How Will Biden Manage Relations With A More Hostile Russia?

On April 29 the Global Policy Institute and Bay Atlantic University held a webinar titled “US Confronting Russia”

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Event Summary

The Biden administration has adopted a more confrontational tone with Russia. From open accusations of Russian cyberattacks against America to condemnations for the treatment of Russian political opponents and warnings about military escalation in Easter Ukraine, President Biden has put Moscow on notice. However, Washington has also a clear interest in pursuing stability with Russia, a major nuclear power. How will this adversarial relationship evolve? Higher tensions or pragmatic dialogue?

Regarding Russian strategic objectives behind specific issues, Dupuy argued that Putin is trying to signal strength to Washington, to Ukraine to and his domestic audience. By acting tough, he wants to make sure that Russia will be taken seriously. Nussbaum pointed out that there is a consistency in Russia’s foreign policy objectives. Moscow wants to create or preserve “strategic depth”, vast land mass between its home territory and potential adversaries. It wants to have a “place at the table”, that is to be considered an indispensable actor to be reckoned with in all international for a and finally it wants to have or preserve access to “warm water ports”. Zwack added that Russia will always look at its “near abroad” with great interest and concern. The Russians, he pointed out, have an extravagantly large fear of encirclement. They see themselves as surrounded by dangerous enemies ready to attack them, just like Napoleon and Hitler did. To this we must add that Putin has also to worry about political insecurity at home. His popularity is down. A stagnant economy created unhappiness and social unrest. Dupuy and Nussbaum argued that 1% growth is not enough to finance an ambitious Russian foreign policy. And this is not going to get better with a declining population and almost complete reliance on oil and gas. Until not too long ago, they were precious commodities. But going forward they are viewed as less critical sources of energy since the developed world is committed to cutting its reliance on fossil fuels. In all this, the US and Russia may find a modicum of common ground in reaching some agreement on their nuclear arsenals. Despite serious differences separating Moscow and Washington, this may be an area in which both nuclear powers may find common ground, as they both share a desire for nuclear stability. Therefore, beginning with an extension of the Start agreement, it may be possible to reach a deal, as Zwack pointed out. Nussbaum expressed skepticism about the probability of a nuclear deal. Regarding Biden’s approach to Russia, all panelists agreed that it is the right mix of toughness and realism. It may be possible to reach some agreements aimed at strengthening stability, without any delusions as to Russia’s ultimate goals. Regarding hot issues, all panelists agreed that cyberwarfare is a very tough matter. But it is extremely complicated to assess it because almost anything of substance regarding cyberattacks is classified information. We simply do not know enough about the actual capabilities of our opponents and about our response capabilities. Ultimately, the US must have the capabilities to deter or fight back successfully when attacked. Examining hotspots, all panelists agreed that Ukraine will remain an open festering wound. While all observers would agree that Russia has legitimate interests when it comes to the large Russian minority located mostly in eastern Ukraine, its use of force in order to force its desired outcomes cannot be accepted by the US and the international community. All panelists agreed that, despite the tense atmosphere, a Biden Putin Summit is very likely in the near future. The contours of a strategic nuclear arsenals deal may be agreed upon and this would be good for world stability.


Peter Zwack, Brigadier General (US Army, Ret.)

From 2012 – 2014, BG Zwack served as the United States Senior Defense Official and Attache to the Russian Federation. By interacting with Russians at multiple levels since 1989, including defense, security, academia, policy, veterans, and private citizens, BG Zwack developed a unique hands-on perspective on Russia and Eurasian security affairs during a turbulent period that included the recent strife in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack enlisted in the US Army in 1980. He subsequently served 34 years as a Military Intelligence and Eurasian Foreign Area Officer serving in diverse and challenging duty locations including West Germany, South Korea, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Russia.

Zwack was a Senior Russia-Eurasia Research Fellow at National Defense University (Institute for National Strategic Studies) at the National Defense University.

Daniel Nussbaum, PhD, Chair, Energy Academic Group (EAG), Naval Postgraduate School

Dr. Daniel Nussbaum is currently the senior member of the EAG and a faculty member in both the Operations Research Department and the Business School at Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). Dan provides several critical functions across the NPS campus, including teaching courses in cost estimating and analysis, mentoring students throughout their graduate coursework, including their master’s theses, and providing leadership in graduate-level energy education, research, and outreach to support advancing operational energy initiatives across the Navy, Marine Corps and broader DoD organizations.

Arnold Dupuy, PhD, Assistant Adjunct Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Adjunct Professor, Bay Atlantic University

Arnold Dupuy is a Booz Allen Hamilton employee working as an analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy (ODASD(E)). In his capacity at OE, Dr. Dupuy provides qualitative and quantitative analyses of operational energy risks to mission assurance. A particular area of interest is the cyber-energy nexus and geo-political and military operational challenges of energy security within the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, particularly on NATO’s ‘Eastern Flank’. Retired from the United States Army after 25 years of both active and reserve component service, Dr. Dupuy’s last major assignment was in Afghanistan, where he earned the Bronze Star and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medals. In 2016, Dr. Dupuy completed a Ph.D. in Planning, Governance and Globalization at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). His dissertation title is: “Changing Patterns of Regionalism and Security in the Wider Black Sea Area: The Transformative Impact of Energy.” He is an adjunct professor of political science at Virginia Tech and George Mason University, teaching graduate-level international politics and energy geo-politics.


Paolo von Schirach, GPI President, and Chair Political Science and International Relations, Bay Atlantic University