The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 27

independence. The diplomacy of “gardening”—patient and
prolonged engagement—is the only way to deal with these situ-
Framing the issues correctly also means an accurate assess-
ment of where Putin may be heading and where Russia might
be able and willing to follow. Putin’s actions in Ukraine and his
domestic crackdown on dissent are certainly reminiscent of
the Cold War, or worse. Some have even compared this period
to pre–World War II. But Putin’s Russia is not Stalin’s Russia,
and the world of 2014 is notable for the many ways in which
the international system itself is changing under the impact of
globalization and the rise of social media.
Seen in the light of megatrends dominating the global land-
scape today, Putin’s efforts to turn back the clock are unlikely to
succeed, no matter how fervently he evokes nostalgia for Rus-
sia’s historical borders. Autarky simply is not a viable economic
policy for Russia in the age of globalization. The people-to-peo-
ple links between Russia and the West will not easily be severed,
especially with information and global communication so easily
available to ordinary citizens.
A reasonable interpretation of events is that Russia is
undergoing the trauma of a lost empire, not dissimilar to the
withdrawal pangs of other former imperialist powers. Like other
post-imperial powers, Russia is having trouble adjusting to its
changed status. It still believes that it should not only have a
privileged position in the nations that once were part of the czar-
ist, and then Soviet, empires, but also that it can exclude political
or other changes of which it disapproves. But no more than other
European nations could re-establish their “blue water” empires
will Moscow be able to re-create the Soviet Union or the Rus-
sian empire on the land mass of Eurasia. So what we are seeing
is most likely part of the long recessional march from empire,
made more complex by the reactionary romantic in the Kremlin.
Accuracy in framing the issues also requires an understand-
ing that American diplomacy in Russia’s neighborhood is only
part of the total picture. On the positive side, the attraction of the
European Union for all of Russia’s neighbors is hard to overstate.
Political and economic reforms are the price for an association
with it—something most of Russia’s neighbors accept, albeit with
reluctance in some cases. On the negative side, the vulnerability
of European countries to the threat of a cutoff of Russian oil and
gas renders them less capable of assisting nations adjacent to
Russia. China also will exert some influence, and so will the situ-
ations in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Beyond framing the issues correctly, American policymakers
need to balance the twin American interests in good working
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