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  • Author: Nikolas Gvosdev
  • Publication Date: 07-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: During the immediate post-Cold War period, the importance of Lithuania, along with other Central-Eastern European countries, to U.S. foreign policy increased. Lithuania became one of the jumping-off points for further “democratic enlargement” in Europe, Eurasia, and the Greater Middle East. Today, U.S. policy is focused on retrenchment and consolidation—defined by a shift in attention and resources away from the Euro-Atlantic region and the Greater Middle East towards the Indo-Pacific region—as well as the growing priority of climate change and the environment as central organizing principles. U.S. foreign policy is also increasingly subordinated to domestic political considerations about the costs and benefits of overseas action for constituencies within the United States. In the 2020s, Lithuania’s importance will rest less on the Russia dimension and further Euro-Atlantic enlargement into the post-Soviet space, and more on its ability to play a greater role in European affairs, to assist in the rebalance to Asian affairs more generally, and to contribute to energy, supply chain, and environmental security.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Energy Policy, Geopolitics, Supply Chains
  • Political Geography: Europe, Eurasia, Lithuania, United States of America
  • Author: Rob Lee
  • Publication Date: 08-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: During March and April 2021, the Russian military conducted a large-scale buildup in its regions bordering Ukraine, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. Scores of videos appeared on TikTok, Telegram, Twitter, and other social media sites showing Russian military equipment, including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, and air defense systems, moving toward or appearing in the vicinity of Ukraine’s borders. The United States Department of Defense’s spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the Russian buildup was even larger than during the peak of the fighting in 2014. Ukrainian officials estimated that the Russian military buildup would reach a total of 120,000 Russian troops with more than fifty-six battalion tactical groups (BTG). United States defense officials gave a lower estimate that 48 BTGs had moved into the border area and 80,000 Russian troops were in Crimea or elsewhere near Ukraine’s borders. To put this in perspective, the Russian military has approximately 850,000-900,000 servicemembers in total, and 168 constant readiness BTGs, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. If these estimates were accurate, the Russian military massed roughly 10-15% of its total manpower and approximately one third of its BTGs near Ukraine’s borders. In response to the buildup, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and President Joe Biden all called their Russian counterparts to discuss the situation. U.S. European Command (EUCOM) raised its alert status to its highest level. The buildup also coincided with an increase in fighting along the line of contact, with at least 36 Ukrainian servicemen killed thus far in 2021. The movement of Russian forces led to intense speculation about Russia’s intentions, including fears of a large-scale ground invasion. However, U.S. intelligence indicated that a large-scale ground invasion was unlikely because of a lack of prepositioned spare parts, field hospitals, ammunition, and other logistics necessary for such an operation. Likewise, EUCOM commander General Tod Wolters said on April 15 that there was a “low to medium” risk of a Russian ground invasion of Ukraine in the coming weeks. On April 22, after the end of a large-scale exercise at the Opuk training area in Crimea, which included an amphibious landing, a helicopter air assault operation with two companies, and a multi-battalion airborne operation with more than two thousand paratroopers and sixty vehicles parachuted from forty Il-76MD transport aircraft, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the winter verification tests for the Western and Southern Military Districts had been a success and the troops would return to their permanent bases. However, he indicated that equipment from Central Military District’s 41st Combined Arms Army, which included BM-27 Uragan multiple launch rocket systems and Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile systems and other heavy equipment, would remain at the Pogonovo training area in Voronezh near Ukraine’s border until the Zapad 2021 strategic exercise in September. Furthermore, Shoigu did not state clearly whether all of the equipment and units deployed near Ukraine’s borders outside of Crimea would also return to their bases, nor how those units were employed during the snap inspection. Two weeks after Shoigu’s announcement, U.S. defense officials said that Russia had removed only “a few thousand” troops and that there were approximately 80,000 servicemen near Ukraine’s borders, despite Shoigu’s order for most of those units to return to their permanent bases by May 1. Thus Russia can still escalate rapidly in Ukraine in the future, though the immediate threat of a serious escalation of fighting in the Donbas appears to have passed with Shoigu’s announcement.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Ukraine, United States of America
  • Author: Aaron Stein
  • Publication Date: 09-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The United States is examining how to narrow core objectives in the Middle East to focus on improving military readiness and increasing the number of low-density, high-demand assets available for deployment in Asia and Europe. To free up more forces and to help improve readiness, Washington should explore selective engagement with Moscow about securing a formal ceasefire in Syria’s northwest and reaching agreement on a “no-foreign forces zone” in Syria’s south. This policy would not alter the status quo in Syria, but seek to use diplomatic tools to allow for the reallocation of certain resources now tasked with protecting U.S. ground forces. This engagement with the Russian Federation would elevate a key U.S. interest and use counter-terrorism capabilities based in Jordan to disrupt plots against the homeland. It would also seek to use diplomatic tools to create conditions to remove forces that do not directly support this counter-terrorism effort. This approach would retain U.S. forces in the Middle East, but in a way that allows for certain assets to be repositioned in either the United States, Indo-Pacific, or Europe.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Conflict, Strategic Interests
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Johan Norberg, Natalie Simpson
  • Publication Date: 09-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: According to press information, on 10 September 2021, the Russian Armed Forces plan to start the one-week-long active phase of this year’s annual strategic-level exercise (STRATEX), Zapad (West) 2021, a bilateral large-scale Russo-Belorussian strategic-level exercise, primarily in Belarus and Russia’s Western Military District (MD, see map 1). Large-scale Russian exercises understandably attract much attention and speculation both in Russia and abroad. Most Western comments about Zapad 2017 addressed Russian and international political aspects and detailed several capabilities employed in the exercise and its scenarios or steps and phases. Few, if any, addressed what it meant for the potential of Russian forces to fight wars, which these exercises are all about actually. Russia’s warfighting potential is important for the West writ large for several reasons. Tensions between Russia and NATO are increasing. Russia perceives a growing military threat in its west. Russian strategic documents re-emphasise the importance of military power. Russia actually uses military force to achieve its geopolitical goals, such as in Eastern Ukraine and in Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Armed Forces, Military Affairs, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Belarus
  • Author: William Spiegelberger
  • Publication Date: 11-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Early in the millennium, Vladimir Putin resurrected the Russian economy and reasserted state power, but the methods that he employed have more recently led to economic stagnation. In response, the Kremlin regime proposed several economic reforms. It has not, however, implemented these reforms for fear of undermining its control, which is exercised largely by applying the law selectively to advance the regime’s interests, instead of impartially on behalf of the country at large. This arrangement is a profitable one for the elite. Without legal security, however, even the elite cannot know whether the regime will someday come for their property. The resultant fear of expropriation has led to massive capital flight from the Russian Federation to jurisdictions where, in contrast to Russia, the law will protect private property. Collectively, these jurisdictions comprise what could be called a vast, virtual “Anti-Russia.” The Kremlin has acknowledged the problem of capital flight, but is loath to stop it for fear of provoking Russia’s moneyed classes to press for reform should they be forced to keep their wealth in Russia. The result is a regime that has expanded at the expense of the wellbeing of the country at large, which is shrinking, a good part of its wealth having fled across the border to a flourishing Anti-Russia
  • Topic: Reform, Economy, Capital Flight, Wealth
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Robert E. Hamilton, Anna Mikulska
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The relationship between the Russian Federation and Republic of Turkey is one of the most important bilateral relationships in Eurasia today. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) original adversary and one of its earliest members have in recent times veered sharply between cooperation—often against NATO’s interests—and competition so intense that it seemed war between them was possible. Politically, their leaders and their systems of government share a basic compatibility predicated on authoritarianism and resistance to what they claim is Western meddling in internal affairs. Militarily, Moscow and Ankara have at times cooperated closely. For instance, the two have worked to marginalize the U.S. military’s influence in Syria, and Turkey has purchased and deployed Russian S-400 air defense systems, putting its defense relationship with the United States in jeopardy. At other times, such as in the military escalation in Idlib (Syria), the Libyan Civil War, and the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, the two have found themselves backing different sides and had to work assiduously to prevent a direct military clash. Economically, the relationship has been historically unbalanced in Russia’s favor, but Turkey’s increasing trade in services and emergence as an important energy storage and transport hub may change this. The two economies share a basic complementarity, with few areas where they compete in the production of goods and services. This dynamic may increase the ability of their economic relationship to act as a “shock absorber” and minimize the impact of disruptions in other facets of their ties. Overall, Moscow and Ankara have worked to emphasize areas of cooperation and “compartmentalize” areas of difference. Policymakers in Western capitals will need to develop an understanding of the drivers of the Russian-Turkish relationship and their effects on Western interests.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, NATO, International Cooperation, Bilateral Relations, Geopolitics, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Maxim Starchak
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation’s powerful nuclear arsenal has stood as a cornerstone of its political and military influence. In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, Russia’s strategic nuclear forces maintained a high degree of activity. The number of nuclear exercises and air and sea deterrence patrols was stable and not much different from 2019. The Russian strategic nuclear arsenal remains an integral tool of the Kremlin’s pressure on rivals in Europe and North America.
  • Topic: Nuclear Power, Geopolitics, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Eurasia, North America
  • Author: Igor Delanoe
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Since the late 2000s, the Russian Federation has expanded its naval footprint in the Eastern Mediterranean, and even resurrected its Mediterranean Squadron in 2013. The backbone of this operational squadron is provided by units coming from the Black Sea Fleet, complemented by vessels from other Russian naval formations (namely, the Northern, Baltic, and Pacific Fleets, as well as the Caspian Sea Flotilla) on a rotational basis. As the Russian State Armament Program for the period 2011-2020 was implemented, the Black Sea Fleet received new warships and new diesel-powered submarines. Consequently, by the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Moscow’s naval footprint in the Mediterranean had already been reconstituted. Yet, since the mid-2010s, a structural change occurred in the Mediterranean Squadron’s order of battle. The Squadron has morphed qualitatively and quantitatively, and has become more capable. Featuring fewer ex-Soviet large platforms and more modern green water units, this naval task force has been assigned mainly a defensive objective: locally counterbalance navies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and protect Russia’s southern flank from perceived instability emanating from the Mediterranean’s southern shore, in the context of the Arab Spring. Moreover, Moscow’s direct military involvement in the war in Syria has provided the Mediterranean Squadron with a new purpose while highlighting a conventional deterrence mission.
  • Topic: NATO, Armed Forces, Navy, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Anton Lavrov
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Before the start of the military intervention in Syria in 2015, even top Russian generals were uncertain what the result would be. Shortly before the start of the intervention, the Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) received hundreds of new airplanes and helicopters and new “smart” precision weapons. Almost all of them had never been tested in real combat. The pilots and commanders also did not have combat experience and were trained by textbooks filled with outdated concepts and tactics. The five years of war in Syria have been the most intense period of transformation for the RuAF since the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Russian military not only gained an unprecedented amount of experience, but also made substantial improvements in tactics and strategy.
  • Topic: Military Affairs, Military Intervention, Conflict, Syrian War, Air Force
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Charles Bartles, Lester Grau
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The Syrian Civil War produces a new set of problems involving extended urban combat, intense fights for key resources (oil fields, water, and lines of communication and supply), conventional combat among irregular units, ethnic and religious cleansing, a large number of foreign combatants with varying motivations, and contending outside powers fighting a proxy engagement. The Russian Federation is not an expeditionary power, and its entry into Syria on the side of the regime has strained its logistical resources. From the beginning of the Syrian campaign, it was clear that Russian involvement was initially envisaged to be through the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). Although the Syrian government was on the verge of collapse, and the Syrian military was on its hind legs and a shell of its former self, there was a sufficient number of Syrian ground units that were mission capable. With this understanding, the VKS was to be the principal supplier of Russian combat power aimed at disruption of the command and control and leadership of the groups fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime through the provision of reconnaissance and target destruction. In particular, Russia’s priority was the destruction of the Western-backed, moderate opposition groups, since it saw these as the greatest immediate threat to Assad. The Islamic State (ISIS) and other Sunni extremist groups were targeted, but sat lower on Russia’s priority list. As with other such operations, «mission creep” soon resulted in Russia’s involvement quickly expanding past the provision of aerospace support to planning, and, in some cases, conducting ground operations. General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, confirmed this expansion of Russian involvement in a December 2017 interview. Russia’s ground-based contingent in the Syrian campaign involves a diverse set of forces and capabilities. Some of the key features of this expanded ground force mission included a Russian model of military advisors, integrated and modernized fires, mobility and countermobility operations, a featured role for military police, use of coastal defense, spetznaz, and private military company (PMC) forces. Russian ground forces have benefitted from the opportunity to provide combat experience to a large number of professional soldiers, conduct battlefield testing of new systems and observe the impact of different terrain on tactics. The forces opposing the Syrian government provide a different opponent than the “enemy” encountered in normal Russian peacetime training and much of the “Syrian experience” is discussed and dissected in Russian professional military journals.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Samuel Ramani
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: After spending nearly three decades as a marginal player in the Horn of Africa, the Russian Federation has made significant progress towards recapturing its great power status in the region. Russia has engaged with all countries in the Horn of Africa and refused to take sides in the region’s most polarizing conflicts, so Moscow can be best described as an “engaged opportunist” on the Horn of Africa. Russia is principally focused on establishing itself as the region’s leading arms vendor, but prospectively, has one eye on constructing a Red Sea base. Russia’s resurgence in the Horn of Africa has generally dovetailed with the People’s Republic of China’s regional aspirations, but has placed it increasingly at odds with France and the United States. Looking ahead, Russia’s ability to link its Horn of Africa strategy to its aspirations in the Middle East will shape the future trajectory of its involvement in the region. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Engagement
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Eurasia, Horn of Africa
  • Author: Bennett Murray
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: As the United States and People’s Republic of China jostle for influence among member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Russian Federation has also declared the bloc a priority. Southeast Asian nations, in turn, would like third powers to counterbalance Beijing and Washington in the region. However, Russia has not made a huge impression in the bloc since its first summit with ASEAN in 2005. Economic success has been mostly limited to bilateral trade centered around arms sales, while security partnerships have not been forthcoming. Part of the problem is that Russia lacks historic ties in its former Cold War rivals, which are also ASEAN’s largest economic powerhouses, to lean on. More crucially, Southeast Asian nations perceive Moscow as deferential to Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions in the region.
  • Topic: International Trade and Finance, Geopolitics, Soft Power, Economic Diplomacy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Maximilian Hess, Maia Otarashvili
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Georgia has long sought to take advantage of its strategically important location and establish itself as a significant transit hub connecting Europe and Asia. This endeavor has been slowly advanced by an array of innovative economic reforms, as well as some successful, smaller infrastructure and development projects. However, it has also been marked by repeated failures in making larger-scale initiatives happen. Despite its 190-mile-long Black Sea coastline, Georgia still does not have a deep-sea port, and enjoys very limited overall maritime capacity. This shortcoming poses a major impediment on the country’s aspirations of becoming a significant hub for the Eurasian transit system.
  • Topic: Infrastructure, Geopolitics, Maritime, Port
  • Political Geography: Eurasia, Georgia
  • Author: Yaroslav Shevchenko
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are certainly the two most prominent authoritarian regimes in the world today, with their quasi-alliance characterized as an “axis of authoritarians” and portrayed as a major threat to the West and global liberal democracy. However, despite unmistakable similarities that exist between Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, the reality is far more complex. Their respective responses to the COVID-19 crisis shed some light on differences between the political-governance models of these two countries.
  • Topic: Authoritarianism, Economy, Crisis Management, COVID-19, Health Crisis
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Eurasia, Asia
  • Author: Anna Borshchevskaya
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: It is no secret that Moscow is increasingly utilizing so-called “private military contractors” (PMCs) to pursue foreign policy objectives across the globe, especially in the Middle East and Africa. What has received less attention is that Moscow’s deployment of PMCs follows a pattern: The Kremlin is exploiting a loophole in international law by securing agreements that allow contractors to provide local assistance. The problem is, however, Russian PMCs are not simply contractors. This pattern of Russian behavior presents a new challenge that Western policymakers should address, as it speaks to broader Russian influence in Africa in the context of great power competition. This challenge is about Moscow’s erosion of broader behavioral norms.
  • Topic: International Law, Military Affairs, Private Sector
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Robert E. Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: On August 26, Politico reported that U.S. service members were injured after an altercation with Russian forces in northeast Syria. This pattern of Russian challenges to U.S. forces was enabled by the Trump administration’s decision to retreat from parts of northern Syria in 2019, allowing Russia to fill the void. Until this decision was made, the two countries had agreed to make the Euphrates River the deconfliction line to keep U.S. and Russian forces separated. Russia stayed on the west side of the river, and the United on the east side, where this incident took place. Robert Hamilton, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, commented on the story and warned that it will not be a one-off incident: “We need to respond to this immediately and forcefully. Russian forces deliberately escalated against U.S. partners when I was running the ground deconfliction cell for Syria in 2017, but tended to be careful when U.S. forces were present. Unless we make it clear that we’ll defend ourselves, these escalations will continue with dangerous and unpredictable results.” Below, we offer readers an excerpt from a chapter written by Robert Hamilton from a forthcoming edited volume on Russia’s Way of War in Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, War, Military Strategy, Military Affairs, Troop Deployment
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, North America
  • Author: Maximilian Hess
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Armenia’s accession to a Russian-mediated settlement with Azerbaijan over their long-running conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh to Armenians, on November 10 marks a major, perhaps irreversible, loss for Yerevan. But it is not just Armenian forces who stand defeated. It also marks the trouncing of a liberal approach to the region and the supremacy of realist power politics.
  • Topic: Treaties and Agreements, Territorial Disputes, Armed Conflict
  • Political Geography: Eurasia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh
  • Author: Robert E. Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The Russian Federation’s intervention in Syria is a watershed event. However the war there ends, its impact on Russia is likely to be profound. For the first time in its post-Soviet history, Russia’s military is fighting outside the borders of the former Soviet Union. In doing so, it is exercising military capabilities that had atrophied from long lack of use. Moscow is also rebuilding its diplomatic muscle through its role in Syria by managing a diverse coalition, leading a parallel peace process, and forcing the United States to take the Kremlin’s preferences into account when making decisions in the Middle East. Through Syria, Russia has reemerged on the geopolitical stage. The war is not over, and there are many ways in which things could still go badly for Russia. Moscow may find that a return to geopolitical prominence entails costs and risks at least as great as the rewards that status brings. Nevertheless, the West will be dealing with a Russia that has changed fundamentally through its experience in the war. Understanding these changes and their implications for Western governments is the focus of this conclusion chapter. It is structured around two questions. First, what does Syria tell us about how Russia fights its wars? Second, how has Russia’s experience in Syria affected the capabilities of its armed forces? Answering these questions should increase our understanding of Russia as a geopolitical actor and allow Western governments to make more effective policy on issues where Russia is a factor.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, War, Armed Forces, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Robert E. Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The war in the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas has killed over 13,000 people, displaced millions, and led to the worst rupture in relations between the Russian Federation and the West since the end of the Cold War. The war was caused by inherent cleavages in Ukrainian society, combined with clumsy and self-interested intervention by outside powers. The war’s effects on Ukraine have been profound: the collapse of the post-Soviet Ukrainian political elite; billions of dollars in direct and indirect losses to the Ukrainian economy; a wholesale restructuring of the Ukrainian armed forces; social dislocation and psychological trauma; and unprecedented environmental damage. Despite these sad legacies, there are reasons to be optimistic that a settlement to the conflict is in view. The exhaustion and frustration of people in the separatist-controlled regions, Russia’s changing policy on the war—at least in part a result of rising frustration among the Russian public—and the election of a new Ukrainian government without regional ties or ties to networks of oligarchs all contribute to the possibility of peace. But in order for peace to endure after the war, the Ukrainian state must construct a broad-based, civic national identity, and it must tackle the country’s endemic corruption. The international community must be engaged in both crafting a settlement to the war and helping Ukraine deal with its consequences. External observers may be inclined to point to social division and corruption as the internal causes of the war, and argue that Ukraine has to fix itself before the outside world can intervene to help. And this is true as far as it goes. But it is also true that the outside world contributed to the start of war in Ukraine by making the country the object in a geopolitical tussle between Russia and the West. Any honest accounting of the war’s history must acknowledge this fact. And any fair treatment of Ukraine after the war should seek to compensate it through significant, long-term assistance.
  • Topic: War, Territorial Disputes, Conflict, Separatism
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe
  • Author: Anna Borshchevskaya
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Russian private military companies or contractors (PMCs) have received much attention in recent years, but the Russian state has a long history in utilizing such groups. Under Vladimir Putin, however, this model is growing, evolving, and expanding. This study reviews the history of semi-state military forces in Russia and explains the unique way the Russian state utilizes PMCs, which is different from how Western governments utilize private contractors. An important aspect of PMCs is that they are officially illegal under Russian law. The study then traces the rise of the PMC model under Putin. It notes that while plausible deniability is a major reason for Moscow to utilize PMCs, it is also linked to other considerations, such as internal rivalries within the Russian government and other domestic reasons. Competition with the West drives the Kremlin’s use of PMCs. Paradoxically, the Russian PMC model demonstrates both state strength and weakness. The study reviews PMCs activities in Ukraine, Syria, and Africa, examines who joins these groups and under what circumstances, and concludes with policy recommendations.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Military Affairs, Private Sector, Mercenaries
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia