Letter From the Editors: March 21 - 27, 2016

Author: Matthew Larson

Russia’s ‘Matryoshka’ Foreign Policy Doctrine: Distracting From One Problem by Creating Another

One of Russia’s most enduring cultural symbols, the famous matryoshka nesting dolls, remind columnist Georgy Kunadze of Russia’s current foreign policy: "The annexation of the Crimea was ‘nested’ in a hybrid war in the Donetsk Basin; the former, in turn, was hidden in a military operation in Syria. Tactically, the Syrian campaign was intended to distract from one problem by creating another." Russia’s foreign policy "dolls" seem to be multiplying, and it appears that President Vladimir Putin may one day have a hard time stacking them all neatly together.

The world is still trying to figure out what to make of one of those dolls: the sudden withdrawal of Russia’s Aerospace Forces from Syria. But Aleksei Malashenko says the move really isn’t all that baffling. In fact, according to Orkhan Dzhemal, there is a very pragmatic reason for the withdrawal: Iran had promised to foot the bill for Russia’s military campaign in support of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad, but then it reneged, so Russia yanked its planes. Another factor in that decision was Iran’s refusal to cooperate with Russia’s initiative to get world oil producers to curb production in order to raise prices.

The most significant and sacred foreign policy doll is the annexation of the Crimea, which Pyotr Skorobogaty claims was a watershed moment in modern Russian history. But what has it brought Russia other than international sanctions? Skorobogaty says that while the annexation largely bolstered Putin’s ratings with the Russian public and fueled Russian patriotic sentiment, it also created a schism among the elite. And although the Western sanctions that followed initially gave Putin a convenient scapegoat for deep-seated socioeconomic woes that had been festering long before the operation to retake the Crimea was launched, Russians are now seeking accountability. They are demanding a more effective government. They ...

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