Staunton, June 15 -- Françoise Thom, a specialist on Russia at the Sorbonne, says that since the start of this year, Moscow has suffered an increasing number of foreign policy failures, failure that mean “Russia may become the first victim of the destruction of the world order that Vladimir Putin has been promoting.”
That development may have a profound impact on the succession in the Russian Federation, she says, just as foreign policy issues played such a major role in the demise of the USSR. “When Gorbachev began perestroika in 1985, dissidents in Russia had practically been eliminated by Andropov.” But foreign policy defeats forced Moscow to change.
These included the installation of Pershing missiles in Europe and the return of the Christian Democrats to power in West Germany. It was those things, Thom says, rather than internal developments that led to Gorbachev’s elevation (desk-russie.eu/2021/06/06/les-revers-de-poutine-et-la-lutte.html; in Russian at graniru.org/Politics/Russia/President/m.281981.html
Indeed, she argues, “de-Putinization will be possible only if his [potential] successors experience a failure in his project of transforming Europe into a vassal. Certain countries in Central and Eastern Europe understand that. Let us hope that their example will be followed by the West Europeans who unfortunately understand much less well what is at stake.”
To make her case, Thom points to Russia’s recent failures in intelligence and influence campaigns both in Europe and in the former Soviet periphery, arguing that those failures are going to play a much larger role in Moscow and the succession struggle than most analysts in the West now allow.
She points to the unmasking of Russian spies in Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Macedonia since the start of 2021 and to the failure of Russian influence operations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, failures that only highlighted Moscow’s inability to use its Sputnik-5 vaccine to promote its influence.
Moscow has also been suffering “an erosion of Russian influence” in the Balkans and in the former Soviet space. Balkan countries are turning away from Moscow in small ways and large, and among former Soviet republics, Moscow’s influence not only is declining but being supplanted by outside powers like Turkey.
Especially troubling from Moscow’s point of view, Thom suggests, is what is happening in the West, where Moldova is now cooperating ever more closely with Romania, a NATO country, and with Ukraine, especially after meetings in Kyiv between Ukrainian and Moldovan officials and the US secretary of state.
“Some of these events,” Thom argues, “may be connected with a toughening of Washington’s position relative to Moscow in the first weeks of the Biden Administration. “But the weakening of the Kremlin’s influence in neighboring countries and in Russia itself has endogenous causes, connected with the nature of Putin’s regime.”
Putin’s push for “the nationalization” of Russian history and for Orthodoxy is undermining the influence of the center on non-Russians inside the country and beyond, she says. “The fashion for narrow nationalism, the policy of the fait accompli, and the cult of crude force” does have supporters; but it is alienating more people than it is attracting.