Reasons to (not) be cheerful in 2016…Russia: coming in from the cold?

After a turbulent 2015, members of DSD’s Regional Security Research Centre (@KingsRegSec) look forward to the coming year and examine the issues that they believe will be prominent in 2016, including the US presidential elections, continuing instability across the Middle East and the various coalitions seeking to counter IS, talks between India and Pakistan on Afghanistan, the UK referendum on membership of the EU and continuing concerns about Russian activity in eastern Europe.

Dr Tracey German

As 2015 draws to a close, Vladimir Putin can reflect on the distance that Russia has come in terms of international relations: having found itself isolated from the West at the beginning of the year, following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its continuing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, Moscow is now at the centre of a global coalition to tackle IS, as well as UN peace plans for Syria. However, despite these apparent diplomatic successes, Russia faces a series of pressing challenges over the coming year, which could undermine its desire to play a leading role on the international stage. The rouble and the price of oil have continued to plummet, knocking millions off the value of the Russian economy, inflation and unemployment are on the rise, and international sanctions are beginning to bite, pushing the country into recession. The economic crisis has emphasised the vulnerabilities associated with an economy that is over-reliant on energy exports, whilst demographic pressures, interethnic tensions, and growing economic, political and social disparities threaten the stability that Putin has sought to establish.

The continuing sabre-rattling between Russia and Turkey serves as a useful distraction from these domestic problems, a dangerous situation for all, with the risk of further tensions high. Furthermore, with reports of increasing numbers of pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, there is the risk that waning Western attention will facilitate Russian activities there. NATO’s 2016 Warsaw Summit is likely to focus on the security of eastern allies and the issue of further enlargement, both issues which will lead to continued tension between Russia and NATO, over the latter’s attempts to strengthen relationships with countries such as Georgia. Russia is likely to take an even more assertive line on the global stage over the coming year and will seek to boost its international influence by both hard and soft means. The Russian political narrative will remain dominated by anti-Western sentiment as Moscow seeks to counter the perceived expansion of Western involvement within its ‘sphere of influence’ to ensure that it remains the predominant power in the post-Soviet area.

Image: Russian Su-24 jet aircraft at Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia, Syria, via Wikimedia Commons.

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