Russian Grand Strategy in the era of global power competition

Posted by Bethan Hirst - Wednesday, 18 May 2022


By Andrew Monaghan

After years of increasingly systemic dissonance, the relationship between the Euro-Atlantic community and Russia ruptured with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition is a book that explains how we got to where we are. But instead of examining – once again – the policy and value disagreements between the Euro-Atlantic community and Russia that have become increasingly obvious over the last twenty years and which are examined in depth elsewhere, it looks at Moscow’s attempts to generate power, and to prepare Russia for this clash.

In many ways, therefore, it picks up where Power in Modern Russia: Strategy and Mobilisation left off, examining whether Moscow has a strategy. Where Power in Modern Russia focused largely on the internal, domestic aspects of these questions, Russian Grand Strategy looks at the implications for Russian activity on the international stage, depicting Moscow’s “mental maps”, and how the Russian leadership seeks to position Russia in what it sees to be a “post-West” world, a world that is undergoing considerable structural change.

Russian Grand Strategy examines the trajectory of Moscow’s attempts to generate strategy, tracing a longer-term arc from the 2000s through to 2020, and sketching out the Russian leadership’s assumptions about how the 2020s will look. Whereas the Euro-Atlantic community broadly began to think in terms of “Great Power Competition” only in the second half of the 2010s, Moscow had already come to this conclusion a decade earlier. From the mid-2000s on, senior officials – including in the military – have often pointed to what they see as intensifying geopolitical and especially geo-economic competition over access to resources, transit routes and markets, even seeing this as a potential threat to Russia. Moscow has been shaping its activities accordingly – both examining what war in the 21st Century might mean, and how to build economic resilience.

The book explores the Russian leadership’s moves to establish Russia as a ubiquitous power, positioned for competition in the global commons. In part, this has meant becoming a “Polar power”, developing Arctic resources and pre-positioning itself in Antarctica, and as one of the top three energy producers and exporters. Moscow has also sought to diversify its economic relations beyond its traditional European markets, and to become a major supplier of strategically important goods including hydrocarbons, nuclear power plants, weapons and agricultural products to states across the Middle East and North Africa and to what Moscow still calls the Asia-Pacific region. As the book makes clear, a striking feature of this is the Moscow’s attempt to expand Russia’s global maritime reach and influence, seeking to use the world’s oceans to its advantage.

Strategy is difficult, though, and the book traces ongoing problems that Moscow has faced, in terms of planning, such as the imbalances between security and economic priorities, and also implementation of the plans. Resource constraints, as well as dysfunctionality in the Russian system and the opposition of events and adversaries have all imposed limits on Moscow’s ability to achieve its aims. Nevertheless, important aspects of the Russian leadership’s agenda have borne fruit: Russia is not just one of the world’s leading energy and arms exporters, but it has become a leading grain exporter, too. And these deepening economic ties have brought with them political influence.

This strategy has also positioned it for what we are seeing today: the war in Ukraine is the Great Power Competition made awfully and tragically real. It may appear to have started with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, but for Moscow it has been long in the making. Indeed, some Russian observers and officials alike have stated that they see the war as only the first major salvo in this competition. Its ramifications – diplomatic and political, military and economic – are already having much wider, global consequences. Understanding the assumptions on which Moscow’s plans are based, as well as the flaws and strengths in its strategy-making is essential for shaping effective deterrence and defence.

Russian Grand Strategy in the era of global power competition

By Andrew Monaghan

This book offers a nuanced and detailed examination of two of the most important current debates about contemporary Russia’s international activity: is Moscow acting strategically or opportunistically, and should this be understood in regional or global terms? The book addresses core themes of Russian activity – military, energy and economic – but it offers an unusual multi-disciplinary analysis to these themes. Monaghan incorporates both regional and thematic specialist expertise to give a fresh perspective to each of these core themes.

Newsletter Sign Up

Manchester University Press

Your cart is empty.

Select your shipping destination to estimate postage costs

(Based on standard shipping costs)

Final cost calculated on checkout
Promotional codes can be added on Checkout