October 2023 Fletcher Eurasia Club Lunch Seminars

By Nayan Seth, MGA 2024 Candidate, The Fletcher School

Sustainable Development in the Russian Arctic 

As climate change continues to have adverse impacts on communities across the world, the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation (ADRF) is confronting the changes four times faster than the global average. To discuss sustainable development efforts in the Russian part of the Arctic, the Fletcher Eurasia Club, with support from the Fletcher Maritime Studies Program and The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, organized a lunch seminar with Nadezhda Filimonova, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Arctic Initiative of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, on October 3, 2023.

Filimonova spoke about Russia’s “top-down system” and the lack of local sustainable development strategies in its Arctic region. “In terms of governance, there is no specific strategy, neither at the regional level nor at the national level. They are using all these programs for social, economic development or environmental programs, but not the direct use of sustainable development goals or the SDGs.”

The discussion focused on Arctic Council Members’ decision to suspend cooperation with Russia after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. With Russia as the Chair, 7 of the 8-member Arctic Council halted their collaboration with Moscow. Apart from the United States and Russia, the permanent members of the Arctic Council include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as organizations representing the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. According to Filimonova, Russia was “full force” in implementing sustainable development projects before the war began. “Before it ceased to function, Russia had been involved in different projects that were run by the Sustainable Development Working Group.” Uncertainty remains over the Arctic Council’s future cooperation with Russia as Norway takes over the council’s presidency. There have been reports that the Council is reconsidering its suspension. Almost half of the total Arctic region lies in Russia, which possesses a coastline of over 50% in the Arctic Ocean.

The American Role in Russia’s Economic Transformation

Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, the United States and its allies have imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia, which has significantly affected Russia’s economy. But around three decades ago, the United States was the driving force of another economic transformation in Russia—the dismantling of the Soviet economic structure and the introduction of the market economy.

As part of the Fletcher Eurasia Club lunch seminar series, independent scholar and Fletcher alumnus Daniel Satinsky spoke about his latest book, “Creating the Post-Soviet Russian Market Economy: Through American Eyes” on October 10, 2023. Satinsky’s new book reveals the lesser-known history of people-to-people contact between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, people from both countries engaged in “citizen diplomacy”. 

“In the 1980s, there was a section of Americans who were motivated, motivated by fear of a nuclear war. There was a real fear of a (nuclear) exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States. And there was a feeling on the U.S. side that if only we understood each other and treated each other as people we could prevent a nuclear exchange.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia sought foreign experts to modernize its economy. According to Satinsky, the American response to President Boris Yeltsin’s call for economic assistance was “massive and disorganized.”

“The U.S. government implemented 215 different programs from 23 different departments and individual agencies. Between 1990 and 1994, USAID spent $3.5 billion on programming and credits.” The aim was to drive investment “in the direction to bring skills of a market economy to Russia.” Satinsky said. 

With new investments, the foreign community in Russia drove new economic activities and created new institutions. “As this funding flowed, and as international companies began to explore Russia as a market, there began to develop a very large expat community in Moscow. This expat community developed its own institutions like the American Chamber of Commerce and established Moscow Times English language newspaper for the expat community.” Satinsky said.

It also paved the way for broader economic changes in the economy. “You [Russia] did not have a banking and finance industry, they did not have a real estate industry, did not have widespread restaurants, and popular entertainment was different. These areas of the economy, which were absolutely new, and in which Americans along with Europeans had a big influence in it.” 

But it did not last long. The 1998 Russian financial crisis reversed the progress of the early 1990s and derailed the reform process. But Satinsky believed that Russia’s brief reform era left a lasting impact, transforming the real estate industry, cellular technology, and the food and beverage industry.   

Assessing Military Reform in Russia and Turkey 

As Ukraine fails to make considerable gains in its counteroffensive against Russia, the focus is back on the Russian army’s ability to hold its ground despite a series of failures in the initial days and months of the Ukrainian invasion. 

Pavel Luzin and Özgür Özkan, visiting scholars with the Fletcher Russia and Eurasia Program, gave a lunch seminar to the Eurasia Club on October 17, 2023. They discussed the history of civil-military relations in Turkey and Russia over the last two decades and spoke about the similarities and differences between the Russian and Turkish militaries.

Luzin analyzed the first phase of Russian military reforms after the Soviet collapse as “endless reforming” where Russia tried to “change everything but changed nothing.” In the 1990s, while keeping the army generals loyal due to the coup fears, Russia tried to reduce the number of troops to make the military more agile but eventually failed. “They needed to reduce the number of troops. But they were going to keep the structure of the armed forces and the traditions of the armed forces because of efforts to maintain the fragile political balance.”

Despite the mutiny attempt by former Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, Luzin asserted that presently, Russia doesn’t face military coup threats as Russian military generals are not interested in political power but in material gains.  

“They don’t have any moral principles. Because if you’re going to make a coup, you must have principles, because you may die during the coup [attempt]. Russian generals, they’re not going to die. They’re not going to have political power, they are okay with their money. The Kremlin corrupted the armed forces, it makes them cynical and non-flexible.”

Comparing Russia’s military to that of Turkey, Özkan argued that the Turkish military is more professional with stronger institutional structures. After the 2016 coup attempt in Türkiye, Erdogan adopted a carrots and sticks policy by improving the living conditions of troops but also purging officers.  

“Fast track promotion opportunities were given to newcomers to the ranks that were depleted by the massive purge, and also offering certain corrupt practices to senior officers, for example, offering some lucrative business contracts to their family members.” Özkan offered a mixed picture of the Turkish military’s effectiveness. He pointed out that while it has been successful against the PKK rebels in Syria, the earthquake in Turkey and the absence of the military in rescue efforts expose the negative consequences of “coup-proofing” reforms undertaken by Erdogan. 

“The Turkish military was basically missing in action (during the earthquakes).” It shows how “coup-proofing reforms undermine military’s performances in the battlefield and also in peacetime duties as well.” 

International Legal Implication of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has renewed questions over the implications of violations of international law and alleged war crimes. To discuss the legal aspects of the ongoing war, Tom Dannenbaum, Associate Professor of International Law at Fletcher, joined the Eurasia Club’s lunch seminar on October 24, 2023.

According to Dannenbaum, Russia had no “legal basis for the use of force” in Ukraine, either in 2014 or in 2022. “We have this combination of an initial violation then exacerbated through massive scale that clearly surpasses the gravity scale, and character threshold of the crime of aggression.”

During the war in Ukraine, he argues that Russia violated “almost every rule in the book.” He also cited “credible allegations” of isolated but significant violations by the Ukrainian forces while cautioning to avoid creating a “false equivalence.”

“The scale and the systematicity is totally different across the two sides, one where there’s a violation at scale and systematically across the board and the other where there are isolated incidents of credible allegations of nonetheless, serious violations.” 

Dannenbaum also analyzed Ukraine’s international legal efforts seeking accountability over Russia’s alleged war crimes. “Ukraine has taken a rulebook approach to response, which is to say it has pursued every single legal avenue for responding to this violation.” Ukraine’s legal efforts bore fruits when in May 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is an arrest warrant that will last for the rest of his life. He already has faced the consequence of not being able to travel to South Africa for the BRICS Summit because South Africa is an ICC state party. He cannot guarantee if he travels to any of those states that he will not be arrested.”

On the question of West-led efforts to create a special tribunal to try alleged Russian war crimes, Dannenbaum believed that the proposal faces “legitimacy issues” as the campaign is being dominated by the Global North with little participation from the rest of the world. “I think it’s pretty much guaranteed that some form of tribunal and some form of compensation commission will be created, but not with anything like global support, or even majority support globally.”  

The ongoing war in Gaza has further complicated the Ukrainian efforts. “The position in particular the United States, the United Kingdom, vis-a-vis the Israeli actions in Gaza has basically eliminated the sense of good faith with respect to the impartial application of international law.”

The Impact of Western Sanctions on the Russian Economy

Almost two years after Western countries imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine, the impact of those measures has been a subject matter of debate among economists and policy analysts.

Janis Kluge, Deputy Head of the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, joined gave a lunch seminar to the Fletcher Eurasia Club on October 31, 2023. He discussed the short-term and long-term impact of sanctions on the Russian economy. Kluge spoke about the conflict in Ukraine as Russia’s “war of attrition” not only for its military but also for the country’s economy and society.

“The economy becomes more and more important because it’s a key to be resilient.” Over the coming years, the economy will actually play a decisive role in deciding who comes out on top in this war.”

Although Russia’s GDP figures have recovered from the time when sanctions were introduced, Kluge believed that the wartime economy is fundamentally altered due to those measures. He cites the example of a decline in auto manufacturing which was deeply connected to the Western supply chains. On the other hand, sectors related to Russia’s military are growing, primarily due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. “Overall, in 2023, this [industries linked to the military] is about a quarter of Russia’s manufacturing. So, it has a significant effect on Russian economic performance,” Kluge said. 

He also argued that the Western price cap strategy on Russian oil is “losing its bite” due to a downward trend in global crude oil prices. “Russia is basically getting something more or less close to Western or other oil brands. And this, of course, helps [Russia],” he said. 

On China’s role, Kluge argued that Beijing is becoming a major “platform” for Russia to acquire Western technologies. “If you look at certain components, like semiconductors, there’s a massive change.”


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