to the abandonment of the West’s commitment to promoting democracy abroad. Meanwhile, authoritarian leaders such as Putin will use the pandemic as an opportunity to expand their power. Should the West ease its role as a police force against autocratic leaders, this will allow Putin to pursue Russia’s territorial ambitions without end. Ultimately, this could lead to a new global conflict, and the consequences would be catastrophic.

Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and its interactions with the international community are unlikely to change during Putin’s extended 16-year tenure as the president of Russia. The West must band together and prepare an effective strategy on how it will counter Russian aggression for the next two decades. If a course of action is not taken Russia will be allowed to spread its influence and meddle in the affairs of its neighbors and the international community without end. Such events would lead to the deconstruction of Western values and the fundamental principles of international relations.

About
Mark Temnycky
:
Mark Temnycky is an AIPS accredited freelance journalist who covers European politics and sports. His articles have been published by the Atlantic Council, the Wilson Center, Forbes, and EURACTIV.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

What Will Putin’s Extended Rule Mean for Russia’s Neighbors and the West?

September 18, 2020

O

n July 1, Russian citizens voted on over 200 proposed changes to the Russian constitution. Of the 200 amendments listed, the most noteworthy change was the proposal to nullify the number of presidential terms held by Russia’s current presidential incumbent, thereby allowing the individual to serve for two additional six-year stints.

The results of the national referendum revealed a foregone conclusion. The conjured outcome claimed that 78% of voters had supported the constitutional changes, but the results were nothing more than a farce. The referendum means that current Russian President Vladimir Putin is now eligible to run for office in 2024 and 2030, indicating he could remain in power until 2036.

This referendum will not bode well for Russia’s neighbors and the international community as Russia has pursued an aggressive foreign policy throughout Putin’s presidential tenure. Most recently, the Russian leader’s ideologies and interpretation of past and current events were made public in a six-page opinion piece published by The National Interest. Given Putin’s imperial ambitions, what will 16 more years of Putin mean for Russia’s neighbors and the West?

Georgia and Ukraine

To understand Russia’s future aspirations, one must examine Russia’s past and current behavior under Putin. During his tenure, Russia attempted to impose its will on the former Soviet republics to ensure that they would not leave Russia’s sphere of influence. This was the case with Georgia and Ukraine and their ambitions to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). To thwart their desires, Russia launched military incursions into northern Georgia and eastern Ukraine in 2008 and 2014 respectively, to destabilize these countries. (Russia also annexed the Crimean Peninsula in the spring of 2014). The damage caused by these conflicts has been devastating, as the combined impact of these crises has resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions.

Georgia and Ukraine also face a significant financial burden, as it is estimated the restoration efforts in northern Georgia and eastern Ukraine will cost roughly €3 billion and €10 billion, respectively. Finally, according to the Study on NATO Enlargement, aspiring NATO members must resolve all of their territorial disputes before joining the Alliance. Currently, the Russian Federation controls territory in both countries, thus putting Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO aspirations on hold.

Venezuela, Libya, and Syria

Outside of Eastern Europe and the Caucuses, Russia has exerted its influence in places such as Venezuela, Libya, and Syria. In the case of these countries, Russia has opted to back the regimes of oppressive rulers. Putin has supported Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Libyan rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during their respective crises. While the conflicts in these states occurred for different reasons, Russia’s involvement in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria has been similar. In these instances, the Russians have served as an economic lifeline for the countries. Throughout the conflicts in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria, Russia conducted business with their respective energy companies, provided them with military assistance, and used its veto at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions on Venezuela, Libya, and Syria. Prominent Russian government officials, such as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have also met with the political figures from these countries. Meanwhile, the West has called for an end to these crises. Western leaders also attempted to enforce sanctions on the oppressive regimes as a way of forcing their hands, but to no avail. Based on the conflicting viewpoints on how to resolve the conflicts, altercations between Russia and the West have continued while the conflicts in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria remain unresolved.  

In an effort to destabilize Western democracies and their institutions, Russia meddled in the political and electoral processes of various states within the EU and the United States. Recent and well-known examples of Russian interference occurred in the United Kingdom’s 2016 EU membership referendum, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the 2017 French presidential election. During these events, Russia used similar methods to undermine the fair and free processes of these elections. Common patterns included hacking servers, collecting documents from prominent government officials, using social media platforms to spread disinformation, and creating false political advertisements. Due to the success of Russia’s previous operations, the EU and U.S. are working toward a solution on how they can counter Russia’s future efforts.

Belarus

With these examples in mind, Russia’s previous actions will indicate where it will conduct its future exploits. The first and most obvious location is Belarus. For 26-years, Alexander Lukashenko has served as the president of Belarus. Throughout his tenure, the leader of Belarus has sought to enforce the policies of the former Soviet Union by empowering the state. Under Lukashenko, the government has taken hold of the economy and the media. He has also developed a close relationship with Russia, where Belarus and Russia have worked toward a “Union State”. In terms of the economy, Belarusian exports rely heavily on access to the Russian market. Finally, Belarus and Russia have conducted several military exercises together. Their fragile relationship is now threatened because Belarus has been recently cast into a political crisis. After Lukashenko imprisoned several of his political opponents and falsified the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections, thousands of Belarusians swarmed to the streets to protest the election results. In response, riot police fired upon the protestors to disperse the crowds. Should the protests escalate, Putin could see this as an opportunity to intervene. If this were to occur, Russia would claim that it is acting on behalf of the Russian-speaking people in Belarus, similar to what the Russians stated when they annexed Crimea. Russia’s occupation of Belarus would put a swift end to the protests, and Russia’s expansion into Belarus would alter the geopolitical climate in Eastern Europe, particularly for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The Baltics

The Baltic States are the next probable flashpoint in the region, given substantial ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minorities reside in these states. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Baltic States quickly joined the EU and NATO. Their integration into these Western organizations was an attempt to escape Russia’s sphere of influence, but their efforts did not go unnoticed. Following their ascension into these organizations, Russia conducted a series of cyberattacks against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to cripple their critical infrastructures. Russia has also voiced its concerns about how the Russian minority groups are treated in these countries, as these groups make up roughly one-third of the population in both Estonia and Latvia. Finally, Russia has continued to violate the airspace of the Baltic States, and has conducted military exercises near their borders. Should Russia continue this provocation, this would put the NATO Alliance to the test. NATO’s Article 5 reads that “an armed attack against one or more [member states] shall be considered an attack against them all,” but the current political climate may suggest otherwise. According to a poll conducted by British firm YouGov in December 2019, survey participants from various NATO members states conveyed that they would be hesitant to aid their fellow member states during their time of need. Should these survey results hold, Russia could embark on its aggressive foreign policy strategy into the Baltics without consequence.

The Balkans

Finally, the Balkans are a third probable location for Russia’s future expansionary efforts, due to Russia’s historical, ethnic, and religious connection to the region. During the 1800s, Russia supported Serbia’s independence movement against the Ottomans. Russia also came to the aid of Serbia during the First World War, and most recently, Russia supported Serbia during the Yugoslav crisis in the 1990s.

Russia has always sought to exert its influence in the Balkans, as this would give the Russians a foothold in the mainland of Europe. NATO’s expansion into the region, however, has complicated Russia’s efforts. Montenegro and North Macedonia, two states that were part of former Yugoslavia, recently joined NATO in 2017 and 2020. Nonetheless, Russia still tried to halt their ascension into NATO. According to reports, Russia attempted to block Montenegro’s NATO membership by sending agents to the Balkan state to stage a coup. The plan also included an assassination attempt on then-Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic, but the plot was foiled. This demonstrated the lengths to which Russia would go to achieve its goals.

Russia has also sought to destabilize North Macedonia, NATO’s most recent member, by launching a series of disinformation campaigns against the state. Finally, Russia’s continual relationship with Serbia and its continued provocation in the Balkans have led to a rise in tensions in the region, and this has particularly put Kosovo on edge.

Should Putin look to spread Russia’s influence into Belarus, the Baltics, and the Balkans, the West will need to develop a strategy for how it will cope with Russian aggression. Russia’s aggressive behavior is unlikely to change during Putin’s additional 16-year rule, thus Western politicians and policymakers must react swiftly.

There are two options as to how the West might respond to Russia’s future ambitions. The first scenario would see the West and its allies stand up to Russian aggression. To date, the U.S. and the EU have continued to impose economic sanctions on Russia. The international community also took measures to punish Russia by removing it from the G8 and expelling Russian diplomats from various embassies and NATO. These decisions have led to a declining Russian economy and they have isolated Russia from the international community. If Russia were to continue its aggressive behavior, the West should take additional measures to punish Russia. For example, more severe sanctions would further weaken the Russian economy. This could see Russia alter its behavior, similar to how the West’s immense spending during the arms race led to the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union. While additional disciplinary actions against Russia may not lead to the collapse of the Russian state, it would force Russia to cooperate with the West, at least in the short term.

An alternative scenario, however, would be much more dangerous. As Russia continues its aggressive behavior throughout the world, some Western states have opted to develop an appeasement strategy with Russia rather than trying to force its hand. For example, Russia was expelled from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2014 following its illegal annexation of Crimea and its military incursion into eastern Ukraine. In order to be reinstated into the organization, PACE declared that Russia would have to change its actions in Ukraine. Five years later, Russia has not changed its behavior, yet it was readmitted into the organization. Some Western leaders have also advocated for a similar approach. During the summer of 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would pursue a new “Russia reset” policy while U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that Russia should be re-invited to the G7. More recently, some prominent U.S. diplomats, government officials, and policymakers have called for a “Russia reset”. Finally, some EU states have called for an end to Russian sanctions, citing that they have been “ineffective” while others have argued that the sanctions have brought harm to the economies of EU states. History, however, has shown that appeasing an aggressive state never works. Such was the case with the Second World War. If the West were to adopt a “Russia reset” policy proposed by these individuals, this appeasement strategy would demonstrate to the Russians that they can continue their aggressive behavior throughout the world without consequence.

Finally, the world has been forced to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. This global issue has resulted in tremendous losses. The gross domestic products of several nations have plummeted, millions of citizens have become unemployed, and over half a million people have perished from the coronavirus worldwide. While struggling to fight against this pandemic, the international community has also had to combat climate change while also having to cope with the global refugee crisis. As the West remains distracted by these issues, and if it were to adopt an appeasement strategy with Russia, this could lead to the abandonment of the West’s commitment to promoting democracy abroad. Meanwhile, authoritarian leaders such as Putin will use the pandemic as an opportunity to expand their power. Should the West ease its role as a police force against autocratic leaders, this will allow Putin to pursue Russia’s territorial ambitions without end. Ultimately, this could lead to a new global conflict, and the consequences would be catastrophic.

Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and its interactions with the international community are unlikely to change during Putin’s extended 16-year tenure as the president of Russia. The West must band together and prepare an effective strategy on how it will counter Russian aggression for the next two decades. If a course of action is not taken Russia will be allowed to spread its influence and meddle in the affairs of its neighbors and the international community without end. Such events would lead to the deconstruction of Western values and the fundamental principles of international relations.

About
Mark Temnycky
:
Mark Temnycky is an AIPS accredited freelance journalist who covers European politics and sports. His articles have been published by the Atlantic Council, the Wilson Center, Forbes, and EURACTIV.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.