excluding some lands that are commonly regarded as part of Europe. The core of this region is Russia. Other parts include the Caspian basin, Central Asia and Mongolia. For centuries, this region was strongly influenced by Russia. The fall of the Soviet Union allowed several new states to emerge. Russia still sees these states as necessary allies. Moscow’s historical concern over defending Russia’s long frontiers motivates it to try to limit the influence of other large powers in this area.
Russia’s other major problem is the decreasing population of ethnic Russians versus the increasing number of Muslims in its mainland and in neighboring Central Asia. Still another challenge lies in the need to develop its vast Siberian territories, for which Russia lacks both the demographic and financial wherewithal.
Russia is striving to regain and maintain its position as a major world power.
Problematic relations with the West are forcing Moscow increasingly to align its policy and further develop economic relations with China.
Predictions of systemic transformation in Russia have invariably proved wrong. Sooner or later, however, fundamental changes in the current political regime must occur. Recent events suggest that they may start with a crucial yet often unappreciated element of the power structure.
Detaching and protecting a part of the territory of a weaker state has become a surrogate for traditional armed conflict, played with open cards. As amply demonstrated in the cases of Ukraine, Cyprus, Serbia, Georgia or Moldova, pseudo-state entities emerging in such detachments have considerable staying power, even though they are expensive to maintain by the sponsoring states. Their existence undermines regional security and they complicate the conduct of international relations.
For two decades, oil and gas have been the focus of Russia’s economy. While fossil fuels will retain a key role for the foreseeable future, agriculture is booming and quickly gaining prominence. The Kremlin is touting grain exports as a path for the country to regain superpower status. A close look, however, reveals as many risks as opportunities for Russia -- and there is a distinct possibility government initiatives are being used to line the pockets of President Vladimir Putin’s allies.
Russia is highly unlikely to respond militarily to a hypothetical U.S. attack on Iran. But Moscow has a wide range of options to make Washington pay a steep price for such a disrupting step, and to uphold its reputation in the Arab world as a reliable business partner and geopolitical ally.