2017 will be an interesting year for Russia as it adjusts to the new world it did a lot to bring about.
Since its failure to integrate into the US led post-Cold War order, Russia has been championing a different system based on national interests. Russia wants an international system that enables states with different interests and values to coexist, rather than as a vehicle for spreading of progressive (Western) norms.
Ironically, just as Russia’s conflict with the West reached its height, a similar trend towards a revival of nation states has been gaining hold in the West, for example, with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. As Russia has long been a vocal opponent of the US-led neoliberal order, it’s easy to conflate the rise of Western populism with its influence. This became most dramatic in the controversy over Russia’s involvement in US presidential elections.
While it seems clear that Russia was involved in the hacking of the DNC, it’s less certain if that had much effect on the actual voting outcome – and clearly less than the FBI Director James Comey’s late reopening of the Clinton emails investigation. While this whole saga would certainly make an excellent spy thriller plot, it’s amazing to see this type of conspiracy theory becoming a mainstream political topic at the highest level of US government.
Moscow certainly benefits from some disillusionment in the West in the neo-liberal US-led global order. In a way, Russia does in the international arena what populists are seeking to do domestically: to end the liberal consensus and move towards national self-interest, realism in foreign policy, and traditionalist politics at home.
But Russia has its own problems, it is involved in two ongoing military conflicts, Syria and Ukraine, and undergoing a serious economic crisis due to Western sanctions and collapse in oil prices. Russia’s claims to a great power status has been undermined by its excessive reliance on oil revenues. Economic survival has been the key for Moscow since 2014 as it tried (largely satisfactory so far) to withstand Western sanctions and lower energy prices without bowing in to international pressure over Ukraine.
Lifting of sanctions remains an important goal and in 2017 the Kremlin will watch national elections in key EU countries. In Germany, it will have to accept Merkel remaining the leading figure behind a hard line on Russian sanctions, but the Kremlin will hope the German Chancellor will be weakened by the rise of anti-immigration parties. We can expect a lot of controversy about Russia’s attempts to influence European elections in 2017.
There’s plenty of evidence of links between anti-EU parties and Moscow, including a loan from a Russian bank to Marie Le Pen’s Front National. However, Moscow doesn’t necessary have a grand plan to disintegrate the EU.
Russia is viewed with dislike in Western public opinion, and for good reasons too – it rejects Western liberal values and conducts a contrarian foreign policy. While Russia’s intentions may seem precarious and ad hoc, there is an underlying consistency of principles and aims that remained unchanged for the last three hundred years as it continues to seek great power status and security. Since it’s impossible to change Russia, the West might as well try to learn to deal with it – after all, it won’t be the only country that refuses to play by the Western rules or share its values.
Dr Alexander Titov is a Lecturer in Modern European History | School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics | Queen’s University Belfast | School of HAPP