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I. Facts on Russia
II. Economic Data on Russia
III. Russian Oil Exports
IV. Russian Defense Expenditures
V. Russia in the Iranian Nuclear Dispute
VI. Russian Democracy and Human Rights
VII. Suggested Reading List
VIII. Footnotes

In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, U.S.-Russian relations experienced a resurgence of amiability and cooperation.  Russia, long fighting Islamist terrorists in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, became an ally in the American war on terrorism.  During the American military campaign in Afghanistan, Moscow shared intelligence information with Washington and gave tacit approval of American access to military airbases within the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.  While Moscow and Washington diverged on the question of preemptive military action against Iraq, American-Russian partnership endured. 

Since 2004, however, American-Russian relations have steadily declined as Russian foreign policy has become more assertive.  After more than seven years of economic growth driven by Russian energy exports and high world oil prices, Moscow seeks to substitute national shame for the "chaos" brought about by the dissolution of the Soviet Union with a restored self-image as a foremost geopolitical power.1  Russia promotes the establishment of a multipolar world order, which would restrain American unilateralism.  During President Vladimir Putin's second term in office, Russia has increasingly sought to reassert itself as a world power, reestablishing its traditional sphere of influence over the former Soviet republics. 

In early 2006, Russia cut off gas to Ukraine and, by extension, to the rest of Europe, as reprisal for Kiev's pro-Western orientation and policies.  In May, Vice President Cheney rebuked Moscow for its use of oil and gas as "tools of intimidation and blackmail."2  Russia has also attempted to reduce American influence in Central Asia, with Moscow attempting to limit U.S. and NATO access to airbases in the region.  NATO enlargement has once again reemerged as a divisive issue, as former Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia prepare to join the Atlantic alliance. 

Section Questions

  1. What are the major trends in Russian economic performance since the end of the Cold War?
  2. How large are Russian energy exports?  How dependent is the Russian economy on such exports?
  3. What is extent of Russian defense spending?  How has defense spending changed since the end of the Cold War?

Map of Russia

Map of Russia

I. Facts on Russia

Table 1: Facts on the Russia compared with the US

Facts of Russia
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The World Fact Book (Washington, DC: CIA, 2006).

II. Economic Data on Russia

Figure 1: Comparison of Russian and US GDP, 2005

Economic Data on Russia
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The World Fact Book (Washington, DC: CIA, 2006).

Table 2: Russian Economic Performance Since 1992

Russian Economic Performance Since 1992
Stuart D. Goldman, Russia (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, 8 May 2006).

III. Russian Oil Exports

Russian Oil Exports
Energy Information Administration, Office of Energy Statistics from the US Government,

Figure 2: Russian Oil Exports to US, 1995-2004

Russian Oil Exports to US, 1995-2004
Energy Information Administration, Office of Energy Statistics from the US Government.

Maps of Proposed Pipelines to Europe and Asia

Maps of Proposed Pipelines to Europe and Asia

IV. Russian Defense Expenditures

Figure 3: Russian Defense Expenditures, 1992-2005

Russian Defense Expenditures, 1992-2005
Click to enlarge
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Data on Military Expenditures,

V. Russia in the Iranian Nuclear Dispute

As part of its effort to reassert itself as a world power, Russia has actively promoted itself as the indispensable mediator in the nuclear proliferation dispute between Iran and the West.  Moscow actively pursues productive relations with Iran, a nation located on Russia's periphery.  Russian military exports to Tehran are estimated to total $4 billion, including the $900 million sale of 30 TOR M-1 antiaircraft missiles.3  Russia also supplies the nuclear fuel for operation of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russian specialists aided in the construction.  Moscow regards these economic transactions as a means of restoring its influence in the Middle East after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  At the same time, Russia seeks not to alienate the West and to enhance its role in the world, reemerging as a key player in international diplomacy.  While the Kremlin staunchly defends Iran's right to a "peaceful development of nuclear energy" and resists all "non-diplomatic measures of pressure" on Tehran, Moscow has also aimed to find a diplomatic compromise between Iran and the West, including an offer to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil to supply Iranian nuclear power reactors and ensure no fuel is diverted to bomb-making.  Tehran has thus far rejected the Russian proposal, and Moscow has begun to indicate its frustration and impatience with the Iranian leadership.4

VI. Russian Democracy and Human Rights

  • During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, Russia marched slowly, albeit at times tentatively, towards democracy.  It was a nation with new-found political freedoms, multiple political parties, contested political elections, freedom of the press, and liberal market reforms.  The Yeltsin years, however, are now regarded with the deep national shame for the "chaos" brought about by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, specifically the weakening of the Russian state.  Instead, the reforms of the 1990s now regarded as a result a vast plot by those outside of Russia, paid for by the rich oligarchs, and implemented by shortsighted and weak political leaders.  In short, the reform politics and economic liberalization of the 1990s were both misguided and detrimental to Russian interests.  In response, President Putin has increasingly sought to reassert the power of the state over Russian society.  In the broadly held American view, Putin has sharply reversed the democratic reforms of the Yeltsin years, established the preponderance of the executive branch over both the Duma and judiciary, exerted state control and ownership of television and much of the print media, restored the Kremlin's authority over the formerly self-governing provinces, and returned the most successful sectors of the economy to the state.  These trends, along with corruption and selectivity in law enforcement, and political pressure on the judiciary, have resulted in the steady deterioration in Russian democracy and human rights.5

  • Russian Human Rights Record of 2005-20066 : Reports of Significant Violations
    • alleged government involvement in politically motivated abductions, disappearances, and unlawful killing in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus 
    • hazing in the armed forces, resulting in several deaths 
    • harassment, and in some cases, abduction, of individuals who appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), reportedly to convince them to drop their cases 
    • torture, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment 
    • harsh and frequently life-threatening prison conditions 
    • corruption in law enforcement 
    • arbitrary arrest and detention 
    • alleged executive branch influence over judicial decisions in certain high‑profile cases 
    • government pressure that continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of major national networks 
    • continued limitations, primarily by local authorities, on freedom of assembly and restrictions on some religious groups in some regions 
    • societal discrimination, harassment, and violence against members of some religious minorities 
    • restrictions on freedom of movement and migration 
    • negative official attitudes toward, and sometimes harassment of, certain NGOs involved in human rights monitoring 
    • violence against women and children 
    • trafficking in persons, especially of women and children
    • widespread governmental and societal discrimination as well as racially motivated attacks against religious and ethnic minorities and persons from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Asia, and Africa
    • instances of forced labor

  • U.S. Response to Russian Human Rights Violations7
    • The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy towards Russia aims to promote democratic institutions and processes, along with respect for human rights through high level contacts between U.S. and Russian officials.  In May and November 2005 meetings with President Putin, President Bush raised a broad range of bilateral issues, including democracy and human rights concerns. In addition to meeting with government officials, the President and Secretary of State met with Russian civic leaders during their visit to Russia in May. In early 2006, the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor visited Moscow to discuss the NGO law with civil society, Duma, and government leaders.

VII. Suggested Reading List

J. Goldgeier, Power and Purpose: US Foreign Policy towards Russia after the Cold War (Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press, 2003).

D. Gorenburg (with H.H. Gaffney), "Great Promise Unfulfilled: How Russia lost its way after independence," PONARS Working Paper No. 26 (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 2006).  Available at

Independent Task Force of the Council on Foreign Relations, Russia's Wrong Direction: What the US Can and Should Do about It (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, March 2006).  Available at

M. McFaul, Russia's Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002).

M Naím, "Russia's Oily Future," Foreign Policy, Jan.-Feb. 2004, Vol. 140, pp. 96-97.  Available at
J Nichol, Democracy in Russia: Trends and Implications for U.S. Interests(Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, January 2005).  Available at

A. Tsygankov, "New Challenges for Putin's Foreign Policy," Orbis, 2006, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 153-165.

R. Weitz, "Revitalizing U.S.-Russian Security Cooperation: Practical Measures," Adelphi Paper No. 377 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, Nov. 2005).

VIII. Footnotes

1. In 2005, President Putin referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union as a "major geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century."  For text, see President Vladimir Putin, "Annual Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation," (Moscow: April 25, 2005), available at

2. Steven Lee Myers, "Strong Rebuke for the Kremlin from Cheney," New York Times (5 May 2006). 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology