Category Archives: Russia in Focus, Winter 2017

In-Depth Report: The Putin Factor

In the wake of accusations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. elections, the greatest uncertainty of 2017 is Putin’s next move.

By Peter Bjel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon celebrate his seventeenth year in power. He presides over an increasingly rigid and globally assertive regime that is feared and misunderstood in equal measure. Putin stands for re-election in March 2018 and will almost certainly win, meaning his mandate can be expected to continue until 2024. Thereafter, it is not known if he will carry out a repeat of 2008—switching his position from President to Prime Minister to circumnavigate Russia’s two-consecutive-terms limit for presidents—or if other arrangements will be made.

The state of Russia, its so-called ‘Near Abroad’, and the world under Putin is a far cry from what was predicted by the lofty optimism that surrounded Russia’s emergence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Initially, it was believed the country was undergoing a transition to a liberal democracy, the free market, and the rule of law. Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first democratically elected president, presided over the peak of Russian democracy, but also set in motion circumstances leading to its undoing and eclipse under Putin.

At home and abroad, bringing the country back from its collapse and turning it into a twenty-first century superpower drives Putin’s political agenda. It has also justified his regime’s increasing authoritarianism and systematic erosion of democratic pretenses. Decades of Western policies isolating, containing, and marginalizing Russia—justified or not—have emboldened this process. Now, both the precarious state of the European Union and the uncertain future of NATO brought about by Donald Trump’s election in the U.S. have opened up the geopolitical chessboard for Putin’s next move. Under his watch, Russia is poised to recrudesce.

Russian Hackers

In the wake of America’s presidential election, repeated reports emerged that Putin and Russia had successfully intervened in the electoral process. Russian involvement in the election—rumored to have been supervised by Putin himself—would be the first time in U.S. history that an election has been subject to foreign interference. In December, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded with “high confidence” that Russia meddled in the later stages of the presidential campaign. Its intent was to mar Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton’s chances against Republican Party contender, and now President-Elect, Donald Trump. “It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected … That’s the consensus view,” stated a senior U.S. official anonymously to the Washington Post.

The two groups suspected to have been behind the hacks that began last year had previously targeted …

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Op-Ed: Rivalry or Comradery?

Russian-American Relations and the New Nuclear Arms Race.

By Probir Kumar Sarkar.

The beginning of a new nuclear arms race amid increasing tensions in an already tense world is not a welcome move. For decades, Moscow and Washington worked together, even at the height of the Cold War, to reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons to save the world from the looming threat of nuclear catastrophe, but that may be no longer. Donald J. Trump has proposed renewed relations between Washington and Moscow during his election campaign, but more recent statements by both Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have suggested instead a renewed nuclear rivalry between the two nations.

Increased armament increases the risks of miscalculation or accident by either party, especially since the United States and Russia have terminated their regular communication channel that was set up after the Cuban missile crisis. From the Cold War until the 2014 Ukraine crisis and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, Moscow and Washington maintained a bilateral hotline to enable direct communication between the leaders of each nation, but the Obama administration discontinued this channel during the imposition of Western sanctions in punishment for Moscow’s actions in Crimea.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world today—enough to destroy the life-sustaining ecosystems of the earth many times over. The rivalry between the United States and Russia is just one concern. Nuclear arms in the hands of rogue states, terrorists, and irresponsible leaders could push the world into a catastrophic sequence of events that would to bring about the end of civilization.

Even a localized regional war of 100 nuclear detonations—between India and Pakistan, for example—would produce 5 million tons of black soot that would rise up to Earth’s stratosphere and block a disastrous amount of sunlight the world over, according to a report in Earth Journal. This would produce enough particulate smog to significantly and immediately drop global temperatures for over 25 years. It would temporarily destroy much of the Earth’s protective ozone layer, which would cause as much as an 80 percent increase in U.V. radiation on Earth’s surface. Combined, this would destroy most of both land- and sea-based ecosystems. What can be expected from a new nuclear arms other than self-destruction?

The peace and property of the human race cannot take a backseat to geopolitical maneuvers. The world is more turbulent, volatile, and unstable now than it has been in many decades. Open talks and meaningful negotiations are needed between leaders given the many troubled spots around the globe. The unprecedented, protracted, and complex …

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