Soviet-era Geiger counter
A Soviet-era Geiger counter.

Robert Legvold on Russia: Insights and Recommendations

November 20, 2018
RM Staff

This evolving compilation of observations and policy ideas about Russia by Robert Legvold is part of Russia Matters’ “Competing Views” rubric, where we share prominent American thinkers’ takes on Russia, U.S.-Russian relations and Washington’s policies toward its Cold War-era foe.

Robert Legvold

Robert Legvold is one of America’s most authoritative experts on Russia and the international relations of the post-Soviet states. He is Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus at Columbia University’s department of political science. In 2009-2012 he was director of the “Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative” sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and co-chaired by Sam Nunn, Wolfgang Ischinger and Igor Ivanov. In 2008-2010 he was project director for “Rethinking U.S. Policy Toward Russia” at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as director of Columbia’s Harriman Institute from 1986 to 1992. His recent books include “Return to Cold War” (2016) and “Soviet Policy in West Africa” (2014), as well as an edited volume called “Russian Foreign Policy in the 21st Century and the Shadow of the Past” (2007).

This compilation is meant as a sampling of Prof. Legvold’s views. All sections may be updated with new or past statements. The quotes below are divided into categories similar to those in Russia Matters’ news and analysis digests, reflecting the most pertinent topic areas for U.S.-Russian relations broadly and for drivers of the two countries’ policies toward one another.

Bulleted text that is not italicized, bracketed or in parentheses is a direct quote from Prof. Legvold. 

I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security:

  • True, most observers, in moments of serious reflection, have recognized that a country with 45 percent of the world's nuclear weapons has some claim to U.S. attention, if for no other reason than ensuring that no part of this stockpile or any of the associated fissile material falls into the wrong hands. (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • The United States attaches highest priority to preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms to countries like Iran and North Korea. Russia regards preserving and strengthening the NPT [Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] regime as important, but balances this objective against other foreign policy objectives. (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Writing in the early days of the first Obama administration: Judging by the language they now use to frame the issue [of Iran and its nuclear program], the two sides already seem closer than they once were. And although Medvedev has strenuously resisted the Obama administration’s efforts to link the United States' plans to deploy missiles in central Europe to progress on the Iran issue, the atmosphere surrounding the U.S.-Russian dialogue has improved, and Moscow seems ready to work on the issue more intensively. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)

New Cold War:

  • Whatever muddled hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage may have had for better times with Trump in the White House and whatever obscure intentions President Trump may have had of improving relations, the two sides remain mired in the new Cold War into which they had plunged in the last years of the Obama administration. (ISS Forum, 09.06.17)
  • Contrary to the common view in Washington and in Moscow that, “yes, it’s a bad relationship, it could even slide into a new Cold War, but we don’t want to go there,” in fact, we are there, and we have been there ever since the two sides went over the cliff in the context of the Ukrainian crisis. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 04:40)
  • This Cold War between the United States and Russia, between Russia and the West, does not engulf or encompass the entire international system the way the original Cold War did; the original Cold War was the international system in a bipolar world. It’s no longer driven by the same ideological animus that represents competition between two economic and political systems as before. It’s no longer—at least not to this point—under the shadow of nuclear Armageddon, which was fundamental to the original Cold War. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 4:12)
  • Speaking in a television interview: We thought Central Europe was secure. We thought it was stable. We thought it was at peace. Now it is not. So that is why I call it a new Cold War. Your point about increased defense spending—we’re remilitarizing a relationship that we had been demilitarizing. That’s a new Cold War. (Interview with RT, 03.05.15, 25:45)
  • No one should casually label the current confrontation between Russia and the West a "new Cold War." After all, the current crisis hardly matches the depth and scale of the contest that dominated the international system in the second half of the 20th century. And accepting the premise that Russia and the West are locked in such a conflict could lead policymakers to pursue the wrong, even dangerous strategies. Using such a label is thus a serious matter. Yet it is important to call things by their names, and the collapse in relations between Russia and the West does indeed deserve to be called a new Cold War. The hard reality is that whatever the outcome of the crisis in Ukraine, Russia's relations with the United States and Europe won't return to business as usual, as they did after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)
  • Although this new Cold War will be fundamentally different from the original, it will still be immensely damaging. Unlike the original, the new one won't encompass the entire global system. The world is no longer bipolar, and significant regions and key players, such as China and India, will avoid being drawn in. In addition, the new conflict will not pit one "ism" against another, nor will it likely unfold under the permanent threat of nuclear Armageddon. Yet the new Cold War will affect nearly every important dimension of the international system, and Putin's emphasis on Russia's alienation from contemporary Western cultural values will add to the estrangement. Finally, were a security crisis in the center of Europe to escalate, the danger of nuclear war could quickly return. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)
  • Some might assume that the new Cold War, although undesirable, won't matter nearly as much as the last one did, especially since modern Russia presents a mere shadow of the threat once posed by the Soviet Union. … But to doubt the likelihood or significance of a prolonged confrontation would be deeply misguided. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)

Military Issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • [The dangers in the U.S.-Russia relationship] start with the notion that for the first time since the Korean War, our two air forces are operating in the same space on opposite sides. Less noticed is that we are now, with potential consequences, remilitarizing the U.S.-Russia relationship and simultaneously reconstituting, in a remilitarized way, a central front in Europe. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 05:46)
  • NATO enlargement and U.S. plans for a European missile defense system fed a preexisting Russian disposition to believe such moves were directed against Moscow. And Russia's heavy-handed treatment of its neighbors—particularly Ukraine—created a Western perception that Moscow wants not merely influence but also control over old Soviet territory. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)
  • The United States, until recently, has viewed its substantial edge in conventional and nuclear forces as natural and necessary, and, sought to avoid any form of arms control that would reduce it. Russia wishes to constrain U.S. strategic innovation, such as the weaponization of space and the development of ballistic missile defense, as well as the scale of the overall U.S. defense effort. (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • Ultimately, however, the United States should reach out to Russia, China, and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and encourage them to contribute more to the coalition of states active in Afghanistan. The Obama administration was wise to participate in the SCO conference on Afghanistan last March, because its subject, the fight against drug trafficking out of Afghanistan, is important. But the move only scratches the surface of what should be a larger U.S.-Russian collaboration in addressing the turbulence in and around Afghanistan and its potential reverberations in Central Asia. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)
  • The dreamy talk in some circles of one day including Russia in NATO fools no one, least of all politicians in Moscow. Russia will not enter the West or develop a partnership with it via membership in Europe's major economic and security institutions. (Foreign Affairs, 09.01.2001)

Missile defense:

  • When it comes to something like INF, where if the Russians go ahead and deploy this weapon, which we see—this ground-launched cruise missile—which we see [as being] in violation [of the INF Treaty], then I think we do have to be firm in that context… We have to stand our ground on that kind of thing. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 57:30)
  • The new Cold War has eliminated any chance that Moscow and Washington will resolve their differences over missile defense, a Russian precondition for further strategic arms control agreements. Instead, the two sides will likely start developing new and potentially destabilizing technologies, including advanced precision-guided conventional weapons and cyberwarfare tools. Meanwhile, the European component of the U.S. missile defense program will now likely take on a specifically anti-Russian character. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)
  • Russia entertains the idea of missile defense as legitimate, but only if collaborative and on a basis acceptable to Russia (and China). (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)

Nuclear arms control:

  • For more than a year, both Moscow and Washington have recognized the need for so-called strategic stability talks, and when Secretary of State Tillerson was in Moscow in April 2017, and shortly after that, there was an agreement to have so-called strategic stability talks. When they began, they focused on narrow but important issues, like the trouble around the INF Treaty, and eventually there was some talk about the renewal provision for the New START—that is, in 2021, when it expires—the prospect that, even now, the two sides would pledge to renew it for five years. But those were not broad strategic stability talks; that is, they didn’t really address major trends in the nuclear forces of the two sides: Both countries are in the process of modernizing all aspects of their nuclear forces… Real strategic stability talks would focus on the large issues, and the potential dangers of where we’re going with our nuclear programs… But even those more narrowly focused discussions, on INF and on extension of New START, have been troubled and have not really achieved progress. (Talk at Valdai Discussion Club, 10.09.18, 3:40)
  • I think the chances in the next—not now, but in the next 10 to 15 years—of a nuclear weapon being fired in anger are far greater now than they ever were during the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and Berlin Crisis. And the final point is not only is no one in either government or anywhere else even beginning to formulate this problem, but we are presiding over the liquidation, the disintegration of the patchwork system that we had in place before. ABM agreement is gone, INF agreement is under tension and pressure, fissile material agreement has never been implemented because of veto… The only thing that remains at this point is the New START agreement. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 21:23)
  • Every tally of the ways in which Russia matters begins, and rightly so, with nuclear weapons. Because the United States and Russia possess 95 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal, they bear the responsibility for making their stocks safer [and smaller] by repairing the now-shattered strategic nuclear arms control regime. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)
  • The United States and Russia will have to lead any effort to establish a broader multilateral arms control regime designed to reduce the hazardous aspects of the nuclear postures of the other nuclear powers, particularly those weapons systems in China, India and Pakistan that blur the line between conventional and nuclear attacks. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)


  • The new confrontation with the West will … force Russia to stretch its military resources thin. That will leave Moscow poorly equipped to handle a host of other security challenges, such as violence in the northern Caucasus and instability in Central Asia, the latter of which is compounded by the unpredictable futures facing Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)
  • The United States has a different conception of the global terrorist threat (specifically who and what constitute it) and assigns global terrorism the highest priority. Russia has a different conception of which groups are terrorist, thinks of terrorism in regional terms and assigns the larger global threat a lower priority. (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • There is also the struggle against global terrorism, which will be sure to flag without strong collaboration between Washington and Moscow. And it has become clear that the help of Russia is needed if anything approaching stability is to have a chance in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)

Conflict in Syria:

  • In the Syrian case, progress should be easier [than in Ukraine] because, in the abstract, Russia and the United States share objectives: viz., an end to the violence, a stable government in Damascus with legitimacy in the eyes of the Sunni majority population and secure against jihadist control, and a common fighting front against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In reality, however, moving in this direction requires each side to risk trusting the other in the initial phases of cooperation—say, the expansion of de-escalation zones—and without progress on the election interference and other issues, the readiness to risk trust will not be there. (ISS Forum, 09.06.17)
  • I think one of the successes in Putin’s mind about what’s going on in Syria is the fact that the United States and Russia are now the co-chairs of the diplomacy that has to make this work—Russia’s back, in a way that matters globally. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 10:26)

Cyber security:

  • The prospect that further Russian cyber intrusions in U.S. elections could lead to an escalating interaction approaching an act of war ought to underscore the urgency of the two sides sitting down and working out red lines and how they are to be enforced. Neither country’s leadership is there yet. (The National Interest, 08.19.17)
  • If you then can begin re-engaging [with Russia], I think you do begin looking for things where you would want to cooperate … [such as] dealing with cybersecurity, the way in which we have been able to deal with it with the Chinese, because of this larger political impact. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 29:07)

Elections interference:

  • The issue of Russia and American elections now blocks a relationship already in ruins, and stymies the prospect of progress on any of the other hard issues crippling it. (The National Interest, 08.19.17)
  • Russia’s capacity and readiness to interfere in U.S. elections to a degree once unimaginable obviously constitute a critical new factor in the relationship and, unless addressed, will keep U.S.-Russian relations at a dead end far into the future. But the way Congress and the nation’s punditry are framing the problem, and the way the Russians are refusing to frame it, guarantee that that is where matters will remain. (The National Interest, 08.19.17)
  • The United States can and should pursue a second objective as part of the effort to protect the integrity of its electoral system. Besides the release of hacked information, slanted news coverage and indiscriminate injection of fake news, Russian cyber agents evidently had American collaborators who helped them target voters in key electoral districts. The two sides need to agree to prevent this in the future, with each side assuming responsibility for clamping down on partners in its country. (The National Interest, 08.19.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia, of course, impinges on the U.S. consciousness because of its vast oil and gas reserves and its critical role as an energy supplier to old and new allies in Europe. But for much of the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Russia's oil and gas industries were in semi-chaos, this dimension of the relationship remained largely confined to the visions animating U.S. oil majors. When Washington again focused on the issue in Boris Yeltsin's last years and over Putin's tenure as president, Russia's and the larger region's energy resources were not the basis for an energetic, cooperative U.S.-Russia agenda. Instead the confusing tension between competing pipelines contrasted with shared development projects simply stoked growing policy lethargy in the Clinton administration's last years. (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • While Kazakh oil and gas will, in the near term, flow westward, in the longer run the Inner Asian energy complex is likely to shift the significance of Central Asian energy resources toward the East. (“Thinking Strategically,” 2003)
  • It is not easy to trace the precise connection between official foreign policy and Russia's giant energy company Gazprom or its national electricity combine, RAO UES. Yet there is little question that the less-than-gentle efforts of these and other Russian corporate interests to acquire large equity stakes in pipelines, refineries, power grids and other strategically significant economic entities accord well with Putin's desire to increase Russia's influence throughout the post-Soviet space. (Foreign Affairs, 09.01.2001)

U.S.-Russian economic ties and sanctions:

  • The sanctions are indeed inflicting pain … but the other issue, the other criterion we ought to apply [is] “are they achieving our objective?”—which is an adjustment of his [Putin’s] behavior. … And there’s no indication that they have. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 51:06)
  • Geostrategic calculations will now also assume a far more dominant role in U.S.-Russian energy relations. Each side will attempt to use the oil and gas trade to gain leverage over the other and minimize its own vulnerability. In the Arctic, the chances for U.S.-Russian cooperation in developing that region's vast hydrocarbon reserves will surely shrink. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Everyone knows that the relationship is in very bad shape, very deteriorated. I think leadership in both countries, both Washington and Moscow, would like to improve relations. The president in the United States, President Trump, certainly would like to have a different relationship with Russia, but I think the prospects are not good. I think neither side at this point sees a way to improve relations, and I think on the U.S. side the political environment … creates real obstacles for President Trump or any other administration to move forward. (Talk at Valdai Discussion Club, 10.09.18, 0:12)
  • Disappointment—extreme disappointment—marks what the year 2017 has been in U.S.-Russian relations. The relationship is stuck. (Valdai Discussion Club, 09.01.18)
  • The dynamic in the areas of conflict metastasized. The synergy in the [U.S.-Russian] relationship is all negative. One thing that happens that’s bad washes over and influences what’s happening in other areas of the relationship; there’s literally no positive synergy in the relationship at this point. (Talk at Harvard Davis Center, 03.06.18, 25:27)
  • I think the [Obama] administration—and there’s likely to be continuity between this and the next administration—believe that the basic problem is, as I said at the outset, the essence of the other side. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 27:51)
  • Each side blames the other side almost 100 percent for what’s gone wrong. There’s no introspection, there’s no sense of what’s been the interaction over the 20 years—and it’s not merely that we blame the other side 99 percent for what’s happened—it’s the reason that we blame the other side for it. It’s not merely in their specific behavior; it’s the reason for their behavior—and that’s the nature of the system on the other side. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 5:11)
  • The basic idea that Russia would again be on its feet, that Russia would be making progress in stable fashion toward a stronger, more open society with an effective economy—actually, even though that’s doubted in Moscow, [and] I think many on the Russian side believe the United States doesn’t want Russia to be strong and revitalized and the rest of it—that has been a U.S. desire. But because we failed to build a relationship that was cooperative, once Russia came back in the context of increasing tensions, then the United States presents this face that looks as though we do not like a resurgent Russia. (Interview with RT, 03.05.15, 4:20)
  • I think it’s very important that the two sides, Russia and the United States, actually have honest conversations with one another in a serious, systematic way. (Interview with RT, 03.05.15, 16:44)
  • The crisis in Ukraine has pushed the two sides over a cliff and into a new relationship, one not softened by the ambiguity that defined the last decade of the post-Cold War period, when each party viewed the other as neither friend nor foe. Russia and the West are now adversaries. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)
  • All of this [the endeavors undertaken by presidents Obama and Medvedev] fits a larger concept that the president and his senior Russia advisors have embraced as an overarching guideline for policy: the U.S.-Russian relationship should be both understood and approached as multi-dimensional and multilevel. (Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • The Medvedev-Obama Washington summit on June 24, 2010, both allowed the two sides to highlight the progress in U.S.-Russian relations and to announce new steps forward. Indeed, the progress reported was impressive. (Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • Moscow and Washington need to confront the core source of tension in the relationship–the topic rarely discussed but the one shadowing every other dimension of their interaction—namely, the way each judges the aims and actions of the other in the post-Soviet space. Until the two achieve something approaching a modus vivendi in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the new “lands in between” (Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine), nothing else they do or wish to do will be optimal, easy or secure. In a phrase, this part of a strategic dialogue should be about how to promote mutual security and stable change in and around the Eurasian land mass. (Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • U.S. Russia policy, without the ballast of a strong sense of why a solid, constructive relationship with Russia is crucial to the United States, has ebbed and flowed with the to and fro of events. (Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • Although many Russian leaders, beginning with Medvedev, want to see a more constructive U.S.-Russian relationship, they are limited by a dour, pinched notion of what is possible. Over the last decade, they have allowed their suspicion of Washington to fester to the point where they now view almost anything the U.S. government does—from promoting the construction of oil and gas pipelines out of the Caspian Sea region to supporting civil society in states that neighbor Russia—as part of a conscious and coherent strategy to weaken Moscow. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)
  • U.S.-Russian relations soured not only because of frictions between Washington and Moscow over issues such as NATO enlargement, the status of Kosovo and Washington's plans to place a ballistic missile defense system in central Europe. Russia's antipathy toward the general thrust of the Bush administration's foreign policy, particularly what Putin and his entourage came to see as Washington's excessive unilateralism and disposition to use force, also did more than its share of damage. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)
  • If the Obama administration hopes to overcome the bickering that surrounds nearly every issue on the current agenda and reduce the poisonous suspicion with which Moscow regularly greets U.S. initiatives, let alone transform the relationship into a strategic partnership, it must strive sooner rather than later to establish a deep and far-reaching dialogue. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)
  • A promising but fragile turnabout in the overall U.S.-Russian relationship frames U.S. policy in the Central Asian region. (“Thinking Strategically,” 2003)
  • If, as some forward-thinking Russian commentators have suggested, a new and durable U.S.-Russian partnership can be built around the struggle against global terrorism, convergent international energy policies and an effort to stabilize Russia’s far east as a factor in Asian security, Central Asia’s role emerges as key. (“Thinking Strategically,” 2003)
  • [Putin’s] aligning Russia with the United States in the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban was but an eye-catching manifestation of a more basic strategic decision to throw Russia’s lot in with the West. (The National Interest, Winter 2002-2003)
  • Because of the fundamental turn in Russian foreign policy, the basis for a radically different U.S.-Russian relationship now exists. In short, Putin's new agenda permits a new and positive U.S.-Russian agenda. (The National Interest, Winter 2002-2003)
  • The notion that Putin has rushed to the U.S. side in order to secure a free hand in Chechnya or a free pass from Western criticism in repressing civil liberties both claims too much and does too little to explain the shift in Russian foreign policy. (The National Interest, Winter 2002-2003)
  • Viewed in proper perspective, the evolution under way in Russian foreign policy, if fostered, opens the prospect of going beyond temporary cooperation all the way to a genuine alliance. The point is not a formal treaty, but a psychological leap by which each side comes to trust the other as an ally, to believe that on the most vital international issues they have a common purpose and that where there is disagreement, it is between friends, not opponents. It is a reach, but it is a wise reach. (The National Interest, Winter 2002-2003)

 II. Russia’s relations with other countries

 Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • Russia opposes force as a means of regime change—at least, in the case of U.S.-defined “rogue regimes”—and, for that matter, most forms of armed humanitarian interventionism. (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • Russia's traumatic experience over the last two decades has given an intense emotional edge to its relations with the outside world, accentuating the gap between the international status Russia desires and the wherewithal it would need to obtain it. This underlying tension leaves its leaders either unwilling or unable to compose a clear vision of Russia's place and role in the world. Those who speak for Russia have made plain what they oppose but not what they propose instead. Their preference for multipolarity over unipolarity, their exhortations to "democratize" international relations and "strengthen multilateralism" and their calls for a new European security framework are vague appeals. At a more fundamental level, the Russian leadership shies away from deciding with whom to tie the country's fate—the West or rising powers such as China and India—or whether to settle for playing the field. (Foreign Affairs, 07.01.2009)
  • Unable to provide answers that would give depth and coherence to policy, the Russian establishment has formulated a united conception of threat and uses this as a common ground on which to build. … First, there is the threat of U.S. unilateralism under unipolarity. … The second threat concerns the dangers of globalization. … The third threat comes from regionalization. (Foreign Affairs, 09.01.2001)
  • As the official foreign policy strategy states, Russia will pursue an "optimal combination of effort along all vectors." (Foreign Affairs, 09.01.2001)


  • The European security order that leaders promised to build from 1990 forward, rather than being progressively achieved, in fact is being torn down at this point. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 06:39)
  • The EU was tone-deaf in dismissing legitimate Russian concerns over the failed association agreement with Ukraine. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)


  • U.S. policymakers at times are willing to consider a neo-containment option when contemplating policy alternatives for dealing with China. When framing China policy, Russian policymakers stop at a hedged alignment strategy. (“Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • Partnership with China remains largely hypothetical, a choice that in the end depends far more on China than on Russia. (Foreign Affairs, 09.01.2001)


  • U.S.-Russian relations are where they are because of the actions, some misguided, some inadvertent, by both sides over the two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—none more destructive than the Russian seizure of Crimea and intervention in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine. (ISS Forum, 09.06.17)
  • When you think about Ukraine, from my point of view, what the Russians did first in Crimea, notwithstanding the manipulated referendum, and what they then did in Ukraine, particularly in the summer of 2014 and on, really was a fundamental challenge to understandings of European security that people thought Russia had bought in on. The further problem, however, is the way in which it’s interpreted that drives the new Cold War. I think that the prevalent Western view is that Russia is a power interested in aggrandizing itself, putting the Soviet Union back together in whatever way it can… I think that’s probably a mistake in the way in which one reads that. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 35:13)
  • In the case of Ukraine … I’ve not been a big fan of dealing with the Russian challenge in Ukraine, which I believe is military, asymmetrically with sanctions. I’ve believed from the beginning … [that] our primary objective should be creating a defensible Ukraine, a Ukraine that can deter Russia itself from whatever it’s doing. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 56:52)
  • Ukraine forms only part of a larger and more ominous picture. Europe's stability, which only recently seemed assured, now appears more tenuous. A new fault line has opened up in the heart of the continent, and instability anywhere within it—not only in Ukraine but in Belarus or Moldova as well—will likely lead to an escalating confrontation between the East and the West. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Russia's poisoned relations with the United States and its European allies might well lead such Russian partners as Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan—all of which are crucial to Russia's plans for a Eurasian economic union and a stronger Collective Security Treaty Organization—to subtly distance themselves from Moscow for fear of tainting their own relationships with the Western powers. (Foreign Affairs, 06.16.2014)
  • Everyone knows that Russia lives in a troubled neighborhood. Weak and unstable states on its borders threaten to export their problems to it or to become conduits for the threats brewing in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and the Middle East. Yet other post-Soviet states face an even more daunting environment, and Russia occupies a large part of it. (“Statehood and Security,” 2005)
  • Russia, viewed from the Georgian perspective, constitutes the single most dangerous factor in Georgia’s international environment. (“Statehood and Security,” 2005)
  • Russia continues to be the single most powerful external influence on the political and economic life of every post-Soviet state, with the exception of the Baltic states. While weak in comparison to its former Soviet self, not to mention in comparison to other major powers, Russia has more economic, political and military capacity to help or hinder its new neighbors than any other power. It also continues to see its stakes in these countries as greater than any other power does. (“Statehood and Security,” 2005)
  • If Russia chooses to bully or, worse, dominate some of most of these [Central Asian] states, it will both impede the safe integration of critical parts of the former Soviet Union into European and other global structures and lay the groundwork for renewed Russian imperialism, if and when it recovers power. (“Thinking Strategically,” 2003)
  • Russians realize that they still have potent influence within their immediate neighborhood and that if that neighborhood is important to the larger world, Russia must be important as well. Russian elites, including the president, quite consciously see their capacity to shape events in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova as a key to strengthening their international standing. (Foreign Affairs, 09.01.2001)

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • What’s going to drive Putin’s next move? I think it’ll be events. I think it’s not within a context of any coherent design … but it’ll be event-driven, and therefore we ought to be thinking not about controlling preconceived Putin behavior, we ought to be thinking about the way in which we work on the events that will shape him. (Panel at Council on Foreign Relations, 10.21.16, 47:58)
  • I don’t think Russia, to be frank, is well-served by its current leadership. And I think that leadership, … those that he [Putin] has surrounded himself with, key advisors, were part of an organization that thought in terms of a fundamental hostility from the West. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 9:05)
  • There is also this tendency on the part of many Russians … to assume that there is a kind of historic right for Russia to be treated with respect and to be treated as a great power. There is this Russian notion of derzhavnost’ … and you’re entitled to it, whether you have the wherewithal or not. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 9:37)
  • I think there is a genuine fear on the part of many within [the Russian] leadership and portions of the elite that support them that Russia is a very fragile enterprise at this point. It could easily come apart—that what happened to the Soviet Union could happen to Russia. And in this context, I think that they do a number of things that probably in the end are capable of producing a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than solving the problem. But I think it helps to explain the impulse. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 11:03)
  • Putin is a critic of Lenin, doesn’t like Lenin, doesn’t like Yeltsin, and doesn’t like Gorbachev, and sees himself as somebody that will save Russia in the way in which strong Russian leaders in the past [have]. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 23:58)
  • What we’re seeing now may be Eurasianism, may be the modern extension of pan-Slavism, but we’ve also got the zapadniki, the westernizers, and there’s still a large component of that within Russia, including a fair portion of the business community, an intellectual community and otherwise. (Speech at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 10.11.16, 26:03)
  • There are some very positive changes [in Russia] from below, in the way in which innovation is being introduced in parts of the business community, in some of the factors that are favorable for Russia, even on the economic level—I mention, for example, the very low debt-to-GDP ratio—which gives a leadership or policymaker some room for financing things that need to be done if they’ll do the right thing. (Interview with RIA Novosti, 11.11.2011, 1:09)
  • Russia is the other great nuclear power with nearly half of the world's nuclear weapons, but it is saddled with a large, misshaped and decrepit conventional military force. It is one of the world's mightiest energy powers, but because of the backward, commodity-dependent nature of its economy, it is utterly vulnerable to short-term price and demand volatility. And it has more clout in a potentially vital region—the post-Soviet space—than any other major power, but less influence than almost any other major power beyond. (Responding to a Resurgent Russia,” 2011)
  • So right now, the large question mark in Russia is whether Russia in the next 10-15 years—not in the next two or three, but in the next 10-15 years—will begin to move away from that historic concept of statehood, and embrace a different model for achieving modernization. (Interview at Valdai Discussion Club, 09.14.10)
  • By 2006 the picture [of Russian state weakness] had begun to change. Weakness no longer remained the sole unrelenting backdrop of policy. High energy prices filled the Russian treasury, providing Russia with the world’s third most sizable foreign reserves, freeing it from its debt burden to the West, and creating a sense of empowerment over those, including Europe, China and Japan, who needed Russia’s oil and gas. This, coupled with the impression that Putin had restored order after the chaos of the Yeltsin years, stirred a prickly new self-confidence. (“Russian Foreign Policy,” 2007)
  • From Ivan IV’s to Putin’s day, Russia has worn its great-power status on its sleeve, and, when it is called into question, its leaders and essayists sink into a narcissistic preoccupation with the country’s decline. (“Russian Foreign Policy,” 2007)
  • Putin's notion of "managed democracy" does not turn him into a despot or even an autocrat-in-the-making; it only suggests that the ultimate foundation for Russian-American partnership is yet to be established. The communiqués that Putin and Bush sign speak of common interests and common values. (The National Interest, Winter 2002-2003)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia’s military [following the fall of the Soviet Union] was unable to shed the image of NATO and the United States as the challenge and continued to prepare to fight them. When other threats, such as Chechnya and instability in former Soviet republics, intruded, the military, rather than reorienting its priorities, simply layered the new tasks onto the old schema of fears. The consequence was to impede military reform and leave Russia with a defense establishment both unsuited to its needs and unaffordable. (“Russian Foreign Policy,” 2007)

Security, law enforcement, justice and intelligence:

  • To be updated.

Quotes compiled by Daniel Shapiro.

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel, shared under a CC0 1.0 license.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.