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Constanze Stellzenmüller: "The Strategic Relationship with Russia"

Apr. 16, 2015

"It's the beginning of the end for this particular Russian regime"

Robert Bosch senior fellow with the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institute, Constanze Stellzenmüller, delivered a public seminar titled, "The Strategic Relationship with Russia," in April. Moderated by Future of Diplomacy Project Faculty Director R. Nicholas Burns, Ms. Stellzenmüller's speech dealt with the geopolitical dimensions of the Ukraine crisis and the implications of Russian aggression for transatlantic relations.

What the Ukraine crisis means for Russia

Harvard Kennedy School alumnus and former correspondant for Die Zeit, Constanze Stellzenmüller began by describing the narrative of the Ukraine crisis. Opposed to the notion of accepting the Crimean annexation, Ms. Stellzenmüller argued that appeasement would "amount to giving the Russians their own sphere of influence back" in a scenario that is "neither desirable nor feasible." Ms Stellzenmüller revealed pessimism towards the current trajectory of events, stating that the situation would "likely get worse in the short-term before it gets better in the long-term" and that the Ukraine crisis represented the "beginning of the end for this particular Russian regime." She added that Russia's "fragmentation and unpredictable behaviour" would have considerable ramifications for the collective security of Europe.

Criticism of Putin's Strategy

Ms. Stellzenmüller reflected on the strategic weaknesses of Russian President Putin's recent choices. "Putin is doing a lot of non-rational sub-optimal outcomes....I don't see an architect at work; I see someone who is flailing to keep up the pretense of power and he's paid a high price for that," stated Ms. Stellzenmüller. Examining Russia's "strategic relationship" with Germany after the dissolution of the USSR, Ms. Stellzenmüller maintained that Putin was responsible for losing the "strategic relationship" with Germany and reinforcing European consensus against Russia. She also reflected on the internal weaknesses of Russia, maintaining that "in the end, I think what's happening to Ukraine is a sign of what could happen to Russia."

Merkel and Obama

"Obama's strategic take on the transatlantic relationship and his push to Europeans to greater security in the region are well overdue and as things should be," said Ms. Stellzenmüller. She added that President Obama and Chancellor Merkel have made very careful and calibrated approaches in Washington, understanding each other's constraints and providing political space to the other.

The impact of sanctions

Arguing that sanctions have been far from mild, Ms. Stellzenmüller credited the strength and effectiveness of the first phase of "targeted" sanctions against Russian business individuals. The Future of Diplomacy Project's 2015 spring Fisher Family Fellow and former EU Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, entered the discussion and agreed with Ms. Stellzenmüller's position, adding that "from a European perspective, it is a disaster for European foreign policy if we don't extend sanctions...my best guess is that they will continue the sanctions." Ms. Stellzenmüller additionally reflected on how sanctions on Russia represented powerful Western unity and were directly contributing to the Russian economic downturn.

North-South divisions

However, Ms. Stellzenmüller also acknowledged deep-set fissures within the European community, observing that the southern European countries - Italy, Greece, and Cyprus, etc. - were reluctant to side with their northern counterparts against Russia in Ukraine unless more could be done to tackle migrant flow issues emanating from North Africa. Calling this a "security trade-off," Ms. Stellzenmüller declared that these southern countries would be more inclined to be opposed to extended sanctions in the future. Ms. Stellzenmüller and Mr. De Gucht agreed that more needed to be done to support the southern European countries on their southern flank in order to get them on board with extended sanctions.

"We have a moral obligation to support Ukrainian civil society"

"The Ukraine crisis has little to do with ideology, NATO, EU, or other security concepts, but is about what it means to live a life free of corruption," declared Ms. Stellzenmüller. The Brooking Institute senior fellow ended her address by stressing the moral imperative to protect Ukraine's right to stability and to exercize liberties. She promulgated the long-term objective to encourage social and political change in Russia, internally, as a critical means to establishing security in Europe. "We have a moral obligation to support Ukrainian civil society - that is the core value of the European model," said Ms. Stellzenmüller.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Future of Diplomacy Project
For Academic Citation:Constanze Stellzenmüller: "The Strategic Relationship with Russia".” News, , April 16, 2015.