Reckless ambition: Moscow’s policy toward the United States, 2016/17
Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election succeeded in introducing an element of chaos into US politics, but neither Russia nor its leader Vladimir Putin gained much from it. Instead, US sanctions against Russia increased, and Russia’s 2017 attempt to introduce a new “reset” policy to the administration of Donald Trump fell flat as conflict between the two countries escalated. This article describes what we know about Russian actions and delves into the Russian foreign policy decision-making process, proposing four alternative explanations for Russia’s 2016/17 policies toward the US: Putin’s psychological mindset; the limited rationality inherent in all similarly autocratic regimes; competing economic interests among Russia’s elite patron–client system; and the loss of centralized control over the actions of officers in Russia’s intelligence agencies. While there is insufficient evidence to choose among these explanations, the exercise is useful because it encourages analysts to think both beyond standard realist explanations and beyond the role of Putin as an individual.
KeywordsRussia USA Election meddling Decision-making Patron–client relations
Parts of this article draw on Kimberly Marten, “Explaining Russia’s Schizophrenic Policy toward the United States,” PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo 501 (Washington, DC: The George Washington University, Jan. 2018), http://www.ponarseurasia.org/sites/default/files/policy-memos-pdf/Pepm501_Marten_Jan2018.pdf. A draft of that memo was presented at the PONARS-Eurasia Policy Conference, “U.S.–Russian Relations One Year After The U.S. Election,” cosponsored by the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia at New York University in November 2017. I am grateful both for those earlier opportunities and for the comments received as a result of them. I also thank Neil MacFarlane and Elias Götz for organizing this special issue and inviting me to participate, and an anonymous reviewer and Elias Götz for detailed comments on this manuscript.
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