Differing scenarios of Russia-West relations in the area of Euro-Atlantic security were the topic of expert discussion held at the Valdai Club Conference Hall on August 21. The main topic was the Valdai Club report titled “The Euro-Atlantic Security Formula: Stable Deterrence and Its Alternatives,” prepared by Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Club and Director of Programmes of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC).
The report examines five scenarios for the future of relations between Moscow and the West. Scenarios of conflict and unstable deterrence are seen as the least desirable, but at the same time the most probable. Scenarios of cooperation and declining deterrence are the most desired, but the least likely. Stable deterrence is defined as a way to minimize damage, mitigate risks and increase predictability. The report concludes that under the current political conditions this scenario is realistic and feasible, although it does not solve the key issues in the relations between Russia and the West.
As Ivan Timofeev noted, stable deterrence is the best scenario that can lead to the normalization of relations.
According to Timofeev, the topic of Euro-Atlantic security has two opposite poles. On the one hand, it is discussed from the standpoint of confrontation, implying that Russia and the West are doomed to enter it. The opponents of this view speak of the need for unilateral concessions. Confrontational rhetoric is popular both in Russia and in the West. However, professional commentators do not adhere to extreme positions, Timofeev noted.
He also suggested giving up the illusion of there being a quick resolution of security issues.
"In the short term, it will be impossible to abandon mutual deterrence, but containment can be stable, remaining rough at the level of rhetoric. At the level of military contacts it is necessary to maintain a certain predictability for each other," Timofeev added.
Pavel Zolotaryov, Deputy Director of the Institute for US and Canada Studies, also pointed out the importance of dividing deterrence into political and military components.
"It is necessary to learn how to divide them, this will allow the military to react only to real threats," he said.
Zolotaryov recalled that in the early 1990s, there was no need for political deterrence between Russia and the West, and it existed only in the nuclear sphere. Since the second half of the 1990s, elements of political deterrence have appeared, at the beginning of the struggle for spheres of influence.
According to Zolotaryov, deterrence in general is possible in three areas: in the nuclear sphere; in the contest for spheres of influence; and in ideology. The red line in the struggle for spheres of influence was marked by events in Ukraine. In Zolotaryov’s opinion, there are no other major contradictions between Russia and the West, apart from spheres of influence in the post-Soviet space.
He also added that he is confident that the unleashing of war by the United States against Russia is completely unrealistic.
Prokhor Tebin, expert at the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, agreed with Zolotaryov’s assessment. According to Tebin, the relationship between Russia and the United States will remain very tense in the long term, but a large-scale war is impossible. At the same time, he drew attention to the likelihood of incidents and local conflicts between Russia and individual NATO countries. As an example, he cited the aggravation of relations between Russia and Turkey due to the downed Russian Su-24 bomber.
Tebin noted the need to develop dialogue between Russia and the United States and NATO at various levels, particularly at the military level, since this, in his opinion, will help prevent incidents and, most importantly, the escalation of incidents into hostilities.
"It is necessary to be prepared in advance for possible incidents, to designate red lines and paths toward de-escalation. In the situation with Turkey it became clear that a mechanism for preventing the escalation of incidents into hostilities exists," Tebin added.
Richard Weitz, Director of the Center for Military and Political Analysis at the Hudson Institute, talked about another scenario of security relations, namely, a partnership between Russia and the United States to counter China. However, this may strike a blow to the relations between Russia and China, Weitz said.
Weitz said that he hopes that the follow-up to the report will be a study of the steps necessary to design a more positive scenario.