The standoff between Russia and the West will continue throughout 2017 and 2018.
Diplomatic spats, strategic political and political tensions will last between Russia and the US. In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration may have few choices for relieving the strain because of increased checks on the president’s power and enlarged sanctions from the U.S. Congress.
In Moscow, meanwhile, forthcoming local and national elections will prevent the Kremlin from creating significant concessions. Consequently, sanctions enacted on Russia from the US along with the European Union probably will stay through the end of the year. Depending upon how investigations into Russia’s role at the 2016 U.S. Presidential election shape upward, Washington might even ramp up the political and financial pressure on Russia.
Similarly, North Korea will be a crucial problem in determining the direction of U.S.-Russian relations over the next several months. Russia will keep going along with the limited sanctions that the US has pursued against Pyongyang, but Russia will Skirt the steps and provide economic aid to North Korea as it sees fit.
Additionally, Russia will probably veto further punitive measures provided against North Korea’s government. Since Moscow’s position on Pyongyang places more in contradiction with Washington, its relationship with China will continue to enhance. Moscow and Beijing, after all, are united in their opposition to the U.S. missile defense plans in Asia, plus they’ll work to undermine the U.S. Alliance with Japan and South Korea by highlighting their differing interests.
Moscow Plays its Partners to Make Inroads in Asia
At the same time, Moscow will attempt to make inroads to stronger economic connections with Tokyo and Seoul, playing them off each other, and off Beijing, to its benefit. Japan and Russia have another round of talks on economic agreements planned for November, although China is Moscow’s most important partner in the region. In the meantime, near the western border of Russia, negotiations on the conflict in Ukraine will pick up as the year winds down.
Russia’s proposal to send U.N. Peacekeeping forces to Donbas will gain traction, despite discussions between Russia and Ukraine, together with its Western supporters, over the installation’s parameters. The plan likely will not come to fruition by the end of the year. Nonetheless, it may reduce the violence in eastern Ukraine, easing the pressure on Moscow and giving the Kremlin more space to maneuver with the US and the European Union in the procedure.
Two other breakaway territories from Eurasia, Transdniestria, and Nagorno Karabakh, will remain flashpoints. The joint border controls that Moldova and Ukraine will spur Russia to increase its security action there, either by making more frequent exercise or amassing more weapons in the territory, for example. And the long-simmering standoff between Armenia and Azerbaijan could flare up again. Still, the contested regions will prevent full-blown war for the rest of the year.
Russia: the aspiring—but declining–great power
Russia’s aspires to restore its great power status through nationalism, military modernization, nuclear saber rattling, and foreign engagements overseas. However, at home, it faces increasing constraints as its stagnant economics heads for a 3rd consecutive year of recession.
Moscow prizes stability and order, offering Russians security at the expense of personal freedoms and pluralism. Moscow’s capability to retain a role on the global stage—even through disruption—has also become a source of regime power and popularity at home.
Russian nationalism features strongly in this story, with President Putin praising Russian culture as the last bulwark of conservative Christian values against the decadence of Europe and the tide of multiculturalism. Putin is personally popular, but approval ratings of 35 percent for the ruling party reflect public impatience with deteriorating quality of life conditions and abuse of power.
Analysis: The Kremlin Risks Heightened Domestic Instability
If the Kremlin’s tactics fall short, Russia will become susceptible to domestic instability driven by dissatisfied elites— even as a decline in status suggests more aggressive international action. Russia’s demographics picture has improved somewhat since the 1990s but remains bleak.
Life expectancy among males is the lowest of the industrial world, and its population will continue to decline. The longer Moscow delays diversifying its economics, the more the government will stoke nationalism and sacrifice personal freedoms and pluralism to maintain control.