Russian Foreign Affairs – January, 2017

Russian Foreign Affairs in the News
January, 2017

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

Renewed Fighting Erupts in Eastern Ukraine

The largest escalation of violence since the Minsk Accords installed a shaky cease-fire in 2015 recently erupted in an area northeast of Donetsk. Concentrated around the loyalist city of Avdiivka, heavy artillery bombardments have claimed lives (including civilian) on both sides since the fighting began on January 29th. Although both sides have violated the ceasefire agreement over the course of 2016, some observers are viewing this new uptick in violence as a response to the new American administration and its slated desire to reboot relations with Russia. Nonetheless, at this juncture it is difficult to discern the instigator and both sides appear to have motives for renewed hostilities. It is still uncertain whether the Poroshenko government is stoking hostilities in order to convince the West to maintain the old status quo, or the Russians are pursuing a more aggressive stance to test Trump’s more pro-Russian stance.

religion-banner Rosneft Privatization Deal Raises New Questions

Recent investigations into the money trail left by the recent purchase of 19.5% of Russian oil giant Rosneft raises questions regarding the actual buyers. Although the deal was presented late last year as a joint purchase between the Swiss conglomerate Glencore and the Qatari Investment Authority, public records reveal a large portion of the financing was funneled through a complex web of shell companies. Ultimately, the trail leads to a company registered in Singapore, QHG Shares, which acted as a lynchpin for the money transfers. QHG Shares, however, is partially owned by a London-based company, QHG Investments, who in turn also manage a Cayman Islands subsidiary called QHG Cayman Limited.  Curiously, this latter company is not only listed as one of the purchasers in the Rosneft deal, but the identities of the owners of QHG Cayman Limited are protected from public inquiry by Cayman law. Stranger still, of the 10.2 billion Euros price tag attached to the Rosneft sale, 2.2 billion has not been accounted for by the investigation.

Syrian Peace Talks Face Initial Difficulties

Syrian peace talks orchestrated by Turkey and Russia began inauspiciously on January, 23rd. Hosted in Astana, the Kazakh capital, rebels accused the Syrian government of continuing to target their compatriots through air strikes, while the Syrian government spokesman, Bashar al-Jaafari complained that some rebel groups were lending support to the terrorist organization Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, previously known as the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front. The largest disagreements occurred over the currently besieged rebel-dominated area of Wadi Barada, which the Syrian government labeled a terrorist stronghold in contrast to the statements of rebel groups.

Central-Asia-StudiesFSB Official Arrested for Treason

Sergei Mikhailov, the Deputy Head of the FSB’s Information Security Center was arrested on treason charges along with Ruslan Stoyanov, an employee of Kasperky Labs, a cyber security firm. Kaspersky Labs, which have had a history of collaborating with the FSB—with Mikhailov as their chief liaison—is now under investigation for foreign connections. Some reports suggest that the arrests may be related to the recent allegations of Russian hacking of last year’s US Presidential election. Reports have also linked the arrests to the recent Russian arrest of Shaltai-Boltai, a Russian hacker group famous for stealing information from government figures and then using that information to blackmail the officials or selling the information on to media or other groups. A US cyber security firm, ThreatConnect, traced the source of the hacks to a Siberian server hub, King Servers, which Russian media sources subsequently linked to Mikhailov.

Yukos Back in the Headlines

The Council of Europe recently moved to condemn Russia’s Constitutional Court for failing to honor a 2014 decision by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR had deemed the seizure of the oil giant Yukos’s assets in 2007 as unlawful, ordering the Russian government to compensate the former owners of Yukos to the tune of 1.9 billion Euros. The Russian Constitutional Court, however, cited a 2015 law that sanctioned the Russian state to ignore ECHR rulings when they work against the interests of the Russian state.

Russian Domestic Violence Law Amended

New amendments aim to soften the penalties for domestic violence passed overwhelmingly in the Duma on 25 January. The changes to Russia’s law on domestic violence are aimed at reducing the punishments for first time offenders to a fine of $500 or 15 days in jail. The previous law allowed Russian authorities to break up families for first-time offenses. Repeat offenders and offenders who cause serious bodily damage on their first offence will still treated under the terms of the old law. Proponents of the new amendments have argued that a reasonable application of force in a familial setting can function as a positive disciplinary tool and that it accords with Russian tradition.

German Military Equipment En Route to Lithuania

As a further sign of commitment to NATO’s Baltic partners, Germany recently transferred tanks, personnel, and assorted military equipment and vehicles into Lithuania. The ramp up of NATO forces in the Baltic States has been described by the West as a deterrent force aimed against perceived Russian revanchism following the latter country’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Putin and Trump Begin New US/Russia Dialogue

In a recent hour-long telephone conversation between the new American President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two leaders discussed the beginning of a more cordial relationship between their two nations. Despite the friendly discussion, however, the issue of Western sanctions against Russia was not raised.

Other Articles

Policy and Conflict Post SovietRussia Says It Plans to Pivot From Nuclear Deterrence, Avoiding Trump’s Arms Race
Russia might replace its nuclear weapons with precision bombs.

Russia’s Gazprom Owns 34% of European Gas Market
Gazprom chief Alexey Miller announced that the company now holds a 34 percent share in the European market, up from 31 percent in 2015.

Russia to Build Full-fledged Naval Base in Syria
Up to 11 Russian warships will be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean within the next few years.

Russia, US Mulling Joint Mission to Venus
Russia and USSR made several trips to Venus already. NASA got involved in the latest project about three years ago.

NASA Looks to Reserve More Seats on Russian Spacecraft for U.S. Astronauts
Boeing, SpaceX craft unlikely to be ready to transport American crews by 2018.

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.