Putin’s Gamble: An End to NATO and Restoration of Russian Might

Russian President Vladimir Putin, August 17, 2015Putin is rearming Russia, remilitarizing Russia’s overall approach to security, changing Russia’s defense concepts, adopting continuous destabilization strategies against neighboring states and returning to old policy formulas for internal and external security—all justified and rationalized by the perceived threat posed by the U.S./European security system around Russia.

His policy requires a changed Europe to enhance Russian strategic competitiveness and requires a changed Europe to avoid political change inside Russia. These two Russian campaigns—one external and one internal—are interfused. Success in one campaign is dependent on success in the other. More importantly, failure in one campaign is perceived as prompting failure in the other….

Russia’s leadership wants a Europe without strategic Alliances, without multi-national organizations and without a U.S.-Europe Transatlantic link that can through collective policies and action offset the national strengths Russia would hold over any one European nation. It would be a European security environment that would allow Russia to apply its national strengths to great effect without challenge and competition—enhancing its power abroad and at home.

This is the end-state of Putin’s strategy, and it requires changing the European security system—the rules of the game—to sustain Russia’s capability to compete with Europe and other regional powers poles outside Europe. Conversely, the policy strictly seeks to freeze the political rules of the game inside Russia, and end meaningful political competition at home. Russia’s leaders have concluded that the European system is both vulnerable and unjust.

In the Russian view, the European security system is vulnerable because it is weakened by a diffusion of global power, political devolution, sapped of economic wealth and attacked by forces of disorder in other parts of the world. Putin also has concluded that the current European security system is unjust because it confines and restricts Russia’s ability to exercise her inherent national strengths, inflicting a modern form of multi-dimensional, multi-level strategic encirclement of Russia.

Stephen R. Covington serves as International Affairs Advisor to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Deputy Supreme Allied Commander and Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). The above extract is from his Putin’s Choice for Russia, published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin, August 17, 2015 (photo: Office of the President of Russia)