International relations between Russia and the rest of the world are
now less stable and predictable than they were during the Cold War, according
to the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU).
"The country may be one of the biggest 'black swans' of political
risk in 2018," Agathe
Demarais, lead analyst for Russia and regional manager for Europe at the
EIU, said in a report published Wednesday.
"The international situation is now less stable and predictable
than during the Cold War."
Under Vladimir Putin's strongman leadership since 1999, Russia has
asserted itself as a resurgent global superpower with political and economic
influence. It is being closely watched by Europe, China and the U.S. for clues
on where its foreign policy is headed.
Moscow's increasing assertiveness and provocative military actions in
recent years have alarmed its neighbors in Europe and the wider West. In
particular, Russia's annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine in 2014 and role
in a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine around the same time prompted an
international outcry with economic sanctions imposed on the country that are
still in place.
Russia is now in the spotlight for alleged meddling in the U.S.
political system, accused of interfering in the run-up to the 2016 election.
Last week, 13 Russian individuals and several business entities were charged,
although the Russian state has denied involvement.
An increasingly confident Russia is far more unpredictable now, the
EIU's Demarais told CNBC.
"Should Russia feel aggressed or believe that its national
interests are threatened, for instance, if a revolution similar to the one which
happened in Ukraine in 2013/14 was to take place, Russia's reaction could prove
unpredictable, swift and massive," Demarais said.
"In addition, Russia could increase its use of hybrid warfare
tactics, such as cyberattacks or propaganda operations, to disrupt processes
that it would see as a direct risk to its interests."
She said Russia's foreign policy actions seem to be guided by two
imperatives, both "preventing any country that it sees in its direct
sphere of influence (i.e. former Soviet Union nations) from joining Western
institutions (such as the European Union or NATO) and asserting and cementing
its position on the international scene."
to the Cold War?
The Cold War era following World War II was characterized by
geopolitical and ideological tensions and hostilities between Western powers,
collected under the NATO alliance, and the U.S.S.R and its Communist allies,
The term "Cold War" is used as there was never open warfare
between the two sides, although the situation threatened to get "hot"
a number of times, notably during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when the
U.S. and Soviet governments strategically placed ballistic missiles near each
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations between
Russia and the West have never been warm and in recent years relations have
deteriorated, leading experts to predict a return to a Cold War-era of
tensions. Some believe that the Cold War never really ended.
Maximilien Lambertson, Russia analyst at the EIU, told CNBC on
Thursday that Russia's international activities over the past decade have been
hard to predict and analysts have often struggled to decipher the Kremlin's
"Russia's 2008 war with Georgia, the annexation of Crimea and the
backing of separatist rebels in the Donbas all came as a surprise," he
said. "Russia's methods in Ukraine, using 'little green men' (soldiers
with no insignia or rank) to annex Crimea, were also unconventional.
"However, aggression against NATO members remains a red line, the
same as it was during the Cold War, and the world is now quite familiar with
Russia's hybrid warfare tactics."