What are Russia’s motives and goals...
is it now trapped in a spiral of aggression?
A RELATIVE hiatus in the fighting in eastern Ukraine (at least until this week) and a relative stabilisation in the Russian economy are prompting two questions. Is the worst of the war over and might better economic news calm the Kremlin—or is this a lull before a new storm?
The economic situation is not as bad as many predicted four months ago. Having lost half its value, the rouble has stabilised and even started to strengthen, thanks in part to a recent rise in oil prices. Inflation is running at 17% but is rising more slowly than many feared. Instead of a 5% contraction, the economy may shrink by only 3% this year. “The situation is not as catastrophic as many people thought,” is how a senior Russia banker sums up the mood.
Yet the fragile economic balance is not being used by Vladimir Putin as an argument for returning to peace and prosperity, but rather as evidence that he is standing strong against Russia’s adversaries. The state media have trumpeted the strengthening of the rouble against the dollar and the euro as a victory in the face of American and European enemies determined to
The Kremlin’s narrative of war has long moved beyond Ukraine to the
West in general.
The claim that their country is at war may be news to Americans,
but it has been drilled into the minds of many ordinary Russians.
The prospect of a war with the West is now a big concern for public opinion. Some 81% of the population sees America as a threat, the highest proportion since the Soviet Union fell apart.
According to this narrative, Russia is under attack on all fronts—economic, ideological, Middle Eastern, European—and must respond accordingly. This week’s decision to sell the S-300 missile system to Iran is part of this response (see article). As for the supposed threat from the European Union, Channel One news recently instructed its viewers: “Put crudely, the EU started and flourished as a mechanism for redistributing the gains from the collapse of the USSR and former communist bloc. At some stage, however, the flow of resources from conquered markets started to run out and expansion to the east was the only option.” This expansion, it adds, has now been stopped by Russia; so the EU, deprived of new sources of prosperity, may soon crumble.
In this world of mirror images, America serves as Russia’s reflection and alter ego. It ascribes to America its own actions: incitement of violence in Kiev, support of extreme nationalists in eastern Ukraine, military involvement in the conflict. In a recent article, Sergei Naryshkin, Speaker of the Russian parliament, blamed America for “unleashing a military-political adventure” in Ukraine and stalling its peaceful resolution. “America needs the continuing bloodshed in the Donbas as a means of achieving something important for itself,” he wrote.
The sanctions against Russia and the information hysteria in the Western media are a cover for America’s economic “gangsterism”, he added...