As 2015 has already come to an end, Russia Direct picked up its best comments from prominent experts to outline the Kremlin’s most significant failures and achievements in its foreign policy in 2015.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, center, arrives at the opening session of the 22nd OSCE Ministerial Council in Belgrade, Serbia, December 3, 2015.
Russia Direct sums up the results of the Kremlin’s foreign policy — its achievements and failures — in 2015 by bringing together the comments of Russian and foreign well-known experts.
Dmitri Trenin, director of Moscow Carnegie Center:
With a firm alienation of Russia from Europe, there is "anti-Russian barrage with military taste" created in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Ukraine has become and will remain the most hostile country toward Russia. The Ukrainian nation is currently based on the anti-Russian foundation. Ukraine’s project itself is implemented not only through “being without Russia,” but “being in defiance of Russia.”
The calculation [of the Kremlin] that Ukraine will quickly collapse won’t come to fruition. It will remain in a half-collapsed state. The Minsk Agreements will be neither fully implemented nor buried. However, the likelihood of the war is very low in comparison with the last year.
Regarding Russia’s campaign in Syria and its policy in the Middle East, of course, Russia is participating in the war, but the Kremlin is conducting it in the American style [by using military methods and committing the same mistakes]. It is the first war, which is not common for our [foreign policy] tradition. Never ever have we conducted such wars.
It won’t be easy to leave the Middle East. It will be difficult like the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Yes, Russia boosted its geopolitical status by launching military campaign in Syria, but it might be caught in a quagmire in the Middle East. The problem is that Russia seems to punches above its weight. The gap between its ambitions and potential is very big.
What surprised me this year [most] is Russia’s U-turn in its relations with Turkey. It means that our policy is conducted not really in the 19th century style, but rather in the style of the 18th century. And this both impress and frighten. Russia’s intervention in the Middle East brought about a mess in Turkey’s plans in Syria, that’s why Ankara downed the Russian jet, not because it crossed its airspace.
The comment is based on Trenin’s Dec. 22 presentation of the results of Russia’s foreign policy in 2015 at Carnegie Moscow Center.
Video by Pavel Gazdyuk
Richard Sakwa, professor of Russian and European Politics at University of Kent:
2015 has been a dynamic year for events. While 2014 have been dominated by Ukraine, was dominated by Syria and the refugee crisis. The speech of Mr. Putin at the UN [70th anniversary] summit was extremely important.It outlined not only his often criticism of the Western policy, but it outlined the flat platform, the possibility of some sort of reliance.
Secondly, [there was] the emphasis on fulfilling Minsk 2 agreement, because the year began with the Battle of Debaltseve, and the signing of the second Minsk Agreement in February neutralized Ukraine as an element of the conflict between Russia and the West. So, it is the second major achievement, given that Russia is trying to ensure the fulfillment of the Minsk Agreement. So far, all countries are condemning each other for the failure to achieve this.
And, thirdly, of course, the failure is that the sanctions [on Russia for its policy in Ukraine] continue, [the Kremlin’s] import substitution policy failed. The great failure, of course, is to achieve a breakthrough on economic level, given the fact that the country is in crisis now.
Russia Direct interviewed Sakwa during the 2015 convention of the Association of Slavic, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)
Video by Pavel Koshkin and Ilaria Kantorova
Kathryn Stoner, political analysts at Stanford University:
Russia has a lot of foreign policy successes in 2015. Mr. Putin was very determined to re-establish Russia as the major international player and inserting Russia in Syrian conflict in the way that so far can be viewed as a success in terms of Russia now needing to be taken into account.
Whether or not, it translates into leverage in other areas in terms of Russia’s international security is a question as well. I think more frictions have been created with NATO. I don't think that it is in Russia’s interests at all. And this is the major failure [of the Kremlin’s foreign policy].
Russia Direct interviewed Stoner during the 2015 ASEEES convention. Read the Q&A with Kathryn Stoner here.
Dmitry Gorenburg, director at the Center for Strategic Studies:
The achievements of the Russian foreign policy in 2015 are primarily related to its operation in Syria. Russia showed higher level of military capabilities than anyone expected and it is inserted itself into the discussion of settlements in the Middle East in the way it didn’t have before.
In terms of failures of 2015, the operation in Ukraine was the main failure. Russia only lost influence in Ukraine as a result and now caught in a quagmire. It negatively affects its relations with the U.S.
Russia Direct interviewed Goreburg during the 2015 ASEEES convention.
The survey was carried out by RD among experts participating at the ASEEES 47th Annual Convention (November 19-22, 2015) and via email. An online survey was available only to RD’s website audience (December 4-10, 2015). The respondents could answer the given questions by choosing only one of the four proposed answers or submit their own.
Mark Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University and a specialist on Russian security affairs:
There are tactical and strategic achievements. The tactical ones include the Syrian move: Although there are still many, many risks, associated with it, it was brilliant by the way it was executed.
But more generally, the strategic virtue is two-fold: One is actually managing to mitigate some of the worst impacts of the post-Ukrainian adventure, isolation and so forth. And secondly, Russia seems to have proved that to a certain extent it is a regional and global player: not a strong one, not by any means like the United States or China.
Because Putin has demonstrated a capacity to play his weak hand very well, because Putin has demonstrated a capacity to be a spoiler, he has, at least, made a case that you cannot ignore Moscow. And this is a key priority of this year.
But the failures are also in essence extensions of the failures of 2014. Attempts to induce Kiev to accept Moscow’s hegemony have proven unsuccessful — if the attempt to build a new, democratic and West-looking Ukrainian state comes to nothing again, it will as usual be because of the Ukrainians.
Related: "2015 as seen by Russian pundits"
Attempts to persuade the West to lift its sanctions regime have failed. Attempts to turn economic relations with China into some broader alliance that would allow Moscow to minimize the impact of Western isolation have failed.
There is a chance that thanks to Syria and, ironically, ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria], Moscow may be able to make some progress on this, but for all the talk of Putin as a master strategist, actually Russian foreign policy so far this year has not accomplished any of its main goals.
Russia Direct interviewed Galeotti during the 2015 ASEEES convention. Read the Q&A with Prof. Galeotti here.
The survey was carried out by RD among experts participating at the ASEEES 47th Annual Convention (November 19-22, 2015) and via email. An online survey was available only to RD’s website audience (December 4-10, 2015).
Aurel Braun, a professor of International Relations and Political Science at the University of Toronto and an associate of the Davis Center at Harvard University:
Clearly, Russia has ensured that it is not ignored. The Western countries made a mistake of moving from the Soviet era where the Soviet Union was their number one preoccupation to actually almost forgetting about Russia and not realizing that Russia is an important player and Russia needs to be respected and consulted.
And to that extent Russia’s foreign policy has been successful and understand the change, we have the example of the French President Francois Hollande going to Moscow to consult with Mr. Putin [after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks]. Clearly, Russia cannot be ignored.
But the problem is that given the methods used by the Kremlin this kind of Russian success has been achieved at a very heavy cost [sanctions, ruined reputation, harsh criticism and attempts at isolation from the West]. What is so very important for the Russian people is to understand that those in the West who may criticize the Russian government are not necessarily anti-Russian, that many of us do care deeply about Russia, like the Russian people and would like to see the Russian people have a better future.
Russia Direct interviewed Braun during the 2015 ASEEES convention. Read the Q&A with Prof. Braun here.
Robert Freedman, visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Political Science:
Heavy-handed actions that Mr. Putin has used has driven Finland and Sweden into seriously considering for the first time joining NATO. That’s a huge mistake on his part. He was projecting Russian power, but it proved to be counter-effective. This is number one.
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Number two is that the Russian strength in the Middle East comes primarily from American failures: in Egypt, Russia had a big success, due to the Obama administration’s confusion as to how to relate to the Sisi government. That was the case until the airliner was shot down, and now Russian-Egyptian relations are more problematic.
However, unlike the United States, which was wavering on supporting the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi government, Russia came immediately to support the Sisi government. And for this reason, I expect a quick reconciliation betwen Russia and Egypt.
Also the Kremlin made use of the mistakes of the United States in getting too close to Iran, which alienated the Saudis. Consequently, the Saudis began seriously negotiating — without a lot of success so far with Russia. So there are two big successes.
Russia Direct interviewed Freedman during the 2015 ASEEES convention. Read the Q&A with Prof. Freedman here.