2017 could be the year of Russia’s return – the signs of this were discussed in a Tuesday afternoon discussion organised by the the Eastern Europe Studies Centre (RESC) and VU TSPMI. The political scientists discussed the topic of “What will decide Russian foreign policy in 2017?” It is likely that the government rotation of the West, the resolution of the stalled Syrian conflict and strategic changes to the Russian tone will open opportunities for de-escalation and Putin’s return as a figure that is repulsive for many, but at the same time – an inevitable partner in resolving questions in the international political arena.
The Kremlin
© Reuters/Scanpix

With RESC director Linas Kojala moderating, political scientists Dr Laurynas Jonavičius, docent Dovilė Jakniūnaitė, Dr Vilius Ivanauskas and Professor Tomas Janeliūnas shared their predictions, also Professor Vytautas Landsbergis was invited as a guest of honour to share some of his insights. He, however, did not spare the organisers of criticism, alfa.lt reported.

Doubting the duration of Western sanctions

D. Jakniūnaitė highlighted a number of factors she believes should be kept in mind when thinking about 2017 and Russia’s role in it. First of all it will be the long standing Kremlin effort to establish multipolarity in the international system. It is a position that in the contemporary world US (and Western as an axis of power) dominance is absolutely unacceptable and according to the political scientist it is far more accented and “more ideological than before. Establishing multipolarity would be to prove that Russia is important.”

The international relations expert pointed out that the demonstration of military power is only one of the means used in seeking to enforce such a view. Recently it has been understood that a radical confrontation is not successful in the long term, so point of contact are now pursued.

Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House is held to be one of these, but D. Jakniūnaitė stressed that “Trump’s ascent may not mean friendship because friendship could mean vulnerability to Russia.”

Foreign politics being an important factor in domestic politics remains as a significant detail. It was mentioned that “foreign policy being the axis of domestic policy is nothing new for Russia, it is not unique to it” and in some cases the clear effort to rally around a flag of foreign policy pursued by other states.

The sanction policy is another factor to watch, which will decide Russia’s actions. The departure from an apex of tension has already begun notes D. Jakniūnaitė.

“Looking from Lithuania you could miss it, but the signs are there, that escalation is no longer the intention,” the expert said.

T. Janeliūnas echoed his colleague that movement toward de-escalation between the East and West is likely and a change in European governments is a good opportunity to talk.

According to him “The current situation suggests that Russia wishes to stand down from the level of maximum aggression”, it is seeking a pragmatic agreement which would mean a recognition of interest zones, there are general talks. The diminishing of the consensus created in the backdrop of the 2014 events in Ukraine is, in his opinion, “nothing else that feeding the aggressor”.

The first object of fruitful negotiations could be Syria. The political scientist guessed that some sort of consensus could be reached here by mid-2017, when the US government under Donald Trump settles in. Russia expert L. Jonavičius agreed that there would be efforts for Trump to cooperate with Putin and that this could specifically take the form of a mutual fight against ISIS.

A topic more relevant to the Baltic States would be Western sanctions to Russia, the extension of which is, according to T. Janeliūnas, unlikely.

Meanwhile L. Jonavičius urged to not get overly absorbed in the Eurocentric perception of Russia and reminded that the Kremlin is peering not only toward the West – “Europe has been the main buyer of natural resources for a long time, but Europe has become less important as a source of income. Flows of oil and gas, hypothetical for now, but multi-million trade plans with China are already there. It will make Russia’s life easier in relations with the West, raising its freedom to manoeuver.

“Lithuania is likely not even present as a player in Russian strategic thinking <…>, it is like a fly in soup,” said the political scientist, but this should not mean it is viable to relax from the perception of danger and concern with defence.

Prof Landsbergis: Russia wants not respect, but kowtowing

Joining the debate, V. Landsbergis was critical of the vocabulary used by the political scientists, observing that such vocabulary is spreading in the West and aiding in softening the real crimes of the Russian regime.

“Incorrect, pre-emptively capitulating ideas are employed. <…> The conflict in Ukraine, if we are to use these terms, it is our mental capitulation. Because this is not a conflict and it is not happening in only Ukraine. I propose to talk about this situation without those politically correct phrases. It (war) is being waged against an EU associate member. A peculiar war because Europe is being warred against, but is not warring back, it is allowing the conquest of an associate member state,” he spoke.

V. Landsbergis stated that the talks echoing over from the neighbouring state that it is not respected as a state and that it has been humiliated is an emotional and political basis for action, but urged to not confuse what is being advertised with authentic respect, the way we are wont to understand it.
“We are talking about Russia wanting respect. Let us not lie, they (the leaders of the state) can call it respect, but they are demanding subservience, obedience and kowtowing <…> Since that is currently not the case, there is a wish of returning that order, you could call it an inherent order.”
He explained he could not understand the Cold War era view present in the West which would rather have a stable than despotic Russia. The wish to avoid destabilisation and ensure relative peace appears fairly worrying to V. Landsbergis, as he put in the discussion.

“Fear cannot be good because it is a major mistake, <…> if you feel good when you are feared, then you are a schoolyard bully,” Professor V. Landsbergis summarised.

The discussion was organised on the occasion of the presentation of the joint scientific monograph – “Scenarios of Russian development: Implications to Lithuanian and regional security”.

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