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Flexing their muscles at Russia? A message to the West

The Ukrainian crisis has become a true test of the capabilities of countries to influence each other

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

Tensions on the world stage between Russia and the West are still simmering. The Ukraine crisis is so bad, the topic has practically ousted Syria from media headlines.

If to describe the conflict in simple terms: Russia is angry with the West for its double-standards and lack of an adequate perception of the situation. The West is angry with Russia for pointing this out and for its will to defend its national interest, or for even having them.

russia west
russia west

The Ukrainian crisis has become a true test of international relations; a test of power and capabilities of the countries to influence the international state of affairs and each other. The crisis quickly transformed from an internal conflict to a broad international confrontation, revealing gaping holes in logic of modern international relations and international law. Most of them were evident long before the current crisis, but have recently became truly obvious.

Soft power vs. hard power

The Ukrainian crisis has shown that the shadow of the Cold War between Russian and the West has not gone at all. The West’s hard power doesn’t work anymore against its best rival, as it is supposed to work.

The soft power, having in mind not its mechanisms, but its sense – to make you partner change his mind through diplomatic ties and negotiations – has little impact on the ties between the two. Soft power requires great will to achieve consensus, to work on a strong and logical argument and to avoid dubious declarations that endanger the negotiations in general.

Currently, Russia’s western partners do not care about logic, being reasonable or good strategic analysis, if you look at their shortsighted steps and declarations. To say that the Russian position and its official declarations are mostly objectively truthful and reasonable would be like saying that the Russian Federation is somehow right. This is a too big and expansive gift to present to the “Eastern bear.”

Currently, Russia’s western partners do not care about logic, being reasonable or good strategic analysis, if you look at their shortsighted steps and declarations

Maria Dubovikova

At the same time, the efforts to negotiate seem productive and the four-party meeting over Ukraine seemed to be a success. However, declarations by Western leaders and counterparts show that political figures are mostly working on their public image, trying to show their intractability and staying firm in their positions, whatever they are.

Looking at the West’s declarations and criticisms of Russia, it appears to be homogenous in its message. But in fact, it’s not a right output. Europe depends on Russia much more than the United States. And here we do not mean the notorious gas dependence.

Russia will come out on top

Europe depends on Russia as it has deep and intense economic ties in numerous economic spheres, especially in trade. Moreover, several countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece, France are popular tourist destinations for Russian tourists. The efforts of the U.S., which is much less dependent from Russia, to push Europe for more tough sanctions are likely to be vain.

Moreover Russia has great resources which allow it to be self-reliant. In the case of tougher sanctions it will suffer for sure, but it will withstand and reorient its economy and priorities towards the East and will intensify the cooperation with China. The process has already started.

The current sanctions, though it seems that Russia was mostly ready for them, have shown the fragile points in its ties with the West and now it will try to diminish all possible western levers of pressure and threats. Therefore, the current sanctions and the other possible ones, if they are approved, will have more positive consequences for Russia in a midterm perspective, than negative ones.

The West is trying to display its force. But with each flex of its muscles, it shows its weakness. And here we cannot say that we are witnessing a decline of the Western hard or soft power, but a true decline of its effectiveness. And there are many reasons for this. We are living in the world of mutual deep interdependences.

Globalization changed the game

Globalization, that was a trending figure of the changing world of the post Cold War era, has deeply touched many spheres of life of different countries and regions. And any one-sided sanction or aggressive steps will bring at the best a zero-sum game. More likely, the one who enforces the sanctions will suffer from them more than their target.

And tougher instruments of hard power appear to be counterproductive and dangerous for the international community, when we suppose that they will be used not against a rogue or failed state, but against a great nuclear power.

The global western powers that are used to managing the world are still trying to do this with the same with outdated methods, not recognizing that things have changed. By having convictions and concrete image of the international community and their place within it, they demonstrate their unwillingness to overview the approaches of their external policies. This destabilizes the global situation instead of stabilizing it.

The lack of time, resources and the chaotic attempts to overplay Russia on the geopolitical playground force Western countries to take rough steps and sometimes make truly ridiculous and often hypocritical declarations that diminish all positive efforts from both sides. This allows the West to lose the game, not win it, nor finish it as a draw. Haste makes waste.

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Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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