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Thursday, November 11, 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. Dmitriy 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. Economic growth has picked up somewhat 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 to prevent the proliferation of 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 worked to “re-set” relations with Russia, which welcomed the 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 “re-set” of bilateral relations.



Date of Report: November 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 61
Order Number: RL33407
Price: $29.95

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests


Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

U.S. policy toward the Central Asian states has aimed at facilitating their cooperation with U.S. and NATO stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and their efforts to combat terrorism, proliferation, and trafficking in arms, drugs, and persons. Other U.S. objectives have included promoting free markets, democratization, human rights, energy development, and the forging of East-West and Central Asia-South Asia trade links. Such policies aim to help the states become what various U.S. administrations have considered to be responsible members of the international community rather than to degenerate into xenophobic, extremist, and anti-Western regimes that contribute to wider regional conflict and instability.

Soon after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, all the Central Asian “front-line” states offered over-flight and other support for coalition anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan hosted coalition troops and provided access to airbases. In 2003, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also endorsed coalition military action in Iraq. About two dozen Kazakhstani troops served in Iraq until late 2008. Uzbekistan rescinded U.S. basing rights in 2005 after the United States criticized the reported killing of civilians in the town of Andijon. In early 2009, Kyrgyzstan ordered a U.S. base in that country to close, allegedly because of Russian inducements and U.S. reluctance to meet Kyrgyz requests for greatly increased lease payments. An agreement on continued U.S. use of the “transit center” was reached in June 2009. In 2009, most of the regional states also agreed to become part of a Northern Distribution Network for the transport of U.S. and NATO supplies to Afghanistan. The status of the “transit center” was in doubt after an April 2010 coup in Kyrgyzstan, but the new leadership soon stated that the “transit center” arrangement would remain in place.

Policymakers have tailored U.S. policy in Central Asia to the varying characteristics of these states. U.S. interests in Kazakhstan have included securing and eliminating Soviet-era nuclear and biological weapons materials and facilities. U.S. energy firms have invested in oil and natural gas development in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and successive administrations have backed diverse export routes to the West for these resources. U.S. policy toward Kyrgyzstan has long included support for its civil society. In Tajikistan, the United States pledged to assist in its economic reconstruction following that country’s 1992-1997 civil war. U.S. relations with Uzbekistan—the most populous state in the heart of the region—were cool after 2005, but recently have improved. Since the 2008 global economic downturn, more U.S. humanitarian, health, and education assistance has been provided to hard-struck Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The second session of the 111
th Congress is likely to continue to be at the forefront in advocating increased U.S. ties with Central Asia, and in providing backing for the region for the transit of equipment and supplies for U.S.-led stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. Congress is likely to pursue these goals through hearings and legislation on humanitarian, economic, and democratization assistance, security issues, and human rights. Ongoing congressional interests are likely to include boosting regional border and customs controls and other safeguards to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), combat trafficking in persons and drugs, encourage regional integration with South Asia and Europe, advance energy security, and counter terrorism. Support for these goals also contributes to stabilization and reconstruction operations by the United States and NATO in Afghanistan. For several years, Congress has placed conditions on assistance to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan—because of concerns about human rights abuses and lagging democratization—which have affected some U.S. security ties. Congress will continue to consider how to balance these varied U.S. interests in the region.


Date of Report: October 27, 2010
Number of Pages: 52
Order Number: RL33458
Price: $29.95

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Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
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Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.