As people in Belarus continue massive protests against an autocratic ruler and a rigged election, risks are rising that Russia’s military could take a direct role, less visible than an overt invasion, projecting power westward toward NATO and threatening Ukraine from the north. The dramatic images of this prodemocracy movement resemble those from neighboring Ukraine, yet one difference is critical. The Belarus uprising seeks no sharp break from Russia or turn toward the European Union or NATO. So effective policies to advance Belarusians’ democratic hopes should work for the long term.
After an “obviously crooked election” in Belarus sparked massive protests, USIP’s Don Jensen says Russia is quietly using the situation to assert influence. If Moscow’s military presence in Belarus increases, “I think you’re going to see a much more forward projection of Russian power against NATO,” he said.
Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s global ambitions have steadily increased, including in unstable areas of the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere. For the most part, Moscow’s activities in these and other areas run counter to Western interests and undermine efforts to mitigate conflict through broad-based, transparent processes. This report outlines the factors that appear to be motivating the Kremlin’s conflict-zone interventions and places them within the larger context of Russian foreign policy interests.
The 2017 National Security Strategy refocused U.S. foreign and defense policy to address resurgent major power competition with Russia and China. In U.S. foreign policy, Africa has emerged as a frontline for this competition, as in recent years both Moscow and Beijing have sought to expand their influence and promote their interests on the continent. Nowhere is the role of major powers more apparent than in the Central African Republic (CAR), where Russia has emerged as a key power broker amid a civil war that has simmered since 2012. Despite concerns about the need to counter other major powers, the best course for U.S. policy in CAR is to not allow competition with Russia and China to distract from the fundamental priority of supporting a democratic, inclusive path to peace.
A chain reaction of events over the past two weeks in Syria have effectively reordered the conflict’s balance of power. Russia has emerged as the key power broker in Syria. Meanwhile, both the Assad regime and Turkey have achieved important gains, while the Kurds have suffered a significant loss. A 10-point deal negotiated between Russia and Turkey—if implemented successfully—will fulfill Turkey’s long-held demand that Kurdish forces be pushed approximately 20 miles off the Syrian-Turkish border. Following a U.S. decision to withdraw the majority of its forces from Syria, the deal also cedes control over significant portions of northeast Syria to the Assad regime and Russia. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian looks at the elements of the Russian-Turkish deal and its implications for Syria and the broader region.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are in the middle of a rapid-fire series of bilateral meetings. Beijing and Moscow’s relationship spans a number of areas including energy, defense, infrastructure, trade, and finance. A shared sense of geopolitical competition with the United States over issues ranging from nuclear weapons to sanctions to human rights propels bilateral ties as well.
Five years after Russian forces took Crimea from Ukraine, the international community is still struggling with how to respond to a major power seizing another country’s territory for the first time since World War II and the founding of the United Nations, a senior State Department official said.
On the five-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Amb. Taylor—a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine—explains why it has been so difficult for Ukraine and its allies to oust Russia from the Ukrainian territory. “Sadly … the people of Crimea are worse off than they were five years ago,” while the West continues to struggle with how to respond to Moscow’s territorial grab.
Five years ago, Russia rolled into Crimea, orchestrated a swift and one-sided referendum, and annexed the Ukrainian territory. The West was blindsided by the attack and slow to provide any response. As a result, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a second invasion of Ukrainian soil—this one in the country’s east. This attack met stronger resistance, and eventually the West swung into gear to push for a cease-fire and to impose sanctions on Russia. Yet the conflict rumbles on and has killed over 10,300 Ukrainians so far.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that President Vladimir Putin knew what was going on and had given the general guidance,” says William B. Taylor, regarding Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian ships in a vital maritime trade route for Ukraine. The United States and Europe must jointly apply additional economic sanctions and provide military assistance to Ukraine to pressure Russia to cease its aggressive actions.