Eurasian Affairs – January 2019

A wrecked ship is seen off the coast of the Kuril Islands. Negotiations with Japan over the status of the Islands have not gone well this month. Photo by Flickr user acidka.

Eurasian Affairs looks at the wide expanse of Eurasia, but particularly focuses on those issues affecting relations between Eurasian states and the US and/or with Russia. Also of specific interest within that focus are issues that might affect global economic, human rights, or military concerns.

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

Asia

A Closer Look at South Korea’s Plan for Cooperation with Russia
Exploring the viability of Moon Jae-in’s Nine Bridges plan.

Southern Kuril Islands’ Handover to Japan Would Open Pandora’s Box for Russia, Experts say
Later, the question may go like this: “first we deal with the four Kuril Islands and then we will see if we talk about all Kuril Islands and southern Sakhalin,” Valery Kistanov of the RAS said.

Russia Sees ‘Significant Differences’ With Japan on Islands
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov damped expectations of a breakthrough in a dispute with Japan over four islands that’s prevented the signing of a World War II peace accord, saying the two countries “still have significant differences.”

Russia-Japan: Softening Negotiations with Unpredictable Prospects
Оn January 22, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold talks in Moscow. “There are plans for discussing the current condition of and prospects for developing bilateral cooperation in the political, trading, economic and humanitarian spheres,” the Kremlin press-service said.

Press Review: Putin, Abe Enter Round 25 on Peace Deal Talks and Why Davos May Disappoint
Taking into account the background of the preparations for Abe’s visit to Moscow, experts told Izvestia they do not expect any breakthrough solutions from the meeting. However, according to them, if Tokyo fulfils a number of conditions, a peace treaty would also be beneficial for Moscow.

 

Central Asia

Is Turkmenistan Being Pulled into Russia’s Orbit?
April will mark 10 years since a mysterious explosion at a gas pipeline leading from Turkmenistan to Russia.

Move to Lift Forced Labour Stigma Over Uzbek Cotton
Some of the world’s top clothes brands could soon be persuaded to lift their boycott on Uzbek cotton if the government of Uzbekistan is successful with a renewed lobbying push promising to end all forced and child labour in the Central Asian country.

Highway to Sell: Turkmen Building Big Road to Attract Regional Trade Haulage
Turkmenistan has launched the construction of a four-lane, $2.3bn country-spanning highway aimed at generating more regional trade, state-run Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper reported on January 25. The road will link Turkmen capital Ashgabat to Turkmenabat, a town bordering Uzbekistan.

Progress in US-Taliban Peace Talks Potentially Good News for Central Asia
US and Taliban officials have agreed in principle to a peace deal “framework”, the New York Times reported on January 28 quoting US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who was speaking after five days of talks between the militant group and the US in Qatar.

 

Europe

Gavin Williamson: UK Ship in Ukraine ‘Sends Message to Russia’
A Royal Navy ship which has been sent to Ukraine will send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the UK’s defence secretary says.

Russia and Britain to Start Returning Diplomats in January- Russian Embassy
Moscow and London have reached an agreement to return some staff to their respective embassies after they expelled dozens of diplomats early this year, the Russian embassy said on Friday.

Shock Murder of Polish Mayor Turns into a Political Blame Game
The murder of a prominent mayor in office for two decades has exposed Poland’s increasingly febrile politics under the country’s nationalist government as shock and grief turned to acrimony over who was to blame.

Orbánomics (Or The Return of National Economics)
Virtually all countries today do consider the production and redistribution of wealth to be a fundamental goal. In this context, GDP per capita (minus wealth from national resources) is a decent proxy for a society’s organizational capacity, which certainly is a very relevant metric in any case.

A Brotherly Takeover: Could Russia Annex Belarus?
The Kremlin’s recent demand that Belarus integrate further with the Russian state in return for financial support has sparked concerns that Russia may annex its neighbor. Such a move, some analysts suggest, would allow President Vladimir Putin to remain in office after 2024. But this scenario is rife with unpredictable risks for Russia and is based upon several incorrect myths about modern Belarus.

 

Global

Russia in Asia and Eurasia in 2018
With regard to Asia, it appears that it ceased to be an exotic niche of Russia’s foreign policy in 2018 and shifted toward its center. Of course, due to security threats, rocky relations with the United States and Europe still remain its top priority, but the positive portion of the agenda has shifted to Asia.

Doping: WADA ‘bitterly disappointed’ at Russia’s Failure to Meet Deadline
The World Anti-Doping Agency on Tuesday said that Russian authorities had failed to provide access to laboratory doping data by their year-end deadline and it will consider sanctions against the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA).

Circumstances Have Changed Since 1991, but Russia’s Core Foreign Policy Goals Have Not
Russian foreign policy preferences and activities have been largely continuous since the early 1990s. These preferences have focused on the quest to restore Russia’s great power status and maintain a zone of influence in states around its borders as a buffer against potential security threats.

Almost 180 Russian Athletes Apply for Neutral Status
Russia’s track-and-field federation, RUSAF, has received 177 applications from its athletes bidding to compete as neutrals in international competitions this year, Russian news agencies report.

Russia Drops Appeal Against Track and Field Doping Ban
Russia’s track and field federation dropped its legal challenge against its ban from international competitions.

 

Middle East

Moscow’s Little-Noticed Islamic-Outreach Effort
Russia is promoting Islamic moderation in unison with Arab powers—and further cementing its position in the Middle East.

Russia’s Policy in Syria and the Middle East: Determination, Delight, and Disappointment
Russian strategic goals in the Middle East cannot be divorced from Russian grand strategy more broadly. In other words, Russia does not purse a sui generis Middle East policy specific to that region but coordinates its actions in accordance with its overall approach to world affairs.

 

Military

Is there a glimmer of hope for the INF Treaty?
On December 21, the United Nations General Assembly voted down a Russian-proposed resolution calling for support for the INF Treaty. That Moscow gambit failed, in large part because Russia is violating the treaty by deploying prohibited missiles.

Navy Sends First Ship into Black Sea Since Russian Seizure
The Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock-landing ship USS Fort McHenry transits the Straits of Messina, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019.

As the Arctic Warms, US Navy Considering Summer Transit, Bering Sea Port
The Navy secretary says his service must be ready to answer Russian moves at the top of the world.

Russia: Expect a National AI Roadmap by Midyear
Moscow is starting to put financial and logistical muscle behind its efforts to develop artificial intelligence.

Russia’s Special Operators Are Getting Futuristic Mini-Subs
Originally designed for oil exploration, the six bathyspheres are to arrive by 2022.

The Use of Twitter Bots in Russian Political Communication
The question of how regimes respond to online opposition has become a central topic of politics in the digital age. In previous work, we have identified three main options for regimes: offline response, online restriction of access to content, and online engagement.

The Pentagon’s Cybersecurity is Falling Behind
The U.S. military’s cybersecurity capabilities aren’t advancing fast enough to stay ahead of the “onslaught of multipronged” attacks envisioned by adversaries, the Pentagon’s combat testing office is warning.

Trump Administration Begins Production of a New Nuclear Weapon
The U.S. Department of Energy has started making a new, low-yield nuclear weapon designed to counter Russia.

 

Ukraine

Ukraine Wants to Be a Part of the West
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has staked his country’s future and his own chances at re-election to a second term on three gambles. He hopes that these gambles will permanently rupture Ukraine’s connections to Russia and ensure that Ukraine becomes a full member of the Western community of nations. So far, however, the scorecard is showing mixed results.

Desperately Seeking A Postwar President in Ukraine
Ukrainians say the biggest problem facing their country ahead of a crucial presidential election in March is the same one that ushered in the current head of state in the first place: war.

Ukrainian Parliament Adopts Law on Religious Communities’ Affiliation
The Ukrainian parliament has adopted a bill setting the procedure for changing the affiliation of religious communities in the country.

Rock Star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk Confirms He Won’t Run for Ukraine’s Presidency
Young Ukrainians will be disappointed after rock star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk confirmed he won’t run in the upcoming Ukrainian presidential election in a posting on his Facebook page on January 27.

 

US

Russia Allows U.S. Ambassador to Meet with Detained America
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Jan. 2 U.S. officials hoped to gain consular access to see Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine detained in Russia.

Ditching Dollars: Russia Boosts Yuan, Euro, Yen Shares in its Reserves
The developments come after Russia signalled its readiness to reduce its dependence on the dollar, stressing that it does not plan to restrict transactions using the US currency. Moscow said that the goal of de-dollarization is to improve the health of the Russian economy and shield it from Washington’s recent sanctions spree.

US Ambassador Richard Grenell Threatens German Firms over Russian Pipeline
The US ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, has sent threatening letters to German companies working on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, according to a German newspaper. Grenell reportedly warns of possible sanctions.

World-Renowned Scientific University Quietly Untangles Itself from Russian Billionaire
Viktor Vekselberg, who made his billions in Russia’s metals industry and whose Swiss-based investment company is known as Renova Group, was first elected as an MIT “term member” trustee in 2013.

Facebook Shuts Hundreds of Russia-Linked Pages, Accounts
Facebook said Thursday it removed hundreds of Russia-linked pages, groups and accounts that it says were part of two big disinformation operations targeting users outside the U.S.

Here’s How Democratic Presidential Contenders Should (Not) Talk About Russia
Candidates gearing up for 2020 may be blazing new trails on domestic issues, but when it comes to engagement with Russia, they haven’t moved beyond the counterproductive status quo.

The Longstanding NASA-Russian Partnership in Space May be Unraveling
After an American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft docked in orbit during the height of the Cold War, in 1975, the two leading space powers gradually worked more and more together on civil space activities. Over time, they forged a successful and, among astronauts and engineers at least, even a comfortable bond. But of late, that bond is fraying, and long-term it may unravel entirely.

US and Russia Regard Each Other Warily in the Baltic and Black Seas
An uptick in Russian naval activity and U.S. freedom-of-navigation ops mean more tension in 2019.

About the Author

Morgan Henson
Morgan Henson is a second year dual-degree master’s student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is studying Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies and Global Policy Studies. As a Home and Abroad Scholar, he is focusing on policy issues in Eurasia. The scholarship will help fund his participation in SRAS’s Economic Development in the Russian Far East program at Vladivostok State University of Economics and Services during the Spring 2019 Semester. In his free time, Morgan enjoys watching movies and exploring new locations.