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  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Even as U.S. policymakers must stay focused on the Assad regime’s culpability, they also face a complex web of power dynamics in which Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and other actors are attempting to secure their various interests. After a decade of civil war in Syria, the core antagonist remains the Assad regime, which in 2011 ruthlessly suppressed peaceful protestors and has since tortured and executed tens of thousands of detainees. The regime also bears responsibility for fostering the growth of the Islamic State, in part by releasing Syrian jihadists at the start of the war. Yet even as U.S. policymakers must stay focused on Assad’s culpability, they also face a highly complex web of power dynamics in which Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and other actors are attempting to secure their various interests. In this Policy Note, expert Aaron Zelin details how the world’s counterterrorism and Great Power challenges converge in Syria, and how they must be addressed holistically. To this end, he proposes policies on the diplomatic, humanitarian, legal, economic, and military fronts that can calm the fears of U.S. allies such as Israel, Jordan, and Turkey, and perhaps inspire a more robust opposition, backed by a diverse set of local and diaspora activists.
  • Topic: Counter-terrorism, Syrian War, Strategic Competition, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: M. Patrick Hulme, Tai Ming Cheung
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC)
  • Abstract: Growing distrust in East Asia, especially in the security arena, is increasingly critical as new and long-standing hotspots— including the Taiwan strait, Korean peninsula, East China Sea, and South China Sea—become more volatile. The need for confidence-building measures is clear, and a central tool of confidence building is defense transparency. The Defense Transparency Index (DTI), a project of the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, ranks six countries on their efforts to promote transparency in defense and national security, including the People’s Republic of China, Japan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Republic of Korea, and the major external powers most involved in the region—the United States and Russia.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Geopolitics, Transparency
  • Political Geography: Russia, Japan, Taiwan, East Asia, Asia, North Korea, Korea, East China, United States of America
  • Author: Pavel K. Baev
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Russia received notably high attention in United States President Joseph Biden’s first foreign policy speech, delivered at the State Department last Thursday, February 4. President Vladimir Putin may take pride in earning a personal mention and a place ahead of China; although the latter was specifically recognized as the US’s top peer competitor, while Russia was characterized mainly as the world’s foremost troublemaker (Izvestia, February 5). Biden asserted he is taking a tougher tone with Moscow compared to his predecessor but said he also has to deal with a rather different Putin. Indeed, the accumulation of authoritarian tendencies, exorbitant corruption and aggressive behavior in recent years has produced a new quality to Putin’s maturing autocratic regime, making it less liable to be moved by criticism coming out of Washington.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Sanctions, Protests
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, United States of America
  • Author: Andrew Monaghan
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: NATO Defense College
  • Abstract: The sense of Great Power competition and challenge to the liberal international order that characterised the Euro-Atlantic commu- nity’s debate through the 2010s has become more acute in 2020. Government responses to the spread of COVID-19 have provided much ammunition for those who describe a weakening of the liberal order and the threat posed by authoritarian regimes. And the sense of competition between the powers was il- lustrated by the race to create a vaccine, redolent for many of the Cold War era, with Russia’s “Sputnik V” vaccine controversially being registered first in August. Yet the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic sug- gests a new stage, with a greater emphasis on emer- gent bipolarity in international affairs. If Russia was the original point of focus in the “New Cold War/ Cold War 2.0” of the 2010s, attention has now shift- ed to the rise of China. In September 2020, then-US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper stated that China is now the main concentration for his department, and that departmental attention would be on the Indo-Pa- cific region. Other senior officials consider Russia to be “bursts of bad weather”, while China represents “climate change”, the greater long-term adversary. China’s economic recovery – already returning in late 2020 to growth while the US, UK and Eurozone re- main in red and facing surging debt – is seen to be the foundation for a more assertive international activity.2 What, then, of Russia? What has the crisis meant for Russian strategy? Does the pandemic change Mos- cow’s view of international affairs and its international posture?
  • Topic: Grand Strategy, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Vibeke Schou Tjalve
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: A strategic and ideological alliance has emerged between the American and Central Eastern European Right. Replacing Berlin with Warsaw and Budapest may have profound implications for policy, and for NATO’s consensus on Russia.
  • Topic: NATO, Alliance, Ideology, Radical Right
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Eastern Europe, Germany
  • Author: Ben Fishman
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: After the fall of Sirte, Erdogan and Putin’s desired ceasefire can only be achieved with Washington’s support. Over the past week, regional and European actors have increased their diplomatic activity around Libya in response to intensifying violence in the nine-month-old civil war. On January 8, less than a week after the Turkish parliament approved sending forces to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met in Istanbul and called for a Libya ceasefire to begin on January 12. Whether or not Moscow and Ankara manage to pause the violence temporarily, their growing influence in Libya represents an epic failure of Western attempts to resolve the conflict diplomatically. The longer-term effort to jumpstart Libya’s political transition requires a wider international effort at peace and reconciliation—something Russia and Turkey can support but not lead. Putin and Erdogan seemed to acknowledge that fact at their summit, endorsing a long-planned multilateral conference in Berlin aimed at recommitting all relevant actors to support an end to hostilities and respect the UN Security Council’s mandatory but widely ignored arms embargo. Even assuming Putin is serious and withdraws Russian mercenaries from the frontlines, a full, lasting ceasefire cannot transpire until the other actors who support Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) agree to withdraw their equipment and personnel for a fixed period while negotiations are launched—especially the United Arab Emirates, which provides the LNA with critical air superiority. At the same time, Turkey would have to take commensurate de-escalatory steps of its own. The United States is the only actor that holds enough weight with all the foreign parties to bring about an authentic ceasefire. Despite being consumed with crises in Iran and Iraq, Washington should expend the diplomatic effort required to pursue durable stability in Libya before the country slips further toward endemic chaos.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, United Nations, Conflict, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Libya, North Africa, United States of America
  • Author: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: During the war years in Syria, the northwest, specifically Idlib, has become a site of heavy internal displacement. Observers on the ground recognize the green buses traveling to Idlib carrying migrants who have refused reconciliation agreements with the Damascus regime. Since around 2014, a range of jihadist, Islamist, and Salafi actors have wielded control in the area, the most recent being the al-Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has ruled—ineffectively and brutally—through its so-called Syrian Salvation Government. But the group's reign is unlikely to last long if current trends persist. The regime's recent move against the town of Maarat al-Numan suggests plans for a broader takeover in the northwest, aided by Russian firepower and other allies such as Iran. In this Policy Note filled with local insights, jihadism expert Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi presents the current scene in and around Idlib province, the last Syrian outpost still run by independent rebels. Absent an intervention by Turkey, the Assad regime will likely prevail in a campaign that quashes the insurgency at a high humanitarian cost.
  • Topic: Al Qaeda, Displacement, Military Intervention, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Ben Fishman, Charles Thépaut
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: If the latest conference is to succeed, the principal actors stoking the civil war must endorse a genuine ceasefire and a return to Libyan internal dialogue. On January 19, international leaders will convene in Berlin to discuss a way out of the nine-month civil war between the so-called “Libyan National Army” led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. The Germans led several months of preparatory efforts at the request of UN envoy Ghassan Salame, but had been reluctant to choose a specific date until they were assured that the event stood a reasonable chance of producing practical steps to improve the situation on the ground and jumpstart the UN’s stalled negotiation efforts between the LNA and GNA. Chancellor Angela Merkel finally took that step after several key developments unfolded earlier this month, including a January 8 ceasefire proposal by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Putin’s subsequent failed attempt to have each side sign a more permanent ceasefire agreement in Moscow on January 13 (the GNA signed but Haftar balked, though most of the fighting has paused for the moment). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been averse to engage on Libya during his tenure, but he is expected to attend the Berlin conference alongside National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. Accordingly, the event gives the United States a chance to play a much-needed role on several fronts: namely, pressuring the foreign actors who have perpetuated the war and violated the arms embargo; working with Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia to codify a ceasefire at the UN Security Council; and backing Salame’s efforts to reinvigorate the Libyan national dialogue, which Haftar preempted by attacking Tripoli last April despite European support to Salame. Since 2011, Libya has struggled to establish a legitimate transitional government despite three national elections and the creation of at least four legislative bodies. Challenges to the 2014 election results eventually led to rival governments in the east and west, and the division solidified when Haftar started the first civil war with support from his allies Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. That war halted in 2015, but several years’ worth of domestic and international efforts failed to bring Sarraj and Haftar to an enduring resolution.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, United Nations, Conflict, Negotiation, Conference
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Libya, Germany, North Africa, United Arab Emirates, Berlin, United States of America
  • Author: Anna Borshchevskaya
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: As in other conflict zones, Moscow cares little about reaching a peace deal so long as it can outmaneuver the West strategically while securing port and energy access—with private contractors playing an increasingly important role. The Kremlin is now openly treating Libya as another focal point of its Middle East activities. After years of U.S. neglect, the country has turned into a proxy war playground, and President Vladimir Putin is vying to become the chief power broker. Earlier this month, he tried (but failed) to get Khalifa Haftar to sign a ceasefire agreement in Moscow with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). Putin also participated in the January 19 Berlin conference aimed at getting the parties back on the path toward a political solution. And though the prospects for such a deal remain uncertain, Moscow’s involvement in Libya will continue either way.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Civil War, Geopolitics, Negotiation, Peace
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Libya, North Africa
  • Author: Frank Aum, Jacob Stokes, Patricia M. Kim, Atman M. Trivedi, Rachel Vandenbrink, Jennifer Staats, Joseph Yun
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: A joint statement by the United States and North Korea in June 2018 declared that the two countries were committed to building “a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” Such a peace regime will ultimately require the engagement and cooperation of not just North Korea and the United States, but also South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan. This report outlines the perspectives and interests of each of these countries as well as the diplomatic, security, and economic components necessary for a comprehensive peace.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Diplomacy, Economy, Peace
  • Political Geography: Russia, Japan, China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea, Korean Peninsula, United States of America
  • Author: Richard Weitz
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: For the first time, the European Commission has identified the People’s Republic of China (PRC), along with Russia and other actors, as responsible for conducting “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighborhood, and globally” (European Commission, June 10). In the past, PRC media management normally focused on censoring undesirable narratives at home while employing positive messaging to promote favorable images of China’s policies abroad. This contrasted with the more combative international approach traditionally adopted by Moscow. During the current COVID-19 crisis, however, PRC propaganda has followed the Russian practice of not only advancing positive reviews of its own actions, but also promoting negative messages about other states. The PRC and Russian foreign ministries have jointly complained that “certain [i.e., Western] countries, out of ideological bias and political needs, have been spreading disinformation, distorting history, attacking other countries’ social systems and development paths, politicizing the pandemic, pinning labels on the virus, and restrict[ing] and oppress[ing] foreign media for doing their job” (PRC Foreign Ministry, July 25). Their information departments have agreed to cooperate against the West’s media policies, including by executing joint digital media projects (Russian Foreign Ministry, July 24).
  • Topic: Pandemic, COVID-19, Disinformation, Health Crisis
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Asia
  • Author: Richard Weitz
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: China and Russia are the two most influential space players besides the United States. Whereas in the past NASA was Moscow’s partner of choice, many influential Russians now look to China as their main future partner. Sino-Russian cooperation regarding global positioning and navigation satellites, space exploration, and space security has been growing and will likely continue.
  • Topic: Security, International Cooperation, Science and Technology, Weapons , Space
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Eurasia, Asia
  • Author: Richard Weitz, Aurimas Lukas Pieciukaitis
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Hudson Institute
  • Abstract: Russian media outlets have waged a comprehensive disinformation campaign throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the US State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) and the EU External Action Service (EEAS) have identified numerous stories in Kremlinlinked accounts that have sought to discredit the policies and performance of Western democracies, while conversely painting Russian actions in a most positive light. According to the GEC, throughout the pandemic, “the full Russian ecosystem of official state media, proxy news sites, and social media personas have been pushing multiple disinformation narratives.”
  • Topic: Health Care Policy, Media, Repression, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Disinformation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Central Asia, Lithuania
  • Author: Jeffrey Cimmino, Matthew Kroenig, Barry Pavel
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic is a strategic shock, and its almost immediate, damaging effects on the global economy constitute a secondary disruption to global order. Additional secondary strategic shocks (e.g., in the developing world) are looming. Together, these developments pose arguably the greatest threat to the global order since World War II. In the aftermath of that conflict, the United States and its allies established a rules-based international system that has guaranteed freedom, peace, and prosperity for decades. If the United States and its allies do not act effectively, the pandemic could upend this order. This issue brief considers the current state of the pandemic and how it has strained the global rules-based order over the past few months. First, it considers the origins of the novel coronavirus and how it spread around the world. Next, it examines how COVID-19 has exacerbated or created pressure points in the global order, highlights uncertainties ahead, and provides recommendations to the United States and its partners for shaping the post-COVID-19 world.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, NATO, Diplomacy, Politics, European Union, Economy, Business , Coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, South Asia, Eurasia, India, Taiwan, Asia, North America, Korea, United States of America, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: Daniel Fried, Brian O'Toole
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: US President Donald J. Trump’s administration has found it challenging to maintain a consistent position with respect to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s repression at home and aggression abroad. It may again fall to Congress to attempt to counter Russia’s election interference, already ongoing in the form of disinformation; back Ukraine as its government seeks to deal with a Russian invasion; and contend with other forms of Kremlin aggression. In “Pushing Back against Russian Aggression – Legislative Options” authors Daniel Fried, the Weiser Family Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and Brian O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, evaluate two Russia sanctions bills, the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) and the Defending American Security Against Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA), as tools to forestall new Russian interference in US elections. The authors walk readers through a set of sanctions escalatory measures—covering finance, energy, and the cyber sector – that both sanctions bills draw from. In sum, Fried and O’Toole conclude that DASKA’s sanctions are more measured and thus more implementable. By contrast, the authors deem DETER’s sanctions on financial institutions as simply too harsh with excessive spillover risk to US and Western financial markets to be implementable.
  • Topic: Sanctions, Economy, Business , Legislation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Matthew Kroenig, Mark Massa, Christian Trotti
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: In 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced five new nuclear-capable, strategic weapons systems. These systems include a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile and a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine drone. What does Russia have to gain from developing these novel and exotic nuclear weapons? And what should the United States and NATO do about it? This new Atlantic Council issue brief, Russia’s Exotic Nuclear Weapons and Implications for the United States and NATO, answers these questions. Informed by a workshop convened by the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and Los Alamos National Laboratory, authors Matthew Kroenig, Mark Massa, and Christian Trotti evaluate the potential utility, motivations, and consequences of these new systems. Among other conclusions, the most significant may be that great-power competition has returned, and with it, the importance of nuclear weapons in international politics.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Nuclear Power, Deterrence
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Eurasia, North America, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: This policy paper sets out the various interests and goals of global powers (the US, Russia, China and the EU) in the Mediterranean, and the measures they are undertaking to implement them. The document also describes Israeli policies vis-àvis the powers’ activities in this region, and points to the principles that should guide them. The paper is based on a July 2019 meeting in Jerusalem of the research and policy working group on Israel in the Mediterranean, held at the initiative of the Mitvim Institute, the Hebrew University’s Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations and Haifa University’s National Security Studies Center.
  • Topic: International Relations, Security, Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Middle East, Israel, United States of America, Mediterranean
  • Author: Marta Dominguez-Jimenez, Niclas Poitiers
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Bruegel
  • Abstract: Most foreign direct investment into Russia originates in the European Union: European investors own between 55 percent and 75 percent of Russian FDI stock. This points to a Russian dependence on European investment, making the EU paramount for Russian medium-term growth. Even if we consider ‘phantom’ FDI that transits through Europe, the EU remains the primary investor in Russia. Most phantom FDI into Russia is believed to originate from Russia itself and thus is by construction not foreign.
  • Topic: Economics, Energy Policy, Foreign Direct Investment, Governance, Sanctions, European Union, Global Political Economy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Susi Dennison, Pawel Zerka
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: A new pan-European survey conducted by ECFR shows that, after the onset of the covid-19 crisis, there has been a rise in public support for unified EU action to tackle global threats. This is grounded in Europeans’ realisation that they are alone in the world – with their perceptions of the United States, China, and Russia worsening overall. The pandemic has made European voters keenly aware of the need to prepare for the next crisis. There is growing support for the fulfilment of climate change commitments in every surveyed country. Respondents still believe in the value of European cooperation, but generally feel that EU institutions have not helped them enough during the crisis. Policymakers need to elicit voters’ support for a strong European voice on the global stage by building coalitions and identifying areas in which there is either a consensus or a bridgeable divide.
  • Topic: International Relations, European Union, Economy, Alliance, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Europe, United States of America
  • Author: Dumitru Minzarari, Vadim Pistrinciuc
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Council On Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: The EU’s Eastern Partnership policy is set to receive an update rather than an upgrade consummate with current geopolitical pressures. The Eastern Partnership’s central flaw is its design, which allows local political elites to build ‘facade democracy’. Core to democratic transformation are genuine rule of law reform and strong security against external threats. Adopting a new ‘shared sovereignty’ model would allow the EU into Eastern Partnership states to push through reform, guarantee the rule of law, and expose evasive local elites. Failure to strengthen Eastern Partnership states in this way could strengthen Russia and allow authoritarianism to diffuse westward into the EU. The EU should make shared sovereignty the basis for future Eastern Partnership relations, building on the momentum of the new accession process secured by France.
  • Topic: Sovereignty, European Union, Partnerships, Democracy, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe