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Monday, July 26, 2010

Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol, Coordinator
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Russia made some uneven progress in democratization during the 1990s, but according to most observers, this limited progress was reversed after Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999-2000. During this period, the State Duma (lower legislative chamber) came to be dominated by government-approved parties and opposition democratic parties were excluded. Putin also abolished gubernatorial elections and established government ownership or control over major media and industries, including the energy sector. The methods used by the Putin government to suppress insurgency in the North Caucasus demonstrated a low regard for the rule of law and scant regard for human rights, according to critics. Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's chosen successor and long-time protégé, was elected president in March 2008 and immediately chose Putin as prime minister. President Medvedev has continued policies established during the Putin presidency. In August 2008, the Medvedev-Putin "tandem" directed wide-scale military operations against Georgia and unilaterally recognized the independence of Georgia's separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, actions that were censured by most of the international community but which resulted in few, minor, and only temporary international sanctions against Russia.

Russia's economy began to recover from the Soviet collapse in 1999, led mainly by oil and gas exports, but the sharp decline in oil and gas prices in mid-2008 and other aspects of the global economic downturn put a halt to this growth. The government reported an 8% drop in gross domestic product in 2009. This decline exacerbated existing problems: 15% of the population live below the poverty line; an unreformed healthcare system and unhealthy lifestyles contribute to a population decline; domestic and foreign investment is low; inflation hovers around 12%-14%; and crime, corruption, capital flight, and unemployment remain high. Some economic growth may occur in 2010.

Russia's military has been in turmoil after years of severe force reductions and budget cuts. The armed forces now number about 1.0 million, down from 4.3 million Soviet troops in 1986. Readiness, training, morale, and discipline have suffered. Russia's economic revival in the 2000s allowed it to substantially increase defense spending, and some high-profile activities were resumed, such as Mediterranean and Atlantic naval deployments and strategic bomber patrols. Stepped-up efforts were launched in late 2007 to further downsize the armed forces and emphasize rapid reaction and contract forces. The global economic downturn and strong opposition among some in the armed forces appear to have slowed force modernization.

After the Soviet Union's collapse, the United States sought a cooperative relationship with Moscow and supplied $17 billion in aid for Russia from FY1992-FY2010 to encourage democracy and market reforms and prevent the acquisition of nuclear, radiological, or biochemical materials by terrorist groups or nations for use in weapons of mass destruction (WMD). U.S. aid to reduce the threat posed by WMD proliferation has hovered around $700- $900 million per fiscal year, while other foreign aid to Russia has dwindled. Despite rising U.S.- Russia tensions in recent years on issues such as NATO enlargement and proposed U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe, the two countries found some common ground on anti-terrorism and non-proliferation issues; Russia's 2008 conflict with Georgia threatened such cooperation. The Obama Administration has been endeavoring to "reset" relations with Russia, which welcomed the Obama Administration's announcement in September 2009 of the cancellation of the planned deployment of missile defenses in Eastern Europe. The Administration has hailed the signing of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on April 8, 2010, and the approval of new sanctions against Iran by Russia and other members of the U.N. Security Council on June 9 , 2010, as signifying the "reset" of bilateral relations.

Date of Report: July 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 51
Order Number: RL33407
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

The United States recognized the independence of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia when the former Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991. The United States has fostered these states' ties with the West in part to end their dependence on Russia for trade, security, and other relations. The United States has pursued close ties with Armenia to encourage its democratization and because of concerns by Armenian-Americans and others over its fate. Close ties with Georgia have evolved from U.S. contacts with its pro-Western leadership. Successive Administrations have supported U.S. private investment in Azerbaijan's energy sector as a means of increasing the diversity of world energy suppliers. The United States has been active in diplomatic efforts to resolve regional conflicts in the region. As part of the U.S. global counter-terrorism efforts, the U.S. military in 2002 began providing equipment and training for Georgia's military and security forces. Troops from all three regional states have participated in stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The South Caucasian troops serving in Iraq departed in late 2008.

On August 7, 2008, Russia and Georgia warred over Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian troops quickly swept into Georgia, destroyed infrastructure, and tightened their de facto control over the breakaway regions before a ceasefire was concluded on August 15. The conflict has had long-term effects on security dynamics in the region and beyond. Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but the United States and nearly all other nations have refused to follow suit. Russia established bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that buttress its long-time military presence in Armenia. Georgia's military capabilities were degraded by the conflict, and Georgia has requested military assistance to rebuild its forces. The conflict temporarily disrupted railway transport of Azerbaijani oil to Black Sea ports and some oil and gas pipeline shipments, but no major pipelines were damaged. Although there were some concerns that the South Caucasus had become less stable as a source and transit area for oil and gas, Kazakhstan later began to barge oil across the Caspian Sea for transit westward, and the European Union still planned eventually to build the so-called Nabucco pipeline to bring Azerbaijani and other gas to Austria.

Key issues in the second session of the 111th Congress regarding the South Caucasus have focused on Azerbaijan's energy development; Armenia's independence and economic development; and Georgia's recovery from Russia's August 2008 military incursion. At the same time, concerns have included the status of human rights and democratization in the countries; the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh region; and threats posed to Georgia and the international order by Russia's 2008 incursion and its diplomatic recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Congress will continue to scrutinize Armenia's and Georgia's reform progress as recipients of Millennium Challenge Account grants. Some Members of Congress believe that the United States should provide greater attention to the region's increasing role as an east-west trade and security corridor linking the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions, and to Armenia's inclusion in such links. They urge greater U.S. aid and conflict resolution efforts to contain warfare, crime, smuggling, and terrorism, and to bolster the independence of the states. Others urge caution in adopting policies that will increase U.S. involvement in a region beset by ethnic and civil conflicts.

Date of Report: June 30, 2010
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL33453
Price: $29.95

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Health-Related Issues in Russia and Eurasia: Context and Issues for Congress

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, all the newly independent Eurasian states faced economic dislocations, conflicts and population shifts, and more porous borders that contributed to rising communicable and non-communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and drug addiction. At the same time, the inherited healthcare systems were obsolete and unable to cope with existing health problems, let alone new challenges.

Even before the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States provided it with some health assistance to address urgent needs, including vaccines for children. Since then, Eurasian Health issues have received increased U.S. attention. As part of recent concerns, a December 2008 Intelligence Community Assessment highlighted global threats posed to U.S. citizens and interests by increasing infectious diseases and other health problems originating outside U.S. borders, including in Eurasia. The assessment and estimate warned that increased political, military, social, and economic disorder in the Eurasian states could be worsened by the spread of disease and declining health, thereby setting back their democratic and free market reforms, and that such instability might further complicate U.S. arms control cooperation, efforts to contain the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and trade relations. In addition, the assessment and estimate cautioned that Eurasian militaries and populations could face increased ill-health, harming the national security of the Eurasian states and diminishing the effectiveness of the militaries in international peacekeeping. Also, military forces and populations with significant health-related problems could become agents for the spread of diseases among U.S. forces involved in international exercises and training and to the U.S. homeland population.

After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the spread of anthrax by mail in the United States later in the year, and the rising global incidence of the West Nile virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the H5N1 ("bird flu") virus and the H1N1 ("swine flu") virus, there were heightened policy concerns about disease threats to the U.S. homeland. These concerns are increasingly shaping the debate over health policy and aid, including to Eurasia, where the major foci of U.S. policy long have been democratic and economic reforms and arms control, with health aid viewed as complementing reforms and as justified on humanitarian grounds.

Although U.S. health aid for Eurasia has long been overshadowed by other U.S. aid priorities, it increased as a percentage of all U.S. foreign assistance to Eurasia after FY2002. This report provides an overview of health conditions in the Eurasian states, U.S. aid efforts in recent years, and issues which Congress might consider in providing health assistance to the Eurasian states.

Date of Report: June 24, 2010
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RL30970
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
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