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Russia Through the Eyes of Dutch Security and Foreign Policy Experts

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Russia Through the Eyes of Dutch Security and Foreign Policy Experts

On 20 February 2017, two Dutch think tanks – Clingendael and HCSS – presented their latest annual Strategic Monitors to the Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders. This post offers a brief overview of how the Russian Federation is perceived and portrayed in these reports.

In its Strategische Monitor 2017, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ explores global cooperation and conflict in ten areas. Russia earns particular attention in the fields of territorial integrity, energy, climate change, and cybersecurity. 

On the subject of territorial integrity, the study argues that a more assertive Russia has been willing to breach the principle of inviable borders during the Crimea crisis. Moscow has been increasing defence spending, although in the future domestic pressure to cut this budget is likely to grow. The authors suggest that the UN Security Council is losing its role as a forum to discuss security cooperation, due to the willingness of members such as Russia and China to use their veto. Meanwhile bodies such as the G20 are not yet ready to step up as a potential replacement forum. Here and elsewhere in the Strategic Monitor, the prospect of a Russian attack on the Baltic states is portrayed as not highly likely, but also not inconceivable, and as having a huge impact were it to happen.       

With regards to energy, the thematic report raises the threat of disruption of oil and gas supplies from Russia to Europe via Ukraine. It notes that some EU member states have highly asymmetric energy relationship with Russia. Geopolitical and geoeconomic conflicts both within the EU and between the EU and energy suppliers such as Russia remain a distinct possibility according to the authors.  

The references to Russia on the issue of climate change focus on the Arctic. Melting Arctic ice could have a wide range of implications, from economic opportunities and the opening of trade routes, to conflict over natural resources and borders. The report argues that tensions in the region are only likely to increase, and Russia will be an active participant in any developments. 

Russia features prominently in the discussion of cybersecurity. In addition to possible interference in the 2016 US elections, the report highlights claims of earlier Russian cyberattacks against Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine. As such the authors warn of the prospect of a large-scale cyberattack on civilian or military targets in the West were relations with Moscow deteriorate further.   

The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), in its Strategic Monitor Volatility and Friction in the Age of Disintermediation, uses datasets to analyse trends in confrontation, cooperation and conflict. In a move which will no doubt delight some commentators in Moscow, Russia is explicitly proclaimed as a great power, alongside the USA, Europe, India, Japan and China.

In terms of global conflict and cooperation, the trend towards increasing conflict in the world since 2000 is in part attributed to disagreements between Russia and the USA. More recently, relations between Russia and the Netherlands have been improving based on the measures employed by HCSS, nevertheless bilateral relations still remain negative overall.   

With regard to the influence Russia wields, the report argues that its status as one of the few selected great powers should be attributed to its resurgent military weight. HCSS argues that it lags behind economically. Its military and diplomatic assertiveness is usually employed in a negative manner. In relations towards what HCSS defines as 35 ‘pivot states’, Russia’s influence surged between 2007 and 2014. On closer inspection, this can be mostly put down to Moscow’s economic (mostly energy-related) and security influence in the post-Soviet space. A dedicated chapter looks at the geodynamic positioning of Moldova between Russia and the EU.

Both reports have suggestions for Dutch foreign, defence and security policies. HCSS draws attention to ‘strengthening and renewal of robust military and civil-military instruments of influence in order to deter and contain a resurgent Russia’ and warns that Europe is becoming ‘increasingly embroiled in a Second Cold War with Russia’. The Clingendael report agrees that the EU could come into conflict with Russia in certain spheres in coming years, but also argues that the drive to cooperate in other areas – such as energy and terrorism – will remain strong or even increase. As such the ‘greatest strategic challenge’ facing the Netherlands in the next five years is formulating a response to ‘changing multi-order’ with multiple simultaneous world orders.      

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