Mark Galeotti: “Re: Subject: A comment on Galeotti” [re: UK-Russian Relations, U.S.-Russian Relations, Nicolai Petro]

File Photo of British Parliament Building, Big Ben, Thames, adapted from image at loc.gov

Subject: Re: Subject: A comment on Galeotti
Date: Fri, 24 Jul 2020
From: Mark Galeotti <mark.galeotti@mayak-intelligence.com>

It’s always great when something you write receives a thoughtful response, but I did feel I needed make a couple of responses to Nicolai Petro’s open reply to my short commentary in The Spectator.

First of all, I was surprised to find the response predicated on how Moscow might respond to US overtures. There is something of a running joke, in Europe, at least, that Americans assume everything is about them. My article – written by a Brit, in a British magazine, anchored on a British report – was, primarily, about UK-Russian relations. There are, of course, all kinds of resonances with the US-Russian relationship, but the London-Moscow conjunction has a dynamic all its own.

Secondly, the assumption that I was suggesting “the perfunctory inclusion of measures to improve relations” is mistaken. I feel that we – whether the UK, Europe or the West in general – need a commitment to outreach and engagement with Russia every bit as serious as to containment and deterrence. Nother “perfunctory” about it. This is not because I think the former will somehow bring down Putin’s regime and the kleptocratic and authoritarian tendencies it embodies. I think time, economics, and the aspirations of the Russians themselves will do that in due course.

Rather, it is as much as anything else about a Hippocratic hope to “first, do no harm.” Without in any way exonerating the Kremlin for its own choices, we cannot escape the fact that we are also reaping the harvest of years of clumsy and often badly-informed policy towards Russia. My hope would be that while demonstrating a serious, sustained and – ideally – united determination to resist Russian aggression and interference, we can at least avoid hyperbolic claims about Russians’ alleged predisposition to corruption, deception or tyranny, and generally playing into Putin’s own narrative: that the West is Russia’s enemy.

This is, of course, the official line. My own experience – and maybe it’s just based on a different set of contacts and conversations than Petro’s – is that whatever they have to say in public, many (perhaps most) of the Russian elite actually don’t buy it. And certainly a population which, according to Levada surveys, is now less likely to think that their country has enemies than since 2014, seems no more willing to internalise the paranoid narratives of the Putins and Patrushevs.

Maybe, of course, I am simply naive and over-optimistic. But so long as we also deliver measured but meaningful rebuffs to Russian transgressions – and I think there is room for the UK to be more forceful, although actually we have of late done a decent job of balancing strength with proportionality – then I think remaining hopeful is not a bad thing to do.

Prof. Mark Galeotti
Principal Director, Mayak Intelligence
Honorary Professor, UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies
Senior Associate Fellow, Royal United Services Institute