Russia: The World's Outlaw State
Russia is increasingly acting as an outlaw state across the international stage—undermining European democracies, harassing US diplomats, harboring sophisticated cybercriminals, and testing Western alliances. What’s behind these actions, and how should the United States, Europe, and the West as a whole respond to the rising belligerence of Putin’s Russia?
Andrew WeissVice President for Studies, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endow...
Steve ClemonsEditor in Chief, AtlanticLIVE; Washington Editor at Large, The Atlanti...
Peter WittigAmbassador to the United States, Embassy of the Republic of Germany
Kori SchakeDeputy Director-General of the International Institute for Strategic...
Evelyn FarkasNonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; President, Farkas Global...
- The Kremlin acts as a Mafia state
- To counter Russian aggression, both dialogue and strength are essential
- The goal of Russia’s belligerence is to divide the West—and it’s working
- When Russia violates international norms and laws, Western nations fumble the response
- Russia is cracking Western unity, to Russia’s benefit
How does Russia views itself in the modern world and what motivates their actions? Is Russia’s attempt to return to a bipolar global power structure driven by the humiliation they felt after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Kori Schake argues that the Kremlin has attempted to reassert Russia as an alternative to the United States and the western, post-World War II international order, but their nefarious methods and disingenuous arguments should be rejected.
One common thread the panelists all agree on is that Russia yearns to return to a world power and are strategically challenging the United States and the west.
Peter Wittig speaks from decades of European diplomatic experience when he fields a question from Steve Clemons about the West’s complicity in its hostile relationship with Russia.
Wittig thinks that a double-pronged approach of pushing back against Russian aggression while maintaining open communication with the Russian government is vital for mending relations between Russia and the West.
He supports resilient actions, including diplomatic and military maneuvers, when Russia acts with malice. However, Wittig adds that when countries respond seeking only to isolate Russia, critical channels for dialogue are lost that may preempt more severe conflicts in the future.
Dismissing the idea that Russia acts out of impulse, Schake instead asserts that Russia aims to weaken alliances throughout and between Western countries it sees as existential threats. Though the methods behind Russia’s attacks vary, such as harassing diplomats and leaking sensitive information obtained through cyberattacks, the end goal is usually the same.
Schake explains Russia's motivations in detail:
When Clemons asks why the West’s response to Russian aggression is so “pathetic,” the panelists dive deep. Instead of “playing by the rules,” Russia time and again violates long-standing norms by entering legal and political grey zones to which the West does not know how to respond.
Putin dares Western countries to escalate conflicts that they are not sure meet thresholds to trigger in-kind reactions. The heated discussion below shows just how difficult formulating a response Russian cyberattacks can be:
This exchange has been edited and condensed for clarity. Watch the full exchange on video.
Evelyn Farkas: I think we are still grappling with how does one – what are the rules for cyber operations, offensive or defensive? And we’re not comfortable going farther than we have to for obvious reasons, because people will start mimicking us.
Andrew Weiss: There’s a simple answer on this which is that, when Barack Obama, who’s had to make a lot of tough calls during his presidency, is confronted with, do you punch back, the reality was that the United States has the sharpest rocks in cyberspace—to borrow the line from one of our former cyberoperators—but it lives in the glassiest house. And so our society is simply more digitized and more vulnerable to an escalatory spiral where the Russians could keep imposing pain -
Steve Clemons: But it would be nice to see a little example of those rocks, you know? I mean, I would have loved to see it -
Kori Schake: So I too would have loved to see President Obama actually use the tools of a free society in the fall of 2016 to admit that three different times the Russians had already penetrated American government systems.
In the final minutes before Q&A, Wittig steers the conversation toward his assertion that the West is losing the upper hand against Russia. Watch as he and the rest of the panelists discuss the paradigm-changing implications of Western disunity: