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Piecemeal Sanctions Won't Deter Russia

September 24, 2014 in Economics

By Emma Ashford

Emma Ashford

Sometimes, Russia reminds me of my favorite childhood television show, Pinky and the Brain. At the start of each episode Pinky asks his companion Brain, the genetically engineered super-genius mouse, what they should do tonight, to which Brain invariably responds: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky — try to take over the world!” One imagines Vladimir Putin’s Security Council engaging in the same exercise. Putin responds: “We’ll do the same thing we do every night — provoke tensions in a small neighboring country, claim to be protecting ethnic Russians, and then initiate a covert land grab!” Cue theme music.

Joking aside, there is no denying the pattern in Russia’s relations with its neighbors. Trade barriers, ‘passportization’ of diaspora Russians, and support for separatists in states from Georgia to Ukraine have led to the re-ignition of a number of post-Soviet ‘frozen conflicts.’ This pattern obscures the fact that these conflicts are irrational; Russia rarely succeeds in changing the status quo, while sanctions undermine the Russian economy. The Kremlin itself seems detached from reality, blaming Western provocation and CIA spies for everything. But why is Russia’s foreign policy so erratic and belligerent? Can anything be done about it?

Western attention focuses almost exclusively on Vladimir Putin, who has captivated our imaginations as a strongman and ex-spook. But a focus on Putin’s personality alone ignores his ‘inner circle’ of unelected advisors, who feature heavily in Kremlin decision-making despite a lack of formal ministerial portfolio. The media’s focus on individuals is accurate in this regard: Institutions typically do not feature in the decision-making process, which is dominated by personalities, and bears little resemblance to Western democracies. Where strong foreign policy institutions would allow for measured debate and bureaucratic advice, personalities dominate Kremlin decisions.

Why is Russia’s foreign policy so erratic and belligerent? Can anything be done about it?”

Most of the decision-makers in the Ukrainian crisis belong to the group known as the Siloviki, former members of the security services who share a common worldview with Putin. They wield a vast amount of influence on foreign policy. Although the Siloviki do not possess a single worldview, they are generally nationalistic and supportive of Russia’s ‘return to greatness.’ As such, they perceive actions like NATO expansion as a threat to Russian interests, one worthy of drastic actions like supporting rebels or committing troops in Ukraine.

Personal perceptions are extremely influential in decision-making, with suspicion and hostility …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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