Understanding Russia’s grand strategy can help U.S. decisionmakers estimate the thoroughness and character of possible conflicts between Russia and the United States and avoid strategic surprise by better anticipating Moscow’s actions and responses. Because grand strategy is more than a collection of proclaimed foreign policy goals, a country’s grand strategy must be understood by both a study of meaningful documents and statements and a close empirical examination of patterns of behavior.
A new RAND report, Russian Grand Strategy: Rhetoric and Reality, examined and tested elements of Russia’s stated grand strategy and then outlined what behaviors would be expected if Russia’s behavior reflected that strategy. The authors then tested those expectations against empirical observations of Russian actions and resource decisions.
The assessments of Russia’s adherence to the elements of its stated grand strategy suggest five overarching implications for understanding the evolution of Russian strategy:
Russia’s stated strategy can generally be considered a reliable predictor of the state’s efforts.
Russia has reacted to the Ukraine crisis and later breakdown in relations with the West in ways that cause its behavior to move apart from its stated strategic goals.
Insufficient economic resources and a without of political influence limit Moscow’s ability to realize its stated objectives.
Russian strategy prioritizes threats and consequently implies acceptance of certain risks in lower-priority areas. In practice, however, Russia seems unwilling or unable to accept these risks, and consequently designates resources in ways that are inconsistent with its stated strategy.
The examination does not suggest that Russia’s revealed grand strategy is fundamentally divergent from its stated one.
The authors point to several considerations for U.S. policymakers. for example, strategic competition will keep most intense around Russia’s post-Soviet Eurasian edge. Moscow will continue to diversify its foreign policy portfolio away from the West; over time, this diversification could lessen the impact of sanctions or other Western leverage. Russia’s defense budget has plateaued to 2021, but its military requirements have not. Russian special forces, private military contractors, and intelligence operatives will increasingly be used oversea, including in areas where the U.S. military is present.
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