Monday, April 26, 2021

Putin Emboldened Rather than Restrained by West’s ‘Two Track’ Approach to Moscow, Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Vladimir Putin may have put off launching new aggression against Ukraine but he has achieved one of his most important goals by appearing to threaten to attack now, Liliya Shevtsova says. He has forced the West to pay attention to him and in the short term that may have been his most important goal.

            The West has raced to try to find ways to speak with him, an indication that it “has not been able to find a response to Russian challenges” that serves its purposes of restraining Moscow but only those which serve Putin’s purpose of forcing them to focus on him and his demands (

            In the present case, the West has pursued “’a two-track’” approach, one that involves both efforts to restrain Russian behavior with calls for dialogue, an approach that reflects its recognition that “Russia is an opponent of liberal democracy” and that Russia is now deeply involved with Western economies because of the money it has inserted into them.

            This is a bigger problem for Europe than for the US, Shevtsova suggests. Europe finds it hard to sanction a country that is a member of the Council of Europe and that is a major trading partner. Consequently, it imposes limited sanctions and threatens more, but these threats are seen in Moscow for what they are: something that reflects European hopes rather than plans.

            Europe and the West more generally hopes that Moscow will consider the risks it may face if it doesn’t change, but, the Russian analyst points out, “the understanding of risks and their costs in Moscow and that in Western capitals doesn’t correspond. For the Kremlin, a readiness to risk is the single means it has of achieving its goals.”

            Because Europe faces more problems in elaborating a Russian policy than the US, Washington has assumed a leadership role. But it too is pursuing “’a two-track” approach, imposing limited sanctions while threatening more even as it shows that it is willing to talk with Putin. That willingness limits the impact of sanctions on Moscow.

            “Biden obviously doesn’t want a confrontation with Russia,” Shevtsova continues. “He isn’t trying to put Putin on his knees. He isn’t burning with a desire to wreck the Russian economy or begin to take revenge against those people close to Putin.” And everyone in Moscow can see that.

            As a result, she says, “it is difficult to avoid the sense that the White House recognizes that it is impossible to force the Kremlin to change its way of thinking and its view on the world. Consequently, it must seek a mechanism of coexistence with a dangerous place who at any moment may display ‘the Weimar syndrome.’”

            The US president wants “’a modus vivendi,’” given all the other challenges domestic and foreign it faces. And so for the time being it is “important” for Washington “to freeze the Russian ‘theme.’” As a result, what Washington has done smacks of “the surreal,” threats of worse sanctions while seeking dialogue that promises almost “a reset!”

            One is forced to conclude that “the Kremlin has achieved its goal: it has forced America to listen to it and to make proposals. That isn’t limited to Putin’s personal ambitions.” It reflects Moscow’s obsession with being taken seriously in Washington and Washington’s willingness to satisfy that Russian need regardless of what the Kremlin does.

            But by offering talks first, Biden has shown himself indecisive in Moscow’s eyes and that will only lead Putin to use the same strategy again. Whenever he wants to get the West to pay attention to him, he will engage in actions the West doesn’t like rather than restrain himself, a lesson the West does not appear to understand it is sending.

            And that of necessity is a matter of concern because it presages even more rash Russian actions in the future followed by Western conciliation rather than Western toughness.


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