It’s fair to say that relations between Russia and the West are at a low point right now. With the UK currently considering how to respond to allegations that Russia assassinated a defector on British soil using a deadly nerve agent, it’s unlikely Vladimir Putin will receive warm congratulations from Western leaders when he wins the upcoming Russian elections and is re-appointed president.

However, could the Russian elections be an opportunity to reset relations? There are many areas where Russia and the West have adjacent (if not overlapping) interests, from counter-terrorism, to global economic stability, to energy security and climate change. When Putin is safe in position for another six years, might he have space to reconsider his approach?

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Samuel, arguing that a change in Russian policy towards the West would basically require a change in leadership. He doesn’t believe there is any chance that Putin will make any changes to his foreign policy objectives if he wins another term in office. Is he right? And what are Russia’s foreign policy objectives under Putin?

To get a response, we spoke to Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Russian think tank based in Moscow. What would he say are Vladimir Putin’s key foreign policy objectives? And could he make any changes to his foreign policy after the elections, or is he unlikely to moderate his approach?

Well, I think that for Vladimir Putin it is very important to reinstall Russia as a great power, as a power which does not have its sovereignty challenged by other nations. It is important to have a say in major international issues, most importantly in security-related issues. I think that Putin is concerned about national security, and he would like to protect Russia against potential interference in its domestic affairs.

Ideally, think he would like to have a belt of friendly countries along Russia’s borders, but this is not something that Russia is close to achieving at this particular stage. But let me also say that Russian foreign policy over the next 6 years is likely to be reactive rather than proactive, and in my view it is likely to be opportunistic rather than strategic. A lot will depend on decisions made about economic reforms in Russia. I think the country’s economic strategy might define its foreign policy as well.

To get another perspective, we put the same comment to Arkady Ostrovsky, Russia and Eastern Europe editor of The Economist. What would he say?

Putin’s key foreign policy objective is related to his domestic key objective, which is to stay in power. For that, he needs to legitimise himself, and in the absence of democratic elections he needs to legitimise himself through foreign victories. So, he needs to keep showing to his public at home Russia’s assertiveness and prestige, because that is the thing which people credit him with most.

Therefore, I think we should expect more Russian assertiveness, possibly including some aggressive action. But not a full-scale war, because that is something Russia cannot afford and that could undermine Russian legitimacy very fast. So, he needs to do a balancing act between showing Russian assertiveness whilst also keeping the elites and himself relatively safe.

Next, we had a comment from Nicola, who set out some concrete steps which she believe could be taken to improve relations between Russia and the West, including removing nuclear weapons stationed in Europe and halting the expansion of NATO. Is she right? What would it take to improve relations between Russia and the West?

What does Andrey Kortunov think it would take?

Well, I think that it’s not easy. I would venture to say that there are three scenarios under which we can expect a radical change in this relationship. The first scenario will be if the West is tired of the confrontation with Russia. If the West is distracted by other international crises or problems, and Russia demonstrates its resilience and its ability to resist external pressures. That’s one scenario. The West might say: “We are fed up with this confrontation. Let’s get down to business as usual.”

The second option is regime change in Russia. We’ll have mounting economic and political problems in the country, the opposition gets stronger and the position of Vladimir Putin gets weaker, and we have an entirely new group of leaders who get to power in the Kremlin. Then they might change Russia’s foreign policy objectives in a rather dramatic way, like it was back in 1991. They would focus on building new cooperative relations with the US, they would try to imitate Western institutions and models, so it would be an entirely different Russia compared to what we have right now.

Finally, the third option for real change in the relationship would be an external threat to both Russia and the West. A threat on such a scale that would make the current disagreements between Moscow and Brussels, or Moscow and Washington, basically not that important. An invasion of aliens willing to conquer the Earth would be probably the best illustration of this scenario. So far, we have not encountered such a challenge. Even the threat of Islamic terrorism turned out to be insufficient to bring the West and Russia together…

Finally, how would Arkady Ostrovsky respond to the same question?

What would it take to improve relations between Russia and the West? The change of regime in Russia. Putin is dependent upon confrontation with the West for his survival at home, so I cannot see how under his leadership the relationship can make a qualitative change.

Will Putin moderate his foreign policy after the Russian elections? What would it take to improve relations between Russia and the West? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) / BigStockPhoto – jess aerons – PORTRAITS: Arkady Ostrovsky – The Economist / Andrey Kortunov – Russian International Affairs Council


39 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Ivan

    Of course not, the idiots in Brussels are in the process of weakening NATO so they can pretend the EU is one country. When NATO is sufficiently weak Russia will take the Balkans and then Hungary, Poland, etc.

    You have sown the seeds of your own destruction.

    • Vilnis

      Dream on

    • Ivan

      Vilnis, We are leaving your pointless EU so who needs to dream :) Russia will take Latvia and there is nothing you or Brussels can do to stop them.

    • Peter

      The intellectual and moral levels of the comments are more freightening than Putin himself.

    • Mariel

      I fail to see in what such a stupid move would promote Russia. The times of territorial conquest is rather “dépasse” in the 21st century, don’t you find? Such rhetoric can be very dangerous, in my mind.

    • Karolina

      Agreed with Peter.

      Marie, what is depasse here appeals to Russian voters. There is a cultural gap with the West and I don’t feel that the West has supported those former eastern Bloc countries sufficiently in their transition to a new regime.

  2. Paul

    George asks what has Russia done.
    Invade Georgia. .annex Crimea. .ferment armed insurrection in Ukraine…collide with Assad to bomb and gas civilians in Syria…sponsor extra judicial killings of any opponents..both at home and abroad.

    Putin’s Russia is a mafia state…knows and respects only force.
    We’ll see what the uk response is & how much solidarity is forthcoming from eu…personally would like to see complete embargo of any financial dealings via the city and city based firms for any Russian enterprise..both state and private ..prevent any Russian money (company or individual) using London as base to launder their criminal gains….in short treat it as the pariah state it’s become.

    • Tommaso

      a mafia state exactly as the US, UK, EU are… did you ever stopped thinking who is financed and funded Al Qaeda before 9/11 just to stop Soviet russia to get a hold in afghanistan (that was a democratic republic with ZERO muslem terrorist before and now is the leading state in terms of OPIUM production, sold to the CIA so they can fund their wars around the globe ?)

    • Bluto

      Tommaso, come vedi il mondo è pieno di fessi che se le bevono tutte.
      Un bel buco nero intergalattico è la soluzione per l’intera umanità.
      Almeno il Pianeta si salva, e si leva dai coglioni l’essere umano che è solo un danno.
      I want a BLACK HOLE !!

    • Paul

      Tommaso.. there are none so blind as those that refuse to see.

    • Max

      Because he keeps pissing in our neighborhood

  3. Luiigi

    Is Vladimir Putin the one that should moderate his foreign policy?

  4. Vadim

    Your question reminds me a wife of an alcoholic. And her hope, that “he can change”, “may be it was a last time”. Why do you fool yourself?

    • Luis

      The problem is that interfere with European elections as well, they attack the Eu, democratic values. Putin’s russia is now the biggest threat to democracy and freedom.

    • Jason

      Luis, you encroached surreptitiously through NATO on other World spheres so you then pay the price for your Superbia. ABC.

    • Jason

      and in redux what we seem to not catch on this side is that next
      to nobody in the rest of the world could care less about our illusory self gratifying and hypocritical social constructs based on coup d’étâts and mass murder overseas in the guise of “democracy” for our own apparent gain.

  5. Stefano

    I think , this is just an excuse to keep attention out from what is going on between the cooperation Eu-Iran, in which the nuclear weapons keeps getting involved.
    There was not talk at all?, do you all thinking is wise to sell europeans weapons to those people? , could someone really tells me if Russia are trying to subdivided the entire EU as mentioned by many of citizens, regarding the Brexit ?. Do you really think that Brexit has something in common with Russia?, seriously? ; If so , I bet all of my Lotto numbers : it would be terrified.

    • Luis

      Putin is a dictactor who wants to destroy the western world and democratic values. He is the the biggest threat to world peace today.

    • Tommaso

      All this while the Yankees are financing and operating the greatest military maffia operation in the whole globe ?

  6. Alex

    We should not wish a regime change for Russia, we’d better search for a regime change in Europe. We’ve been us dependent for too long now, we’ve been oil and capitalism dependent for too long. It is time that we change ourselves instead of debating on others to change.

    • Karolina

      Alexei Russiyski?

  7. Marian

    will Merkel, May,TRUMP moderate after his foreign policy after his elections?

    • jthk

      It is inappropriate to compare Trump with Putin. Trump is governing the US as if he is the boss of his Trump empire and in a TV show, while being pulling around by structural forces of different American interests. While, Putin is actually governing Russia and trying to revive the ancient glory of a powerful Russia.

  8. Karolina

    No, I don’t think he will. This is a former spy who genuinely does not know much about diplomacy and foreign policy… International isolation actually works in favour of authoritarian regimes, so, I think, things may actually get worse.

    • jthk

      Why don’t you google and find out the academic qualification, KGB and the public services he has been serving? Do not just listen and believe selectively without finding fact. Searching for “the fact” is the spirit of the Enlightenment Era. It is also the attitude of Enlightenment that European cultural civilization prosper.

  9. Andrei

    What’s the BS ? Russia will make their foreign policy by their own …

  10. catherine benning

    Will Putin moderate his foreign policy after the Russian elections?

    Why should he moderate Russian foreign policy? What exactly is it you want him to modify? And in who’s favour would the modification you seek be of benefit? I wager not Russia’s.

    The UK accusation of Russia being the instigator of declared attempted assassination on two Russian born individuals by nerve gas is a bit hard to swallow. What a ridiculous way for a country with the wherewithal to go about bumping someone off. It is too amateur. I doubt Russia would embarrass itself by such an attempt.

    The one part of this I find an absolute enigma is, we are told the nerve gas was lethal in the extreme and anyone, including a British cop, who went close to it would be fatally harmed by it. All those surrounding the area they believe ‘continues’ to be contaminated has to be approached by specialists in queer looking space suits, just in case they may breathe it in. Yet, the culprit, whose aim was murder, apparently went up to these areas in regular daily clothes and yet no body has been found nearby or since in any other location, showing this agent on him. Odd, with such a lethal weapon don’t you think? Oh, and we mustn’t forget, Putin himself ordered this failed project. Pleeeeese!

    Then, these two victims don’t die, as one can assume the British must have had the right antidote on immediate hand to administer at once. One has to suggest Porten Down. Where this nerve gas must have been kept in order to create an antidote in the first place.Yet, we are told,only Russia would have stockpiles. Not the USA, the UK, Israel, Pakistan or anywhere else. Bearing in mind the scientist who made it has lived in the US for many years whilst being taken good care of money wise. Mmm food for thought there.

    I’m not convinced on any of this. And mainly because of the lack of perpetrator who carried the agent being invisible, along with how easy it is to assassinate if you hire an expert. So much easier and cleaner without any ado. Remember Jill Dando, broad daylight, in the middle of London, on her doorstep. Not a soul noticed. Is the UK claiming Russia could not do this?

    Then there’s plausibility. Link that to the hysteria of propaganda with no reason behind any of it. And all who speak of it for our viewing fun, as nervous as cats on a hot tin roof. The body language far from convincing.

    Here is an interesting read. Don’t miss it.

    https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/03/boris-johnson-issues-completely-new-story-on-russian-novichoks/

    And, if I was taking a bet, I would say there was no assassination attempt at all. Death in such a matter would be instantaneous. And as there could have been no immediate antidote, unless the perpetrator had it with him and administered it before departing, they would both be dead.

    If it was factual, I would more likely bet on the CIA, Mossad or MI5/6. The incident is far more to their advantage. Russia is firmly placed in Syria and they all want it badly. Or, in order to bury whatever it is they are hiding. The stealth and betrayal of the people on Brexit, more betrayal of the citizens over rape and murder of British children by hundreds of foreigners who have been allowed to settle within our borders. Or, to simply try and create havoc in or against Russia, Globalist style.

    Some savvy but bold journalist needs to be on the case, akin to Sherlock Holmes. Of course he’d be deemed a quisling. Pot and kettle style.

  11. randomguy2017

    Good Putin won. US is not king of the world. There needs balance.
    US is number 1 threat to world (according to two world polls).

    Now I am Ruski agent yes NeoconLibs?

  12. jthk

    If the Russian people support Putin, which means that they accept the way Putin governs the country. The Russian people know what they want more than outsiders, particularly commentators from competing powers.

  13. jthk

    When people of the West are already talking about the decline of the West, are these commentators well qualified to make comments on how Russia should be governed? Why they are not giving more useful comment to change the West rather than unilaterally accusing leader of Russia?

  14. jthk

    If the West is not moderating its hostility towards Russia, on what grounds these people are we asking Putin to moderate his foreign policy?

  15. jthk

    Apparently, the confrontation and conflicting theory of democracy are preventing the West to advance in this global era. Looking at the development of the whole world is more practical than looking at individual leaders. Putin alone cannot confront the West leading by a military power. Putin actually reflects a changing world system in which old foreign policy fail to explain.

  16. jthk

    The current issue on the use of nerve agent to harm British people has no ground to support. Stop using lies to justify aggressive attitude towards Russia. Yeltsin and Gorbachev have been following guidance of Western liberal democracy, what have the Russians got for this? Putin at least has saved the country from its brink of total collapse. Just left the Russian alone to recover. I believe that a more stable socioeconomic and political environment in Russia would threaten less European security.

    • jthk

      As we all know that economic growth has become a barometer measuring government performance and support legitimacy to rule. When a state is not operating in liberal democracy, its government needs to have government legitimacy with economic performance, while internationally, it needs respect of the international society of states. Russia and China appear to be working hard to sustain its economic growth. If the world wants more peace, it is necessary to bury the Cold War mentality. It serves nothing good other than confrontation between people and nations.

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