On March 23, 2015, Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs and Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy was our guest during the Brown Bag Lunch on “Russia’s Foreign Policy and its view of the new European (Dis)order”. Three big issues were dealt with: Russia’s current military conflict with Ukraine and the resulting implications on Russia’s position in the world; Putin’s role; and Russia’s economy. Katrin Eigendorf, reporter for ZDF and former Moscow Correspondent of RTL, interviewed Lukyanov about the current conflict.
Most questions centered around whether Russia is at war with Ukraine. That appears to be the case, Lukyanov said, but it is a war that has never been declared. Moreover, Ukraine never developed its own identity after gaining independence and Russia did not regard Ukraine as a separate country and Kiev is often seen as the cradle of Russia, Lukyanov said. Altogether, Putin’s role was highly emphasized during the discussion, with Putin being described as not having an overall strategy, rather a vision. The annexation of Crimea was an important step to challenge a world order which had been developed without Russia, Lukyanov said. On the other hand, the Baltic States were said to react hysterically with people from the Baltic States not trusting NATO to defend them in case of a military attack. According to Lukyanov, however, Russia would never risk a conflict with NATO. Neither was Georgia in Russia’s focus. But the militarization of Russia was important for Putin due to the fact that NATO was twice as big now as it was in 1999.
Another important issue was Russia’s economy. According to Putin, Lukyanov said, it had been a mistake to demolish the Soviet Union without a transition of the economic structures within Russia. Putin is often described as trying to re-establish the former status quo, implement the transition and then open up Russia again. Lukyanov also said that Europe and the U.S. had tried to use sanctions to punish Russia’s military actions. But they hadn’t changed anything. Now it is important to once again find common ground, Lukyanov said.
At the end of the discussion, Putin’s isolation was addressed. He may have a circle of people whom he trusts, but even they never know exactly how he will ultimately decide. Should Putin disappear one day, a great vacuum would open up, Lukyanov said. He may ultimately groom a successor, Lukyanov said, but that doesn't currently seem to be a priority.