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The Benefits of Troublemaking

Owen Matthews at Newsweek has been writing some hard-hitting stuff on Russia lately – namely the take down of Medvedevian faux modernization in that recent cover story.  In this latest piece, Matthews conjures the irresistible James Bond comparison of Vladimir Putin as Dr. No, meaning that it is the aim of Russian foreign policy to say “nyet” to as many initiatives pursued by the broader international community as possible, with the principle goal of achieving leverage, and, according to argument, the only way to stay relevant in global affairs.  Think of it as a policy of constructive disruption – Russia applies its foreign policy to the creation of problems, and then request political concessions in return for their offers to help with the solution … one reason why there are so many critics of the Obama administration’s reset policy – they don’t believe that any cooperation is going to come.

In fact, there’s nothing Washington could propose that Moscow would agree to, and it has nothing do with the missile shield (SM-3s have a range of 300 miles and it takes 10 of them to shoot down a single advanced missile). It’s because opposition is an all-purpose diplomatic lever to bargain for what Russia needs. Keeping NATO’s influence out of Russia’s front yard is probably the most important Kremlin objective. But staying at the table of top nations is important to Moscow’s pride too–and making problems is an effective, if not very constructive, way to make the world take you seriously.