Post-Sanctions Russia – OpEd


The West has initiated a wide range of sanctions on Russia, pressuring its economy with oil price caps, export restrictions, controls on Western technologies, and restrictions against foreign companies doing business there, resulting in extreme rate hikes by Russia’s Central Bank. Russian President Vladimir Putin uses the sanctions as proof of the Western threat to Russia. However, the purpose of the sanctions is not to pressure the Russian economy but to pressure the Russian government to end its war in Ukraine. The West does not want to destroy Russia, but to do what it should have done 30 years ago: integrate Russia into the industrialized world.

With its attack on Ukraine, Russia transformed what had been a great power squabble into a fundamental attack on universal values, undermining the structure of international order that is critical to global peace. So long as Russia actively supports autocratic regimes globally and continues its military operation in Ukraine, there can be no peace in Europe, indeed, no real peace globally. As such, the sanctions designed to push Russia out of Ukraine are really intended to push Russia toward democracy.

A cooperative relationship between a new progressive Russia and the industrialized world would dramatically transform the international situation. It could be a highly visible example of democratic development, strongly undercutting China’s promotion of autocracy and minimizing cyber intrusions. It would also significantly reduce requirements for military forces globally, including the possibility of major reductions in nuclear weapons. Diplomatically, collaboration with Russia could help resolve confrontations in Afghanistan, Venezuela, Belarus, Ukraine, and Syria.

Putin’s central objective is simply to stay in power, and his basic method is confrontation with the West. His central fear is not some Western intrusion, but internal transformation. NATO, now focusing on Russia as an enemy, only supports Putin’s threat narrative, while some misstep could actually result in escalation of the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Opposition to Putin

The Russian opposition to Putin is largely pro-democratic. Although current public opinion polls show a significant support for Putin’s policies, even more Russians support ending the war. The Kremlin worries that a Ukrainian victory could lead to the collapse of the Russian government, but it is even more concerned over potential domestic mobilizations. The government works hard to suppress direct dissent, but it is less able to stop the activities of wives of servicemen or people wanting better economic conditions. Internal groups, such Chronicles, publicize how shallow Russian support for the invasion actually is. Putin carefully controls elections but allows nonthreatening opponents to run, to provide a veneer of legitimacy. Some of them, such as Boris Nadezhdin, voice independent opinions and get significant support. They do not provide a direct threat to Putin but do demonstrate broad public support for change.

A broad range of Russian opposition groups works to provide alternatives to Putin. This includes several hundred thousand Russians, mostly young, educated, and politically active, who have recently emigrated and are now actively opposing Putin as well as maintaining connections with friends and relatives still in Russia. Opposition groups are working hard to overcome their differences to pave the way for a post-Putin era. In April 2023, they issued a Declaration of Russian Democratic Forces  and in May, a Russian Democratic Club met in Paris and brought together a coalition of Russian anti-war democratic forces. In October, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) created a “recurring contact platform” for dialogue with representatives of Russian democratic opposition forces who share Council of Europe values, fully respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and condemn Russia’s war of aggression. Participants in the meeting included representatives from a half dozen major opposition groups, including the Free Russia Foundation, the Russian Anti-War Committee, the Russian Action Committee, and the True Russia Project.

The West needs to build on PACE’s initiative to work with the Russian opposition to promote a new progressive Russia in active partnership with the rest of Europe. A good starting point would be issuing an attractive and persuasive New Russia Vision that counters Putin’s warped vision of Russian history with its aggressive forms of patriotism, Soviet nostalgia, and pride in the past. Such a vision statement has to include two major components. It must portray a modern Russia that integrates its varied ethnic groups into a dynamic and democratic society alongside traditional Russian cultural and social values. And it must demonstrate how a dynamic Russian economy could integrate with Europe and the industrialized world to provide prosperity at home and leadership on a global scale.

Integrating Russia

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made it clear that America wants stable and cooperative relations with Moscow, that a peaceful, secure, and prosperous Russia is in America’s interests. But what does a post-sanctions Russia to look like?

The central task is doing what should have been done 30 years ago: integrate Russia into the industrialized world, focusing on collaborative political, social, and economic actions while actively inviting Russians to join in development efforts. A ceasefire in Ukraine would be a good starting point and would be well received by the majority of the Russian people. But the West needs to make clear that ending the war and lifting sanctions means restoration of Ukraine’s sovereign control over its own territory. The West needs to actively work with Russian opposition elements to widely distribute this view to the Russian people as part of a broader New Russia Vision countering Putin’s medieval version of imperial dominance.

NATO could outline a potential shift of resources from military to developmental use. Instead of using 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product for military expenditures, NATO should propose shifting something like 0.25 percent, to begin with, to a new Russian Partnership Fund. The fund could work with Russian representatives to identify projects that might have maximum impact at minimal cost.

Twenty years ago, a group of distinguished US/Russian experts assessed 11 key areas of potential collaboration, including agriculture, energy, environment, security, health care, education, and natural resources. They listed over 100 organizations focused on these key areas and developed 100 recommendations for new or expanded programs bringing the people and the institutions of the United States and Russia together. There was minimal government support and, in the end, nothing came of it. But these organizations could be reengaged and encouraged to reach out to former Russian colleagues to discuss potential future operations.

Arms control has an area of long-standing cooperation between Washington and Moscow on securing nuclear materials and knowledge. But worsening relations in recent years led both Russia and the United States to draw back significantly. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining bilateral arms control agreement between the two countries, is officially still in place and would be a good place to begin new negotiations. Significant nuclear weapon reductions would benefit both countries.

On the economic front, the sanctions pushed almost 10,000 Western companies to withdraw from Russia even though many of them had very positive relations; nearly 3,000 foreign firms still have some kind of operations in place or have not yet left. As many as possible of these companies need to reach out to their former Russian colleagues and begin to discuss what sort of renewal there could be once sanctions are lifted. The Russians need to see that these companies would like to return and help Russia prosper, and discussions could help detail just what this might mean.

The new Russian Partnership Fund could help identify investments opportunities. Russia, for example, has a totally inadequate highway system, while Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System gave America broad experience in designing and constructing a national road network. Russia also has a high potential for attractive investments in minerals and helium supply. It needs to broaden its economy from an oil and gas focus to creative uses of its wide resource potential. Technical exchanges would complement such projects.

An essential component of this strategy is active outreach to the Russian people that stresses the fiction of a Western threat while making Russian corruption and repression as transparent as possible. Creating a new approach to helping Russia become a true global partner with other countries is key. Programs that promote real economic advancement and provide Russia its own position on the world stage would resonate strongly with the Russian people.

Rather than promote a new Cold War, now is the time to definitively end the last one. Real peace is not possible without a new Russian government. As Max Bergmann has outlined in detail, the West needs to focus on achieving a democratic and prosperous world with a new and democratic Russia actively integrated in the industrialized world, as should have happened 30 years ago. Offering the Russian people a path out of their economic and diplomatic isolation is an essential element of such a transition.

This article was published at FPIF

Edward Corcoran

Edward Corcoran is a senior fellow at and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He was a strategic analyst at the U.S. Army War College, where he chaired studies for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Operations.

One thought on “Post-Sanctions Russia – OpEd

  • February 13, 2024 at 5:14 pm

    Real peace is not possible without a new Russian government.

    How about New US government from 2024 election?


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