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One step away
June 8, 2024

How far will Putin go?’

To provide analysis of Russia’s standing in the world, A&M will host experts from around the United States and Europe for a conference.
Don Bailey, assistant director for the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, said the conference, titled “Reexamining Putin’s Russia: Tsarist Dinosaur, Failed State Or 21st-Century Predator?” intends to try to understand the three main strands of thought regarding Russia.
“Well the ‘Tsarist Dinosaur’ part is they were still doing okay, but were living way, way, way in the past,” Bailey said. “The ‘failed state’ is because there are a bunch of folks up until recently who thought the state was just going to continue to dissolve into nothingness. The ‘21st century predator’ gets to the point — are we on the verge of another Cold War?”
Andrew Natsios, director of the Scowcroft institute, said the decision to hold the conference arose from concern in Europe over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies.
“There are many of us who watched Putin begin to move away from what we call a Western model of government,” Natsios said. “Russia had been moving under Yeltsin toward civil society, free market, democratic system, and it looked like that was happening at the beginning of Putin but then he began to suppress civil society, gradually took control of media.”
Natsios said the government under Putin shifted in an autocratic direction, and with Russia’s actions in Georgia in 2008 as well as its recent actions in the Ukraine, Russia has taken on expansionist goals.
“There is growing alarm in Europe, and some circles in Washington who have misjudged him, that he is potentially a revisionist, he is attempting to overthrow the existing international order and could be endangering world peace,” Natsios said.
Natsios said the goal of the conference is to begin an exploration of where Russia is now and where it is going.
“Gather some scholars who know a lot about Russia to go into more depth, analyze why this has happened and where Russia could go from here,” Natsios said. “How far will Putin go? There are a lot of things happening that would indicate he is looking for a confrontation. The goal of the conference is to understand where he is coming from, why he is doing what he is doing and that would inform policy better.”
Roger Reese, history professor and a speaker at the conference, said he plans to speak about the legacy of World War II on Putin’s Russia.
“There are all kind of lines of fragmentation in Russian society, and Putin wants to remind people, ‘Hey we all pulled together during the war, we should be able to do that now,’ rather than trying to solve the problems,” Reese said. “On the foreign side, he wants to use the legacy of the war to kind of justify the aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine.”
Reese said Russia’s past causes a great deal of problems in helping the Russians move forward.
“I’m a historian,” Reese said. “I’m the one looking back. I would say that the past is not very helpful in having them decide a future. They don’t have a lot to build on. Think about it — if they are still working with World War II as the last great thing Russians have done, it brings the question, ‘That was a long time ago, you’ve had a lot of time to do other stuff to be proud of, why haven’t you done that?’”
Bailey said conference presenters, in conjunction with academics who won’t be in attendance, are compiling a book on the topic.
“What we are doing is we are beginning an exploration of this,” Bailey said. “Each of these individuals will eventually provide a chapter in a book that we hope to publish at the end of this academic year. That’s where we are headed. It’s going to be a series of essays from different perspectives, so if anyone wants to look at what’s going on in Russia right now from an expert’s perspective we’ll be able to provide that.”
Natsios said the conference is going to address major issues involving international politics.
“Understanding better what’s happening might inform our diplomacy in such a way that we might avoid conflict with everyone,” Natsios said. “Wars often are based on miscalculations, on accidents. Is there a conceivable scenario in which Putin could take Ukraine and threaten Poland or the Baltic states, in which case that would be a direct attack against major allies? That has profound implications. It may be unlikely, but could it happen?”
The event will be at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center. At 9:30 a.m., Russia’s perspective will be discussed, followed by Eastern Europe’s perspective at 1 p.m. and the Western European perspective at 3:45. Each discussion will be followed with a Q&A session.

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