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Abstract

In 1939, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill observed that Russia was “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Equally significant, but often forgotten, is what Churchill said next: “Perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."

Much has changed in Russia and the world since 1939, but Churchill’s observation remains valid today. What is Russia’s national interest? How do Russia’s leaders, especially Vladimir Putin, view their country’s national interest? And how can their viewpoints be determined?

Many factors determine Russia’s worldview and drive Russian assessments of Russian national interests. Some are derived from Russia’s history. Others result from the threats, dangers, and risks that Putin and others in the Kremlin perceive today. Still others, in turn, are a function of the Kremlin’s current regional and global foreign and defense policy priorities. Together, these inputs allow the overarching strategies that Russian leaders pursue to be deciphered.

Using these tools, this essay assesses: 1) the impact of history on Russia’s worldview and the Putin government’s views of Russia’s national interest; 2) international threats, dangers, and risks as seen from Moscow today; 3) Russia’s current geopolitical and regional priorities and actions; and 4) Russia’s global grand strategy ... assuming it has one.

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