KEY POINTS

Russia continues to pursue an expansionist foreign policy, seemingly aiming to reconstruct parts of its Soviet-era empire.

  • Post-Soviet Russia still poses a threat to its neighbors - its “near abroad” (2017) - and grants itself the right to veto the foreign policy choices of its former satellites, particularly ex-Soviet republics (2017).

  • As during the Cold War, Russia often acts as if NATO and the United States are its primary geopolitical enemies (2019).

  • Russia’s hostile activities have included the following: cyberwarfare (2019), active measures/propaganda (2019), the fomenting of ethnic separatism (2016), energy blackmail (2009 and 2018), military displays (2015), missile deployments (2017), and outright invasion (2019).


RECORD OF RECENT AGGRESSION

  • Supporting Pro-Russian Separatism in Transnistria: 1992 – Present
     

    • Transnistria – a Russian and Ukrainian-majority strip of territory sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine – broke away from ethnically-Romanian-majority Moldova, most of whose population wishes to reunite with Romania and integrate with the Western trans-Atlantic world (2019).
       

    • Russian troops remain in Transnistria (2017) – ostensibly in the role of “peace-keepers” – in spite of Moldova’s demands for their withdrawal and despite Ukraine’s willingness to allow these troops to return to Russia through Ukrainian territory (2018).

    • Transnistria remains a Kremlin protectorate and has even expressed the desire to join the Russian Federation following Moscow’s conquest of Crimea (2018).

  • Cyberattacks: 2007 - Present

    • Starting on April 27, 2007, Estonia was paralyzed by a major cyberattack targeting its government, political parties, banks, and media outlets. Some attacks, while sporadic, lasted for several weeks (2017).

    • While Russia denies having any role it the cyber attack, the aggression occurred right after Tallinn’s decision to remove the “Bronze Soldier” – a large memorial to Red Army troops, whom most ethnic Estonians see as foreign invaders and brutal occupiers – from the center of the capital city to its outskirts (2017).

    • The Russians have also utilized cyberwarfare against other countries (2014), including Lithuania and Georgia in 2008 (starting three weeks before the invasion of Georgia), Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (2009), Ukraine (2014, 2015, and 2017), and Germany (2015). They also attempted a cyber attack against Poland in 2017.

    • Their attempts to influence recent Western elections have been well documented.

      • Most recently, it was discovered that Russian hackers played some role in the 2016 US Presidential Election (2019).

  • The Invasion of Georgia: August 2008

    • The aggression was followed by the recognition of the “independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – two rebellious Georgian provinces whose secessionist strivings Moscow supported and encouraged – by the Kremlin (only Russia and a small handful of its closest allies recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia). In reality, the two break-away republics are controlled by Moscow and many of their denizens received Russian passports; Russia also employed the strategy of mass “passportization” in Ukraine (2008).

    • According to Human Rights Watch, the Ossetian forces allied with Moscow – “often in the presence of Russian forces” – carried out a campaign of brutal reprisals (including mass executions and rapes) and ethnic cleansing against Georgian civilians (2009).

  • Aggression Against Ukraine: 2014 - Present

    • In early 2014, the Russians utilized “little green men” (who wore no military insignia) to annex the Crimea, where Moscow subsequently staged a referendum to rubber-stamp its unilateral move (most countries have not recognized the legality of the referendum, however).

    • Simultaneously, Russia fomented and supported separatist, pro-Russian insurgencies in southeastern Ukraine’s Donbass region. The separatists declared two “independent” statelets – the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics – that are under de facto Russian control and influence (2016).

    • Vladimir Putin has referred to southern Ukraine as “New Russia” (Novorossiya) – a reference to the official name for the area during the Romanov empire – and many Russian nationalists continue to view Ukraine as an illegitimate state and a break-away, rebellious part of Russia (2014).

  • Permanent Deployment of Nuclear-Capable Iskander Missiles in the Kaliningrad Exclave between Poland and Lithuania: February 2018 (2019)

    • The missiles have a range of 400 – 500 kilometers (250 – 310 miles), which makes them capable of striking Poland, the Baltic states, and possibly even parts of Sweden and Germany (2019).

    • Russia had previously deployed short-range missiles in Kaliningrad as part of military maneuvers (2018).

  • Energy Blackmail: 1990s-Present

    • Increasing the dependence of European countries on Russian natural gas and oil deliveries is a key part of Moscow’s strategy. The objective is to maximize the Kremlin’s leverage over other nations’ policies (2018).

    • Ukraine has been repeatedly victimized by Russian energy blackmail. Moscow punitively hiked gas prices in 2005 and 2014 and cut off deliveries altogether in 2009 and March 2018 (2019).

    • Europe is now more dependent on Russian natural gas than ever (2019). This dependence will only increase if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is constructed (2019). Nord Stream circumvents Central and Eastern Europe by directly linking Russia and Germany.