Containing Global Russia

March 4, 2024
Michael Kimmage and Hanna Notte

The following is an excerpt from War on the Rocks.

“It is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union,” George Kennan wrote in 1947, “must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” When Kennan devised this famous sentence, he did not only have Europe in mind: Asia and the Middle East were catalysts of early Cold War contestation. Soviet expansive tendencies proceeded from the universal sway of communism and from the legacy of the Russian empire, which had been active in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In 2024, with Russian expansive tendencies once again in evidence, the global thrust of Kennan’s thinking is as salient as his recommendation that U.S. policy cohere around the idea of containment.

Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine was meant to prove that the United States and its allies do not write the rules internationally. To prove this point in Europe, the heart of the liberal international order, is to hasten the advent of a post-Western order globally. Russia has recalibrated its entire foreign policy to fit the needs of a long struggle. Prior to 2022, Russia was already expanding its trade and political relations with non-Western countries and tangling with its Western counterparts in international fora. Since 2022, Russia has dramatically expanded these pre-existing trend lines, while improvising at every turn.

The four pillars of Russia’s global foreign policy are self-preservation, decompartmentalization, fragmentation, and integration. Russia has secured lifelines for its economy and defense enterprises, while navigating to retain its military influence outside of Europe — successfully in Syria and the Sahel and less successfully in the South Caucasus. On a host of policy issues, Russia has abandoned compartmentalization with Western states. Waging a war of narratives, gumming up legacy multilateral institutions, and pushing for the de-dollarization of international finance, a diplomatically hyperactive Russia has sought to fragment the existing international order. Russia has also been integrating partners into clubs that exclude Western states (like the BRICS alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and working with alliances that are openly anti-Western (like the new Alliance of the Sahel States).

Continue reading at War on the Rocks.

Comments Are Closed