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  • Author: Toivo Martikainen, Katri Pynnöniemi, Sinikukka Saari
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Russia has perceived itself as a great power and has sought international acknowledgement of its status for years. The fact that Moscow regards the post-Soviet space as its sphere of ‘privileged interests’ and the sovereignty of the other post-Soviet states as subordinate to Russia’s national interests is nothing new. Likewise, Russia has persistently objected to the dominant role played by the US in world politics, and the enlargement of NATO. It has attempted to influence the security policy orientation and political choices made by post-Soviet states, and other states neighbouring Russia, such as Finland. These goals are well-established and are likely to remain fundamentally un- changed for years to come.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, International Affairs, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Finland
  • Author: Kirill Rogov
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The recent 2016 Duma elections were planned by the Kremlin to attest to the fact that the period of troubled political development – which began during the previous 2011 Duma elections – is over. Further, the elections served to test Putin’s consolidated authoritarianism on the eve of the forthcoming presidential elections in 2018. While successful in terms of preserving full control over the new Duma, the election results nevertheless demonstrated that the patriotic enthusiasm evoked by the annexation of Crimea has largely been exhausted. The pressure on the opposition, new electoral rules and reliance on regions with so-called “administrative voting” secured a victory for the party of power, but in urban regions the turnout was very low and voting for the Kremlin’s party did not differ much from 2011 patterns. Although the direct effect of the economic crisis on people’s political attitudes is still moderate, the continued long-term stagnation in the Russian economy that started even before the fall in energy prices remains the major challenge for regime stability. Ambiguous election results force the Kremlin to seek new instruments of political consolidation. The Kremlin’s most probable strategy may be to combine toughening authoritarian institutions with maintaining high tension in the international arena in order to prolong the ‘rally around the flag’ effect domestically, by attempting or promising “authoritarian modernization” to gain support in urban regions. As the presidential election date approaches, both Putin’s foreign and economic policies could become even riskier than they have been to date.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Political Economy, International Affairs, Elections, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia
  • Author: Yan Vaslavsky
  • Publication Date: 01-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: Vladimir Putin delivered his Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly at St. George’s Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace on December 1. The state-of-the- nation address is regarded as a major speech over a 12-month period. It usually recounts the progress and outlines national priorities and the development agenda for the near future. This format is not unique1, but it tends to command attention of the general public at home and abroad as well as of parliamentarians to whom, judging by its very name, it is addressed.
  • Topic: International Relations, International Cooperation, International Security, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, Global Focus
  • Author: Matthew Crosston
  • Publication Date: 01-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: Vyacheslav Volodin was elected as head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s Parliamentary Assembly during the 9th Plenary Session of the CSTO’s PA in St. Petersburg on November 24th. Thus concludes a relatively fast and interesting transition personally for the influential Volodin, who in just three months has gone from the first deputy chief of President Putin’s staff in the Kremlin to being elected to the Russian Duma from his native Saratov to quickly becoming that body’s Speaker, officially putting him fourth in line in terms of Russian political power, behind the President, Prime Minister, and speaker of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the national parliament.
  • Topic: International Affairs, Political Theory, Political Power Sharing
  • Political Geography: Russia
  • Author: Flemming Splidsboel Hansen
  • Publication Date: 12-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: Senior researcher and research coordinator Flemming Splidsboel Hansen explores Russia’s Syria agenda as part of a DIIS initiative to understand the geopolitics of nonwestern intervention in Syria. The Kremlin presents Russia’s political and military involvement in Syria as an unconditional success. Its overall aim of putting Russia firmly back on the geopolitical map has been met. It is now clear that the key to any negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria lies in Moscow. Moreover, Russia now seems to be close to a position where it may dictate the composition of the future Syrian regime and, not least, decide whether Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will remain in the presidential palace or be forced into exile. The costs of the military operations have been acceptable to the Russian public. Defence observers estimate that the first year of military operations cost the Russian armed forces 65 bn Rubles (approximately one bn USD) and some 20 deaths (combat and non-combat). The financial costs may be partially offset by increased future weapons sales. There is a high probability, however, that Russia will find itself embroiled in a complicated sectarian conflict in Syria from which there is no easy exit. This would test Russian public support for the military involvement in Syria. Already now Russian media comments suggest some degree of frustration over the alleged lack of fighting capacity and will on part of the Syrian armed forces. The Russian public may want to see a plan for an orderly exit from Syria, and this puts pressure on the Kremlin to deliver. However, the Syrian regime may not be able to survive without Russian military support, and Russian policy-makers may therefore soon be facing difficult choices.
  • Topic: International Relations, International Security, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, Syria
  • Author: Mark Galeotti
  • Publication Date: 12-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Since 2014, Russia has mounted an extensive, aggressive, and multi-platform attempt to use its military and the threat of force as instruments of coercive diplomacy, intended to divide, distract, and deter Europe from challenging Russia’s activities in its immediate neighbourhood. The main elements are threats of potential military action, wargames which pointedly simulate such operations, the deployment of combat units in ways which also convey a political message, and intrusions close to and into European airspace, waters and even territory. The actual impact of these policies is varied, sometimes counter-productive, and they depend on coordination with other means of diplomacy and influence. But they have nonetheless contributed to a fragmentation of unity within both NATO and the European Union. ‘Heavy metal diplomacy’ is likely to continue for the immediate future. This requires a sharper sense on the part of the EU and its member states of what is a truly military move and what is political, a refusal to rise to the bait, and yet a display of convincing unity and cross-platform capacity when a response is required.
  • Topic: International Relations, Diplomacy
  • Political Geography: Russia
  • Author: Mathieu Duchâtel, François Godement
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: In September 2016, Russia held joint naval manoeuvres in the South China Sea with China, bringing some of its best ships to the party. Two weeks later, China shied away from joining Russia in a veto of yet another Western resolution on Syria at the UN. The discrepancy sums up the extent and the limits of the strategic convergence between both countries. The “axis of convenience” between China and Russia has, without question, grown larger. And the positive dynamics pushing cooperation forward are largely economic. But there is also a negative dynamic, coming from the West. Both countries have a perception of regime insecurity that emerges from the international promotion of democracy, and the attractiveness of corruption-free and comparably safe Western societies for individuals, be they Chinese or Russian.
  • Topic: International Political Economy, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, China
  • Author: Chris Westdal
  • Publication Date: 04-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI)
  • Abstract: Canada and Russia are on speaking terms again. Our government has abandoned Stephen Harper’s policy of vocal disdain and the attempted isolation of Russia. We stand against Russian “interference” in Ukraine but, in the words of Global Affairs Minister, Stephane Dion, “the more we disagree, the more we have to discuss.” This paper describes the setting of Canada-Russia re-engagement in terms of current tension in East-West, NATO-Russia relations and of heightened Canadian foreign policy aspiration; rehearses the case for earnest, long-term Western and Canadian engagement, with investment of senior attention and talent; cautions that, though a bit of spring has sprung, there is a lot of ice to thaw, as bilateral sanctions are likely to be lifted only in step with allies and the implementation, halting at best, of the Minsk peace plan; assesses Russia’s vulnerabilities and the record of its interventions in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria; recommends active Canadian support, by all means, for Ukrainian-Russian reconciliation and for a better fence, a “mending wall” between Russia and NATO; and suggests formats and first steps toward the normalization of bilateral and multilateral relations with our Arctic neighbour.
  • Topic: International Relations, International Cooperation, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, Canada
  • Author: Anna Borshchevskaya
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: After two rounds of peace talks in Geneva failed to resolve the Syrian crisis, Moscow proposed in December 2014 its own peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition. Earlier this month, Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov confirmed that the talks would take place January 26-29, according to Russian press reports. Bogdanov has described the talks as "consultative" and "preparatory," without any preconditions or set agenda. They could, he said, lead to more concrete discussions. Although the United States is not participating in the Moscow talks, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry expressed hope on January 14 in Geneva that they "could be helpful."
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Moscow
  • Author: Sinikukka Saari
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The traditional cornerstones of the popularity of the Putin regime – stability, growing prosperity, the increased status of Russia in international affairs – seem to be rapidly eroding, which has led many observers to predict major changes in Russia in the near future. However, there are significant structural issues – alongside the mechanisms of 'political technology' and the outright oppression of dissent – that support and maintain the Putin regime, regardless of its malfunctioning and undisputed failings. Even in the unlikely event of Putin suddenly disappearing from the political scene, significant hurdles remain for the restructuring of the Russian economy and political system. No major modernisation or reform mode is to be expected. The EU and Finland should base their policies on a realistic assessment of Russia's long-term trajectory. There are unlikely to be any shortcuts to success, and no western policy is likely to produce positive results in the short term. What is needed now is a long-term perspective and principled policies, while acknowledging that only the Russians can change Russia's political direction.
  • Political Geography: Russia