Russian foreign policy: disruption and reflection of domestic policies

Jun 18 2018

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president.

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president. The panelists argued that Russian foreign policy is largely a reflection of domestic developments, that there is a distinction between the Kremlin regime and Russia itself, and that thoughtful engagement and cooperation is needed between Russia and the West.

The panel included:

Andrei Kozyrev, a Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1990-1996)
Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia; Former Deputy Leader of the People’s Freedom Party
Vitali Shkliarov, Russian Political Strategist; Former Senior Campaign Adviser to Ksenia Sobchak

Russian foreign policy: a disruptive approach intertwined with domestic politics

Natalia Arno said that there are many voices in the West that call for forgetting past disputes and starting a dialogue with Russia to tackle global challenges, but it is important to remember “how Putin acts and why he started to act like he does.” “The phenomenon of disruption,” said Arno, “is the main choice for his foreign policy.” The West’s failure to take serious steps after the war in Georgia in 2008, she said, contributed to the expansion of disruptive strategies in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, and it is unlikely that Putin will stop there. “While we are trying to understand his policies, we should always remember it is very beneficial for him to act in a disruptive way on the international arena.”

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russia’s course in turning away from an “open-minded” foreign policy during 18 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule has partly been a consequence of a “sense of betrayal by the West,” such as the expansion of NATO. The “betrayal” rationale is how Putin explains the shift in foreign policy to himself and to the people of Russia, “selling” a story of “us against them” that helps Putin “unite people” backing him. The escalation of tensions and Western sanctions have only helped Putin entrench this message, supported by a perfected propaganda machine. “Over the years that has become his [Putin’s] mantra,” said Shkliarov, adding that the West’s actions to push Russia into isolation are only contributing to this.

“When we talk about Putin’s foreign policy,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, “it is very important to keep in mind that his foreign policy is a reflection and a function of a continuation of his domestic politics.”  He refuted the concept of an “early, middle and late Putin,” saying that the authoritarian trends of his rule, which have now “reached extremes,” have been present since the beginning. Western leaders have largely preferred to ignore domestic repressions within Russia, in an effort to preserve the “modus operandi” of international cooperation, thus pursuing their own interests over values, yet this strategy has turned out to be shortsighted. “Mr. Putin has shown it is just a matter of time before domestic repression translates into external aggression,” said Kara-Murza.  He said Russian foreign policy has always been determined by the domestic situation.  The world will see a completely different foreign policy take effect with a democratic change in Russia, as was the case prior to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, he said.

Andrei Kozyrev said it is essential to “distinguish between Russian national interest and the regime’s interests,” and the current foreign policy is completely contrary to the Russian national interest. Portraying the West as an enemy has helped justify the seizure of power by the security services, “rather than a democratically elected government.” Russian involvement in the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts is contrary to the national interest, said Kozyrev, and Russia needs cooperation and partnerships with “most developed countries in the world” in order to become a modern country. In fact, said Kozyrev, he does not see real conflicting interests in U.S. and Russian foreign policy that make cooperation impossible. “Russia and the U.S. cooperate in outer space, so it only takes one step to descend from outer space to the earth, and it depends on domestic development in Russia,” said Kozyrev.


Engaging with Russia

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russians and Americans have to try to find a way for dialogue. The current U.S. president, he said, “is building a bridge with the most aggressive dictator” of North Korea, so why wouldn’t engagement between the U.S. and Russia work? Communication is very important in building dialogue and there is scope for cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in other global challenges, said Shkliarov. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” said Shkliarov, but noted that at the moment it feels like “there is no will on either side.” 

Natalia Arno said a policy of deterrence, containment and engagement should be applied towards Russia. Russian civil society, independent media and pro-democratic forces could be engaged in dialogue, said Arno, adding that behind the headlines there is actually a growing grassroots movement in Russia. Arno said there are more and more young people demanding change in Russia, and more people are participating in local politics – the only level of government left where democratically minded people can act. An example of this, she said, is last year’s successful municipal elections in Moscow, where the democratic opposition candidates became the second largest political power in the capital after the ruling party. These “new institutionalized sprouts of pro-democracy forces” are examples of who needs to be engaged in the dialogue, said Arno. 

Vladimir Kara-Murza said contact with civil society is important, but there is also the question of engagement with the regime, and the quality of engagement. Even during the most difficult periods of the Cold War, said Kara-Murza, Western leaders were able to successfully negotiate arms control agreements and often secure the release of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. He said that with more than 150 political prisoners in Russia today, and the hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov – the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker who demands the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia – there are not a lot of Western leaders who prominently raise this issue. “It is not about engaging or not engaging, it is not a question of talking or not talking with Putin’s regime – it is a question of what you talk about, […] it is about engaging with principles and engaging smartly.”

Andrei Kozyrev said that for any engagement to be successful, diplomatic efforts and thoughtful, prepared agreements are necessary, rather than just “engagement which ends with hugs and kisses.” Authoritarian leaders, said Kozyrev, dislike democracy, but “they also like to be seen as accepted by Western leaders because it plays to their domestic image of tough but respected,” said Kozyrev. Yet engagement is important and possible, said Kozyrev – “it is important to see where you can cooperate and where not.”

By Valeria Jegisman

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president. The panelists argued that Russian foreign policy is largely a reflection of domestic developments, that there is a distinction between the Kremlin regime and Russia itself, and that thoughtful engagement and cooperation is needed between Russia and the West.

The panel included:

Andrei Kozyrev, a Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1990-1996)
Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia; Former Deputy Leader of the People’s Freedom Party
Vitali Shkliarov, Russian Political Strategist; Former Senior Campaign Adviser to Ksenia Sobchak

Russian foreign policy: a disruptive approach intertwined with domestic politics

Natalia Arno said that there are many voices in the West that call for forgetting past disputes and starting a dialogue with Russia to tackle global challenges, but it is important to remember “how Putin acts and why he started to act like he does.” “The phenomenon of disruption,” said Arno, “is the main choice for his foreign policy.” The West’s failure to take serious steps after the war in Georgia in 2008, she said, contributed to the expansion of disruptive strategies in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, and it is unlikely that Putin will stop there. “While we are trying to understand his policies, we should always remember it is very beneficial for him to act in a disruptive way on the international arena.”

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russia’s course in turning away from an “open-minded” foreign policy during 18 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule has partly been a consequence of a “sense of betrayal by the West,” such as the expansion of NATO. The “betrayal” rationale is how Putin explains the shift in foreign policy to himself and to the people of Russia, “selling” a story of “us against them” that helps Putin “unite people” backing him. The escalation of tensions and Western sanctions have only helped Putin entrench this message, supported by a perfected propaganda machine. “Over the years that has become his [Putin’s] mantra,” said Shkliarov, adding that the West’s actions to push Russia into isolation are only contributing to this.

“When we talk about Putin’s foreign policy,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, “it is very important to keep in mind that his foreign policy is a reflection and a function of a continuation of his domestic politics.”  He refuted the concept of an “early, middle and late Putin,” saying that the authoritarian trends of his rule, which have now “reached extremes,” have been present since the beginning. Western leaders have largely preferred to ignore domestic repressions within Russia, in an effort to preserve the “modus operandi” of international cooperation, thus pursuing their own interests over values, yet this strategy has turned out to be shortsighted. “Mr. Putin has shown it is just a matter of time before domestic repression translates into external aggression,” said Kara-Murza.  He said Russian foreign policy has always been determined by the domestic situation.  The world will see a completely different foreign policy take effect with a democratic change in Russia, as was the case prior to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, he said.

Andrei Kozyrev said it is essential to “distinguish between Russian national interest and the regime’s interests,” and the current foreign policy is completely contrary to the Russian national interest. Portraying the West as an enemy has helped justify the seizure of power by the security services, “rather than a democratically elected government.” Russian involvement in the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts is contrary to the national interest, said Kozyrev, and Russia needs cooperation and partnerships with “most developed countries in the world” in order to become a modern country. In fact, said Kozyrev, he does not see real conflicting interests in U.S. and Russian foreign policy that make cooperation impossible. “Russia and the U.S. cooperate in outer space, so it only takes one step to descend from outer space to the earth, and it depends on domestic development in Russia,” said Kozyrev.


Engaging with Russia

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russians and Americans have to try to find a way for dialogue. The current U.S. president, he said, “is building a bridge with the most aggressive dictator” of North Korea, so why wouldn’t engagement between the U.S. and Russia work? Communication is very important in building dialogue and there is scope for cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in other global challenges, said Shkliarov. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” said Shkliarov, but noted that at the moment it feels like “there is no will on either side.” 

Natalia Arno said a policy of deterrence, containment and engagement should be applied towards Russia. Russian civil society, independent media and pro-democratic forces could be engaged in dialogue, said Arno, adding that behind the headlines there is actually a growing grassroots movement in Russia. Arno said there are more and more young people demanding change in Russia, and more people are participating in local politics – the only level of government left where democratically minded people can act. An example of this, she said, is last year’s successful municipal elections in Moscow, where the democratic opposition candidates became the second largest political power in the capital after the ruling party. These “new institutionalized sprouts of pro-democracy forces” are examples of who needs to be engaged in the dialogue, said Arno. 

Vladimir Kara-Murza said contact with civil society is important, but there is also the question of engagement with the regime, and the quality of engagement. Even during the most difficult periods of the Cold War, said Kara-Murza, Western leaders were able to successfully negotiate arms control agreements and often secure the release of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. He said that with more than 150 political prisoners in Russia today, and the hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov – the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker who demands the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia – there are not a lot of Western leaders who prominently raise this issue. “It is not about engaging or not engaging, it is not a question of talking or not talking with Putin’s regime – it is a question of what you talk about, […] it is about engaging with principles and engaging smartly.”

Andrei Kozyrev said that for any engagement to be successful, diplomatic efforts and thoughtful, prepared agreements are necessary, rather than just “engagement which ends with hugs and kisses.” Authoritarian leaders, said Kozyrev, dislike democracy, but “they also like to be seen as accepted by Western leaders because it plays to their domestic image of tough but respected,” said Kozyrev. Yet engagement is important and possible, said Kozyrev – “it is important to see where you can cooperate and where not.”

By Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Urgent and Concrete Steps to Stop Putin’s Global Assassination Campaigns

Feb 11 2021

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian pro-democracy advocate, was closely tracked by an FSB assassination squad when he suffered perplexing and near-fatal medical emergencies that sent him into coma in 2015 and 2017, establishes a new investigation by the Bellingcat group

Documents uncovered by Bellingcat show that this is the same assassination squad implicated in the August 2020 assassination attempt on Alexey Navalny and whose member has inadvertently confirmed the operation in a phone call with Navalny.   

Bellingcat has also established the FSB unit’s involvement in the murder of three Russian activists, all of whom died under unusual but similar circumstances. 

Taken together, these independent nongovernment investigations establish the fact of systemic, large-scale extrajudicial assassinations carried out by Putin’s government against its critics inside and outside of Russia, including with chemical weapons banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to formally investigate and prosecute Putin’s government for these crimes. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the Biden Administration to direct the FBI to release investigation materials surrounding the assassination attempts against Vladimir Kara-Murza that have been denied to him thus far. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to articulate measures to compel Russia to free Alexey Navalny from his illegal incarceration where his life remains in dire danger. 

Free Russia Foundation condemns in strongest terms today’s court sentence announced to Alexey Navalny

Feb 02 2021

Continued detention of Navalny is illegal and he must be freed immediately. Suppression of peaceful protests and mass arrests of Russian citizens must stop, and the Kremlin must release all those illegally detained and imprisoned on political motives. Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community, the US and European leadership, to move beyond expressions of concern and articulate a set of meaningful instruments to compel the Kremlin to stop its atrocities.

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.