Has Russia Gone Rogue?

Senate Hearing on Russian Strategy and Military Operations

October 08, 2015

Testimony
Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

In his Senate testimony before the Committee on Armed Services, CFR's Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies Stephen Sestanovich argued that the United States should challenge responsible Russians to see how strange their country's military policy in Syria looks to the outside world.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attend a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York

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Takeaways:

  • Russian actions in the Middle East reflect the doubling (and more) of their defense budget in the past ten years.  This program of modernization is still unfolding; the biggest procurement projects are ahead. As Russia's capabilities have increased, so has its anti-Western rhetoric.
  • Russian actions reflect the new nationalism of Russian public opinion. The seizure of Crimea and continuing attempts to fragment eastern Ukraine have given this nationalist mood an angrier, more embattled tone.
  • Russia's actions are a response, as President Obama has noted, to the weakness of the Assad regime in Syria, Russia's oldest (and now only) real ally in the region. 
  • Secretary of Defense Ash Carter may well be right that Russian policy is "doomed to fail." But even in the course of failing it may do a great deal of damage, both in Syria and beyond.  It should therefore be a goal of the United States and its allies to limit Russia’s intervention.
  • Anyone responsible for the national security of the United States should worry about where Russia's reckless behavior will lead next. We should not by any means conclude that we face an endless, never-cresting wave of activism. If anything, what Putin is doing now in Syria probably reduces the risk of near-term military provocations in Europe, especially against our NATO allies.

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