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  • Author: Jussi Lassila
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Among the most signifcant events in Russia in 2020 were the Covid-19 pandemic, reactions to the protests in Belarus, and the poisoning of top opposition politician Aleksey Navalny. Te frst two were clearly events of international signifcance, but so was the medical treatment given to Navalny, frst in Omsk and then in Berlin, after he suffered from symptoms of poisoning dur- ing a flight from Tomsk in Siberia to Moscow in August. In December, a joint study by the investigative journalist groups Bellingcat and The Insider, along with CNN, Der Spiegel and Naval- ny’s FBK Foundation, showed that it was difficult to find more con- clusive evidence of the Kremlin’s involvement in the assassination attempt by a chemical weapons- related poisoning group under the FSB that had been following Na- valny for years. This kind of op- eration would hardly have been possible without the blessing of high-level intelligence. Te ques- tion of whether the FSB leader- ship was proactive in resolving the “Navalny problem” or whether the order came from the Kremlin is irrelevant. Te revealed pattern confrms the long-standing trend of the strengthened role of the se- curity services, especially the FSB, in Russian politics. It is consistent with Putin’s approach to political processes being increasingly seen as issues of national security. Navalny’s self-confidence and style in the revelation videos related to the investigation, receiving ap- proximately 45 million views in less than a month, underscore the extent to which the FSB failed. The target did not die or become paralyzed, but recovered relatively quickly and bounced back, playing for higher and more radical stakes than before. Navalny’s role and reputation as the Kremlin’s most prominent critic has been based on the political pressure on the Kremlin generated by expos- ing elite corruption. While the will- ingness of citizens to see Navalny as an alternative to Putin varies consid- erably – with the majority indifer- ent to politics as a whole – Navalny’s numerous revelations have created an alternative to Russia’s ofcial re- ality, the political potential of which the regime obviously fears.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Conflict, Regionalism, Domestic Policy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Sergey Utkin
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The EU is determined to maintain the transatlantic bond, while Russia tends to interpret the EU’s strategic autonomy precisely as autonomy from the US. The Western unity effort is significantly strengthened by the poor state of the EU’s relations with Russia. Russia is ready to pay lip service to the idea of a more capable EU, but instead it sees opportunities in areas where bilateral cooperation with member states is possible. The EU-wide consensus is doomed to remain critical vis-à-vis Russia for the foreseeable future. The EU will increasingly focus on gaining autonomy from Russia, primarily in the energy field and in terms of hard security deterrence. The EU-Russia geopolitical tension, centred on the common neighbourhood, is long-term and might cause as yet unseen damage to the relationship if it is not handled carefully.
  • Topic: Security, Regional Cooperation, European Union, Conflict, Regionalism, Autonomy, Rivalry, Strategic Interests
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Jussi Lassila, Marco Siddi
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Russia’s role in international climate policy is central. Russia is the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide and has vast potential for developing renewable energy. However, its fossil fuel-based economy and the legitimacy it creates for the Kremlin make climate action inherently difficult. Thanks to the growing politicization of environmental issues, the relevance of climate change may increase in the Russian public debate. The effects of climate change, such as melting permafrost and the Siberian forest fires, could catalyze this process. Climate-sceptical populism may sometimes feature in the rhetoric of the political elite, but its proliferation in society is unlikely. Most Russians are concerned about climate change, even if less so than Western Europeans. However, Russia’s decision-making on climate policy is highly centralized, with little or no input from civil society actors. The energy transition in Europe can eventually deprive Russia of its main market for fossil fuel exports, but it also creates new prospects for cooperation in green energy development.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Climate Change, Environment, Carbon Emissions, Decarbonization
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Jyri Lavikainen
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Te concept of strategic stability has traditionally been associated with a stable nuclear relationship between leading nuclear powers, the US and USSR/Russia. Teir last commonly agreed defnition of the concept in 1990 formed the basis of the START negotiations, defning strategic stability as a nuclear relationship, where neither side has an incentive to attempt a disarming strike. In 2016, Russia and China suggested replacing the concept of strategic stability with ‘global strategic stability’ by arguing that the conventional defnition of strategic stability as a military category concerning only nuclear weapons was outdated.1 Instead, they seek to redefne strategic stability as a concept con- cerning the state of great-power relations, with both political and military categories, the military category being the focus of analysis in this paper.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Conflict, Strategic Stability, Rivalry, Strategic Interests
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Europe, Asia
  • Author: Veera Laine
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: In January 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a set of constitutional amendments, aiming to secure the continuity of his power in the years to come. At the same time, the amendments allowed ideological visions on national identity to be inscribed in the Constitution. Since summer 2020, the Constitution has enhanced the symbolic status of the Russian language, which is now not only the state language but also the language of those who speak it (i.e. of “ethnic” Russians or “Russian-speakers”), implicitly referred to as the state-founding people. These provisions, together with support for compatriots abroad, not only continue the turn observable since the 2010s in Russia’s nation-building from a civic vision towards an ethnic vision of nation, but also challenge the existing interpretations of state borders. The provisions on safeguarding the “historical truth” and establishing a single framework for education hinder the republics from pursuing their identity policies. This Working Paper argues that the amendments both adjust the earlier changes and signal new ones in the official discourse and nationalities policy.
  • Topic: Corruption, Governance, Authoritarianism, Democracy, Constitution, Leadership
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Sinikukka Saari
  • Publication Date: 07-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The Russian science, technology and innovation (STI) system is geared towards global geoeconomic competitiveness and is based on three S’s: state control, sovereignty and self-sufficiency. State-sponsored biotechnological innovation is a component in Russia’s geoeconomic strategy: in the case of Sputnik V, Russia’s commercial and strategic objectives are intertwined. The Russian state’s close involvement in development, marketing and propagating Sputnik V – as well as its readiness to skip standard practices in order to make headway with the product – create well-founded distrust towards it in Western markets. In the emerging and developing markets, Sputnik V suffers from insufficient manufacturing capacity. In many countries, only a fraction of promised doses have been delivered, and setting up local manufacturing capacity outside the EAEU takes time. The European states should pay more attention to linkages between Russian innovation policies and its foreign, security and military policies. For Russia, these are not separate silos but build upon and support each other.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Public Health, Strategic Competition, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Jussi Lassila
  • Publication Date: 09-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Maintaining the ruling party’s overwhelming majority was an obsession for the Kremlin, regardless of the growing dissatisfaction. The election result, achieved through blatant fraud, further undermines the Kremlin’s connection with citizens.
  • Topic: Corruption, Governance, Authoritarianism, Elections, Democracy, Leadership
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Veera Laine, Jussi Lassila
  • Publication Date: 11-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Media control has been a key part of Vladimir Putin’s exercise of power. Recently, however, the repression of freedom of expression has taken both a quantitative and a qualitative turn for the worse. The political leadership now perceives independent media as a threat in itself, and is applying comprehensive control over media outlets and even individual journalists. In particular, declarations about the media and journalists being ʻforeign agentsʼ have increased sharply. Such repression drives journalists and the media to leave the country. Internet-enabled journalism from exile has duly become an important part of independent media. The growing importance of the internet, largely connected to Western platforms, and the diminishing role of state-run television in the face of multiple popular grievances, are key reasons for the regimeʼs accelerated repression. Under these difficult circumstances, the readiness of internet giants to censor political content on the basis of their commercial interests further restricts the information space in Russia, and therefore needs to be resisted.
  • Topic: Mass Media, Media, Internet, Social Media, Freedom of Expression, Repression, Freedom of Press
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Arkady Moshes, Ryhor Nizhnikau
  • Publication Date: 11-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The successful pursuit of Russia’s great-power status and its recognition by the West imply the preservation of pre-eminent positions, above all in the European part of the post-Soviet space. Since Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, the Kremlin has been making a consistent effort to reverse the earlier trend towards the weakening of Russia’s regional stance. One of the implications of this policy was the shift of the Russian-Western competition in the “common neighbourhood” towards an open stand-off after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russian regional policy has run counter to structural changes that could not be counter-balanced through activism, whether enticing or coercive. As a result, 30 years since the dissolution of the USSR, Russia’s regional influence as well as its attraction as a societal role model and a security provider are continuing to erode. Russia has regional clout, which is nonetheless hardly growing over time. More and more often, Moscow is encountering difficulties in achieving its goals. While post-Soviet states resist Russia’s assertiveness, non-Western players pose new challenges to its posture.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Military Strategy, Conflict, Peace, Post-Soviet Space
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Post-Soviet Europe
  • Author: Matti Pesu
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: This Briefing Paper looks into the fundamentals of the Baltic Sea security landscape in the early 2020s. It argues that three interconnected security dynamics shape the present, ‘post-2014’ security environment in Northeastern Europe. That is to say, Russia’s assertive behaviour in the region and in Europe more broadly, NATO’s reassurance and deterrence measures in the area, and Finland’s and Sweden’s closer integration into the Western defence network all affect hard se- curity dynamics in the Baltic Sea region. These three dynamics underlie the tense regional stability that emerged after a period of alarmism and turbulence in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s ac- tions in Ukraine. Fundamentally, the stability is the product of the interplay between the three dynamics. In other words, NATO’s reassurance and deterrence measures accompanied by Finland’s and Sweden’s in- tegration into the Western security and defence system act as a counterweight to Russia’s actions in the region, creating a balance of power holding Russia’s ambitions in check. Investigating the sources of regional balance is rele- vant for multiple reasons. The region remains a poten- tial hotspot between Russia and the West and, thus, it merits close and continuous attention. Moreover, the word ‘stability’ frequently features in foreign policy parlance in Northern Europe, particularly in Finland and Sweden. Given this rhetorical proclivity, attention needs to be paid to the factors that actually constitute stability and the state of hard security in the Baltic Sea area. The paper consists of three analytical parts. First, it provides a brief historical overview of the twists and turns in the regional security landscape from the early post-Cold War era to today. The second part introduces the three dynamics in detail, followed by an analysis of how they are interconnected. The paper concludes by contemplating how regional stability could best be preserved in the 2020s.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, NATO, International Cooperation, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Baltic Sea