Threats to Russia in 2016: a Forecast
Moscow, Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall

Although Moscow’s policy remains rather cautious on the whole, even the most experienced strategist has a “blind zone”, the portion of the perspective hidden behind an obstacle. What threats await Russia in 2016? How will the Russian-American relations progress? Can the spread of extremism in Russia be prevented? These and many other issues were addressed by the authors of the Foreign Policy Agency report, titled “International Threats – 2016”, during the presentation at the Valdai Discussion Club on March 29.

Uncertainty is one of the most important issues in terms of political decision making. “The main objective of the report is to make the future more certain and, accordingly, to try to avoid the mistakes that could happen otherwise,” said Andrey Sushentsov, programme director at the Valdai Discussion Club and head of the Foreign Policy Agency.

In turn, Andrey Bezrukov, aide to the president of the Rosneft oil company and associate professor at the MGIMO university, said that the future cannot be precisely predicted, but possible scenarios can be examined to evaluate the risks and avoid the threats.

The future, according to the expert, consists of three components: the inevitable future (cyclical processes, like the change of governments, which are part of the international system), the possible future (probable scenarios for particular situations) and the unpredictable future (force majeur circumstances, paradigm shifts, impact of a personality etc.). The forecast presented in the report includes the three aforementioned components .

“Our task as those who analyze the international situation is to give an opportunity to the decision makers to look at the entire set of possible scenarios, to think what the world will look like if one or another scenario comes true and, based on this experience, to develop an action plan,” Bezrukov said.

Interestingly, the research was completed in the late 2015, when some of the situations whose development can be observed now were not yet evident. “Some forecasts of the situations we were examining turned out to be veritable,” Sushentsov stressed.

 The report says that “the United States’ Russian policy is a preventive counterattack carried out prior to this country’s return to its historic place after the current period of crisis.”

Andrey Bezrukov believes that Americans are too focused on their national interests and do not want to reckon with the fact that the world is changing, often to their favour. Hence the strategy of fencing off competitors, including Russia and China, by economic, political and other barriers. The US logic is as follows: if we cannot control the whole world, we can try and dominate a certain part thereof. The United States wants to retain its system, while Russia wants to pursue its own way, and this is the main contradiction between the two countries, the expert believes.

He named several more subjective reasons, which influence the relations between the two major powers, mostly determined by the human factor.

One of them is the presence of Cold warriors in the ruling classes of the United States and Europe. “In Russia, we almost have no such people, because we have had a revaluation, we have a clear understanding of what was and what can be, something they did not have. They regard themselves as the winners. If Russia begins to do something they do not like, this causes repulsion,” Bezrukov explained.

Another subjective reason impeding the development of partnership between Russia and the United States is the belief of some people  in the US administration that Americans are a God-chosen nation.

However, Bezrukov believes, the US elite is unsatisfied with the current White House policies. Hence the phenomena of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Bezrukov is confident that quite another political elite will emerge in the US in five to ten years, one that would be prone for a more constructive dialogue.

Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, who was the discussion moderator, said in turn that despite all the contradictions and even mutual resentment between the US and Russia today, the need in interaction and partnership is evident.“When a serious international issue was at stake, I mean crisis management in Syria, it turned out that only Russia and the US can decide anything on the world arena. Only they are efficient, in spite of their differences. Europe has disappeared as a political factor, while China is trying to pretend that this is none of its business. And who else?” Lukyanov asked rhetorically.

However, as the report authors stress, the US-Russia contradictions are not the key, and surely not the only important, topic of the research. It is only one of the international policy agendas, shaping the broad picture of international relations.

Sergey Markedonov, associate professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities, said that the panoramic coverage of international problems is the report’s strongest point. According to the expert, it is not “a discrete collection of jigsaw puzzles (coverage of “hot” topics detached from the international political and historic contexts), but an objective research which helps to correct the asymmetry of the international politics perception.

According to Markedonov, there are several types of presenting information, avidly employed by the media and politicians, which include personal attacks while examining global challenges. Another merit of the report is that it contains almost no names or accusations. “We did not plan to label anyone. We were trying to rationally explain Russia’s logic to both domestic and western audiences,” Markedonov said.

“Our report is rather an ellipsis than a period. It is an invitation to a serious expert dialogue with colleagues within the country and with our western partners,” he added.

Indeed, in the light of the Syrian crisis and the threat of international terrorism, the US-Russia relations are going into the background. Discussing the emergence of jihadism, experts stressed that it was a social, not a religious movement. It owes its Islamic banners to the fact that it comes from the Middle East. Andrey Bezrukov said jihadism was “a rebellion of the poor”.

Anyway, the metastases of terror have spread all over the world in a very short time span with the Brussels attacks being the most recent example. It is obvious that Europe, which cannot stem the flow of refugees, is unable to cope with the threat of terrorism. Therefore, Bezrukov believes, Europe should be expected to try and shift the jihadists’ focus onto Russia.

“We expect an increase in the attempts to destabilize us,” the expert stressed. The report authors believe that this is another serious challenge that Russia should be ready to face in 2016.

Further discussing international terrorism, Sushentsov said that the western media and expert publications use very different language when assessing terrorist attacks in Russia or against Russian citizens and those in the West or against Westerners.

“It causes a serious concern,” the expert said. “Until we overcome the gap in assessing the same phenomena, we will continue to be slow in reacting to the real existential threats,” he concluded.