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.
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.
As relations with the West continue to deteriorate, Russia has tried to build a future in which it does not belong to Europe — by looking to Asia. But economic weaknesses, an alienating foreign policy and the rise of China have stunted Russia's pivot to Asia. A reset with Europeans, many of whom are eager to resume business there, is the best way forward. However, Russia and Europe are likely to grow more isolated.
For over a century, Central Asian countries have been considered theaters for great power competition, not players on the geopolitical chessboard in their own right. That may be about to change, as these nations begin to resolve their many differences and cooperate to pool their strength. They have much to gain by doing so, but Soviet-era divisions and economic imbalances remain deeply rooted.
While corruption has spurred political change in Latin America, it remains the basic currency of power in many other parts of the world. This is particularly evident in post-communist regimes like Russia, where private fortunes can be amassed and confiscated at the whim of a tiny elite. This appropriation of resources helps shore up the regime, even as it undermines Russia’s long-term future as a great power.