Russian Foreign Affairs – December, 2016

Russian Foreign Affairs in the News
December 2016

SSI-banner Russian foreign policy and foreign policies concerning Russia have been of particular interest to those following world affairs lately. With Russia’s more assertive stance on the world stage, Russia’s absorption of Crimea, and resulting sanctions, arms buildups, and global geopolitical restructuring and repositioning, keeping a close eye on this part of the world is especially important to understanding global security and international politics.

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


Putin Postpones Official Russian Response to Increased American Sanctions

Following the ouster of 35 Russian diplomats and further sanctions placed on two Russian intelligence services by the US government, Russian President Vladimir Putin opted to avoid retaliation in the short term—citing a potential re-boot of US/Russian relations with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Putin’s decision came in direct contrast to the recommendation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who sought an equivalent response. The US sanctions came on the heel of allegations of hacking by Russia of sensitive materials from the Democratic National Committee; a move considered by US intelligence services as an attempt by Russia to tamper with the US electoral process.

Plans for Increased NATO/US Troop Presence in the Baltic States

Fears of a resurgent and potentially revanchist Russia following the Crimean Crisis in 2014 resulted in increased military budgets in the Baltic States, as well as formal requests for NATO/US military technology and specialized assistance. President-elect Donald Trump’s negative remarks about the role of NATO in the twenty-first century and his desire to reformulate the US/Russian relationship have only served to strengthen these fears. Recent visits by US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, intended to affirm American commitment to Baltic security, have elevated some hopes for sustained normalcy but uncertainty remains high.

religion-banner Russia and Turkey Broker Ceasefire in Syria Following the Fall of Aleppo 

The détente between Russia and Turkey produced over the past few months has formed into an alliance aimed at concluding the Syrian conflict. The resulting brokered negotiations between Turkey, Russia, and the Syrian government materialized into a ceasefire agreement that went into effect on 30 December. Planned peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel groups not designated by the UN as “terrorist organizations” are slated to proceed this year. Nonetheless, the status of Kurdish held areas are still up in the air—as they were excluded from the ceasefire agreement—and pockets of the country remain under the control of Jihadist groups.

UN Security Council Backs Russian/Turkish Efforts to End Syrian Civil War

On December 31, 2016, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to support Russian/Turkish efforts to begin peace negotiations in Syria. The resolution also affirmed unrestricted access for humanitarian aid. Although the beginning of the peace process is built upon a meeting scheduled in Astana, Kazakhstan between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition late January, Russian and Turkish spokespersons assert that the UN will play a significant role in the peace process. Martin Schaefer, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman, stressed the need to include the future status of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the agenda at Astana.

Partial Stock in Russian Oil-Giant Rosneft Privatized to Foreign Companies

A 19.5% stake in Russia’s largest oil company was sold off recently in a joint dealt to the Swiss-bassed conglomerate, Glencore, and the Qatar Investment Authority. Although this further privatization of Rosneft was expected, the two buyers were not considered principal players.

Central-Asia-StudiesResurgent Interest by Foreign Investors in the Russian Stock Market

2016 saw the first positive annual influx of foreign capital into Russian markets in four years. Despite international sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014, the country’s stock market index increased by 47 percent last year. The potential for Russian/US détente due to the election of Donald Trump has also contributed to an increase in investor confidence in recent months.

Flight Recorder from Russian Plane Crash Recovered

Salvage crews recovered the flight recorder from Russia’s Tu-154 aircraft, which crashed into the Black Sea on route to Syria on December 24, 2016. The recording appears to indicate that a mechanical error in the wing-flaps may be responsible for the crash. Nonetheless, terrorism has not been ruled out entirely as a possible explanation. The aircraft was transporting members of the Alexandrov Music Ensemble, journalists, and others for a special New Year’s concert for Russian troops in Syria.

Alleged Russian Hacking of Ukrainian Government Institutions and Infrastructure

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made a statement on December 29, 2016 that Russian hackers had penetrated key government ministries and disrupted Kiev’s power grid, resulting in blackouts. In all, he claimed 6500 attacks had been committed in a two-month period. Russian officials denied responsibility.

Russian Olympians Face Possible Sanctions Due to Alleged Doping

The International Olympic Committee decided to open investigations recently into 28 Russian athletes after a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency concluded widespread abuse of performance enhancing drugs among the Russian contingent during the 2014 games. Convictions could strip the athletes of their medal earnings. Anna Antseliovich, an official for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency appears to confirm these suspicions in an interview with the New York Times.

Policy and Conflict Post SovietOther Articles

US Govt Data Shows Outdated Ukrainian Malware Used in Hacks
Recently, the US government published a report on the findings of an investigation into Russian hacking. The internet security company WordFence has published a blow-by-blow analysis of the information given. It’s fairly easy to follow, even for the layman.

Legal Problems with Cyber War are Much Bigger Than You Think
Much of the unchartered territory begins with questions of what it takes to trigger self-defense in cyberspace, and what does it mean for a nation-state to have ‘effective control’ of a hacker?

How Russia Became a Hacking Superpower
A short history of where Russia’s hackers came from.

The Kremlin’s Economic Grip on Europe
This article links to and summarizes a major report that analyzes economic and political data over the course of about 15 years about how Russia and Russian state corporations influence Europe.

Eurasian Partnerships on Russia’s Doorstep
Stratfor predicts shifting alliances along Russia’s periphery in 2017.

US Reshaping Budget to Account for Russian Military Threat
Defense officials have pointed to the need to focus on areas such as cyber security, space, nuclear capabilities and missile defense.

America’s Shifting Opinions of Russia
Over the past several presidencies, American opinion about Russia has changed rapidly based on how presidents have treated the country.

The Importance of Diplomacy in a World of Multiple Power Centers
None of the major powers have the capacity to overrule the others, but each has the ability to frustrate the designs of rivals.

Putin Tops Forbes Power List for 4th Year in a Row
Forbes has placed Russian President Vladimir Putin on top of its annual list of the most influential people of the world, despite criticism voiced from many corners of the globe about Russia’s foreign policy conduct in the last few years.

Moldova’s New President Promises a New Foreign Policy
Socialist Party leader and President-elect Igor Dodon has long called for a re-evaluation of Chisinau’s relationships with Russia, the European Union and the breakaway territory of Transdniestria, all of which could see important tactical adjustments in the months ahead.

See Also

Trump Talked Up Kazakhstan Leader’s “Miracle” in Call
Some speculate that Trump may use Kazakhstan to balance Russia and China in his coming foreign policy.

About the Author

Michael Filitis

Michael Filitis is a recent MA graduate from the University of Chicago where he concentrated on early Soviet nationalities policy, propaganda, and the rise of nationalism in Eastern Europe. A recipient of SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship his current focus is the improvement of his Russian language skills with the goal of pursuing a Phd in Russian history and political science. Outside of academia, he enjoys playing and composing music, eating to excess, movies about space, and contemplating a more active lifestyle.

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson is the Assistant Director for The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS) and Communications Director for Alinga Consulting Group. In those capacities, he has been managing publications and informative websites covering geopolitics, history, business, economy, and politics in Eurasia since 2003. He is based in Moscow, Russia. For SRAS, he also assists in program development and leads the Home and Abroad Programs.