Russia’s Break with the West: The Outlook for 2015
2:00-3:30PM, December 10, 2014
Rome Auditorium, SAIS, 1619 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC

On December 10, 2014, CGI hosted a panel discussion exploring the Russian leadership’s vision for a new global system, the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance, the relationship between Putin and Russian elites, and the role anti-Americanism plays in the Kremlin’s domestic strategy. Clifford Gaddy, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on United States and Europe; Ariel Cohen, Director of the Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and Principal of International Market Analysis, Ltd. in Washington, D.C.; and William Pomeranz, Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute commented on Russia’s trajectory moving toward 2015. Nikolai Zlobin, Founder and President of the Center on Global Interests, moderated the discussion.

Clifford Gaddy – Economy

  • President Putin is a rational actor, but his decision-making process differs from those of Western leaders. He is surrounded by economic advisors who were educated at elite Western universities, yet he asks for their input only after making a decision, thereby restricting their role to mere damage control. The West’s view of Russia fails to take this process into account—while at the same time, Putin’s own decisions are made in the context of insufficient knowledge about the West.
  • Russia has two economies, one fragile and the other robust. The fragile economy consists of globally integrated sectors such as finance, consumer goods, and other value-added industries. This economy, gradually brought into the global fold with the encouragement of the West, is also acutely vulnerable to Western sanctions. Meanwhile, Russia’s robust economy is comprised of energy extraction and heavy industry, often running on Soviet-era technology, and is largely shielded from international influence. While this sector is the least modernized in Russia, it gains the upper hand as a result of Western sanctions.

Ariel Cohen – Society

  • Russia is currently backsliding from 30 years of improved relations and liberalization with the West. As a result, xenophobic and anti-American views have reached unprecedented highs. Despite these trends, Russians and Americans are not as fundamentally antagonistic as their politicized attitudes may suggest. Rather, this antipathy is derivative of today’s geopolitical context.
  • Russia’s discussions of empire have tapped into a Russian subconscious and a source of pride for its citizenry. However, the practical costs of reestablishing an empire may be something modern Russian citizens will be unwilling to pay.

William Pomeranz – Globalization and Institutions

  • Putin is not an institution builder and lacks the patience necessary to integrate Russia into the international system. As a result, the Eurasian Economic Union is likely to struggle due to the Kremlin’s inability to foster partnerships, even at the regional level.
  • Russia’s stance against global institution making and integration stems in part from its vision of a reimagined empire. The sanctity of sovereignty trumps all in this framework, offering little incentive to pursue substantive international partnerships. It remains to be seen if the Russian people are prepared to bear the potentially costly consequences of this position.


See the full video of the discussion below: