On June 15, 2021, The Brookings Institution hosted an event entitled “Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order,” based on Kathryn E. Stoner’s new book of the same name. Along with Stoner, panelists included Fiona Hill and Paul Poast, with moderation by Bruce Jones. Panelists evaluated the nature of Russia’s power and their expectations for President Putin and President Biden’s Geneva summit.
Stoner began by sharing a key point from her book, that traditional measures of power include “men, money, and power,” standards by which Russia appears to fall short compared with great powers like the U.S. and China. Russia’s population and GDP are significantly smaller, and it funds its military with a budget one tenth of the size of the U.S. military budget. Stoner noted that given these measurements, former President Obama underestimated Russia’s capabilities. She instead defined Russian power as having emerged from President Putin’s willingness to use power resources in a ruthless and uncommon way. Hill agreed, stating that Putin’s nature drives him to use a variety of tactics (assassination by unusual methods, criminals for hire, paramilitary forces) that illustrate a loss of restraint. So, while Russia does not compare to other world powers measured by realist standards, the world must not underestimate the power of Putinism.
Poast noted that Russia’s geography affords it a very distinct type of power, another point Stoner makes in her book. Russia does not need an economy comparable to that of the U.S. because it can project power simply by the nature of its borders. Stoner added that while the U.S. has eleven aircraft carriers, Russia has no need to fund its military as much, given its proximity to conflict zones. Panelists went on to describe the nature of the Russian government, with Stoner noting that President Putin and his personalistic administration steal from the state. Hill added that Putin is uniquely positioned because he is non-partisan, which is enabled by the state structure developed under Yelstin. Further, she stated that illicit financing is extremely powerful and the Kremlin has invested money in U.S. cities, which the U.S. and the rest of the West must watch carefully.
Finally, panelists discussed President Biden and President Putin’s NATO summit, with everyone agreeing that they did not have high expectations for the outcome of the meeting. Stoner said she believes Biden is pursuing strategic stability, which he understands as predictability in nuclear arms control. She emphasized Russia’s ability to be disruptive, and Poast stated that the meeting could potentially reduce this ability, although it is unlikely to be hugely productive. Hill added that Russia’s hope for the summit is to have its business community taken seriously and it wants to develop a reputation for success outside of oil and gas production. Hill concluded that Russia perceives allies as dependents and does not view the U.S. as a truly sovereign state because of its alliances; she does not expect significant change in U.S.-Russian relations due to Russia’s realist standpoint.
Watch the full event here: https://www.brookings.edu/events/russia-resurrected-its-power-and-purpose-in-a-new-global-order/?utm_campaign=Events%3A%20Foreign%20Policy&utm_medium=email&utm_content=130187309&utm_source=hs_automation
By PAC Policy Intern Caroline Nowak
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Caroline Nowak is a student at Tufts University pursuing International Relations and Russian and East European Studies.