16 myths about Russia. Chatham House analysts call on Western leaders to shake off illusions with Kremlin – sharp report
Russia will continue to commit acts of aggression , and the West will not be able to normalize relations with it because of the deepest difference in goals and values. This is the opinion of analysts at the British Royal Institute of International Relations ( Chatham House).
British Chatham House is a renowned think tank in the field of international relations. On May 13, its specialists published a detailed report on the 16 most common myths that largely shape the modern understanding of Russia in Western countries ( mainly Europe and North America).
Analysts at Chatham House emphasize the fundamental importance of debunking such misconceptions because of their “detrimental influence on the development and implementation of the policy” of the Western community towards the Russian Federation.
“ Our analysis is based on the important argument that Russia has little chance of becoming a more constructive partner of Western governments in the foreseeable future – despite the fact that many Euro-Atlantic politicians and politicians take wishful thinking,” the authors state the main conclusion of their study.
In their opinion, “well-meaning attempts to ‘improve’ relations with the Kremlin are likely to fail, as Russia and the West hopelessly differ in strategic goals, values and understanding of interstate relations.”
Therefore, the purpose of their large-scale work, British analysts call a call to Western politicians to reconsider and reevaluate their positions regarding Russia – taking into account the debunked myths.
In their opinion, there is at least one firmly predictable exception to all the unpredictability of relations with the Kremlin: as a justification “.
NV talks about the content of this report and the myths that concern Ukraine.
16 Myths About Russia: What False Beliefs Does the Report Debunk?
This large-scale report analyzes in detail 16 of the most common myths influencing political debates about Russia in Western powers. Each of the 16 sections explains in detail how certain misconceptions have received unwarranted support in the political circles of Western Europe and North America. The influence of these myths on the policy of the West towards Moscow is separately described, and in each case ideas are voiced about what could be a more adequate policy in relations with the Kremlin on a particular issue.
Here is the most summary of these 16 myths about the relationship between the West and Russia:
1. Russia and the West are ” equally bad” and stand against each other
This misconception ignores an important distinction. The conditional ” West” is a community of common interests and values. It was the demand and the need for them that determined the enlargement of NATO and the EU. Whereas Russia seeks to impose ” tough good-neighborliness” on other states, whether they agree with it or not, and considers the ” sphere of privileged interests” its right. Therefore, discussions about the motivation of Western military interventions cannot be compared with “duplicity, lack of diplomacy and total violation of treaties [by Moscow] that preceded Russia’s invasion of Georgia and Ukraine.”
2. Russia and the West want the same thing
Both strategically and in the details of narrower issues, the goals of the Russian Federation and its understanding of interstate relations ” are incompatible with what Western states and societies consider acceptable,” the authors of the report recall.
3. Russia was promised that NATO would not expand
Contrary to the narrative about the “betrayal of the West”, which is cultivated today in the Russian Federation, the Soviet Union after 1990 was never given formal guarantees about the limits of NATO expansion. “Moscow is simply distorting history in order to maintain an anti-Western consensus within the country,” the report emphasizes.
Its authors remind that when in 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to the incorporation of a united Germany into NATO, he did not ask or received any guarantees regarding the further expansion of the alliance. And the NATO-Russia Founding Act ( 1997) recognizes the ” inalienable right” of all states ” to choose the means to ensure their own security.” At the same time, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact Organization and the USSR changed the security situation in Europe and influenced the desire of many countries to join NATO, analysts at Chatham House remind.
4. Russia has no conflict with the West
“The politicians of the Euro-Atlantic community may refuse to admit this, but the natural state of Moscow is confrontation with the West,” the British Royal Institute of International Relations firmly states. Its experts explain that admitting this fact is hindered by the fact that the Russian Federation uses non-standard hostile measures – “above the threshold of acceptable activity by the standards of peacetime, but below – by the standards of war.” Such Kremlin tools include:
- interference in elections;
- information war;
- ” Targeted, state-sanctioned killings.”
5. We need a new pan-European security architecture with the participation of Russia
Moscow’s idea of replacing NATO structures with some kind of ” continental European security system” is problematic, since it ignores the fundamental differences between the Russian Federation and Western countries in matters of sovereignty.
“ Russia wants for itself the privileges of a ‘great power’, restrictions on the sovereignty of neighboring countries and an agreement that the state cannot be the object of criticism if its internal policies violate the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This point of view contradicts the main Western interests and values, ”the authors of the report insist. That is why, they explain, the functioning of such a ” pan-European” security system with the participation of the Russian Federation would be doomed to failure.
6. We must improve relations with Russia, even if it does not make concessions, because it is too important
The authors of the report refute the idea that it is necessary to ” normalize” relations with the Russian Federation because of its geopolitical weight, allegedly mutual economic interests with the West and for the sake of compensation for the loss in the Cold War. In fact, so far the efforts of Western countries to establish cooperation with the Russian Federation on the most pressing issues – including cybersecurity, trade, conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa – “have so far failed because of Russia’s illiberal approach to every topic.” Chatham House experts also remind that Moscow almost never puts forward a list of possible areas of cooperation – as a rule, such topics are invariably the result of the painstaking work of Western politicians and diplomats.
7. Russia has the right to a “defensive perimeter” – the sphere of its privileged interests, which includes the territory of other states
” Failure to critically revise geopolitical doctrines on this issue means the risk of reviving Cold War concepts,” – denote the threat of such a myth in Chatham House.
Its experts remind that the very idea of the exclusive sphere of influence of the Russian Federation ( especially in the states of Eastern Europe and Central Asia) is incompatible with the Euro-Atlantic values of the sovereignty of states and their right to self-determination. “This [such delusion] is detrimental to geopolitical order and international security, as it indirectly gives Russia the right to take actions that create instability in neighboring countries and Europe as a whole ( such as territorial aggression, annexation and even outright war),” the report says. “This actually gives Russia the right to dominate neighboring states and violate their territorial integrity.”
8. We must drive a wedge between Russia and China to prevent their likely joint action against the interests of the West
This myth reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of relations between the two countries and overestimates their susceptibility to external leverage. But the West cannot ” separate” the RF and the PRC, just as it did not influence their rapprochement, remind the authors of the report. After all, cooperation between Moscow and Beijing is based on their “natural ideological compatibility, complementary economies and interests in various areas, which include technology, cyber cooperation and defense.” British analysts do not consider the emergence of an ” axis of authoritarianism” in the person of China and the Russian Federation possible , since each of the states strives to maintain full autonomy in decision-making, and the currently latent tension between them ” may come to the fore in the future as China’s dominance grows.”
9. Western relations with Russia need to be normalized to counter the rise of China
Belief in this myth means that the post-Soviet states and their “hard-won sovereignty” will most likely fall victim to the rapprochement of the West with the Russian Federation for the sake of strategic opposition to China, the Chatham House states. Worse yet, even such a price ” will do little to prevent further growth in China’s influence and capabilities.” Moreover, such an alliance with the Kremlin ” against China” could by default rule out the possibility of a stable relationship between China and the West in the long term. ( Although China’s violations of international law and human rights deserve the same condemnation as violations by the Russian Federation, British analysts recall).
10. The Eurasian Economic Union is a true and significant partner of the EU
Moscow is trying to present this project as a partner of the European Union in the proposed free trade zone ” from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” In fact, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEC) is “a political project devoid of the features of a real free common market,” the report emphasizes.
Trade policy is not a separate independent direction of Russia’s foreign policy, but is subordinate to it, remind in Chatham House. Therefore, the EEC cannot be a means of economic integration between the Russian Federation and Europe, especially since Moscow is not interested in comprehensive trade liberalization – neither within the EEC, nor through a free trade zone with the EU.
11. The peoples of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia are one nation
“The Kremlin distorts the history of the region in order to legitimize the idea that Ukraine and Belarus are part of the“ natural ”sphere of influence of Russia, – debunk the propaganda of the Russian Federation in Chatham House. “It is historically incorrect to say that Russia, Ukraine and Belarus ever constituted a single national entity ( although the latter two countries actually have political and cultural roots in inherently European structures, such as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania).”
At the same time, this narrative of the Kremlin still serves as a justification for Russia for its claims to the status of “the first among equals”, which supposedly gives it the right to interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbors to this day.
Moreover, Moscow’s efforts to question the national identity of Ukrainians and Belarusians are intended to root such stereotypes at the international level in order to hinder the European integration aspirations of Ukraine and Belarus, the authors of the report write.
12. Crimea has always been Russian
Analysts at Chatham House have calculated that Crimea was part of Russia for only 168 years, “or less than 6% of its written history” ( from the 9th century BC). Since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, ” not a single major separatist movement has existed in Crimea.” Ukrainians, Russians and Crimean Tatars coexisted peacefully on the basis of broad autonomy provided for by the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
The ” referendum” organized by Russia and held under pressure on March 16, 2014 was in fact just a cover for the legalization of the Russian armed seizure of the peninsula, “the authors of the report emphasize.
13. The liberal market reforms of the 1990s were bad for Russia
The myth is that the market reforms of the 90s led to a protracted recession in the Russian Federation. However, in reality, these events are not directly related to each other, experts at Chatham House remind, since the initially planned liberal course in Russia was never properly implemented. This happened, among other things, due to corruption and the weakness of the authorities, which could not achieve economic stabilization – in contrast to the same Poland, where the decline in production after the reforms was short-lived.
“The false belief that a well-functioning market economy is somehow incompatible with Russia weakens Western policy,” the report emphasizes.
14. Sanctions are the wrong approach
Economic sanctions as a response to Russia’s unacceptable actions have already demonstrated their practical value, the authors of the report are convinced, and their effectiveness will only grow over time.
More importantly, the sanctions demonstrate the unity and collective commitment of Western countries to the norms and principles of international order.
15. It’s All About Putin: Russia Is A Manual Centralized Autocracy
Contrary to stereotypes about the power of Vladimir Putin, the management system in the Russian Federation is “not a theater of one actor,” the authors of the report emphasize. “The president’s personal role is often exaggerated,” they add. “Outside observers overlook or misunderstand the role of collective authorities ( for example, the Presidential Administration and the Security Council), overestimate the degree of managerial competence and discipline ( for example, presidential decrees are often not implemented) or ignore the selfish motives of officials other than Putin.”
And although Putin may have the ability to intervene in decision-making at all levels, “this does not mean that he always does this or wants it,” British experts explain. Analysts at Chatham House predict that the power and complexity of the Russian bureaucracy will only grow, which is important to understand in order to understand the system of power in the Russian Federation.
16. Whatever happens after Putin will be better than Putin
” This myth reflects the triumph of hope over experience and analysis,” the Chatham House experts soberly say.
In their view, Russia suffers from structural problems that go beyond the specifics of the Putin regime. “The chances of building a viable democratic political system in post-Putin Russia are lower than in the 1990s,” the authors of the report are convinced.
After Putin leaves, the country will need new professional cadres for effective management, but “the conditions for training such cadres do not exist in today’s Russia.”
“ Regardless of who eventually succeeds Putin, Russia’s political culture will no doubt continue to hinder the development of more constructive relations with the West,” analysts at the British Royal Institute of International Affairs conclude.
Myths about Ukraine, Crimea and the war in Donbass: main conclusions and recommendations Chatham House
About “Russian Crimea”
The report provides the most detailed information about the history of Crimea from ancient times, and Russia is named ” only one of several powers that sought to dominate the peninsula.”
It also emphasizes the inadmissibility of the idea ( widespread in particular in the United States under Donald Trump) to recognize Crimea as Russian or “ lease it to the Russian Federation,” especially if this is part of a larger deal with Moscow.
If such moves are implemented, they will further undermine the already fragile principles of international order , analysts warn. “The argument that Crimea rightfully belongs to the Russian Federation does not take into account Russia’s gross violation of international law and opens the notorious Pandora’s box in terms of revising borders and possible conflicts in other parts of the world,” experts at Chatham House insist. – He also affirms the neo-imperial worldview of the Russian Federation and the logic of ” spheres of influence”. This, in turn, suggests that Russia ” has the right to act as it sees fit with regard to smaller and weaker neighbors, especially where a significant part of ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking population live.”
Therefore, the tacit acceptance of the West with this myth ” risks further undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine and encouraging expansionist forces elsewhere.” The recent drastic militarization of Crimea and illegal restrictions on shipping in the Sea of Azov are already affecting the security situation in the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
On the unity of the ” three fraternal peoples”
The authors of the report call this concept of Russian propaganda “an ideological construction dating back to imperial times.” They cite her story and remind that the narrative of a “common” nation has been revived since the early 2000s – as part of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign aimed at legitimizing the claim that Ukraine and Belarus are part of Russia’s ” natural” sphere of influence and therefore unable to survive ” outside the embrace of Russia.”
Particular sympathy for this view is noticeable in countries that share a sense of Slavic and / or Orthodox communion with Russia – Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece. In addition, a similar myth is often held by extreme right-wing political parties in Western Europe, including Austria, France, Germany and Italy.
In fact, this concept ignores the European foundation on which the Ukrainian and Belarusian national identities were based – “before the lands were conquered by Russia at the end of the 18th century, Russified in the 19th century and Sovietized in the 20th”, remind the authors of the report.
” The idea of a triune Russian nation belittles the uniqueness of the indigenous cultures that developed in the west of the tsarist empire, and, in particular, overlooks their specific linguistic and religious components,” recalls Chatham House.
Today, adherence to this myth has several important political implications , analysts say. Firstly, this means that Ukraine and Belarus “are viewed through a neo-imperial prism, in fact recognizing Russia’s claims to the right to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring states – up to the potential legitimization of pro-Russian separatism, for example, in the Donbass.”
In addition, such a myth leads “ to the rooting in international public opinion of the erroneous belief that Ukraine and Belarus have no right to“ return ”to Europe ( allegedly on the grounds that they were never originally part of it), and that they should remain outside EU, Schengen and NATO forever ”.
Tips for Western Leaders
The report’s authors advise Western leaders on how to build relations with the Kremlin in eight different ways.
Among them are the basic principles of relations, the peculiarities of communication with the leaders of the Russian Federation ( including with politicians and officials besides Putin), the strategy of sanctions , etc.
A separate unit of the recommendations of the report authors identify ” n Support of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.” In particular, analysts at Chatham House advise Western countries to adhere to such strategies, taking into account the danger of the above myths:
- Insist that Russia is not entitled to exclusive spheres of influence at the expense of the sovereignty of its neighbors . “The Russian veto on the foreign and security policy of independent countries on its periphery should be publicly declared unacceptable – not only because it contradicts Western values and priorities, but also because of the destabilization of European security,” the authors of the report write.
- Reject the concept of a ” single Russian nation” that includes Ukraine and Belarus. “Russia’s assertion that the key Slavic nations are ‘one people’ is an attempt to legitimize interference in the affairs of these nations. The idea should be challenged as it is a serious obstacle to the stable development of both countries, ”the report says.
- Remain committed to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Russia’s neighbors, including Ukraine, and clearly communicate this to Russia . “The illegality of the occupation and annexation of Crimea cannot be passed over in silence, just as discussions on this matter can be stopped, simply because they are ‘inconvenient’ to conduct,” analysts at Chatham House insist.
- Build on the success of NATO’s Baltic Sea security programs by expanding them to the Black Sea region . “Such measures should include an enhanced direct presence [of NATO forces] in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, as well as using the new Enhanced Opportunities Program for Ukraine as a tool to enhance security in the Black Sea,” the authors of the report conclude.