February 17, 2016

Visiting BMW Center Scholar Marie Mendras on Russia’s Role in Europe

The BMW Center for German and European Studies hosted a lecture on February 17, 2016 with visiting scholar Marie Mendras. Mendras, who also teaches at Science Po’s Paris School of International Affairs, spoke about Russia’s relationship with Europe and the geopolitical forces at work in the region, cautioning that confrontation may be on the rise.

During the lecture, Mendras used polling data, demographics, and messages from Russia’s state-controlled media to illustrate a fractured Russian population. While the Russian public is not monolithic, she argued that many Russians saw Europe as a close and nonthreatening presence for many years. Mendras said the Russian government is working to change those perceptions and portray Europe in a more adversarial role.

She noted that Russian elites, however, have become increasingly worried about Putin’s policies. In an increasingly autocratic regime coupled with economic recession, domestic support for Putin may dwindle. Furthermore, Mendras said that conflict in the Donbass is reviving memories of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, and there is growing worry about military aggression among the Russian population. She used reports of increased local protests and other micro-level activity to point out that the Russian government is no longer stable and well supported.

At the same time, Mendras noted that Western Europe has been hesitant to become involved in former Soviet states like Ukraine, seeing them as part of Russia’s sphere of influence. Given the amount of conflict in the region, she argued that Europe can no longer take for granted the stability of these states or the region, especially if Russia is willing to transform a domestic political affair into a regional security issue. In response to an audience member’s question, she said that Russia is willing to engage in world affairs to use warfare and rhetoric to destabilize Europe and shore up domestic power in a time of crisis. She concluded by saying that she expects no improvement in Russia-Europe relations in the next few years.

This was the fourth lecture in the BMW Center’s “Europe and Its Others” series. For more information on future events, visit here.