Jonathan Rainey majored in History and English at Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. While at Francis Marion, he was a member of Phi Alpha Theta, National History Honors Society and worked as a reporter for The Patriot, the university's newspaper. Jonathan will be serving as an SRAS Home and Abroad Scholar in Vladivostok for the 2015-2016 school year.

 Russian Foreign Affairs in the News
July 2015
By Jonathan Rainey
and Josh Wilson

Russian foreign policy and foreign policies concerning Russia have been of particular interest to those following world affairs lately. With Russia's more assertative stance on the world stage, Russia's absorbtion of Crimea, and resulting sanctions, arms buildups, and global geopolitical restructuring and repositioning, keeping a close eye on this part of the world is especially important to understanding global security and international politics.

This resource from SRAS serves to track and analyze these issues as they develop in Eurasia.


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US-Russia Relations Continue to Deteriorate

Many issues continue to negatively affect US-Russia relations, but not everything about the relations is negative.

Most recently, Russia vetoed a US-led initiative to have a UN tribunal investigate the MH-17 disaster, when a Malaysian passenger plan was shot down in rebel-held territory in Ukraine. The US expanded its sanctions regime against Russia the next day. Russia accuses the US and Western countries of impeding the investigation. Russia is also moving ahead to potentially seize European and US assets in a tit-for-tat for Russian assets siezed abroad as part of a Yukos-related court case.

With these and other issues at hand, some of America's top military officers have publically ranked Russia as America's number one threat, well ahead of terrorists. This echoes what many presidential candidates are saying on both sides of the aisle. Public opinion is headed the same direction, especially among Republican voters.

Russia has recently revised its military and naval doctrines to reflect a greater perceived threat from NATO. This also follows Russian public opinion with NATO and the US receiving remarkably low numbers from Russians recently. Further, Western efforts to punish Russia seem to have only hardened the Russian population. Putin's domestic approval ratings are some of the highest for any world leader and 70% of Russians now disapprove of any compromise on sanctions.

Given the institutionalization of escalating tensions, a Newsweek editorial has recently posited that every presidential candidate should answer five questions about Russia and Putin. The website VOX has recently published an interesting thought experiment on how easily the world might fall back into war.

Despite this, some breakthroughs seem to have been made. The US and Russia have agreed to pursue investigations into the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The two countries also continue to discuss (but not agree on) an anti-ISIS policy. Space also remains an area of solid cooperation.


Russia Hosts International BRICS and SCO Summits

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On July 1-13, the 7th BRICS international summit was hosted in Ufa, Russia. "BRICS," an acronym made from the names of member countries Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, boasts impressive statistics. Member states encompass 42 percent of the world's population, 26 percent of its landmass and 27 percent of global GDP.

The summit covered a huge range of topics, but the continued development of economic and strategic security between member states took overall precedent.

The most immediate outcome of the 2015 summit was the finalization of the New Development Bank (NDB). The NDB aims to develop the economic infrastructure of BRICS members as well as other developing nations. With reserves of about $100 billion, it will have the ability to conduct projects on a similar scale to World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. For Russia, the NDB may open the door for new economic development projects in the near and mid-term. Considering the current recession, projects through the NDB could offer some support in jumpstarting the economy on the road to recovery.

Parallel to the BRICS Summit, a meeting of the SCO or Shaghai Cooperation Organization, which unites Russia, China, and several Central Asian states into a security cooperative, was also held. A major point of discussion for the conference was the Islamist threat in Central Asia.

Renewed cooperation between Russia and China was heavily debated by analysts in the wake of the successful summits. Russia and China reportedly reached a tactic agreement that China would lead economic projects in Central Asia (and Russia), while Russia would lead the area militarily. Some observers called the new relationship a possible new "superpower axis" and predicted potential trouble for Washington.

In related news, Yevgeny Primakov, the former Russian Prime Minister and foreign policy expert who's vision of a Russia drawn closer to China and India helped foreshadow Russia's involvement in the SCO and BRICS was recently buried in Moscow.


Russia Passes "NGO Stop List," Attempts to Limit Foreign Influence

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There are twelve organizations on Russia's new "NGO Stop List." The stop list will:

1. Ban the organizations from opening subdivisions on Russian soil (and terminate any subdivisions currently in operation)
2. Ban these organizations from distributing information in Russia (via mass media, the Internet, or printed stocks) 
3. Freeze Russian bank accounts for the organizations. Banks are forbidden to carry transactions for these organizations.

The proposed stop list currently lists 12 organizations:

Open Society Foundation
National Endowment for Democracy
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
International Republican Institute
MacArthur Foundation
Freedom House
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Education for Democracy Foundation (Poland)
East European Democratic Center (Poland)
Ukrainian World Congress
Ukrainian World Coordinating Council
Crimean Human Rights Field Mission

This Stop List is separate (and stronger) from the previous legislation that covers "foreign agents" (which made "politically active" NGOs that accepted foreign funds register as an "agents" and advertise this status on their websites and materials).

The MacArthur Foundation has already announced that it will voluntarily close following the passage of the list. The US State Department has protested the closure of the National Endowment for Democracy, which the Russian foreign ministry has dubbed "hypocrisy."

This may be part of a larger policy shift to limit the influence of western countries in Russia. Pressure to push Western influence out of Russian education and science was recently reported by Inside Higher Education.

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In related news, Russian election monitor Golos was recently removed from Russia's list of "foreign agents." Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, however, may face closure after receiving a second warning this year for publishing "offensive material" (in this case, excerpts from literature that have Russian expletives with asterisks in place of some letters).


France and Russia: Deal on Undelivered Warships

After repeated delays in delivery, Russian sources say that France has agreed to pay $1.27 billion to Russia in lieu of the promised amphibious assault ships.

French president François Hollande initially denied these claims, but later confirmed that Russia would be "fully compensated."

France was contracted to build the two Mistral Class warships for Russia in 2010. The delivery timeframe, as outlined in the original contract, was set for late 2014, but the diplomatic breakdown over the Ukrainian conflict caused repeated setbacks. The expected $1.27 billion from France will cover all of the funds Russia has already put toward outfitting helicopters for ship based operations, training sailors and upgrading the port facilities in Vladivostok for the new vessels.

New amphibious assault ships would increase Russia's ability to quickly deploy its forces along a coastline. The Mistral Class is built to support 450 troops for long term deployment along with helicopters and vehicles, including tanks.


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