Russian foreign policy towards the Middle East has two distinct goals, as well as a more general third goal. The first goal is the direct, short term goal of securing the survival of the Assad government in Syria. The second goal is a broader strategic goal of forcing a “grand bargain” with the West over the Ukraine and allowing Russia to rejoin the club of Western nations. The third goal is that Russia seeks to secure its own borders, and prevent the spread of anti-government forces, be they terrorist or separatist. The “narrow” goal to protect the Assad regime is wrapped in Kremlin propaganda that the war in Syria is not about the Assad regime necessarily, but rather that Russian involvement in Syria is about the third goal, stopping international terrorism. The war in Syria is sold to the Russian people as a case of “Fight them there, not here.” In Putin’s own words “Now that those thugs have tasted blood, we can’t allow them to return home and continue with their criminal activities. Nobody wants that, right?” However, when one looks closely at the locations the Russian forces are deployed in Syria, and against whom most of their strikes are carried out against, one can clearly see that the target is varied anti-Assad forces, rather than forces directly related to or aligned with IS. Russia has also portrayed all groups that are not Assad forces as IS-aligned terrorist groups, meaning “Russia can, first, justify any support for the regime as moral and, second, fall back on the argument that there is no moderate opposition to work with.” Russian media has also shifted away from covering the Ukrainian conflict to instead cover the Syrian conflict, and the fear of IS style terrorism threatening Russian soil. The broader strategic interest of reaching a “Grand Bargain” with the West is something Russia has been pursuing since the immediate post-9/11 context. Russia immediately pivoted from framing the Chechen war as an internal matter that the West should keep their noses out of, to framing the Chechen war as another “righteous” battle against international terrorism. State media began a concerted effort to link Chechen rebel groups with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Russia also began to label IS as the new fascism, a global threat that is second only to the Nazi Reich of the middle 20th century. Russia also believed that by highlighting itself as a key partner in the “War on Terror” and that it was ready to work with the United States towards the same goals, the United States would recognize Russia as an equal partner in global security matters and allow Russia a seat at the table in talks on a new security architecture that would reduce the power of NATO. The Bush administration recognized this, but never gave the Russians the amount of negotiating power they wanted. This article argues that Russian discourse by itself is unlikely to generate significant long-term rewards for Moscow, and their rhetoric of “IS fascism” and “no such things as freedom fighters, only evil terrorists” will not get them any closer to a grand bargain with the US. However, Russian can feasibly achieve its short-term goal of protecting the Assad regime with its military might and could possibly force a deal with the West in the Syrian peace process.
Key Concepts Prepared by Justin
Russia in Chechnya Russia views terrorism as an existential threat to the integrity of the country. It is believed that lack of action against terrorism will result in it spreading throughout the Russian Federation, causing the country to disintegrate
After 9/11, Vladimir Putin often linked the Chechen conflict to the broader American “War on Terror.” This may have been in order to temper the international criticism towards Russia over its brutal counterterrorism campaign, as well as to gain support from the US against the Chechen threat. Both the US and Russia hoped for warmer ties and increased cooperation between the two countries following 9/11 Russia portrayed itself as a strong US ally against terrorists, and stated that the Chechen rebels were primary supporters of al-Qaeda Despite the Chechen conflict featuring rebel groups motivated by both religion and nationalism, Russia made no distinction between the two and labeled them simply as enemies.
Though Western criticism of Russia’s actions within Chechnya diminished somewhat following 9/11, the US was still wary of possible Russian ulterior motives, and emphasized the need for political negotiations In addition, the desired US-Russia cooperation largely failed to take root, and Russia began to become aggravated by US actions in the Middle East and Europe
Russia in Syria In the Syrian conflict, Russia has again painted itself in a light of moral superiority. The Islamic State is referred to as ‘fascist,’ and Russia’s actions against IS are related back to images of WWII and preventing the ‘enslavement’ of not only the Middle East, but Europe and the wider world as well. Just like in Chechnya, Russia refuses to acknowledge the existence of “moderate” rebels. Only the Assad regime is seen as the viable government of Syria
Russia is likely currently involved in Syria for a variety of reasons: The collapse of Syria poses the risk of terrorism spilling over into Russia To support the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, a key Russian ally in the region Some Russian citizens have joined IS, sparking fears that those people could incite violence if not stopped before reentering the country Russian media has heavily focused on the Syrian conflict, possibly as a means to shift attention away from the Ukrainian conflict As with the Chechen conflict, Russia may be hoping for warmer relations and greater influence with the West by sharing the burden in the fight against IS.
As was the case with Chechnya, Russia is unlikely to receive much support from the West, or create a more positive Western image of Russia by taking a leading role against IS.
Questions Prepared by Danielle Arseneau
1. Who does Notte interview to obtain her data?
2. Do you think that this set of interviews is sufficient? Notte outlines Moscow’s narrow and broad objectives from the Syrian campaign. How well do you believe these objectives have been met?
3. Do you think Putin’s assertion that there are no “moderate” rebels in Syria reflect how he feels about rebellion and dissent in Russia?
4. Taking into account recent developments in Syria, including the recapture of Aleppo with the help of Russian forces, how do you think Russia’s standing in the Global War Against Terror has changed?
5. Why do you think that the IS-fascism analogy doesn’t work among Western nations?
6. Russia struggled to link Chechnya to the international terrorist threat during the Second Chechen War. Had the 2014 Boston Marathon Bombings, which were committed by Chechen immigrants, happened during the war, do you think the discourse would be different?
Group Sputnik Trump, Putin, and the Future of US-Russian Relations
Abstract Prepared by Nicolas
This article published the Slavic Review journal discusses the different factors having an impact on the relations between the US and Russia. The first factor examined in the article is the “structural shifts in the global balance of power”. In short what this means is that Russia decided to come back to the game of great power politics. Meanwhile China continued its rise and the US began its decline allowing for a more assertive Russian position. The second factor is titled “the Syrian gambit”. It focuses mainly on the US reluctance to get involved and the opportunity it provided Russia for stepping onto the world stage once again. While the tangible benefits for Russia are slim, the Syrian intervention was more about geopolitics and prestige. The third factor having a major impact on the US-Russia relations is the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House. During the US presidential campaign and the first few months of Trump in office, there was a perception in Russia that a Trump presidency would be much more positive for Russia’s interest than a Clinton presidency. While this proved to be a false assumption, it nonetheless contributed to a few months of warmer relations between the two countries. The fourth issue addressed in this article is that of the hacking scandal. The scandal began with a leaks of e-mails showing that the DNC was colluding to make sure that Hillary Clinton would get the Democrat nomination. Then accusation were brought up to light by president Obama that Russia was trying to influence US elections, as a consequence, the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats. The investigation and final consequences of that scandal have still not fully played out yet. The fifth issue is connected to the previous one by its actors, but also by the fact, just like that hacking scandal that is hasn’t fully played out yet. Titled “the dodgy dossier” by the authors, it concerns mainly the RNC and Trumps Russian connections; spying for Russian interest in exchange for favors and shady money transfers. The sixth issue, titled “turmoil in the white house” centers on the various people affected by the ramifications of the scandals explained in the two previous paragraphs. Additionally, it also focuses on the Trump administration’s mixed signals on the Topic of Russia such as the appointment of Rex Tillerson, a mans with known ties to Russia as secretary of State or the strong criticism of Russia by Trump’s newly appointed ambassador to the UN Nikki Hayley. The final issue concerns Syria again. In a “U-turn over Syria” following sarin gas attack by Syrian forces, president Trump ordered missile strikes on Syrian military installations, making a 180 degree turn on his America first policy and further increasing tensions with Russia on the Syrian question. In the conclusion the authors identify ways in which the US-Russia relations might progress from here on out. First, while difficult given the circumstances, Trump could potentially make a deal with Russia on the case of sanctions, Crimea or NATO (even though it seems Russia has very little but good behavior to offer in return). The alternative to that being a simple continuation of the current confrontational status-quo. Some in Washington would prefer a third way: selective engagement on issues where the interests of both camp coincide.
Key Concepts Prepared by Sara Magee
Structural Factors Moscow’s return to the world stage as a key player, around 2008. This resulted in newfound ‘aggressiveness’ (i.e. willingness to deploy troops). Failure of US policies in response to this (diplomacy, economic leverage, deterrence). Broader changes in the world order (US military withdrawal, impact of 2008 financial crisis on Europe, rise of China, refugee crisis).
Policies in Syria Inaction by President Obama after 2013 chemical weapons attacks left a vacuum for the Russians to fill in the region: Taking the main role in military intervention (2013). Actively protecting Assad through Security Council vetoes. Destroying the chemical weapons arsenal (2015). Leading talks for Syrian groups with Turkey and Iran (2017).
Conflict being used to raise the political/diplomatic prestige of Russia on the world stage – expanding its power beyond its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. April 2017, Trump intervenes in Syria and denounces Russia for failing to destroy all of Assad’s chemical weapons (brought ‘on the verge of a military clash with Russia).
Trump’s Election Hillary Clinton was not viewed as someone that Putin could work with; but many similarities are identified between him and Donald Trump. Use of the media to communicate with the ‘masses’. Mutual respect for one another. Populist political outsiders.
Public accusations against Russia for attempting to interfere in the Presidential election (Dec 2016), followed by intelligence reports – for supporting leaks against DNC and DCCC to embarrass democratic candidates and cause scandal.
Steele Dossier: information compiled by former British intelligence officer hired to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. Potential blackmail FSB had on Trump. Business connections of advisor Carter Page. Connections/employment of campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Intervention seen as justified by Russians, who point out US interventions in foreign elections in the name of ‘democracy’.
Trump Administration Trump’s office sending mixed signals on their policy towards Russia: Nikki Haley remained firm on Russian Crimea related sanctions in the UN. Trump says Obama to soft on Russia after Crimea was ‘taken’. Trump said US was ‘running behind’ on nuclear capabilities. However: Rex Tillerson (former dealings with Rosneft, etc.) made Secretary of State. Flynn resigns, Sessions recuses himself: both in connection to Russia. ‘Ideological zealots’ making policy, ‘career professionals’ tasked to carry it out.
Overall Themes Military intervention (rise of Russian commitment vs. US withdrawal). Implications of using soft powers like disinformation and hacking not recognized adequately by Washington, failure to address these properly by intelligence officials. Contradictory and confusing outputs from the Trump Administration have tanked Russian approval ratings of Trump. It is unclear whether a political settlement will be reached with Russia, or whether the US will continue its policy of containment.
Questions Prepared by Ashley
1. Which countries are referred to while discussing the “structural shift in the global balance of power” and what are they doing differently? 2. What effect on US-Russia relations has Donald Trump had? 3. Explain the hacking scandal. What were the consequences of this? 4. Who was involved in the “dodgy dossier” scandal? 5. What examples of mixed signals about Russia is the Trump administration giving? 6. How have Trump’s hiring practices been controversial? 7. What projections for the future of US-Russia relations were given by the authors?
Abstract Prepared by Christopher Fulton
This reading focuses on how and why Ukraine reacted to and engaged with Russian led regional integration projects. Ukraine was heavily dependent on Russia economically until 2014, a dependence that was exploited by Russia to fufil integration objectives. This caused Ukraine elites to be weary of economic integration such as union while increasing Ukraine’s commitment to integration. Ukraine was trying to establish sovereignty after 1991, though it was difficult to do this given their natural gas reliance on Russia. Russia provides a series of benefits to Ukraine and other small nearby countries such as energy transportation infrastructure, labour migration, and financial provision, allowing Russia to establish military bases through trade agreements. This linkage strategy has increased under Putin. Ukrainian presidents managed relations with Russia to seek economic objectives that satisfy Ukrainian oligarch’s needs (such as access to Russian markets), who in turn, keep these presidents in power. This explains Ukraine’s lack of measures to reduce dependency on Russia. Russia sought to use this advantage to entice Ukraine to join the Russian-led integration bloc. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was used by Russia in order to try to persuade the Ukraine to ratify agreements (mainly economic) that would limit Ukraine’s sovereignty. Ukraine did not ratify the agreement, though they are an associate state of the agreement. In order to get Ukraine to join a CIS customs union, Russia placed an excise tax on gas and oil, showing the Kremlin’s propensity to link trade with political goals. Following the Orange Revolution, Russia attempted to raise the price of gas 5 fold in 2006, and was charging Ukraine 10% more than what Italy and Germany were paying in 2009. Ukraine could not afford this, as their economy shrunk 15% in 2009. Yanukovych sought to improve this relationship. In April 2010, he signed a lease extension on the Russian Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol in exchange for a 30% discount on the 2009 gas price, though this was still an 8 -old increase from 2005. Russia began harassing Ukrainian imports at the boarder by having detailed and lengthy checks on Ukrainian goods, causing large losses for Ukrainian exporters. A few months later in 2013, Ukraine entered a recession. Russia turned to military coercion, forcing Ukraine to incur the cost of Crimea. Ukraine’s exports to Russia decreased from $12B to $4B between 2014 and 2015.
Questions Prepared by
Key Concepts Prepared by Maxim
Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russian energy exports. Having been accustomed to certain low levels of pricing in the past thanks to its relationship with Russia, the Ukrainian economy is energy intensive despite its own lack of gas and oil. Contrarily, Russia would be mostly unaffected by a disruption in its energy dealings with Ukraine because it occupies a proportionately smaller role in its economy
Ukrainian elites perpetuated dependence on Russia rather than reform, incentivized by the personal economic and political benefits to be gained through a working relationship with their neighbor
During the 90’s, Ukraine was hesitant to commit heavily to the CIS for fear of losing sovereignty. The Ukrainian government preferred to minimize commitments, which became a costly tactic come the 2000’s.
Russia’s efforts to further integrate Ukraine increased with the first term of Vladimir Putin and his policy towards economically reliant satellite states of ‘explicit economic conditionality’, aiming to reward countries that would commit more deeply to working relationships. Due to a series of political Gaffes, President Kuchma of Ukraine was alienated by the west and took steps towards Russia
The 2004 Orange revolution in Ukraine led to a radical turn westward in Ukraine’s foreign policy. There was little preparation done in regards to the impact of the economic reorientation away from Russia and the economy took a downward turn. Yanukovych was elected into power on a generally pro Russian platform, which was seen favorably following the economic slump under orange leadership. He would go on to pursue closer economic ties with Russia.
Continued reluctance to acquiesce to Russian terms on the part of Ukraine led to more economic difficulty in the resulting political games. Yanukovych eventually planned to sign on a key agreement with the EU that would have been a step towards integration – eventually bailing out of it due to Russian influence and setting the stage for the Ukrainian crisis
Abstract Prepared by
Questions Prepared by Heather
1. What is the Russia-Canada Continental Shelf dispute? What is the current state of Arctic geopolitics and how urgent would you say jurisdictional issues actually are in the region?
2. What are some of the challenges to Canada’s claims in the Arctic? How has the Canadian government responded to these challenges?
3. How is the Arctic and the North thought of in Russia? Is this similar or different to how Canadians think of the region?
4. How has identity politics played a role in Canada and Russia’s relationship in terms of the Arctic?
5. What does the future look like for Canada and Russia in the Arctic?
Key Concepts Prepared by Miriam Harrison
-Many northern nations have overlapping claims on the continental shelves of the Arctic ocean. It is becoming increasingly necessary to make the Arctic seabed “legible” in terms of where the boundaries between nations are.
-This urgency is due to global warming, and the fact that the Arctic seabed is rich in resources such as petroleum. This has caused a “race” for resource rights between many of the northern coastal states.
-Arctic continental shelves are possibly “the geographically largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on Earth.”
-Both Canada and Russia are making aggressive claims to sovereignty, and downplaying cooperative processes and inflate the urgency of Arctic jurisdictional issues. The article argues that this is because policymakers in both Ottawa and Moscow may be finding a political use for the conflict, such as national identity building projects.
-This article examines whether national identity issues are impeding cooperation over Arctic boundary issues.
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