Event Summary: ‘The New Politics of Russia: Interpreting Change’


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On Monday 14th November, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Dr Andrew Monaghan to discuss his book The New Politics of Russia: Interpreting Change. The talk focused on the West’s continual failures in their dealings with Russia and what they should do to tackle the reasons underpinning those failures.

Opening his talk, Dr Monaghan argued that, in the West, there is a persistent sense of surprise whenever Russia takes action on a particular issue. Such reactions are, according to Dr Monaghan, indicative of the lack of understanding and wishful thinking of politicians and policy makers in the West. This is also illustrated by the cyclical nature of headlines and reactions that appear often with regard to Russia. There is a constant debate as to whether Putin will leave power, if the Russian economy is on the brink of collapse or is robust and questions as to whether we have entered a new Cold War.

The result of this state of affairs is that policy directed at Russia is nearly always reactive and miscalculated. This reactive policy stems from an absence of Russian expertise and institutional memory failure. As such, policy that has worked in the past is not built upon and failed policy is used again. Dr Monaghan also noted that there is now a separation between politicians and Russian studies experts who could provide better policy prescriptions. He added that the West has failed to take on board lessons learnt during the Cold War and has a narrow set of questions that it asks when determining what action to take when facing Russia.

Today, Russia and the West disagree on almost every issue which concerns them both and the problems that underpin Western policy have not helped this. Defying the popular conception that relations between Russia and the West began to deteriorate in 2012, Dr Monaghan claimed that the process started as early as 2002. The US invasion of Iraq, expansion of NATO and the murders of Alexander Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya are just a few of the large number of incidents that served to seriously hinder Russian and Western relations. Having said this, Dr Monaghan did note that there had been moments of cooperation. For example, Russian troops served with NATO in Kosovo and there has been an increasing level of cooperation in the battle against terrorism. Perhaps most salient was Dr Monaghan’s assertion that Russia and the West have many “common interests but none that are shared”. The West and Russia, for example, both have an interest in Syria but their ideas as to what should happen there and what the future of the country should be are almost entirely incongruous.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Monaghan noted that the West needs to re-examine the history of its relationship with Russia and learn more about how the Russians themselves view that relationship. He added that people in the West must stop engaging in “automatic thinking” about Russia and instead try to attain a more nuanced view of the country’s politics. Finally, Dr Monaghan noted that the West is now in a competitive relationship with Russia and must, therefore, work to increase the number of Russian military, security, political and economic experts in the West.

For a full transcript of this event click here


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