Gerda Henkel Forum

Gerda Henkel Forum

"Trust and Emotions in the Relations between Russia and the West"

3-4 July 2018

When analysing contemporary Western academic, professional and political discourses on Russia- as well as Russian discourses on the West – it is striking that they are characterised by mutual mistrust and emotional responses. These have led to various misperceptions and misinterpretations of each other’s intentions and overall political aims in both domestic and international spheres.

To address this problem, King’s Centre for Strategic Communications (KCSC) and the Gerda Henkel Foundation hosted the Gerda Henkel Forum “Trust and Emotions in the Relations between Russia and the West”. This was undertaken in association with the European Leadership Network (ELN), Centre of Military and Political Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, The Hague (ICCT).

The Forum brought together more than 30 leading scholars and experts from the UK, Russia and Germany. They discussed the influence of mutual trust and emotions on the relations between Russia and the West and how they might be improved. The Forum included 9 panels that focused on various related topics.

Emotions in the Relations between Russia and the West

The first panel highlighted the role of emotions in the relations between Russia and the West. The panel, comprising experts from a variety of academic disciplines, addressed the nature and role of emotions from numerous perspectives, from philosophical logic to political psychology. When we survey relations between Russia and the West, emphasising emotions prompts us to ask about the role and significance they might play in tensions between them.

A link has long been recognised between addressing emotional roots of interstate disputes and their resolution. It is not surprising that a main conclusion of the first panel was that a greater understanding of diverse emotions that drive Russia and the West in their decision-making processes can offer a first step in attempting to improve relations between the two.

The Role of Conventional Deterrence in the Relations

between NATO and Russia

The second panel discussed the role of conventional deterrence in relations between NATO and Russia. Since the Cold War, those relations (including the former USSR) have been shaped in the context of nuclear deterrence. More recently, the situation has changed. And rapidly. Defence budgets have risen in Russia and in NATO; non-NATO member Sweden has resumed conscription; NATO has deployed forces in Eastern Europe on a scale not seen since the Cold War; and the Kremlin has introduced new pieces of conventional hardware, almost on a monthly basis. This fundamental change in the role of conventional forces and capabilities between Russia and the West was addressed by panellists from diverse perspectives. Some focused on important lessons from the Cold War with its large-scale military exercises. Others discussed contemporary proliferation of sophisticated conventional arsenals, and any advantages such weapons might offer if supplied to third actors.

The Rise (and Fall?) of Fake News

During the third panel, Leonie Haiden and Jente Althuis presented the book Fake News: A Roadmap, published by King’s Centre for Strategic Communications (KCSC) and the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, Riga, Latvia. After a short summary of its findings, the discussion focused on how so-called fake news influences political communication in general, and what role it might  play in relations between Russia and the West in particular.

Misperceptions of the INF Treaty Violations

US-Russia negotiations on the proliferation of nuclear arsenals have a long history. During the Cold War, the parties maintained a productive dialogue based on mutual trust and respect which survived the collapse of the Soviet Union into the 21st century. However, in recent years, US-Russia arms control has stalled, largely due to conflicting perceptions of compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The fourth panel addressed this topic. It emphasised the role of mutual trust and confidence for successful arms control negotiations. On the one hand, from the US perspective, recent Russian cruise missile developments and deployments violate the Treaty. On the other, from Russia’s perspective, the US has the potential to deploy capabilities prohibited by the Treaty, such as using drones, undermining the ‘spirit’, if not the ‘letter’, of the Treaty. The panellists addressed these fundamental differences in interpretation, underlining that the future of US-Russia arms control negotiations depends not only on an improved understanding of both sides’ allegations, but also on the emotional context and legacy in which these negotiations occur.

Eurasian Integration Projects – Partners or Rivals?

The fifth panel explored different integration processes led by the West and Russia in Eurasia. After outlining the context needed to understand Eurasian integration projects, panellists discussed the important role of China. This included economic, geopolitical, ideological and emotional factors that have been shaping relations between projects led by Europe (EU and NATO), Russia (Eurasian Economic Union and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), and China (“One Belt, One Road”). It also noted China’s increasing influence in central Asia.

Trust and Respect in the Relations between Russia and the West

The sixth panel focused on differences between Russian and Western understandings of trust, mistrust and distrust, and how these have aligned with the idea of respect. The panellists identified unequal perceptions within the geo-political-economic sphere of status, and how this can elicit feelings of disrespect, creating an unwillingness to trust.  All participants agreed that establishing mutual trust and respect is a long and complex process that can be easily undermined and disrupted.

The history of relations between Russia and the West serves as the main obstacle in this process. Consequently, building trust should, according to the panellists, evolve around strengthening elite diplomatic relations, economic interdependency and a greater willingness to accept responsibility for their actions by Western and Russian actors.

Disinformation, Propaganda and Interference

in Contemporary Russia - West Relations

The seventh panel delved into the topic of disinformation, propaganda and interference. Speakers analysed the unstable context of today’s information environment. Here the simplification of information leads to misinterpretation, confusion about the other’s intent, and a multitude of audience responses. Debate surrounded the difficult balance between freedom of speech and the rule of law.

Censorship was a key theme considered, challenging Western perceptions of government control of Russia’s media.  Playbooks and strategic narratives were a central topic of discussion. Panellists pointed to the need for clear definitions to avoid misconceptions and assumptions about the other.

Syria: Fighting Violence and Extremism after ISIS?

Panel eight took on the challenge of the future of Syria and the international fight against ISIS. They  began by questioning whether it is right to consider ISIS already defeated. By the end of the 2017, as an outcome of strikes by the U.S.-led coalition on one side and Syrian government offensives supported by Russian military on the other, ISIS had lost most of its territory. However, everyone agreed that that the conflict in Syria is far from over.

Especially since Russia and the West maintain contradictory views on the future of Syria. As the situation there remains unstable, and neither Russia nor the West appears ready to negotiate a common ground, panellists discussed ways to establish more effective international security cooperation, especially examining the importance of bilateral relations and counter-terror collaborations.

Public Event: The Future of Relations between Russia and the West

The final contribution of the Forum was a public event. Sir Lawrence Freedman opened, as keynote speaker, setting the stage with a comprehensive overview of historic relations between Russia and the West. The panel of experts continued the theme, questioning how fear, identity, trust and hope have shaped Russia-West relations, and how these might develop in the near future.

To watch this panel, press here