US Official Says Putin Pushing Russia’s Foreign Policy Boundaries


By Jim Garamone

Russian President Vladimir Putin is pushing the boundaries for what his country’s foreign policy is going to be about for the next decade, the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs said Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Elissa Slotkin said she believes Putin is pushing where he thinks there is weakness. “He is pushing to see how far he can get,” she said during a panel discussion with Time magazine’s Massimo Calabresi.

Putin is cashing in through his foreign policy on a sense of inferiority that the Russian people feel since the Cold War ended, Slotkin said.

Playing With the Public

“I think Putin is playing on that with the public and his public,” she said, “and I think he is looking for ways to be a global peer competitor with the United States. He wants the image of Russia to be that of a competitor and an equal.”

The Russian leader is doing that in countries bordering Russia – the Baltics, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and farther afield in Syria and the South China Sea, she said.

The strategy to counter Russia “is not just a bumper sticker,” Slatkin said, adding that in shorthand, it’s called “strong and balanced.”

“The strong means the U.S. and NATO have to have the capabilities that they need in the right places to deter Russia, and we have to support partners … in building their resilience in response to Russia – Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia,” she said.

Balance Means Cooperation

The balanced portion of the strategy relies on the idea that there are still areas where the United States and Russia can cooperate in issues of mutual interest that include the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea and possibly Syria, Slotkin said.

“We don’t want to be adversarial with the Russians,” she said. “That said, we can’t stand aside while they illegally annex places and sow dissent in places and destabilize places. We have to have the twin deter and dialogue message.”

Russian activities in Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia should not be surprising, Slotkin said. “The Russians have had for years a doctrine of what they call active measures of these steps to sow dissent generally either on a specific issue or just to cause political chaos in the political system of a neighbor in order to create and opening for themselves,” she explained.

The Russians certainly are attempting to divide Europe, Slotkin said, because they think it provides an opening for them. “Part of dividing Europe is dividing the views of America and our democracy and whether that is a model to pursue,” she added.

Military Modernization

Russia is pushing boundaries, Slotkin said, and Putin has pushed a significant modernization of the Russian military. The country has been more aggressive in the Arctic, in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and in the region generally, and is developing capabilities in cyber and space and improving its maritime and air capabilities, she said.

“All this leads you down a road to an assessment that Putin has decided to take on a decidedly more aggressive foreign policy,” she added, “and that deeply concerns us.”

This is not a position derived from strength, but from weakness, Slotkin said, and in some ways, that is more worrisome. The combination of sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, plus the drop in the price of oil, has hurt the nation, she said.

“I therefore think there is heightened interest [among] the political leadership in Russia in talking about conflicts abroad, in championing conflicts abroad,” she said. “That is a tactic we know well from our Cold War history. But the other lesson I hope we’ve learned from our Cold War history is not to overestimate the competitor.”

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3 thoughts on “US Official Says Putin Pushing Russia’s Foreign Policy Boundaries

  • July 30, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Watching the proceedings and the people at the Democratic Convention this week, the thought occurred to me that perhaps we Western Europeans have more in common with the Russians than with the Americans and knowing what the Americans have done in the Middle East have no great wish for Europe to suffer the same fate.

  • July 31, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Great comment, Frqnco De Celis.

  • July 31, 2016 at 6:59 am

    This author appears to be just about completely ignorant about Russia. It is sad that the US thinks that it is so exceptional that anybody on this planet can’t wait to be a US colony.

    Russia is defending its independence as a nation. It has no intention to split the EU or Europe nor any other nations. But it will do what is necessary to keep its national security requirements met. In both, Georgia and Ukraine the red line is NATO. If the US were just a little bit more into fair treatment of other nations, the US would not have destabilized Ukraine. That Russia would find a way to safeguard its fleet and base in Crimea, was obvious. As it happened, the Crimeans wanted to be part of Russia since 1992 but were prohibited from their wish. The US orchestrated coup in Ukraine was the decisive point when Crimeans no longer asked for permission but voted to secede and join Russia who allowed them to join the Russian federation. The Black Sea is Russian’s only warm water port. It would have been clear to anybody that US meddling in Ukraine would have consequences. The rebels in Donbas started out as a protest against the removal of a government they liked and against EU association that threatened to wipe out their livelihood. Putin urged many times that the problem should be solved with diplomacy, but the US wanted a war, thinking that the Ukraine army would fast end the rebellion. That failed. And the war is now a frozen conflict.

    If the US gave just a little thought to the fact that all of these regions belonged to the Soviet Union until 1991. That means there are large Russian populations in those countries. For Georgia or Ukraine to join NATO – in case of any hostilities between NATO and Russia – is in essence to induce them to fratricide. These countries don’t belong in NATO. Unfortunately, the US does not have a word of honor and did not keep the agreement made with Gorbachev regarding no further expansion of NATO in return to letting East Germany join West Germany and enter NATO. Thus it is the US who really causes the problems, not Russia. Russia spends 8 times less on defense than NATO. Russia has a population of 140m versus that of the EU at 500m. It is clear up front that Russia will not attack Europe or any part of it. Yes, Russia supported the Donbas rebels who are predominantly ethnic Russians and Russians. How could it not support its compatriots? Kiev has a chance to stop that conflict by implicating the Minsk2 agreements, but to date refused to do so. For simple reasons: Minsk2 provides for large autonomy for Donbas so it can have a separate trade relationship with Russia on which those people’s livelihood depends. Autonomy as a region within Ukraine would de facto federate Ukraine. That would need the agreement of the regions before any move to join NATO could be made by Kiev and Donbas would obviously not agree to that. Again, Kiev had all its chances but lost them all to US orders to start a civil war on its own people to prevent federation of Ukraine. The result is the complete and utter impoverishment and decay of the Ukraine economy and people.

    Why, and how is that Russia’s fault?

    As to Syria: Syria is a decades old ally of Russia and it was normal that Russia would have come to help its ally when the US tried to use its doctrine of overwhelming force by flooding Syria with some 60’000 militants fighting against Assad and in time against each other as well. The result of these US policies and strategies is the current 5 year war in Syria. For millennia various religions and ethnicities coexisted peacefully in Syria. Now the US pulled out all stops to create a Sunni-Shia schism. The Syrians may not fall prey to it. They all know each others neighbors and don’t care who is Sunni and who is Shiite/Alawite. The US used the fact that Assad is Alewife, a minority, as a means to orchestrate the protests at the beginning of the war and again, refused to accept Assad’s readiness to find a democratic way forward peacefully, in the belief that the rebels would fast oust Assad. It failed. The US now has the blood of over 250’000 dead Syrians including women and children on its hands.

    And the author of this article wants to believe or make the readers believe that Russia is expanding its foreign policy? No, it isn’t. It is expanding its foreign trade, forced to diversify export products due to sanctions. It is now building a dozen or more nuclear reactors in various countries, a refinery in Africa and an industrial zone in Egypt and in Vietnam. In addition, it is negotiating a free trade agreement with Iran with whom it also signed a strategic and military agreement for defense against terrorism. All of that also in view of the Chinese One belt, One road scheme that will interconnect Eurasia and Europe once the latter frees itself from its US chains.

    The author of this article should go look at the facts instead of spitting out US and Obama’s propaganda.


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