Russia’s Illusory Ambitions

Sherman Garnett. Foreign Affairs. Volume 76, Issue 2. March/April 1997.

Losing a Grip on Eurasia

Although a children’s story may seem an inappropriate analogy to describe Russian power, A. A. Milne’s tale of the honey-seeking bear who wedges himself in a rabbit hole describes Moscow’s strategic situation better than the usual hypotheses. Like the bear, Russia finds itself in a “great tightness,” caught between its lofty ambitions and reduced capabilities. While the Russian bear struggles to extricate itself from its predicament, the consolidation of new states like Ukraine and Uzbekistan, the rise of China, and the ambitions of rimland states finally freed from the constraints of the superpower rivalry and able to pursue genuinely autonomous foreign policies are transforming the rest of Eurasia. The result is likely to be a Eurasia defined less by Russian power than by competition to fill the vacuum that Russia’s troubles have created.

Understanding the Eurasia to come requires an understanding of the constraints on Russian power. The legacy of czarist and especially Soviet power continues to affect Russia’s role in the world. Many Russians cannot conceive of abandoning their country’s tradition as a great power. Russia’s neighbors are all too familiar with that tradition, and view current Russian actions through its prism. Western observers, even when sharply divided in their assessments of Russia’s progress, still use a vocabulary that exaggerates the country’s capabilities for constructive or destructive behavior. When discussing Russian power, everyone still tends to leap from tactical observations to strategic speculation. However appropriate this approach may have been for the U.S.S.R., which possessed formidable diplomatic and military instruments and a well-articulated set of national interests, it is singularly unsuited to today’s Russia and broader Eurasian trends.

Russia is an inward-looking state. It has accomplished much in the past five years, but immense political and economic difficulties remain. Its military has conducted the largest strategic withdrawal in history. At this time of reduced capacity, Russia must confront the most significant transformation of its surrounding strategic environment in the past five centuries-the greatest change since the rise of Muscovy. The Russia that emerges and the Eurasia that forms around it will define the real dangers and opportunities of the next century.

Post-Soviet Shackles

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia faces economic, military, and political shortcomings that directly constrain its international role. In the short term, the country’s problems and their solutions seem almost to conspire to limit Russian state power.

Russia’s economy is half the size the Soviet Union’s was in its final days, and has suffered five straight years of decline. GDP was six percent lower over the first eight months of 1996 than in the same period the year before. Between corruption and kickbacks, the recent presidential campaign exacerbated Russia’s problem with tax collection, already running far behind anticipated revenues. Russia may experience real growth in 1997 or 1998, as many experts predict, but a boom is unlikely.

Even if Russia manages to sustain modest growth, restoring the fiscal foundation for a more ambitious foreign policy will take several years. Low birthrates and declining life expectancy project great demands on social services and hold down per capita income and savings rates. Borrowing abroad is likely to remain a feature of the Russian economy for decades. Natural resources, particularly energy, will remain the foothold for Russia’s place in the world economy, but this sector, especially oil and gas, will require heavy capital investment limited capabilities are not considered an obstacle to an active world role; Russian policy, according to Primakov, is being carried out “by no means on the basis of current circumstances but on the basis of [Russia’s] colossal potential.” Russia’s limited means for pursuing integration within the CIS are supposedly supplemented by an “objective desire” for integration among all cis countries. The mutual history, interests, and advantage that Yeltsin described as “the tremendous blood relationship” between the states of the former U.S.S.R. is said to be stronger than the impulse for sovereignty. To many Russians, some form of integration or reintegration is “the only alternative which would permit a mutually acceptable solution to the rising economic, territorial, military, ethnic, and other problems.”

Bold though they may be, such assertions are more faith than strategy. Russia’s diminished power and the complexity of the new political environment are virtually guaranteed to force decisions that are at odds with the current consensus. Russia cannot afford to follow through on the comprehensive plans it envisions for the former Soviet Union. The Russian military does not have the personnel to occupy the bases it covets, and there is not enough money to finance the customs unions, unified border guard, military bases, air defense systems, or currency unions now being considered. Furthermore, if Russia chooses to strengthen ties with Belarus, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan, it will constitute a model of integration unappealing to more independent states like Ukraine and Uzbekistan, thus encouraging their flight from the cis. On the other hand, waiting to pursue a less demanding but more comprehensive community risks leaving the states of the former Soviet Union to the forces of separation and disintegration.

With all the constraints on Russian policy, the Caucasus and Central Asia might well appear attractive as “compensatory” fields of activity. The south is a belt of weak states like Tajikistan and Georgia, with little international support, vulnerable even to a greatly weakened Russia. These states were targets in the nineteenth century, when Russia’s quest to control the Bosporus Straits and Central Europe stalled. For those who urge the assertion of Russian power, the already begun to test the waters of compromise. It is also an important reason why Russia will be unable to make a swift or effective exit from its current straits.

While NATO expansion calls Russia’s role in Europe into question, China’s economic power and demographic advantages along the Sino-Russian border will eventually expose Russia’s serious vulnerabilities in its far Eastern regions and Central Asia. Russia’s military weakness also raises doubts as to whether it can play peacekeeper among the border region’s emerging nations and restless ethnic minorities. SinoRussian conflict is not the inevitable result, but Russia must confront the reality of China’s rise and its own decline. Current trends suggest a partnership that, if it can be maintained at all, will increasingly reserve for Russia the junior role.

Despite the assertiveness of its current consensus, the problem that Russian foreign policy will pose for the outside world is not the return of empire but the unpredictable consequences of weakness and overcommitment. Only in Russia’s foreign policy community are the forces of integration and reassertion stronger than those of disintegration and withdrawal. A dangerous new paradigm for Russia is apparent, one that builds ambitions and commitments on foundations of sand. Weaknesses and resource constraints confuse foreign policy in the short term and complicate the reconstitution of Russian power over the long term. The solution offered by Moscow’s current consensus-a policy that would restore Russia’s status as a great power while building the territory of the former U.S.S.R. into to ensure continued supply. And the profound shift in the structure of the Russian economy must be considered. Massive amounts of wealth and property once under state control are now in private hands. This change alone significantly limits the state’s ability to mobilize resources for foreign policy.

There are also military limits on Russian foreign policy. Russia remains a preeminent nuclear power, but the Soviet Union’s ability to project great conventional power is in ruins. Whether measured by quantitative standards like the number of divisions, tanks, fighter aircraft, or ships at sea, or such qualitative factors as morale and fighting spirit, the Russian military is in crisis. While its performance in Chechnya does not mean the military would fight poorly in other circumstances, particularly if Russia faced a serious threat to its sovereignty, the shortcomings that the war in Chechnya has exposedfrom poor morale to gross mismanagement-would surely affect any military operation conducted for at least the next decade.

The Russian military is a demoralized and ineffective fighting force. Last year its personnel received no salaries for four months. Perhaps as many as 100,000 officers lack adequate housing, and many facilities do not have the infrastructure to care for the families of servicemen. Infectious disease has spread dramatically. Widespread draft-dodging has left the military a conscript pool with poor qualifications and physical health. Corruption is rampant throughout the army. The military is short of food and fuel and has resorted to emergency supplies; in 1995 the army depleted 35 percent of its reserve food and fuel stocks. Soldiers in Chechnya wore sneakers and winter hats donated by Moscow’s Minatep Bank. (Imagine the United States conducting Desert Storm with the help of Nike.) In October 1996 TASS, the state news agency, quoted Defense Minister Igor Rodionov warning that “because of the chronic shortage of funds, Russia’s armed forces have reached the limit beyond which extremely undesirable and even uncontrollable processes may arise.”

Basic personnel needs, conducting operations in conflicts like those in Chechnya and Tajikistan, and sustaining the nuclear forces that give Russia its international standing are likely to receive the lion’s share of funds. Little will be left for desperately needed training, equipment, and the destruction of old and potentially dangerous munitions. The military will undoubtedly view expensive arms control undertakings as an unwelcome burden. Little money or energy will be left for reform, which has consistently been put on the back burner. For this year and many to come, analysis of military reform will likely yield the same judgment President Yeltsin made regarding namely that “military reform [has] made virtually no headway in Russia.”

Compounding Russia’s economic and military decline is the political confusion and fragmentation that has overtaken the country. Yeltsin’s reelection may have alleviated fears of a communist return to power, but it has not solved the state’s basic weaknesses, particularly in foreign policy. In the past year alone, the foreign and defense ministers have been replaced and two national security advisers have departed. In a pattern that has become characteristic of the Russian security policy apparatus, two new structures for foreign policy oversight have been created and pronounced ineffective. Each change in the security council or presidential bodies in the security sphere has engendered a new wave of Western warnings about concentration of power over the army, the police, and security policy. But the cycle of decrees, new structures, and reforms is less a sign of a sinister centralization than of quite the opposite-government disintegration.

In the absence of effective central coordination, individual ministers make their own policy. The minister for atomic energy secures contracts with Iran and China and announces the need for new smaller atomic weapons. General Aleksandr Lebed’s dramatic peace breakthrough in Chechnya in August 1996 occurred against the backdrop of constant confusion over who was authorized to carry out Chechen policy. The commander of Russian forces in Chechnya fought publicly with Lebed over whether Russia should concentrate on negotiating or recapture Grozny. The commander even claimed to have a presidential order calling for him to retake the Chechen capital, but Lebed insisted it was a forgery.

What should be strategic decisions about military intervention and sales of advanced weapons appear to be the province, first and foremost, of cabinet officers, local commanders, and factory managers. In May 1994, when U.S. officials questioned their Russian counterparts on the wisdom of selling nuclear reactors to Iran, it became clear that the initiative for the deal-and most of the information about it-was in the hands of Viktor Mikhailov, minister for atomic energy. Likewise, the initiative for selling China the latest, fully equipped su-27 fighter aircraft and the capacity to produce its own version of the plane reportedly came from the manufacturer. Russian field commanders and local forces have played a key role in spawning intervention in conflicts on the new borderlands. Russian forces, many of them local troops, were ultimately drawn into ongoing conflicts in Moldova, Abkhazia, and Tajikistan. The emerging pattern in nuclear technology transfers, arms sales, and military intervention on the periphery is one of initiatives by individual ministers or coalitions of local, ministerial, and industrial representatives, all without benefit of advance coordination. The Kremlin may decide to take advantage of these initiatives, ignore them, or provide them with ex post facto strategic justification, but it has lost the ability to set the strategic agenda.

Confusion at the center, coupled with the proliferation of decisionmakers, has made it difficult for both Russians and outside analysts to state precisely what Russian policy is. Do arms sales to China signify growing strategic cooperation or a need to raise cash? Has the government abandoned its traditional nonproliferation concerns in Iran or is the Ministry for Atomic Energy acting on its own? Is Russia asserting its military control over the new borderlands or are local commanders acting without Moscow’s consent? Whatever the explanation, the actions of ministers, commanders, and political coalitions are creating strategic imperatives and setting in motion policies that are difficult to reverse. While the worst excesses of this policy fragmentation cannot last forever, there is no sign yet that it is nearing an end.

Power Projections

Beyond the material constraints on Russian power, there remains an intellectual shackle that is hardest to quantify yet perhaps most binding. Russia’s foreign policy community continues to suffer from a failure to keep policy ends consistent with available means. A rough consensus has emerged in Russian foreign policy: the country’s leading statesmen proclaim their purpose to be maintaining Russia’s place in the world as a country to be reckoned with. As Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov has stated, “Russia was and remains a great power. And like any great power, its policy must be many-vectored and multifaceted.” This consensus sees Russia’s top foreign policy priority as deepening integrative trends in the territory of the former Soviet Union. The policy’s advocates intend not to mire Russia close to home but rather to solidify Russia’s place in the former U.S.S.R. and, so doing, build a foundation for restoring Russia as a great power beyond the “near abroad.”

At the same time, the Russian foreign policy community has become increasingly skeptical about a productive partnership with Western countries. Some in the community, and not just those at the extremes, go so far as to claim that the West-the United States in particular-plans to undermine Russia’s status and turn it into a source of raw materials for the developed world. A broad consensus opposes the enlargement of NATO. The West is also criticized for its “negative attitudes. . . toward integration processes in the Commonwealth of Independent States,” as Primakov told Moscow’s Institute of International Relations last June. The foreign minister even defined NATO expansion and Western skepticism regarding CIS integration as the “two main irritants” in Russia’s ties with the West.

Though less a matter of the core consensus, partnership with China has also emerged on the agendas of many in the Russian foreign policy community. Few would go as far as the senior Russian diplomat who claimed that “the interests of Russia and China coincide in virtually every area,” but President Yeltsin’s April 1996 visit to Beijing has rekindled hopes in Moscow of sustaining what the latest national security statement calls a policy of “equal proximity” to all the major powers.

At the heart of these consensus and near-consensus views of Russia’s interests and place in the world is no detailed plan for the maintenance and expansion of Russian power, but simply a call for its assertion. As Primakov has put it, “The international situation itself requires that Russia be not merely a historically great power, but a great power right now.” Although they are acknowledged, Russia’s logic of southward expansion seems impeccable. But such compensation carries its own penalties. Real suppression of numerous conflicts and sources of regional instability like the civil war in Tajikistan calls for a great increase in financial and military resources. Russia has pronounced all of them vital to its interests but is hardly prepared to mount an effective response to any of them. As Chechnya has demonstrated, there are no little wars, especially for Russia’s broken military machine. Although Foreign Minister Primakov has made the new states of the former U.S.S.R. a much higher priority than did his predecessor, Andrei Kozyrev, his attention has yet to yield significant gains. The problem is not-and has never been-the personnel at the top. The true limits on Russian policy have been the constraints on Russian power and the reluctance of the new states.

Saying No to NATO

Beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union, the constraints on Russian foreign policy are even greater. Issues like NATO expansion reveal the tension between ambitions and limitations. Absolute opposition to expansion remains the norm, even as NATO’s Russian opponents prepare for the alliance’s move into Central Europe. Below the surface of that consensus, Russia’s limited options and resources for response have split the foreign policy establishment. NATO expansion forces a showdown over the real sources of conflict likely to threaten Russia. For some Russians, NATO expansion is a true military threat that requires a military response, including the deployment and upgrading of offensive conventional and even nuclear forces in Belarus and the Russian province of Kaliningrad on the Polish border. But those who fear NATO less than Russia’s isolation claim that such a reaction would unravel Russia’s ties with the West and squander scarce resources responding to a chimerical challenge. For very different reasons, both sides oppose NATO expansion, leaving little room for compromise. Their common opposition, however, does not amount to a united front. As Thomas L. Friedman wrote in the July 24, 1996, New York Times, with a decision on expansion imminent, the Russian consensus on NATO is a burden rather than an asset for the Kremlin-an important reason why Primakov and others have an integrated Russian-led political, economic, and security structure-only worsens the dilemma Moscow faces by delaying its encounter with its own limitations and the challenges of the new Eurasian geopolitical environment.

For the West, a weaker Russia is no easier to handle. Weakness fosters suspicion, not strategic cooperation, and contributes to a more rigid conception of foreign policy objectives. Weakness will make Russia’s great power status and the righteousness of integration litmus tests for the leadership and the opposition alike, instead of matters for analysis and policy debate. A stronger, more confident Russia could afford to consider whether the borders of the former Soviet Union must in all cases be its strategic borders. It could explore concessions, even on such difficult issues as NATO expansion, because such concessions would not call into question its status as a great power and equal of Western powers. It is not clear that a stronger Russia would do either of these things, but it is clear that a weak Russia cannot.

Eurasia On the Rise

By and large, Russian foreign policy regards central Eurasia, particularly the former U.S.S.R., as an area of traditional Russian interest and influence. But Eurasia is changing. The catalyst for that change is, of course, the Soviet Union’s disintegration. But disintegration did more than contract and transform Russian power. It created new nation-states of diverse economic potential, political stability, cultural orientation, and military power, and it opened up the formerly closed core of the continent to increased influence from the rim. These two trends have the potential to alter, substantially and permanently, economic relations and the balance of power in the region and across the Eurasian landmass.

Russia must confront both the successes and failures among the new states of Eurasia. The clear potential for failure has received the bulk of the attention in Russia and the West. Many of these states were unprepared for independence, facing enormous economic and political challenges with few resources, weak or nonexistent state institutions, and inexperienced leaders. The continuing civil war in Tajikistan and the backward-looking authoritarianism of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus are obvious examples of the problems these new states can pose.

Russia must also come to terms with the stronger among these states. Russian analysts have been too quick to spot potential Tajikistans everywhere in theCIS After facing several crises of economic reform and state-building, Ukraine and Uzbekistan have pursued independence with substantial success. Other states free of armed conflict have been less successful, but they too harbor ambitions to remain independent. The desire for sovereignty is a stronger force than many observers in Moscow appreciate. With the strongest of these states, Russia must create genuine state-to-state relations. Even a Russian policy that is successful within the CIS Wis will have to deal with a division between those states dependent on Russia and those that are less active participants in, or even wholly outside, the structures of the CIS. This division is not simply a function of the growing pains of the CIS but a permanent trait of the economic and security environment of the former U.S.S.R.

If the region’s strongest states opt for a more independent path, the CIS will be limited to failed and failing states and will fall far short of becoming a zone of genuine political and economic cooperation. Russia must inevitably assume the role of creating and sustaining the cis. There can be no talk of burden-sharing nor of anything like an Eastern European equivalent of NATO or the European Union. Russia must come to terms with the diversity in its own backyard. There are advantages to having sovereign neighbors that can stand on their own two feet, particularly if, as in this case, none of them can mount a military or security threat without the aid of another power.

Another enduring change shaping Eurasia is its growing openness to the outside world. The economic links, transportation patterns, and cultural and linguistic orientations sustained by imperial domination are already being challenged by alternatives from China, South Asia, the Islamic world, and Europe. Russia will never be a marginal country for the new states of the former U.S.S.R., but even a revived Russia is unlikely to enjoy for long anything like its current advantages.

Wider options will spring from relations with the outside world. A dramatic reversal of the historical flow of power is already apparent in Eurasia as a whole. For the first time in decades, political, economic, and even military power is flowing from the outside into the heart of Eurasia. What happens on the rim and in China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey has an increasing impact in the center of the continent. The Soviet state effectively sealed itself off from the outside world. It attempted to influence the borderlands, but was rarely influenced by them. That pattern’s reversal is of momentous significance in Eurasia and is likely to be a source of continuing shock to Russia.

Early in the next century, the projected growth of the economies of China and other Asian states will change world consumption patterns of oil, natural gas, and other natural resources, increasing the importance of sources of those commodities in Central Asia and Russia. Asian requirements will spur new transportation links, pipelines, and trade patterns. Through the opening of Central Asia and the former U.S.S.R., Asian economic and security issues could become tightly interwoven. Although still in its beginning stages and largely peripheral to Western interests, the opening and development of Central Asia could also provide a land connection between such vital areas as East Asia and the Persian Gulf. With its demographic imbalances, ethnic tensions, natural riches, and emerging states, the old Sino-Soviet land border, over 4,Zoo miles long, is perhaps the most geopolitically active region in the world.

A similar transformation of the states on Russia’s western border could well occur with the expansion of the European Union, even if none of the new states of the former U.S.S.R. are immediate candidates for membership. If the Visegrad states become members, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States, and even the Kaliningrad district of Russia will border countries integrated into Western Europe. The influence of such a market would be irresistible. The Baltic states make no secret of their desire to join the EU, and with its recent economic advances, Estonia’s candidacy is being taken seriously. Similarly, given Ukraine’s desire for links to the West and Poland’s need for a stable and independent Ukraine, Polish-Ukrainian relations, like other bilateral and multilateral relations that exclude Russia, have greatly expanded and will continue to grow.

With the prospect of NATO expansion, the security orientations of the states of Central Europe are also changing. Poland’s inclusion in NATO would create Western interests in and increased interaction with the bordering Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine, although this is little understood in the West. Poland’s security, and thus that of its allies, will be in large measure determined by the stability of its eastern neighbors. NATO and the most powerful Western states will gradually become more active in Eurasia as the alliance’s new frontiers demand their attention. President Lushenka’s recent steps toward establishing a Belarusan dictatorship, events that the West has largely deemed a Russian affair, could not so easily be left to Moscow were Belarus NATO’S forward position. While increased Western activity in Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltics need not conflict with Russian interests, it will certainly be another sign of how the outside world has begun to shape lands that Russia has traditionally regarded as its exclusive domain.

South By Southwest

As Chinese power continues to grow, Russia must also accept and adjust to China’s efforts to claim its place among the world’s leading states. Although focused on Taiwan and the south, China will also bring considerable economic and demographic pressure to bear on Central Asia and the Russian Far East. The sheer size of the Chinese economy and the dynamism of its development are likely to be much more important factors in the development of Siberia and the Russian Far East than development plans from Moscow. If China undergoes an internal crisis that prevents it from becoming a true global power, its impact could be even greater; a weakened Russia would have to deal with the instability and chaos of an unstable China.

From the southwest, Islam will continue to influence states of the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as adjacent regions of Russia. The new Islamic states of the former U.S.S.R. will inevitably take their place in the Islamic world. Some Russian officials and commentators seem hysterical when describing this shift, as if the Islamic world were a monolithic fundamentalist block that the new states of Central Asia would be unable or unwilling to resist. The truth is more complex. Although one cannot rule out an accession of factions with fundamentalist links and leanings in Tajikistan or elsewhere in Central Asia, the real outside influence is Islam itself. The states of Central Asia have been steeped for more than a century in Russian civilization. That influence, and its advantages for Moscow, must subside. It will linger longer and more vividly in states like Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, which have both entered into integration agreements with Russia, but even they will eventually become increasingly Islamic.

Along the rim of Eurasia, the end of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry-and thus the withdrawal of Soviet aid and power and the downsizing of U.S. forces and commitments-has left a vacuum for the region’s states to fill. Both Russia and the United States must deal with the rise of the region’s middle powers. While Moscow remains preoccupied with conflicts in the militarily weaker states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, those powers just beyond the borders of the former U.S.S.R. are modernizing their military forces with advanced conventional systems, long-range missiles, and even nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Conflicts between those powers could well include the threat or even the use of such weapons. Both the United States and Russia still view that threat through the eyes of their friends and former clients. Russia is content with its strong ties to India, Iraq, and Iran, and it worries about Turkey and Pakistan. For the United States, the dual menace of Iran and Iraq is paramount. Continuing to view the region as a struggle of proxies will prevent both Russia and the United States from addressing the problems likely to emerge there. The states on the Eurasian rim could well give rise to ambitious powers with significant military capabilities that would cast a shadow both inward, over the core of Eurasia, and outward, over sea-lanes vital to the United States. Unfortunately, Moscow and Washington have yet to explore the potential for strategic cooperation to avoid such dangers.

Russia’s Rabbit Hole

For at least three centuries Russia has been a constant and decisive presence in European and Asian balances of power. In the past five decades, the Soviet Union, emergent as a superpower, was in a tug of war for diplomatic dominance. With that in mind, observers continue to focus on the potential for Russian strength rather than current Russian weakness. But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the country’s massive internal needs have constrained Russian power. Those constraints are not immutable. Economic growth will return. The fragmentation of the state can be overcome, and dilapidated armies can be restored. Even changes outside Russia may turn out to be less intrusive or corrosive of Russian power than current trends suggest, but they do circumscribe Russia’s immediate choices and form the basis for any longer-term options for restoration.

In the short term, Russia can be neither a global partner nor a global menace. Its most sustained international efforts continue to be those closest to home, particularly on the territory of the former U.S.S.R. Even there, Russia’s ambitions and commitments are out of keeping with its current capabilities. Constraints on the country’s resources and the rise of a more complex external environment limit Moscow’s ability to dominate the former U.S.S.R., but they do not rob Russia of the natural leverage it enjoys over its new neighbors as a result of its great size, natural wealth, and long-term potential. Russia would enjoy more options if its leaders modernized their views and embraced less direct forms of influence, including the whole arsenal of “soft power.” There are considerable advantages for a state under Russia’s current constraints in eschewing the economic and military obligations that extensive interference in the lives of its neighbors would entail. Some within the Russian leadership understand that, but others still see the former U.S.S.R. as an unambiguously Russian arena, a last bastion of the old-fashioned rule of the strong.

Even here, Russian power is limited. Neither Russia nor the rest of the world has adjusted to the shape of the new Eurasia, to the potential for the combination of excessive Russian ambitions and dwindling Russian capabilities to spark strategic surprises. With China emerging as a superpower, conflicts festering in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and relations within the cis growing more diverse, the makings of such surprises dot Russia’s periphery. In many places strategic initiative has shifted to China and the small and medium-sized states of the rimlands. These patterns of Eurasian power and diplomacy are still in their early stages. There are more surprises to come.

Both Russia and the West must now get the outlines of Eurasia’s emerging security environment right. If the West misinterprets Russian foreign policy, mistaking today’s more assertive and nationalist consensus for the return of the old Russia, it could prematurely end an era still marked by the virtual disappearance of the great strategic frictions that plagued U.S.-Soviet relations. The West could well wind up on a fruitless watch for the return of great Russia, allowing other challenges to the peace and stability of Eurasia to slip by. Russia too will suffer if it believes that the West-and not its own situation-is to blame for making Russia’s traditional posture in its neighborhood and beyond unsustainable. Nor will adopting an antiWestern posture help address the emerging challenges Russia faces to the south and the east.

The Eurasia of the next century will yield an array of such challenges, and they will almost certainly be easier to address through U.S. and Western cooperation with Russia than in its absence. Mutual suspicions, unresolved differences, and unfulfilled promises now taint the basis for cooperation. The West bears some of the blame, but Russia must understand the strategic realities of its situation and act accordingly. Russia is a wedged bear in a great tightness, and its extraction is unlikely to be the stuff of children’s tales.