On December 13, 2018 a woman by the name of Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Russia. She admitted to working for more than two years to forge relationships between the Russian government and leading Republicans and conservative groups such as the NRA in the United States. The goal of the relationship was to create a back channel of communication between the Russian government and prospective Republican presidential candidates. To this end the relationship was a success, in 2015 NRA leaders visited Moscow to meet with Russian government officials.
With the Mueller Report being released and the concerted effort of the Russian government to influence the 2016 Presidential election being revealed it is important to understand that Russia actively helped Republican nominee Donald Trump. Whether there was conspiracy between Donald Trump himself and Russia to influence the election is not the purpose of this post to argue. However, this shows a pattern of Republican and conservative groups cozying up to Russia in the last several years. This is a terrifying trend because whether it is through ignorance or misguided self-interest a relationship with Russia in the long-term is not in the interest of the United States or the American people, it is a Faustian proposition.
A Realist State
Russia, officially the Russian Federation is a government that follows realist ideology. Realism is, “a theory of international relations that emphasizes states’ interest in accumulating power to ensure security in an anarchic world.” The goal of a realist state is hegemony. This means that the state will only support another country’s interest if it is within its own interest and will lead to the state having more power than it currently possesses. This is called bandwagoning and is common of realist states. However, at a certain point the realist state will leave the coalition because of fears that it is assisting other states in accumulating power at the detriment of itself.
On a foreign policy level realist states are obsessed with having and using military power. Again, a realist state is only focused on the security of the state, meaning its survival in the anarchic system. To a realist the best way to ensure its survival is through a strong military. Realist states are also incentivized to use their military so that it is not a drain on resources and to gather international prestige. The diplomacy that realist states engage in is predicated on their military power. Weaker states must submit to their demands or risk a conflict that it cannot win. Stronger states, mostly liberal democracies in today’s world, often balk at the willingness of realist states to engage in armed conflict and attempt to appease their expansionist policies.
A realist state will use any means necessary to ensure its survival and will continue to grab power wherever an opportunity presents itself to do so. This makes a realist state difficult to engage in diplomacy and politics because no treaty it signs or agreement it makes is set in stone. If the interests of the state conflict with a treaty it will break the treaty. Any country, organization, or person that deals with a realist state must be prepared for the inevitability of being discarded after their usefulness to the state has been exhausted.
Russia as a Realist State
Foreign policy scholar Sumantra Maitra wrote an excellent analysis of the history of Russia being a realist state starting even before the Soviet era. Russia engaged in bandwagoning in World War I seeing the opportunity to raise its prestige on the international stage. In World War II it signed a nonaggression treaty with Nazi Germany to divide Poland and protect itself while it invaded Finland. Of course, Nazi Germany, another realist state, broke that treaty and invaded the Soviet Union when the interests of the state outweighed the usefulness of the treaty itself.
When the Soviet Union dissolved there was a brief period where Russia looked like it might become a liberal democracy with all the trappings that it comes with. (A future Blog Post) However, the “Atlanticists” were replaced by realist foreign policy advisors such as Yevgeni Primakov and eventually Vladimir Putin would become Prime Minister of Russia and subsequently elected President lengthening his illiberal rule.
Since Putin came to power in 1999, he has endeavored to bring Russia back to a respected world power. He grew the broken Soviet economy making Russia a powerhouse of oil and gas with the ability to hold many parts of Europe hostage through its energy programs. The invasions of former Soviet satellite countries such as Georgia, Chechnya, and most recently Ukraine, have shown the world his willingness to use the Russian military. The lukewarm response of the Western world including the United States to these aggressive acts has only emboldened Russia.
Using cyber-warfare Russia interfered in the 2016 Presidential election casting doubt on its legitimacy, an outcome that can only serve to strengthen Russia as its most powerful enemy, the United States, is losing prestige on the world stage. There is evidence as well that Russia played a role in Brexit, a so far disastrous series of events that serves to weaken the European Union, Russia’s chief geographical rival.
Faustian Deal and What We Can Do
So, what does this mean for Republicans, the NRA, and any other groups that are building relationships with Russia? It means that they are engaging in activity that is not in the best interest of the United States, because it can’t be. Russia wouldn’t be doing anything that can strengthen its primary rival. It also means that these individuals and groups should tread carefully because as soon as their usefulness is exhausted, they will be discarded and left to rot.
Russia desires to see the United States fail and themselves become the primary power of a hegemony. That is one reason of many that the United States should be strengthening its cyber security to prevent a repeat of the 2020 elections, but we are not. President Trump, who benefited whether knowingly or not, from Russia interference through cyber-warfare is refusing to act on the threats of it happening again. This will again cast doubt on the integrity of our elections and on the legitimacy of the President thus weakening the United States on the global stage.
Is winning the Presidency worth the Faustian deal of handing over the position of Superpower to Russia? I don’t think so. My hope that anybody, right or left, that has dealings with Russia would reconsider. They don’t have your best interests at heart, and they want to see America fail. You can’t make America Great Again if the politicians and activists group that are supposed to do so are beholden to a foreign power that wants the United States to fail.
, Mingst, Karen A., and Ivan M. Arreguin-Toft. 2017. Essentials of International Relations. 7th. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
 O’Neil, Patrick H. 2015. Essentials of Comparative Politics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.