Russia is the world’s leading exporter of instability

We live in a time of great geopolitical change. As the rules and certainties of the past are exposed as outdated and discarded as superfluous, we can only predict more instability with some certainty.

This turbulence is driven by a number of factors, including the disruptive role of new technology and the unpredictability of black swan events like the coronavirus pandemic. However, when it comes to fueling and exploiting today’s increasing international instability, one country stands out in particular.

Russia has become the world’s leading exporter of instability over the past two decades. This has become a central pillar of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, allowing Moscow to undermine potential adversaries from within while giving the Kremlin a blow well beyond its true geopolitical weight.

Russia has shown itself to be particularly adept at exporting instability to the post-Soviet space. This relentless destabilization of Russia is a reality in Ukraine today, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and beyond. The current situation in Belarus offers a glimpse of Russia’s opportunism in this regard, with Moscow taking advantage of the unexpected instability caused by last year’s pro-democracy uprising to strengthen its control over the country.

Events in Belarus are of growing concern in Ukraine. Military planners in Kiev are already confronted with a shared border of around 2000 km with Russia. Should Belarus lose its independence, Ukraine faces a huge new border in the north of the country, which is occupied by Russian troops.

The risk of a major conflict breaking out in Ukraine cannot be overestimated. For the past seven and a half years, Russia has been waging a hybrid war against Ukraine that includes a conventional military component as well as cyber, information and economic elements.

Around 14,000 people were killed in this war and millions of Ukrainians had to flee their homeland. The Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine remain under Russian occupation. Ukrainians will have to struggle with the trauma of the conflict for generations and will have to live with the daily danger of a new escalation.

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Many of the instruments of destabilization developed by the Kremlin in its war against Ukraine were later used with great success elsewhere against European countries and the United States. We have to admit that Russia is very good at what it does.

Moscow has rewritten the propaganda rules and set new standards in the dark art of digital disinformation. The post-Cold War dominance of CNN and other flagships of the Western mainstream media now seems a distant memory. Instead, it is Russia that increasingly sets the information agenda and leads the global debate.

Disinformation is just one of the Kremlin’s many destabilizing tactics. Russia is also launching cyber attacks, armed energy supplies, deployed mercenaries and, wherever possible, fomented separatism.

It should come as no surprise that Moscow supports far-right and far-left political movements across Europe with equal enthusiasm. The ideology in question does not matter. All that matters is the ability to spread instability. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that whatever is good for Putin’s Russia is bad for the whole world.

Russia will continue to export instability until it is resolutely confronted. The efforts of the past seven years to argue with Russia or end the confrontation sparked by the occupation of Crimea in 2014 have only helped fuel further escalation by the Kremlin.

Moscow has developed a compelling narrative about the rotten West, and many in Russia remain confident that the democratic world is ultimately toothless. Given the reluctance of European politicians to confront Putin about his war in Ukraine, it is hardly surprising that Russians believe they have little to fear.

Of course, Putin does not hold all the cards. China and Turkey retain the ability to grab the Kremlin’s attention while the United States continues to dominate Russian foreign policy thinking. However, many Muscovites see America today as preoccupied with domestic problems. They have convinced themselves that the only global superpower cannot assert itself on the world stage as it once did. Predictably, the recent Afghanistan debacle was welcomed in Russia as evidence of this waning US influence.

In reality, the West is not weak. On the contrary, it is overwhelmingly more powerful than Russia economically and militarily, but also light years ahead in any honest competition of ideas and aspirations. The main reason Moscow’s destabilization tactic has proven so successful is because the West refuses to recognize the reality of hostile Russia.

It is time to wake up from that dangerous slumber. The victory of democracy in the Cold War is long gone, and a new generation of conflicts has long since dawned. Western leaders must stop looking at the world through the prism of the past and grapple with the novel form of destabilizing hybrid warfare currently practiced by Putin’s Russia.

One of the keys to fighting the Kremlin is education. We need to rethink our entire approach and place a much greater emphasis on improving digital literacy. Russia has brilliantly exploited the weaknesses created by the information revolution and the breakdown of old media models. The only way to address this is through educational innovation.

We also have to learn to connect the dots. In recent years individual countries have become so preoccupied with domestic political issues that they have often overlooked the evidence of a Russian role in the instability spreading from nation to nation around the world. It is crucial to refocus on international cooperation and recognize the common interests we all share as we work together to overcome this threat.

The world we live in is currently changing at an unprecedented pace, but not all of the instabilities we encounter are organic or inevitable. We must adapt our thinking to the new environment if we are to prevent bad faith actors from exporting instability to fuel their own ambitions.

Iuliia Mendel is a Ukrainian journalist and former press officer for President Zelenskyi.

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The views expressed on UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its employees, or its supporters.

the of the Eurasia Center The mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values ​​and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the west to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the east.

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PICTURED: St. Basil’s Cathedral and a Stalin era skyscraper are seen during sunset on a frosty day in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 8, 2020. (REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov)

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