Russia is the largest country by land mass in the world, though it’s population is comparatively small. Strategically speaking, the country’s borders are vast and indefensible, especially where they are currently drawn. Russia’s access to warm water ports is tenuous, as most of its own ocean-front land is frozen for part of the year. This has likely driven military and foreign policy on the part of the Russians for the past few hundred years, leading the country to be heavily involved with Eastern Europe, the Baltic, and Crimea (Ukraine), none of which currently officially belong to Russia. Russia’s military involvement in Crimea and Syria are partly related to the location of two important warm-water military bases: Tartus in Syria and Sevastopol in Crimea (part of eastern Ukraine).
Economically, Russia faces the challenge of a shrinking and aging population, but is significantly poorer than many of the First-world countries in Europe and East Asia that face similar population issues. Russia has the world’s largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves, and the 8th largest oil reserves. Putin’s investment in natural resource production has allowed him to boost the GDP of Russia, though, as with other nations who rely on natural resources for a substantial portion of their economy, it has encouraged corruption and non-democratic governing and enriched an elite class of millionaire and billionaire business people (Putin’s friends) while leaving many Russians still without economic opportunity.
The Russian hacking efforts targeting the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign is likely linked to a larger effort to undermine democratic processes across Europe and North America that include supporting the presidential bid of Marine Le Pen from France’s far-right National Front party (who received 11.7 million dollar loan from the Kremlin in 2014). While these efforts may weaken cross-national cooperation and make Putin and Russia look comparatively more powerful in the short term, the long-term implications are less than clear (for Russia and the rest of us). The heavy demilitarization of Europe after World War II and maintenance of relative continental peace has been a pillar of the world order for the past 70 years. The rise of extreme right-wing movements in Europe and potential destabilization of this order may have unintended consequences.
Infuriating some in the Republican Party, the Trump administration so far has had a warmer stance towards Putin’s Russia than Obama did. Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, has had close ties to Putin and even closer ties to Sechin, a friend and supporter of Putin’s and the head of the Russian state-run oil giant, Rosneft. Exxon Mobile and Rosneft both stand to gain an incredible profit from oil exploration in the Arctic if the Trump administration lifts sanctions against Russia.
The most important considerations for Russian foreign policy during the Trump era are:
Speaking out against Russian involvement in European and American political processes.
Recognizing fascist and/or totalitarian tendencies in our own as well as foreign administrations.
Donating to agencies and organizations that support free elections and counter corruption.
- Helping to document and popularize information on potential connections and conflicts of interest that link our current administration to Putin’s interests.