Russia and the West: From Dialogue to Confrontation

At the beginning of the end of the Cold War, Russia completely gave up confrontation and opposition in diplomacy and realized reconciliation and cooperation with western countries. During yeltsin’s reign, the development of relations between Russia and western countries roughly went through two stages: early one-sided pro-Western and middle and late balanced diplomacy dominated by the West and supplemented by the East. Mr. Putin’s first two terms in office largely continued this east-West diplomacy. Under Mr. Medvedev, Russia tried to expand its involvement in European affairs, removing economic and security barriers and building closer ties with Europe. However, Russia’s proposals did not receive a positive response, and western countries remained reluctant to accept Russia. After Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012, Russia and the West have become increasingly distant, and the geopolitical competition between the two sides in the post-Soviet space has intensified. In 2014, a fierce geopolitical struggle broke out between Russia and the West in Ukraine, which severely damaged the security mutual trust and brought the cooperative relationship to an end. The two sides regarded each other as the main security threat, and the relationship became dominated by competition and supplemented by cooperation. Since 2021, the competition between Russia and the West has been further upgraded, and the two sides have once again played a fierce game around the relationship between NATO and Ukraine. In February 2022, as the Russia-Ukraine conflict intensified, Russia launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Western countries imposed comprehensive economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation on Russia, and relations between Russia and the West have since turned confrontational.
The West ignores and contradicts Russia’s demands

After the end of the Cold War, Russia transplanted the western political system and market economy system, eliminating the institutional differences between itself and the Western world. Russians once thought they deserved to be part of the Western world again in terms of their culture, political system and market model. But Russia’s practice of “embracing the West” has not turned out well. For more than 30 years since the end of the Cold War, Russia has taken improving relations with the West as one of the priorities of its diplomacy for most of the time, and has always maintained great strategic patience with the West. Although western countries support Russia to join the G7 and NATO’s “Partnership for Peace plan”, they have not really accepted Russia, and regard Russia as one of the main security threats, constantly encroached and squeezed Russia’s strategic space.
First, the West refuses to integrate Russia into the Western security system

Russia’s relationship with NATO began with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. In 1991, Russia joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. In 1994, Russia joined NATO’s “Partnership for Peace program” and has actively participated in NATO-led peacekeeping operations in the Western Balkans. In 1997, the two sides signed the Basic Document on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between the Russian Federation and THE PSCO, which became the basis of bilateral relations. Russia briefly froze ties with NATO in 1999 over disagreements over Kosovo, but resumed cooperation after the crisis ended and has participated in NATO activities in Yugoslavia, including in the NATO-led Kosovo Stabilization Force. On the basis of the 1997 document, consultations and cooperation between Russia and NATO are gradually institutionalized. In 1998, Russia established a diplomatic mission in NATO. NATO established an information office in Moscow in 2001 and a military Liaison Mission in 2002.
After putin came to power, he also hoped to break through the bottleneck of security trust in relations with the United States and completely eliminate the “bad feelings” in bilateral relations. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Putin called President George W. Bush to unequivocally support U.S. counterterrorism operations, unexpectedly open air corridors to the United States, and fully support U.S. operations in Afghanistan. In 2002, the NATO-Russia Council was established as a platform for bilateral consultations and cooperation on security issues, and the dialogue and cooperation between the two sides intensified during this period. Cooperation between Russia and NATO was suspended due to the 2008 War with Georgia and “restarted” after 2009. Since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, cooperation and dialogue between Russia and NATO have been greatly affected, with each side accusing the other of undermining regional peace and stability. In 2021, the West announced the expulsion of eight members of the Russian mission to NATO. In response, Russia decided to suspend the operation of its diplomatic missions in NATO, and demanded that NATO close its information office in Moscow and suspend its military liaison mission in Moscow.
Throughout the development of the relationship between Russia and NATO after the Cold War, the West pays more attention to the stability of the security relationship with Russia. Although NATO established the NATO-Russia Council by admitting Russia into the alliance’s “Partnership for Peace” program, it did not seriously consider letting Russia become a full member. The West is not only integrating the former Warsaw Pact members into its political, economic and security system, but also preparing to include some post-Soviet space states. On the one hand, western countries completely ignore Russia’s desire to integrate into the West, and on the other hand, push Russia further and further through NATO and THE EU’s “double eastward expansion”, which makes Russia and the West more and more isolated, and Moscow has become more and more distant from Brussels on the periphery.
Second, western indifference to Russia’s efforts to join the Western economic and diplomatic system

Russia and the EU are geographically close and maintain more economic and cultural ties. Russia attaches great importance to the political and economic relations with eu countries, which is one of the important contents of the relations between Russia and the West after the Cold War. Russia has never proposed joining the European Union because “Russia is too big, too complex and too backward to be a member” of the EU. At the beginning of the cold war, the EU’s relationship with Russia was more about aid and cooperation. In 1991, the European Community formulated the “Tassis Plan” to aid the Soviet Union, covering political, economic and social fields. Since then, the EU has provided technical assistance to Russia to help it make the transition to a market economy as quickly as possible. In June 1994, Russia and the EU signed the Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation, establishing a framework for bilateral cooperation in trade, investment and market. After 1994, Russia-EU relations developed relatively steadily, and the EU supported Russia’s economic reform and participation in globalization. From 1995 to 2014, the EU and Russia regularly held leaders’ summits and bilateral political, security and economic dialogues. In 2005, Russia and the EU signed a package agreement on the establishment of a unified economy, internal security, external security, scientific, educational and cultural space, but due to the lack of consensus on human rights, geopolitical security and other aspects, as well as the lack of supervision mechanism, these agreements have not been effectively implemented.
With the eastward expansion of the EU, the cooperation between the EU and Russia began to be disrupted by some eastern European countries, which blocked it on the grounds of security and human rights issues. In 2006, Poland voted down negotiations to launch a new PARTNERSHIP and cooperation agreement between the European Union and Russia. After the Ukraine crisis, the EU and the US imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia, covering financial, military, oil and other fields. In February 2022, after the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the EU upgraded its sanctions against Russia, including freezing the assets of the Russian Central Bank and large commercial banks in the EU, disconnecting major Russian banks from the International Funds Clearing System (SWIFT), and closing the airspace to Russian airlines.

In addition to bilateral relations with western countries, Russia also values its participation in the G7. Since 1994, Russia has been attending g7 summit meetings as a non-observer, forming the “7+1” mechanism. In 1997, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton invited then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin as an official participant, marking the g-7’s formal transformation into the G-8. This is the diplomatic “entry” courtesy of the West to Russia. But after the Crisis in Ukraine, the original G7 members refused to allow Russia to attend and reconvened the G7 summit. Since then, Russia has gradually separated from the collective diplomacy with the West, the two sides competition is more than cooperation, the relationship gradually cold down.
Third, the United States obstructs Diplomatic dialogue between Russia and Europe

In the 2000s, Russia largely abandoned the idea of integration with the West and instead sought to maintain dialogue and cooperation with Europe. However, the COOPERATION between the EU and Russia is not smooth due to the OBSTRUCTION of the United States. In February 2014, the United States backed pro-Western parties in Ukraine to escalate the political crisis and topple the Pro-Russian government. Western countries imposed a series of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation on Russia after the Crimea crisis, including expelling The country from the G8 and suspending Russia from the Council of Europe.
Russia is still trying to repair relations with the European Union, even under western sanctions. Russia will focus on developing relations with the West on the old European countries, through repairing relations with the old European countries to stabilize the overall relationship with the EU. Putin took advantage of the Trump administration’s unilateralist and economic isolationist policies to repair relations with Germany and France through multiple means of diplomacy, security and economy, which greatly eased the Russia-Eu relations damaged by the Ukraine crisis. Russia is cooperating with Germany to expand gas sales to the EU and build the Nord Stream 2 undersea gas pipeline directly to Germany. Germany will not only gain access to cheap clean energy supplies, but also dominate the transit and sale of Russian gas to Europe. Russia cooperated with France in setting up the “Normandy Dialogue” platform on resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which enhanced France’s influence in eu foreign affairs. With the support of old European countries like Germany and France, Russia was able to return to the Council of Europe in June 2019. A proposal by Germany and France to resume meetings between EU leaders and Putin in June 2021 was blocked by eastern European countries, including Poland, and the EU failed to seize its last chance for dialogue with Putin. On 25 February 2022, the Council of Europe once again decided to suspend The representation of Russia in the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and parliamentary Assembly on the pretext of Russia’s military action against Ukraine.

The United States issued a joint statement announcing the ban on the SWIFT system for several major Russian banks.

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and NATO secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talk during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on March 4, 2022.

Russia’s new diplomatic detente with the European Union has again been undermined by American obstruction. At this point, Putin became disillusioned with developing relations with the West, and Russia’s efforts to “embrace the Western world” were a complete failure. Mr Putin recognises that it will be hard to reverse Russia’s marginalisation in the future European security landscape and global geopolitics, much less in the global economy, without a strong hand. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, described the talks between his Russian and British counterparts on Ukraine as “a dialogue between the dumb and the deaf”.
The West underestimated Russia’s ability and determination to strike back strategically

After the end of the Cold War, the international security environment improved significantly. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact brought Europe back to dialogue and cooperation. However, western Russia cut off the outside of the security, diplomatic, and regional economic integration system, ignoring Russia’s opposition, expand NATO members, improve relations with the post-soviet space of Ukraine and Georgia, establish substantial associate member relations with these countries, but underestimated the ability of Russia’s strategic counterattack and determination.
First, disregard Russia’s attempts to build a European security mechanism

After giving up joining NATO, Russia sought to establish cooperative relations with NATO in the face of NATO’s continuous eastward expansion. Russia’s negotiations with NATO countries are a new attempt to achieve peace and stability in Europe. The dialogue between the two sides is no longer about accession or union, but about the search for a new way of coexistence. In 2010, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented a draft of a new European security treaty to NATO countries at a meeting of foreign ministers of the Russia-NATO Council. Russia has proposed to the West a unified European security mechanism. “Collective political will is needed to achieve a future-oriented breakthrough and end nearly 20 years of uncertainty and instability,” Mr Medvedev said. Moscow wants to create a unified and indivisible political-military security space in North America, Europe and Central Asia. Russia’s attempt to change the NATO-led European security framework is an important attempt by Russia to reshape the strategic balance in Europe. But the Western response to the Russian security initiative has been cool.

The Baltic Fleet of the Russian Navy takes part in a military exercise in Kaliningrad, Russia, March 4, 2022.
Second, ignoring Russia’s core security aspirations

Indeed, NATO has been against the Russian, adopted the policy of expanding unceasingly, enlarging members from 16 to 30 and sphere of influence from the Western Europe, southern Europe and central Europe during the cold war gradually extended to the eastern and southeast Europe, stretching from the Baltic to the black sea region, formed a complete strategic encirclement in Russia. While absorbing central and Eastern European countries, NATO also turned its attention to post-Soviet space states and established “Partnership for Peace” with these countries. NATO has used some of the post-Soviet space states’ historical grievances and territorial disputes with Russia to encourage them to move closer to the alliance, with Ukraine and Georgia being the most active. After Crimean crisis in 2014, NATO to increase support for Ukraine, successively in 2019 and 2020 to absorb Georgia and Ukraine to become “NATO’s ability to enhance partners”, is equivalent to give these countries of NATO membership, marked the NATO has formally entered the Soviet union after Russia’s traditional sphere space. In His State of the Nation address in April 2021, Putin publicly warned that “no country should cross Russia’s strategic red line, otherwise Russia will respond firmly.” “If anyone mistook our goodwill for blindness or weakness… They should know that Russia will respond swiftly and asymmetrically.”

Belittling Russia’s last-ditch attempt to establish security guarantees

After the 2014 Ukraine crisis, Ukraine turned to the West for security, economy and diplomacy, seeking membership in NATO and the European Union. Russia cares most about the relationship between NATO and Ukraine, believing that Ukraine’s membership in NATO will seriously threaten Russia’s security. In June 2020, Ukraine was granted NATO Capability Enhancement Partner status, which means it receives all military resources except collective security commitments and enjoys the same treatment as a NATO member in terms of training, command, logistics and intelligence. Russia believes that NATO’s substantive cooperation with Ukraine has threatened Moscow’s security and crossed its “strategic red line.” In his State of the nation address in April 2021, Putin pointed out that Russia has shown itself to be discreet and gentle, and that Russia wants to maintain good relations with all its international partners. Some countries should not mistake Russian modesty for weakness. If anyone crosses Russia’s red line and burns or even blows up “Bridges”, Russia will respond with uneven, swift and strong responses.

A group of Ukrainian residents arrive after crossing the border in Siegtu-Marmachei, Maramlesh County, Romania, On March 4, 2022.

In December 2021, Russia again proposed to the United States and NATO to hold security negotiations. In the draft Russia-UNITED States Security Treaty and the Draft Agreement on Security Measures between Russia and NATO Member States submitted by Russia at the same time, it clearly required NATO to give up its eastward expansion and not admit Ukraine into NATO. Russia and NATO do not deploy short – and medium-range missiles in areas where they can hit each other; The two sides return to the positions specified in the 1997 Basic Document on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between the Russian Federation and THE North Atlantic Treaty Organization. However, the diplomatic communication between Russia and the United States and NATO is not smooth. The West has rejected Russia’s core demands for security guarantee and is only willing to communicate on the issues of European restrictions on short and medium range missiles and military transparency. By rejecting Russia’s core demands, NATO clearly underestimated Russia’s ability and resolve to respond strategically.
In the case of fruitless negotiations on security guarantee with NATO, Putin chose to give up dialogue and turn to war to disarm Ukraine and completely reverse the offensive situation of NATO against Russia in Ukraine. The Russia-Ukraine war meant the rupture of the relationship between Russia and NATO, and Russia chose to realize its demand for security through extreme confrontational means.
The deterioration of relations between Russia and the West is the result of a combination of factors

There are many factors that lead Russia and the West to turn from cooperation to confrontation, including subjective factors of both sides and objective factors brought by the change of international system. The subjective factor is mainly the contradiction between Russian and western values, security concept and international concept, while the objective factor is the impact brought by the change of international pattern after the Cold War.
First, the security concept of Russia and the West is contradictory. As a legacy of the Cold War, NATO has retained the us-led collective security system, and its security concept is still based on exclusive collective security. In the process of NATO’s eastward expansion, Russia has always been placed outside the security system, ignoring Russia’s appeal for integration and participation in the European security system. While NATO expands the group’s security boundary, it invisibly compresses Russia’s security space. The exclusive group security concept is contrary to the security reality of The European region, resulting in the decline of security mutual trust between Russia and NATO. In particular, the security cooperation between NATO and post-Soviet space states has seriously damaged Russia’s security environment.
Second, the contradiction of economic integration between the West and Russia. After entering the 21st century, both Russia and the EU put forward their own exclusive economic integration plans in the post-Soviet space states under the background of impossible economic integration. Both the European Union and Russia have actively courted Ukraine into their own economic integration programs. In 2009, the EU launched the “Eastern Partnership”, a regional economic integration plan to attract post-Soviet space states to join the EU, using the fta agreement as a bait. In response to western competition, Russia proposed the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2012, enticing post-Soviet space states to join with special tariffs and cheap energy. At the end of 2013, a political crisis broke out in Ukraine over whether to sign the Association Status Agreement between Ukraine and the EU to join the “Eastern Partnership Program”. Due to the interference of western countries led by the United States in Ukraine’s internal affairs, the political crisis escalated into a national regime change. Russia and the West accused each other of interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, which eventually led to a crisis in the relations between Russia and the West. The Ukrainian crisis in 2014 was caused by the competition of economic integration between Russia and the West, which was essentially the competition for dominance of the post-Soviet space political and economic order, and led to the rupture of political relations between Russia and the West.
Third, Russia and the West have serious differences of values. After Putin came into power, he gradually formed a political thought with Russian characteristics — Putinism, which is a sovereign democratic thought based on Russian conservatism and a combination of western democratic system and Russian national conditions. “As a sovereign state, Russia can and will autonomously decide on all timelines on the road to democracy and the conditions for advancing democracy,” Putin said, adding that “democratic values must be aligned with national interests.” Russian famous political theorist Surkov believes that Russian democracy is a “new state” theory developed in Russia, which is not only suitable for Russia in the future, but also has significant “export potential”. Differences over the model of democracy have created a kind of value rivalry between Russia and the West. The West regarded itself as the victor of the Cold War, and was keen to play the role of “lecturer” to other countries and interfere in their political reform, no matter in economic development or political reform. Jose Manuel Barroso, former president of the European Commission, acknowledged that the EU wanted to exert value influence on post-Soviet space states through the Eastern Partnership. Putin argued that “the West must learn its lesson and stop imposing its values on others.”
Fourthly, the change of international system impacts the relationship between Russia and the West. Kenneth Waltz, representative of American neo-realism theory, believes that the outbreak of war is related to three levels of factors — decision-maker’s individual factor, national internal factor and international system factor, among which the characteristics of international system have a direct and important influence on politics. After the end of the Cold War, the world formed a world pattern of “one superpower, many powers”, with western countries led by the United States occupying the center of world politics, economy and security. However, in the 21st century, the trend of multi-polarization in the international pattern has developed rapidly, and emerging economies represented by China, Russia and India have risen rapidly. The “West-centered theory” has been questioned more and more. Insecurity is on the rise in the West. In order to maintain its world hegemony, the West began to contain and smear Russia, China and other emerging powers. The balance of great power relationship is broken due to the change of international power balance. The development process of Russia and the West from cooperation to confrontation is the result of the change of international system.