Economic Constraints on Russian Foreign Policy
- Christopher Smart
- Content Type
- Working Paper
- Council on Foreign Relations
The recent collapse in the U.S.-Russia relationship has roots that stretch back to fundamental misunderstandings at the end of the Cold War. Western democracies have watched with dismay as tightening political controls in Russia have throttled domestic pluralism, while Moscow’s roughshod foreign policy and military tactics have driven its neighbors into submission or open hostility. Russia has bemoaned what it sees as Western arrogance and a stubborn refusal to recognize its security concerns and great-power status. Today, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, support of Syrian repression, and, above all, meddling in the U.S. presidential election have shattered any desire in Washington—at least outside the Oval Office—to search for common ground. Indeed, amid congressional logjams on nearly every issue, overwhelming bipartisan majorities passed a stiffer sanctions regime. The narrative in Moscow, meanwhile, paints a consistent picture of Washington actively rallying Europeans to expand footholds around Russia’s borders with an ultimate goal of regime change in the Kremlin itself. In spite of President Donald J. Trump’s apparent eagerness to improve relations, deepening resistance across the political spectrum makes any progress fanciful at this stage.Whether either side understands how to get relations back on track remains uncertain. What is clear is that neither side wants to. Deep-seated U.S. mistrust and an unyielding Russian government seem likely to confine the bilateral relationship to a series of sour exchanges and blustery confrontations for now.
Yet one persistent weakness will ultimately limit Russia’s foreign agenda: an economy that is likely to fall increasingly behind those of its major neighbors and partners. For now, Russia has largely learned to tolerate Western economic sanctions, and its companies have found ways to live with restricted access to finance. Without reform and economic integration with the West, however, Russian influence will drift toward the margins of global diplomacy. Russia’s economy will atrophy from a combination of hyperconcentrated decision-making, continuing dependence on hydrocarbons, and persistent financial isolation. Core goals of Russia’s foreign policy will steadily recede from view, including important elements of the economic agenda with its immediate neighbors, the European Union and China. Though a snapback of oil prices would undoubtedly delay any day of reckoning, even large new inflows of petro-profits will not fundamentally close the widening gap with major partners.
- Foreign Policy, Economics, International Cooperation, Military Strategy
- Political Geography
- Russia, United States, Europe, North America