By Svante E. Cornell, director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University-SAIS
Reviewed by James L. Abrahamson, contributing editor
The inadequate initial reaction of the U.S. and Europe to Vladimir Putin’s brazen seizure of Crimea suggests to Swedish scholar Dr. Svante Cornell that Russia poses “a clear and present danger… to European security.” In seizing Crimea, Putin, Cornell claims, is contributing to Russia’s long-standing aim to “undermine pro-Western states in Russia’s neighborhood.” Even prior to Putin’s rule, Russian leaders began meddling in Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in attempts to snuff out any pro-Western orientation, with the result being the freezing of a conflict, the dismemberment a small nation, or its joining Putin’s Eurasian Union.
To achieve Russian ends, its leaders typically stage provocations that might become an occasion for intervention, a situation usually sufficient to counter Western offers of trade agreements. Prior to that point, Russia helps fracture local elites, prevent the emergence of “normal political systems,” and encourage “illicit activities… from the smuggling of drugs and arms to nuclear proliferation.” Such behavior and unresolved border conflicts presently make the West less likely to offer membership in, for example, NATO or the European Union.
Before the West can limit Russian aggressiveness, Cornell, the co-founder of Stockholm’s Institute for Security and Development Policy, asserts it must stop ignoring regional conflicts and create international means to resolve conflicts effectively. That requires promoting the sovereignty and survival of the West’s vulnerable partner states on Russia’s borders and easing the requirements for their membership in Western organizations. The West must also become partners in any negotiations over the futures of small states and establish high-level consultations with those that are most vulnerable.
Practical measures, such as monitoring missions, can also place limitations on Russia’s ability to “manufacture local crises” and make “unfounded accusations” about a targeted state’s behavior. The West can also help ensure that Russia’s neighbors do not live in an “information vacuum” that leaves them vulnerable to Russian propaganda and threats.
In sum, the West must counteract Russian expansionism by taking Putin seriously, thawing “frozen conflicts,” helping maintain the sovereignty of his probable targets, and thereby making Eastern Europe safer.