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  • Author: Anna Borshchevskaya
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Moscow is in Syria for the long haul and will continue to undermine American efforts there. In recent months, Moscow intensified its activities in Syria against the backdrop of a changing US administration. The Kremlin sent additional military policy units to eastern Syria, and continued diplomatic engagement through the Astana format, a process that superficially has international backing but in practice excludes the United States and boosts Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, Moscow also unveiled at its airbase in Syria a statue to the patron saint of the Russian army, Prince Alexander Nevsky. A growing Russian presence in Syria will further hurt Western interests.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Sahar Khan
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The international community is focused on the ongoing intra-Afghan peace process, which has steadied despite several challenges. There are two developments, however, that will have a lasting impact on the process: The International Criminal Court’s investigation into war crimes committed by the Taliban, Afghan forces, and US forces, and the strategic evolution of the Taliban as a legitimate political actor.
  • Topic: Security, International Law, Terrorism, Taliban, Conflict, Peace
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Russia, South Asia, Eurasia
  • Author: Pavel K. Baev
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The recent incidence of war in the Caucasus has shown that, when facing deep domestic troubles, Russia and Turkey demonstrate strikingly different patterns of international behavior. While Russia has become more cautious in responding to external challenges, Turkey has embarked on several power-projecting enterprises. Its forceful interference in the long-smoldering conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh took Russia by surprise and effectively secured a military victory for Azerbaijan. Moscow has assumed the main responsibility for terminating hostilities by deploying a peacekeeping force, but its capacity for managing the war zone and its commitment to deconflicting tensions with Turkey remain uncertain. The United States and the European Union have few levers for influencing this interplay of clashing agendas of local actors and regional powers and fewer reasons to trust Russian and Turkish leaders to put peacebuilding ahead of their ambitions.
  • Topic: Security, War, Geopolitics, Grand Strategy, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Turkey, Caucasus, Middle East
  • Author: Philip Remler
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Over the past decade, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has been returning to its origins as a Cold War–era Conference – a forum where states and blocs, often antagonistic to one another and espousing opposing ideals, can air their frictions and hostilities. The OSCE was created without legal personality and with the liberum veto of the consensus principle. These constraints stunted the growth of executive capabilities and bound the OSCE closely to the will of its participating States. That rendered most mediation efforts ineffective, especially where an OSCE state is both belligerent and mediator in the same conflicts. Peace operations have been more effective – notably the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine – but the same factors have tightly constrained its activity. Though all participating States committed themselves to democratic governance, rule of law and respect for human rights, these ideals failed in much of the former Soviet Union, and autocrats have used the organisation’s lack of legal personality and the consensus principle to hobble the OSCE’s efforts. If the OSCE’s participating States want it to remain an Organization, not a Conference, they must take action to secure its executive autonomy.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Peacekeeping, Democracy, Conflict, OSCE
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Eurasia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe
  • Author: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Karabakh War (September 29–November 9) has had a transformative effect on the country. It not only changed the attitudes of its population, whose members now feel themselves to be heroes rather than victims (see EDM, January 21), but also bolstered the diplomatic weight and possibilities of the Azerbaijani government in its dealings with other regional states. In prosecuting a triumphant war against Yerevan, Baku demonstrated its own ability to act. But just as importantly, Azerbaijan has shown to peoples and governments in the Caucasus and Central Asia that it is a force to be reckoned with, in part thanks to its growing links with Turkey. Moreover, that alliance makes possible an appealing path to the outside world for all who join it. That reality is causing countries east of the Caspian to look westward to and through Azerbaijan in their economic planning and political calculations. At the same time, however, these developments are generating concerns in Moscow and Tehran, which oppose east-west trade routes that bypass their countries’ territories and instead favor north-south corridors linking Russia and Iran together. As a result, Azerbaijan’s recent successes in expanding links with Central Asia set the stage for new conflicts between Azerbaijan and its Turkic partners, on the one hand, and Russia and Iran, which have far more significant naval assets in the Caspian, on the other (see EDM, November 27, 2018 and February 20, 2020; Casp-geo.ru, December 24, 2019; Chinalogist.ru, November 21, 2019).
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Conflict, Trade
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Central Asia, Middle East, Azerbaijan
  • Author: Pavel Felgenhauer
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: The Second Karabakh War, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, began on September 27, 2020, and ended on November 9, 2020, with a Russian-brokered and guaranteed agreement. The conflict claimed the lives of thousands of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. But after 44 days of fierce fighting, it concluded with Yerevan soundly defeated: Armenia lost territory occupied during the First Karabakh War in 1992–1994 as well as over 30 percent of prewar Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast—a region of Soviet Azerbaijan majority populated by ethnic Armenians. Today, the rump self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR or “Artsakh”)—still controlled by Armenians and not recognized by anyone—is fully surrounded by Azerbaijani troops and territory. The rump Karabakh “republic’s” perimeter is guarded by some 2,000 Russian “peacekeepers” who also control the so-called Lachin corridor, the only highway left open from Armenia proper to Karabakh through the city of Lachin. The future of the rump NKR and its Armenian population is unclear. Baku refuses to discuss any special administrative status for the territory, insisting Armenians born in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast or their descendants must disarm and apply for Azerbaijani citizenships to stay as a minority inside Azerbaijan. In turn, the NKR leadership has declared Russian an official language alongside Armenian to avoid use of Azerbaijani Turkish (Izvestia, February 17). Officials in Stepanakert (Khankendi in Azerbaijani) apparently hope this may tempt Moscow to keep its peacekeepers in Karabakh permanently and maybe eventually agree to annex the NKR outright.
  • Topic: Weapons , Conflict, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Eastern Europe, Nagorno-Karabakh
  • Author: Mykola Sunhurovskyi
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Razumkov Centre
  • Abstract: This question arises after reviewing numerous comments by domestic and foreign experts on Russia amassing its troops near the border with Ukraine. Most assessments in different variations boil down to the statement that this is nothing but the Kremlin’s informational and psychological operation (bluff) to step up pressure on Ukraine and its Western partners for them to cede down.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Territorial Disputes, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe
  • Author: Anatol Lieven
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
  • Abstract: The unresolved conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the Donbas region represents by far the greatest danger of a new war in Europe — and by far the greatest risk of a new crisis in relations between the United States and Russia. The Biden administration does not wish to escalate tensions with Russia, and no doubt appreciates that admitting Ukraine into NATO is impossible for the foreseeable future, if only because Germany and France would veto it. Nonetheless, so long as the dispute remains unresolved, the United States will be hostage to developments on the ground that could drag it into a new and perilous crisis.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Diplomacy, War, Conflict, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Ukraine, Eastern Europe
  • Author: Philip Remler
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: As the battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan heats up, Russia struggles to contend with a vastly more complicated landscape in the South Caucasus. Since shortly after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia’s aims and policies in the South Caucasus have been constant, but its capabilities to project power and influence have fluctuated. Russia’s engagement with the entire Caucasus region is best characterized as a tide. Its power and influence began to ebb at the start of the Karabakh conflict—with the February 1988 massacre of Armenians in the Azerbaijani city of Sumqayit being the key galvanizing event.2 After that, the tide receded rapidly, leaving even Russian possessions in the North Caucasus without effective central control. The First Chechen War marked low tide, which only began to rise with the Second Chechen War, beginning in 1999. Until about 2004, Russia was too weak and internally divided to project power and influence in the wider Caucasus region in a meaningful way. To be sure, Russian influence was never gone completely, even during the lowest ebb of the tide. Russia still marshaled greater resources than the new states of the Caucasus could muster, and it threw its weight around. But in the 1990s, Russia did not have a unified governing apparatus, but rather a mass of competing clans among which regional actors could maneuver. For example, after the Soviet collapse, Moscow left the Russian military units in the Caucasus to their own devices. Those units served as mercenaries, arms suppliers, and logistics providers to both sides in the Karabakh conflict. It took a decade for Moscow to reassert its so-called power vertical in the Caucasus, symbolized by President Vladimir Putin’s success in 2004 in finally ousting chief of the general staff Anatoliy Kvashnin.3 Russia’s assertiveness in the region grew steadily thereafter, with sharp upticks after the 2008 war with Georgia and Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, History, Territorial Disputes, Conflict, Elites, Soviet Union
  • Political Geography: Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, South Caucasus
  • Author: Erik J. Dahl
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Political Science Quarterly
  • Institution: Academy of Political Science
  • Abstract: In this valuable new book, Austin Carson examines the phenomenon of covert military intervention, which he defines as occurring when an external major power secretly provides military assistance during war. Carson argues that such interventions are more common than might be expected and that they often lead to a puzzling dynamic, whereby an adversary detects the intervention but does not publicize it. Carson’s use of the term “covert” follows the conventional definition of government activities designed to conceal the actor’s role in that activity, but by focusing on covert military intervention, he is studying a phenomenon different from “covert action,” which in the American context usually refers to activities undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency, rather than by military forces. This book is therefore a complement to other works on covert action, including Lindsey A. O’Rourke’s recent Covert Regime Change: America’s Secret Cold War.
  • Topic: Military Intervention, Book Review, Conflict, Political Science
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, United States of America
  • Author: Sakari Ishetiar
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Public and International Affairs (JPIA)
  • Institution: School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
  • Abstract: Russia’s abstention from UNSCR 1973, which allowed a no-fly zone in Libya and ultimately led to the collapse of the Qadhafi regime, has resounded across both Russian foreign policy and the security environment of the Near East. Competing theories claim the abstention was either a carefully-planned strategy or a tactical miscalculation, but the result—Russian rejection of regime decapitation and Western distaste for further intervention—is easily observed. In addition to tangible military and political benefits, the chaotic and unsustainable Libyan status quo bolsters Russia’s political capital by discrediting that of the West. Although Russia is unlikely to intervene kinetically in Libya, it can passively destabilize the country at almost no cost, stymying Western efforts to end the crisis. Only by recognizing and accommodating Russia’s interests in Libya can the West negotiate a lasting settlement for Libya and secure vital U.S. interests in the region.
  • Topic: Civil War, Sovereignty, Military Affairs, Military Intervention, Conflict, UN Security Council
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Libya, North Africa
  • Author: Wilder Alejandro Sanchez
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Since achieving its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has maintained warm relations with the United States. The country regards the United States both as a potential source for trade and investment and as a partner to balance the influence of Russia and China in Central Asia, a perspective which underlines the importance of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s February visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. During the visit, Pompeo was generous in his praise for Kazakhstan and highlighted the importance of bilateral ties, while criticizing China’s detention of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, Kyrgyz, and ethnic Kazakhs in so-called “re-education” camps.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, War, Bilateral Relations, Conflict, Trade
  • Political Geography: Russia, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: With the Syrian regime’s offensive in Idlib paused, the time is now for a deal sparing the rebellion’s last stronghold the full wrath of reconquest. The parties should pursue an improved ceasefire including the regime, Russia, Turkey and the Islamist militants entrenched in the province. What’s new? A Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive against rebel-held Idlib halted when Russia and Turkey negotiated a ceasefire in March. Turkey is sending reinforcements, signalling a military response to what it deems a national security threat. For now, this step may dissuade Russia from resuming the offensive, but the standoff appears untenable. Why does it matter? Successive Russian-Turkish ceasefires in Idlib have collapsed over incompatible objectives, diverging interpretations and exclusion of the dominant rebel group, Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is UN-sanctioned and considered by Russia and others a terrorist organisation. A Russian-backed regime offensive to retake Idlib likely would result in humanitarian catastrophe. What should be done? All actors should seek a more sustainable ceasefire – optimally including HTS, notwithstanding legitimate concerns about the group – that avoids the high military, political and humanitarian price of another offensive. Turkey should push HTS to continue distancing itself from transnational militancy and display greater tolerance for political and religious pluralism.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Conflict, Syrian War, Islamism, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Michael McFaul
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Ambassador's Review
  • Institution: Council of American Ambassadors
  • Abstract: President-elect Joseph R. Biden has an opportunity to forge a bipartisan, sustained grand U.S. strategy for Russia. With decades of experience in foreign affairs, especially transatlantic relations, he knows Russia, he knows Vladimir Putin and, equally important, he knows the region. When I worked at the National Security Council during the Barack Obama administration, I traveled with then-Vice President Biden to Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia. Unlike his immediate predecessor, President Biden rightfully will not try to befriend Putin. He and his expert team of foreign policy advisors understand that the central objective in U.S. policy towards Russia today is to contain Putin’s belligerent behavior abroad. At the same time, the incoming Biden administration offers the U.S. a chance to develop a more predictable pattern of bilateral relations with the Russian government and Russian people, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. After relations with China, competing with Russia is the second-greatest foreign policy challenge of our time, complicated by the fact that China and Russia today are closer to each other now than they were during the Cold War. To successfully achieve American objectives will require the implementation of a comprehensive, sophisticated and nuanced strategy for containing Putin’s belligerent actions abroad and simultaneously cooperating with Moscow on a small set of issues of mutual benefit.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Conflict, Transatlantic Relations
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Arzan Tarapore
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center
  • Abstract: he method of major/minor trends developed in this report suggests that the roots of apparently surprising future behavior can be found in a close reading of a target state’s history. Using this method, the report outlines three unlikely but plausible alternative futures of India as a strategic actor. The first scenario envisions India as a Hindu-nationalist revisionist power hostile to Pakistan but accommodating of China; in the second, it is a militarily risk-acceptant state that provokes dangerous crises with China; and in the third scenario, India is a staunch competitor to China that achieves some success through partnerships with other U.S. rivals like Russia and Iran. These scenarios are designed not to predict the future but to sensitize U.S. policymakers to possible strategic disruptions. They also serve to highlight risks and tensions in current policy.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Conflict, Strategic Interests
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, Europe, India, Asia, North America
  • 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: Gavin Helf
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: This report offers a road map for understanding the most likely sources of violent conflict in the post-Soviet nations of Central Asia—ethno-nationalism and nativism, Islam and secularism, water resources and climate change, and labor migration and economic conflict. The analysis draws from emerging trends in the region and identifies the ways in which Central Asia’s geography and cultural place in the world interact with those trends. It suggests that the policy goals of the United States, Russia, and China in the region may be more compatible than is often assumed.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Climate Change, Migration, Economy, Conflict, Peace
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Central Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Paul M. Carter Jr.
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s global ambitions have steadily increased, including in unstable areas of the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere. For the most part, Moscow’s activities in these and other areas run counter to Western interests and undermine efforts to mitigate conflict through broad-based, transparent processes. This report outlines the factors that appear to be motivating the Kremlin’s conflict-zone interventions and places them within the larger context of Russian foreign policy interests.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Foreign Policy, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria