Putin is fighting not only against Ukraine but also for his own political survival

Russia is trying to disrupt the Western world order dominated by the United States and create a new one where national sovereignty depends on how strong you are. This was among the messages conveyed during the panel Red Alert: Unmasking Russia’s Security Challenge to the Transatlantic Community. Panelists believe that Putin’s struggle in Ukraine reflects attempts to preserve his own position.

Mark Galeotti, Executive Director of Mayak Intelligence, said that Putin’s recent rhetoric suggests that this is a global battle.

This is not actually a war in Ukraine or even, as he would say, against Ukraine. This is, in fact, Russia defending itself from the West trying to undermine, marginalize, and even break up the Russian Federation. And Ukraine is just the most visible and most kinetic of a whole series of global battlefields. So that’s the current rhetorical line. Partly, this is obviously just an alibi, an explanation of why what was meant to be a short, sharp attack in Ukraine has turned into a long and, I would say, from Russia’s point of view, an unwinnable war. But it is more than that, Galeotti explained.

He believes that Russia, like a significant part of the Russian elite, is attempting to internalize the idea that Russia is in a politically existential struggle.

And therefore, if we look at what the actual threat is, I think from Putin’s point of view, this isn’t actually about further invasions, territorial conquests, or anything else, even if his military were able to do it. It’s about breaking the model, the unipolar Western world order dominated by the United States and creating one where national sovereignty is fundamentally something that depends on how strong you are, Galeotti explained.

In this way, as Galeotti believes, strong countries naturally impose their will on weaker ones.

It’s about creating a world in which Russia is recognized as a great power. And it’s a recognition of a world where our concepts of international law and similar things don’t apply. In fact, here, it’s a fight against Ukraine and a fight for Putin’s own political survival. But he now frames it in much broader systemic terms. Like one in which the future of the world is essentially at stake, Galeotti said.

Iuliia Osmolovska, Head of GLOBSEC Kyiv Office was asked what she sees as the main security challenge of Russia to the transatlantic community.

She believes that the main security challenge is in Russia’s growing assertiveness based on the appetite for imperial ambitions to divide and rule in Eurasia.

It’s the phantom pains of the disintegration of the USSR and the territories of states becoming independent, Russia’s inability to accept that new reality. And this could actually lead to the desire to dominate as a global power, as Mark noted, Osmolovska said.

Therefore, she believes that this threat to security stability in Europe will always exist.

And that will be because of the competitive nature in which Russia looks at the world. So, it’s not about cooperation or win-win models of engagement. It’s more about the struggle for power, which we can also see in Russian approaches to negotiations, she assessed.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a professor at the US Naval War College, mentioned that Russia, led by Putin, recognizes that economic tools are no less powerful than military or hybrid power. He highlights that Russia today applies a 19th-century view of the international system, where great powers do as they please, and lesser powers must accept what great powers offer.

And part of that is that Russia sees itself and positions itself as a key supplier of essential goods for the world economy, starting with energy, food, minerals, all kinds of parts that advanced economies need to sustain themselves. So, what we’ve seen over the past few years is Russia’s effort, essentially, to try to divide Europe by essentially being able to say that you sit atop supply chains that drive your economies, that allow you to have a standard of living, and if you don’t want to accede to our demands and do what we want, we can cut them. If you sanction us, we will find ways to evade those sanctions, and we will turn to other suppliers. And most importantly, we can help the rise of other economic centers in the world, starting with China, by being able to offer them lower tariffs, Gvosdev said.

Osmolovska believes that when it comes to Russia, countries on both sides of the Atlantic are on the same side. However,

Essentially, at the beginning of the war, we definitely saw a clear division in the perception of this threat coming from Russia. Central and Eastern European countries had this kind of experience of dealing with Russia during the time of the Soviet Union, especially having the experience of Russian troops being present in these countries. These countries were obviously the most important supporters of Ukraine. And they acted as a kind of engine for driving this consolidated position of support from the West. Whereas, for countries like France, Germany, Iberian countries, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Russia represents a somewhat more distant threat. So, they don’t perceive it as sensitively as Central and Eastern European countries did, Osmolovska explained. The United States, as she said, has always been on Ukraine’s side, and for the United States, this support for Ukraine has multidimensional aspects.

Finally, we have managed to obtain this very strong and consolidated position of the entire transatlantic community to support Ukraine and to commit to supporting Ukraine for as long as needed. However, we should not exclude psychological factors like relative fatigue or getting used to the aggressor. And yes, this position may vary over time, especially when there are political changes in different countries, as we have seen, for example, in Slovakia with recent statements that Slovakia will no longer supply military equipment to Ukraine, she said. Osmolovska concludes that we are currently experiencing the highest possible level of consolidated position and perception of Russia as a threat by various actors within this transatlantic community. However, we do not rule out the risks of some countries deviating from this unity. And Ukraine is actually doing a lot right now to maintain and preserve this unity, she concludes.