A Memo to Putin


The following is a piece written by an HPR staff writer. It is by no means tied to the Russian government or any of its employees or affiliates.



FROM: A Loyal Adviser

SUBJECT: Russian Grand Strategy

Executive Summary

Mr. President, despite Western attempts to characterize Russia as a declining power, today Russia is well positioned to enhance its great power status by basing its foreign policy on a coherent grand strategy. As the United States repeatedly demonstrates, it does not have a foreign policy strategy in the Middle East; you have shown the world that Russia in fact has one. While we support the only legitimate government of Syria in Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the United States overly ambitiously demands for Assad’s removal, the destruction of the Islamic State, and the eradication of other radical Islamist groups in the region. Of course, the United States nominally supports the Kurds and moderate rebel factions, but despite meager American assistance, these groups are still among the least threatening in the region. The purpose of this memorandum is to recommend three strategic foreign policy maneuvers you can employ to enhance Russia’s great power status:

  1. Maintain an active Russian role in the conflict in Syria.
  2. Improve the international image of Russia in order to encourage sanctions relief.
  3. Create and strengthen Russian alliances and partnerships.

By adopting these measures, you can prove that the American-led narrative about Russian decline is not only false, but in fact naïve and out of touch with current geopolitical realities. Russia can seize power as America surrenders it. At this critical juncture in international history, an active Russian foreign policy can play the deciding factor in a multitude of international issues and fuel Russia’s resurgence as a respected global power.


  1. Maintain an active Russian role in the conflict in Syria.

Continue to bombard Syrian rebels with airstrikes in order to strengthen Bashar al-Assad’s control of his country. The Assad regime represents the legitimate government of Syria, and Russia should preserve its strategic relationship with the Assad family that has lasted since the 1970s. Maintaining the relationship allows Russia to continue its control of the Tartus naval site, an important warm-water port that represents Russia’s only military base outside of the borders of the former Soviet Union. Russia cannot back down from protecting its ally in Syria and must refuse to be pushed out of the Middle East by the West. Following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the United States forced the Soviet Union out of the region by sabotaging military relations between the Soviets and Egypt. Today we can use the Syrian Civil War to give the Americans a taste of their own medicine. Russian intervention in Syria may also allow you to take a leadership role in the Vienna talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war and thus increase your influence over the post-conflict settlement, strengthening Russia’s position relative to the West.

  1. Improve the international image of Russia in order to produce sanctions relief.

If the Vienna talks are successful, the international community would view Russia’s intervention and leadership as productive and decisive. A conclusion of the Syrian Civil War driven by Russian action would produce tremendous admiration for Russia internationally and increase our soft power as mediators rather than destabilizers. Resolving the refugee crisis is important even though it has not significantly affected Russia. The crisis seriously troubles the governments of the European Union, and our stopping the outflow of Syrian refugees could be traded for sanctions relief from the European Union.

The international community will also respect Russia for bombing the Islamic State, so you should increase the amount of Russian airstrikes on Islamic State targets and convince more outsiders that Russian intervention is driven by a desire to eradicate the terrorists (even though the primary objective is to strengthen the Assad regime). Russia has the opportunity to establish itself as the guarantor of stability and security in the region by protecting the only legitimate government of Syria and warding off terrorism.

In speeches you should continue to publicize the fact that Russian intervention in Syria is completely legal according to international law, since a UN member state has requested our assistance. Such an image will starkly contrast that of the United States, a country that originally destabilized the region by illegally invading Iraq and now continues to illegally intervene in the affairs of the sovereign state of Syria. Furthermore, the United States supports rebel groups that include terrorists among their ranks.

Moreover, the potential narrative of Russia’s legal and benevolent intervention in Syria may distract the international community from the situation in Ukraine. The West has no will to use its militaries to intervene in Ukraine, and the Minsk Agreement creates a useful façade suggesting that a meaningful cease-fire is in place even though our destabilization efforts persist. The West is not looking for a fight, and it wants the Agreement to be a success more than we do. The Germans and other Europeans are tired of being bullied by the United States into implementing sanctions against Russia, and if Russia continues to build good will the sanctions can eventually be lifted—at least in Europe.

Another means of appealing to the international community may rest in Turkey’s recent unprovoked militarism against Russia. Continue your firm response to its reprehensible downing of a Russian jet through public condemnations of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a call for immediate international sanctions upon Turkey.

  1. Create and strengthen Russian alliances and partnerships.

Russia does not have a robust network of allies. Our regional military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, only contains member states that were previously part of the Soviet Union (and, for that matter, does not even include all of the former-Soviet republics). CSTO should seek to expand its range by adding new countries with which Russia already has close ties, such as Iran, as long as they meet the requirements of membership.

In addition, you should continue to monitor and exploit the decay of American alliances. The United States’ ties with Israel, for example, have deteriorated due to differences on Iran and the bitter personal relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The recent drones agreement between Russia and Israel serves as one example of the strides Russia can make in pulling regional powers away from the influence of the United States and bringing them closer to Russia.

In terms of other great powers, it is probably not yet conceivable that Russia would create formal alliances with India or China. Nevertheless, energy will play a crucial role in managing Russia’s relationship with these two Asian powers in the coming years. Since oil deals with China have been delayed, you should consider expanding trade with India, especially since its economy is beginning to grow faster than its East Asian counterparts. Still, China probably represents a bigger potential security threat to Russia than India, and you should consider making cautionary arrangements regarding China’s military rise. While a formal alliance is unlikely to materialize, Russia could privately negotiate an understanding of peace similar to the secret Reinsurance Treaty made between Germany and Russia in the late nineteenth century.


The retreat of American foreign policy allows you, Mr. Putin, to fill a geopolitical void with Russian power and resolve. Crafting an improved image of Russia will be crucial in removing illegal international sanctions and building new strategic alliances and partnerships. Taking leadership on critical global issues such as Syria will allow you to demonstrate that Russia cannot be sanctioned into obscurity. We remain a great power with which to be reckoned.

Image source: Wikimedia // NVO

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