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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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 many 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 human rights, according to critics. Dmitriy Medvedev, Vladimir Putin’s chosen successor and long-time protégé, was elected president in March 2008 and immediately designated Putin as prime minister. President Medvedev continued Putin’s policies. 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 denounced by most of the international community. In late September 2011, Putin announced that he would run in the upcoming March 2012 presidential election, and that Medvedev would then become prime minister. The two leaders claimed that they had agreed to consider this possible shift in roles in late 2007 when the two decided on their present arrangement.

Russia’s economy began to recover from the Soviet collapse in 1999, led mainly by oil and gas exports, but the decline in oil and gas prices and other aspects of the global economic downturn beginning in 2008 contributed to an 8% drop in gross domestic product in 2009. In 2010-2011, rising world oil prices have bolstered the economy. Russia continues to be challenged by an economy highly dependent on the production of oil, gas, and other natural resources. It is also plagued by an unreformed healthcare system and unhealthy lifestyles; low domestic and foreign investment; and high rates of crime, corruption, capital flight, and unemployment.

Russia’s military has been in turmoil after years of severe force reductions and budget cuts. The armed forces now number less than 1.0 million, down from 4.3 million Soviet troops in 1986. Troop readiness, training, morale, and discipline have suffered, and much of the arms industry has become antiquated. Russia’s economic growth during most of the 2000s allowed it to increase defense spending to begin to address these problems. Stepped-up efforts were launched in late 2007 to restructure the armed forces to improve their quality. Russia’s 2008-2009 economic downturn, opposition among some in the armed forces, mismanagement, and corruption have appeared to slow force modernization efforts.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States sought a cooperative relationship with Moscow and supplied over $18 billion in aid for Russia from FY1992-FY2011 to encourage democracy and market reforms and in particular 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 million-$900 million per fiscal year, while other foreign aid to Russia has dwindled. In past years, U.S.-Russia tensions on issues such as NATO enlargement and proposed U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe were accompanied by some cooperation between the two countries on anti-terrorism and non-proliferation. Russia’s 2008 conflict with Georgia, however, threatened such cooperation. The Obama Administration has worked to “re-set” relations with Russia. The Administration has hailed the signing of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April 2010, the approval of new sanctions against Iran by Russia and other members of the U.N. Security Council in June 2010, and cooperation in Afghanistan as signifying the “re-set” of bilateral relations.

Date of Report: November 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 69
Order Number: RL33407
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kosovo: Current Issues and U.S. Policy

Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. On February 18, the United States recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Of the 27 EU countries, 22 have recognized Kosovo, including key countries such as France, Germany, Britain, and Italy. Eightyfive countries in all have recognized Kosovo. When it declared independence, Kosovo pledged to implement the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, drafted by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The document contains provisions aimed at safeguarding the rights of ethnic Serbs and other minorities. An International Civilian Representative and EULEX, an European Union-led law-and-order mission, are tasked with guaranteeing Kosovo’s implementation of the plan. KFOR, a NATO-led peacekeeping force, has the mission of providing a secure environment.

Serbia strongly objects to Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It has used diplomatic means to try to persuade countries to not recognize Kosovo. It has set up parallel governing institutions in Serb-majority areas in Kosovo. However, after a July 2010 International Court of Justice ruling that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not illegal, the EU pressured Serbia into agreeing to hold direct talks with Kosovo over technical issues. The talks, which got underway in March 2011, have produced agreements on freedom of movement, trade, and land registry records. However, the deployment of Kosovo police units to northern Kosovo in July 2011 sparked violence and blockades of local roads by Serbs. KFOR then took over control of two border posts in the north. The deployment of Kosovo customs officials to the posts in September caused Serbs to reimpose their road blockades, leading to clashes with KFOR. In addition, Serbia broke off the talks with Kosovo.

Kosovo faces other daunting challenges, aside from those posed by its struggle for international recognition and the status of its ethnic minorities. According to an October 2011 European Commission report on Kosovo, the country suffers from weak institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement. Kosovo has high levels of government corruption and powerful organized crime networks. Many Kosovars are poor and reported unemployment is very high.

In October 2010, Secretary of State Clinton visited Kosovo. She said the United States would continue to aid Kosovo’s efforts to build a democratic country, where the rule of law is respected and ethnic minorities are well-integrated. Clinton said the United States would assist Kosovo in its efforts to join the European Union and NATO. She expressed the United States’ strong support for talks between Serbia and Kosovo. She stressed that the issues of Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are not up for discussion during the negotiations. Instead, she said, the talks should focus on “immediate and practical needs” such as “increasing travel and trade.” She said that they should be “focused,” produce results, and be quickly concluded, noting that Serbia’s next elections are scheduled for 2012. In March 2011, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman told journalists from the region that the U.S. role at the talks would be as a “guest,” not as a participant or mediator.

Since U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, congressional action on Kosovo has focused largely on foreign aid appropriations legislation. In FY2011, Kosovo received $79 million in AEECA funding for political and economic reforms, $3.59 million in FMF military aid, $0.7 million in IMET military training assistance, and $0.75 million from the NADR account to combat proliferation and terrorism and for demining. For FY2012, the Administration requested $63 million for Kosovo from the AEECA account, $0.7 million in IMET, $3 million in FMF, and $0.75 million in NADR aid.

Date of Report:
November 3, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R
Price: $29.95

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Friday, November 4, 2011

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. The regional states also have granted transit privileges for U.S. military personnel and equipment bound for Afghanistan.

Beginning 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—in violation of the ceasefire accords—that buttress its long-time military presence in Armenia. Although there were some concerns that the South Caucasus had become less stable as a source and transit area for oil and gas, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are barging oil across the Caspian Sea for transit westward, and the European Union still plans to build the so-called Nabucco pipeline to bring Azerbaijani and other gas to Austria.

Key issues in the 112th Congress regarding the South Caucasus may include Armenia’s independence and economic development; Azerbaijan’s energy development; and Georgia’s recovery from Russia’s August 2008 military incursion. At the same time, concerns may include the status of human rights and democratization in the countries; the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh region; and ongoing threats posed to Georgia and the international order by Russia’s 2008 incursion and its diplomatic recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Congress may continue to oversee the region’s role as part of the Northern Distribution Network for the transit of military supplies to support U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. Some Members of Congress and other policymakers believe that the United States should provide greater support for the region’s increasing role as an east-west trade and security corridor linking the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions, and for 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: October 27, 2011
Number of Pages: 54
Order Number: RL33453
Price: $29.95

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