The Russian and Eurasian Policy Project
By Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
The Russian and Eurasian Policy Project was inaugurated to
assist policymakers in the legislative and executive branches who
will formulate U.S. policies toward Russia and Eurasia. The
project's task force is composed of leading experts on Russia and
Eurasia who have extensive policy experience in Russian and
Eurasian affairs and national security in both Republican and
Democratic Administrations. This task force report is intended to
be both prescriptive and descriptive in recommending policies
that are realistic, possible to implement, and balanced.
The international security challenges confronting the Obama
Administration are vast. In the coming years, President Barack
Obama will need to deal with the troop redeployment from Iraq; an
Iran that is opaque, unpredictable, and attempting to acquire
nuclear weapons; a precarious and deteriorating Afghanistan; and an
increasingly chaotic Pakistan.
Yet another geostrategic headache-resurgent Russia-will plague
President Obama and probably his successor. Russia is seeking
to find a new place in the global architecture. In recent years
under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has pursued an
increasingly assertive, if not aggressive, foreign policy. Until
Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008, the U.S. government largely
attempted to ignore Russia's frustration and increasingly bold
anti-American diplomatic and economic moves.
The guns of August provided the wake-up call. On August 8,
Russia decided to rewrite the rules of post-World War II European
security by challenging the very norms on which it is built. It
repudiated the Helsinki Pact of 1975, which recognized the
inviolability and sanctity of borders in Europe, and violated the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of NATO aspirant Georgia.
While Georgia's troops did launch an attack in South Ossetia on the
preceding day in response to the growing military provocations by
Russia's South Ossetian proxies, Russia mobilized troops and armor
on Georgia's borders and inside South Ossetia. Yet Russia's war
with Georgia was as much about preventing additional oil and
gas pipelines from being built outside of Russian control as
Moscow's plans to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
This war and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's August 31
statement on national television of Russia's new foreign policy
principles were intended to send clear signals to multiple
audiences. The message to the world was that Russia has a "zone of
privileged influence" and that it holds the veto over the
aspirations of the people living in it; that initiating democratic
reforms or pursuing a pro-Western policy in Russia's backyard is
dangerous; and that Moscow can disrupt at will the flow of energy
and goods through the east-west corridor.
The message to reform-minded persons in Russia was to close
ranks behind Medvedev and Putin and unite against the common enemy:
Georgia and by implication the United States. Russia reinforced
this message by shutting off the flow of natural gas to
Ukraine and the European Union (EU) in January 2009. While Ukraine
is not without blemish in this dispute, Moscow is sending the
message that this is the price that Ukraine must pay for pursuing a
pro-Western path toward NATO membership. Russia is demanding that
Ukraine abandon its bid to join NATO and the EU and allow Russia to
continue basing its Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea.
The Kremlin has benefited from rising oil prices since 1999. In
2003-2005, the Russian state dismantled and nationalized Yukos, the
most transparent and Western-oriented publicly traded oil company
in Russia. Its owners, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon
Lebedev, were imprisoned without a fair, impartial court hearing,
and in the spring of 2009, they were put on trial again on
trumped-up charges, with a real possibility of a combined 30-year
Putin's popularity has soared during this time, and the
Kremlin's international rhetoric and actions have been pronounced
and even bold. However, Russia's economic fortunes began to reverse
with Putin's shakedown of the Mechel Corporation, the fallout from
the fight for control of the TNK-BP oil joint venture, and the
August war with Georgia. These events caused international
investors to reel, the Russian stock market to plunge, and capital
to flee, sending shock waves through the Russian leadership.
The Kremlin has tried to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of
adversity. This was evident in the president's orders to law
enforcement authorities to "crush" any unrest stemming from the
financial crisis and the subsequent crackdown in Vladivostok,
the rewriting of the Russian constitution to extend the president's
term from four years to six years, and the draft of the country's
new treason law. With oil prices at new lows, the challenge for
U.S. policymakers is to understand how the economic downturn will
influence Russia's foreign and domestic policies.
To meet these challenges in a systematic manner, Fritz W.
Ermarth suggests the need for greater knowledge of contemporary
Russia. The United States needs to devote more attention and effort
to understanding Russia as a country, as a political and economic
system, and as a military and energy power. This will require
collecting and analyzing information by the intelligence
community, think tanks, and academia.
Today, the U.S. does not devote the level of attention and
analysis to Russia that is merited by its importance. To raise the
level of attention and further the effort necessary to understand
Russia, the U.S. government should take at least three steps:
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) should
direct a deep inquiry into the adequacy of the U.S. national
intelligence effort on Russia, including the adequacy of the
surrounding analytical environment in think tanks, intelligence
contractors, and academia.
Congress should undertake an inquiry into whether American area
studies are adequate to manage the U.S. role in the world in this
era of globalization. Congress should consider a new National
Defense Education Act.
Relevant entities of the executive branch and Congress should
examine whether current laws, regulations, and processes
governing interactions of private U.S. citizens with foreign actors
(e.g., foreign governments and government-controlled nongovernment
entities) need to be updated.
Rethinking the U.S.-Russian Military
In light of Russia's invasion of Georgia, Professor Stephen
Blank recommends that the Obama Administration rethink the
U.S.-Russian military agenda and Russian military defense policy.
According to Dr. Blank, the invasion revealed many important
lessons, not least of which is that the very structure of the
Russian regime is inclined toward military adventurism. The Obama
Administration needs to be alert to the possibility that Russia may
use military forces (including cyberattacks) in the
Commonwealth of Independent States and beyond.
However, unless bilateral relations further deteriorate, the
U.S. may not yet need to view Russia as a peer competitor and
global challenger to American defense policy. To safeguard
America's vital interests, prevent a conventional and nuclear
arms buildup, and preserve prospects for serious engagement, if not
aspects of partnership, the Obama Administration should:
- Condition future arms control negotiations on Russia's
fulfilling the terms of the August 2008 cease-fire in Georgia.
Specifically, Russian forces must return to their prewar positions,
the peacekeeping mission in South Ossetia and Abkhazia must be
internationalized, and Russia must recognize Georgia's territorial
integrity and the rights of its democratically elected
- Respond favorably to Russian calls for a new treaty on
strategic nuclear arms, provided that Russia meets the conditions
of the cease-fire in Georgia.
- Condition Russia's initiatives to globalize the Intermediate
Nuclear Forces (INF ) treaty on Moscow's successfully
persuading China to join.
- Continue building missile defenses in Poland and the Czech
- Resist Russia's efforts to scuttle the Treaty on Conventional
Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). The U.S. should uphold the original
treaty and negotiate Russia's return to it.
The Obama Administration also needs to be aware that Russia is
reasserting its global reach by seeking to contain and even reverse
expansion of the Euro-Atlantic zone and to weaken the global role
of the United States. Dr. Janusz Bugajski analyzes the uneasy
triangle of the U.S., Russia, and Europe and makes recommendations
to boost the transatlantic relationship, protect the NATO Alliance,
and recognize Europe's energy needs.
The Georgia war and the January 2009 gas conflict have clearly
shown that NATO and the EU lack a coherent strategy toward
resurgent Russia, and this is having detrimental consequences.
Several EU members remain apprehensive about provoking
disputes with the authoritarian government in Moscow and are
willing to overlook troubling trends and transgressions in
Russia's domestic and foreign policies.
To defend common, long-range Western interests and reinvigorate
NATO, the Obama Administration should:
- Strengthen the transatlantic alliance. The Obama Administration
needs to underscore that an effective transatlantic alliance is in
America's national interests and serves NATO members' long-range
- Expand alliance security. The most effective tool in
neutralizing Russia's attempts to increase its leverage would be a
united Allied strategy to consolidate and enlarge the zone of
- Implement an effective European and transatlantic energy
strategy that provides mechanisms for coordinating policies
and strategies to stabilize and support states that face supply
- Engage Russia in the areas of mutual interests, such as
Afghanistan. An effective and realistic long-range strategy toward
Russia would consist of a combination of practical engagement and
Georgia and the Caucasus
Dr. Svante Cornell takes a close look at the regional
implications of the recent war in Georgia, Moscow's foreign policy
objectives, the causes behind the war, and the implications for
U.S. interests. Russia has called Georgia's statehood into
question. Russia has persistently and systematically violated
Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and the war may
have dealt a mortal blow. From the perspective of other former
Soviet states, Russia was able to invade and dismember Georgia with
little cost being imposed by the West.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington has made the
independence, sovereignty, and democratic development of the Soviet
successor states a cornerstone of its foreign policy. All of these
have now been directly challenged, with Moscow demanding a sphere
of privileged interests that implicitly denies these countries
meaningful sovereignty and makes true democracy
To address these serious consequences for regional governments
and U.S. interests, the Obama Administration should:
- Fulfill U.S. commitments to support Georgia's economy and
gradually assist in rebuilding its military forces, using the
January 2009 Strategic Partnership Charter between Georgia and U.S.
and Partnership for Peace programs;
- Support NATO Membership Action Plans for Georgia and Ukraine in
addition to the bilateral strategic partnership charters;
- Continue to express strong U.S. support for Georgia's
territorial integrity, focusing on attaching costs to Russian
- Launch a renewed strategic dialogue with Azerbaijan, raising
this to a higher level and rebuilding trust in Baku for its Western
foreign policy orientation;
- Work to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over
Nagorno-Karabakh by providing a special U.S. negotiator;
- Rekindle the strategic dialogue with Ankara on the South
- Shore up the energy and transportation corridor through Georgia
to make future projects like the Nabucco gas pipeline a
Russia and Eurasia Energy Integration
In examining Russia and Eurasia energy integration, Dr. Ariel
Cohen observes that Russia's resurgence in Eurasia has progressed
steadily since Putin came to power in 2000 and may continue,
subject to budgetary constraints. This revival of Russia's
influence in the region, particularly in Central Asia, should be
considered along four dimensions that explain Moscow's
- Intervention in the internal politics of the New Independent
- Economic integration,
- Military and security cooperation, and
- Energy development, including control of pipelines.
Russia is pursuing a policy of multilateral integration in the
new states of Eurasia through the international bodies that it
dominates: the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the CIS
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the
Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC). Moreover, when its energy
resources or infrastructure assets (e.g., pipelines and refineries)
are involved, Russia usually tries to deal with its CIS partners in
Central Asia from a position of strength and control of the
region's access to foreign markets.
The Obama Administration should assess how energy issues fit
into wider U.S. strategic interests in the region and develop
balanced and nuanced policies that enable the U.S. to remain
engaged in the region. To achieve these ends, the U.S. should:
- Support projects to increase and diversify non-Russian energy
transit routes for Central Asian oil and gas;
- Further develop ties with Central Asian states to expand trade
and security relations with the U.S.;
- Continue to encourage good governance, development of modern
institutions, and legislative reforms in Central Asia; and
- Adopt an approach that allows security and energy cooperation,
even if there are disagreements on democratic values and
Russia in the Far East
Russian elites and leaders insist that Russia is and should be
recognized as an important actor in Northeast Asia. In examining
Russia in the Far East and U.S. policy, Dr. Stephen Blank observes
that Washington should take these aspirations into account when
framing future policies for Russia and Asia. Russia hopes to use
its location, vast natural resources in eastern Siberia and
Russian Asia, and reviving defense forces to create partnerships
with key Asian states and then to leverage those assets into an
enduring Russian role in the region. Commodities and proceeds from
their sale are to provide the key to unlocking the development of
the region's economy and infrastructure, thus enabling Russia to
play a great-power role in Asia.
For the U.S., the paramount need is to forestall a full-fledged
Russo-Chinese alliance and to avoid a blowup between China and
Japan. To achieve a dynamic stability amid a fast-changing Asia,
the U.S. needs to:
- Preserve American leadership and military predominance in Asia.
Continued American leadership provides an umbrella that allows
other powers to contribute to regional prosperity without
permitting regional rivalries to spin out of control.
- Globalize the strategic nuclear arms control process after
ratification of a new treaty with Russia. This should permit the
U.S. to gain some measure of regulation over China's strategic
nuclear and missile modernization.
- Explore opportunities for enhancing energy cooperation with all
of Asia's major energy consumers.
- Encourage a resolution of Russo-Japanese differences,
particularly over the four Kurile Islands, both so that Russia has
options in Asia other than China and so that Japanese-Russian
energy cooperation can go forward.
Russia in the Middle East
Under Putin, Russia has pursued a much more active, if not
aggressive, policy in the Middle East than it did under President
Boris Yeltsin. It has constructed the Bushehr nuclear
reactor for Iran. Russian leaders have conducted a dialogue
with Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, and have provided
it with a modicum of diplomatic legitimacy by inviting its
leader to Moscow, despite its call for the destruction of Israel.
Russia has also provided sophisticated and destabilizing arms to
Syria, some of which were transferred to Hezbollah, a Lebanese
terrorist organization that also calls for the destruction of
Israel. In addition, neither Hamas nor Hezbollah is on Russia's
list of terrorist organizations.
Given these policies, Dr. Robert O. Freedman asks whether Russia
could be a genuine partner for the United States in the Middle
East. He concludes that Moscow would need to make a number of major
policy changes- including declaring that Hamas and Hezbollah are
terrorist organizations and participating in effective sanctions
against the Iranian nuclear program-to facilitate such a
partnership with the United States. Only if Moscow makes these
changes should the United States then:
- Agree to hold a Middle East peace conference in Moscow,
- Repeal the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, and
- Facilitate Moscow's entry into the World Trade
The U.S.-Russian Business Agenda
While "hard" security and geopolitics remain the
highest-priority agenda items in U.S.-Russian relations, the
U.S.-Russian business agenda remains important in bilateral
relations. Both the U.S. and the Russian economies have been
affected by the world financial crisis, but in many ways, Russia
has suffered more.
According to Dr. Marshall I. Goldman, part of Russia's problem
is that it has had less experience than the U.S. in dealing with
financial crises and implementing remedial measures to correct such
problems. This helps to explain why many Russians are convinced
that the U.S. intentionally created the current crisis. Despite
these suspicions, U.S. government officials have ample opportunity
to work with their Russian counterparts to seek remedies for the
current crisis while helping each other's economies.
Specifically, the Obama Administration should:
- Convene high-level meetings that include a variety of
government and nongovernmental bodies to share the U.S.'s long
experience in dealing with economic downturns and inflation, both
of which are major concerns in Russia;
- Organize similar meetings between U.S. and Russian energy
officials to explore the exchange of economic experience and
- Increase exchanges and interaction between U.S. and Russian
- Encourage U.S. firms and Russian businesses to establish
similar year-long exchanges for Russian executives;
- Take advantage of the common concern over East African piracy
to invite Russia to participate in joint efforts to secure water
- Encourage the Fulbright Fellowship Program to increase the
number of business-oriented students and faculty moving between
U.S. and Russian business schools.
Flawed Energy Superpower
Russia is a major player in global energy markets and aspires to
leverage its resources to become a global energy superpower. It is
the largest supplier of natural gas to the European Union and is
using this dependence as a foreign policy tool to drive wedges
between European capitals and between Europe and the United
States.The Kremlin's strategy seeks to increase dependence by
locking in demand with energy importers, consolidating the oil and
gas supply under Russian control by signing long-term contracts
with Central Asian energy producers, and securing control of
strategic energy infrastructure in Europe, Eurasia, and North
Africa. Russia's strategy also involves extending the Gazprom
monopoly to create an OPEC-style gas cartel and increasing
cooperation with OPEC.
Russia's recent war with Georgia was as much about asserting
"privileged spheres of interests" as it was about preventing the
creation of alternative energy routes outside of Russian control.
The January gas conflict with Ukraine and Europe demonstrated the
extent of Europe's strategic dependence on Russian energy.
Europeans are nervous about Russia's ability to meet its export
commitments because Russian gas production is in decline and
Moscow's energy policies are discouraging much-needed domestic and
foreign investment. Dr. Ariel Cohen argues that, to advance U.S.
interests and to increase Euro-Atlantic alliance cohesion, the
Obama Administration should:
- Demonstrate American leadership in energy diplomacy in the
Caspian and Central Asian regions. The U.S. should specifically
support construction of the Nabucco pipeline.
- Encourage Europe to construct more liquefied natural gas
terminals and increase its use of coal, nuclear power, and
competitive renewables as sources of affordable electricity.
- Remove restrictions on energy exploration throughout the United
States and open its vast onshore and offshore natural gas resources
to further development.
- Work with EU members, Japan, China, India, and others to
develop a clear global policy to limit cartelization of the
- Implement President George W. Bush's 2009 policy directive on
the Arctic while coordinating the Departments of Defense, State,
Interior, and Energy and the Coast Guard in developing the overall
U.S. policy toward the region.
- Provide the U.S. Coast Guard with a sufficient operations and
maintenance budget to support an increased, regular, and
influential U.S. presence in the Arctic.
- Accelerate the acquisition of U.S. icebreakers to support the
timely mapping of the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf and the
Arctic in general.
The Rise of Authoritarianism
Shifting to Russia's internal political dynamic, Dr. Donald N.
Jensen examines Russia's ruling class; the rise of authoritarianism
and decline of democracy; and the outlook for human rights,
political life, and press freedom in Russia. Since the demise of
the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has at best made erratic progress
toward democracy and the rule of law, but this progress was
reversed under Putin. Although Russia formally has democratic
institutions, it is run in practice by an authoritarian and corrupt
oligarchy that controls much of the political space and the most
lucrative sectors of the economy. Following the carefully
orchestrated 2008 presidential transition, the country's direction
has not changed significantly, although much is in flux. Indeed,
the hostilities in Georgia appear to have hardened Russia's
In this climate of deteriorating U.S. relations with Moscow and
global financial turmoil, the Obama Administration faces the
challenge of finding a mix of policies that will constructively
engage Russia on issues of mutual interest while still promoting
development of a more democratic Russia that would be a more
reliable partner. These policies include a mix of positive and
negative incentives. The U.S. government should:
- Expand and make more effective use of the instruments of soft
power such as cultural exchanges and international
- Eliminate barriers to legitimate economic interaction such as
the Jackson-Vanik amendment;
- Promote economic integration through trade and mutual
investment, but make it clear that such interaction must be
subject to the rule of law and greater transparency;
- Support programs designed to improve Russian corporate
- Improve scrutiny of business deals with Russian companies,
especially those that are controlled by the Russian state or by
businessmen closely linked to the Kremlin, through the newly
adopted rules of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United
- Call for strong responses, such as expulsion of Russia from the
G-8, if Russia continues to use its state-dominated business
entities as foreign policy tools;
- Vigorously enforce U.S. laws on money laundering, as well as
other financial and business crimes, against Russian businesses in
the United States; and
- Seek to further personal and professional contacts with a
broader range of Russian elites and with human rights activists and
The Obama Administration is trying to push the "reset " button on
U.S. relations with Moscow. Yet in foreign affairs, haste is the
enemy of wisdom.
According to The New York Times, in February 2009,
President Obama sent a secret, hand-delivered letter to President
Dmitry Medvedev. The letter reportedly suggested that, if Russia
cooperated with the United States in preventing Iran from
developing long-range nuclear-missile capabilities, the need for a
new missile defense system in Europe would be eliminated-a quid
pro quo that President Obama has denied. The letter proposed a
"united front" to achieve this goal.
Responding to the letter, Medvedev appeared to reject the offer
and stated that the Kremlin was "working very closely with our U.S.
colleagues on the issue of Iran's nuclear program," but not in the
context of the new missile defense system in Europe. He stated that
"no one links these issues to any exchange, especially on the Iran
issue." Nevertheless, Medvedev welcomed the overture as a positive
signal from the Obama Administration. So far, Moscow is refusing to
play ball-or is at least taking a hardball approach to
As this report illustrates, Russia poses multiple challenges to
the U.S. The Kremlin is calling for a new European security
architecture and for replacing the post-Bretton Woods economic
architecture. It rejects the dominant role of the World Bank and
the International Monetary Fund and is calling for their
replacement by regional institutions. It is also seeking to use
energy, weapons sales, and investment opportunities in the Russian
market as tools to drive wedges between European capitals and
between Europe and the United States.
Russian President Medvedev put this practice into stark relief
when, the day after the U.S. presidential elections, he directly
challenged President-elect Obama by threatening to deploy
nuclear-capable missiles on the border of a prominent NATO ally.
Such threats underscore the importance of designing a comprehensive
U.S. foreign policy toward Russia.
The purpose of this project is to offer perspectives on the
current challenges and to inform that policymaking
Read the entire report (PDF)
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is
Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and
International Energy Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison
Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The