Speaker: Sherlock, T. (United States Military Academy, West Point)
Date: 1 May 2019
SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Thomas Sherlock (United States Military Academy, West Point) as a part of its SMA EUCOM Speaker Series. During his presentation, Dr. Sherlock discussed a study that draws upon Russian public opinion surveys conducted over the past 2-3 years. He stated that Putin’s anti-Western sentiment and desire to restore Russia as a cohesive state with global power status is generally shared among the Russian population and elite. However, a common misconception is that these groups agree with the Kremlin’s stance that Russia should be willing to accept socioeconomic stagnation in pursuit of these goals. According to Dr. Sherlock, the Russian population and elite have started to challenge the core identifying narrative of the Kremlin. He identified three primary findings from his research: 1) There is weak public support in Russia for new imperialism or regional hegemony; 2) Russia’s seizure of Crimea increased Russian perceptions the nation as a world power; 3) There would be little public support for the Kremlin if Russia invaded Ukraine. Dr. Sherlock also discussed the anti-American narrative that Russia portrays. He explained that Putin believes that, in order to be successful, he needs to convince the public that the US presents a significant threat. Although this narrative has been successful, Dr. Sherlock argues that it does nor rise to the level of self-sacrifice needed in order to unquestionably support the Kremlin’s foreign policy. He stated that Russians are “practically patriotic.” He also suggested that Russian elites are much more interested in presenting threats to Russia’s near abroad than the public is, though they do recognize the danger of provoking a conflict with the West by possessing an aggressive foreign policy. To conclude, Dr. Sherlock stated that both the Russian public and elites are more supportive of the Kremlin focusing on domestic issues than on issues in Russia’s near abroad.