Beyond the Headlines: Russia and the World Post-Crimea

June 17, 2014

Russia’s invasion of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in February 2014 set the world on edge and cast a number of key international issues into the spotlight. Below, Elliott School experts go beyond the headlines to examine some of the wide-ranging repercussions of the move and its subsequent developments.

U.S.-Russian Space Collaboration

photo: Scott Pace

Scott Pace

The United States and Russia have collaborated on the International Space Station since the launch of its first component in 1998. However, sanctions against Russia and tough talk on both sides have raised questions about the U.S.-Russia relationship, including its historically strong cooperation on space. Professor Scott Pace, director of the Elliott School’s Space Policy Institute, addresses the short- and long-term implications of the Crimean crisis on the U.S.-Russian space relationship.

How has the situation in Ukraine affected U.S.-Russian collaboration on the International Space Station?

There has been no immediate impact to ISS operations. Personal and professional relations continue to be good. Russia has said, however, that it is only committed to ISS through 2020 while the U.S. has proposed extension through 2024. Other partners, such as Europe, Canada, and Japan, have not taken a position on operations past 2020 but are more favorably disposed. 

How do Russia's threats to curtail cooperation affect NASA's long-term planning?

The most immediate impact of the deterioration of the political environment is to increase proposals to develop a U.S.-domestic replacement for the Russian RD-180 engine that has been used in the Atlas launch vehicle [the U.S. rocket used to carry payloads from Earth's surface to outer space]. The U.S. has a two-year supply of 16 engines, but a replacement engine could take four years to develop. Interim measures could include shifting payloads to the Delta launch vehicle and accelerating qualification of the SpaceX Dragon vehicle.

Russia was not a critical component of NASA plans for human missions to Mars and an asteroid so there is no impact there. Russia has also cut-off real time access to GPS scientific stations in Russia that are operated with the Russian Academy of Sciences. This has no impact on GPS operations but does harm certain Earth science experiments. This may lead to retaliatory measures affecting Russian scientific cooperation.

Nuclear Security

photo: Doug Shaw

Doug Shaw

In addition to the 2010 New START—the most recent nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia—U.S-Russian cooperation on nuclear security has addressed several pressing global challenges from Iran’s nuclear program to the removal of chemical weapons in Syria. Associate Dean Douglas Shaw, an expert on nonproliferation and arms control, addresses this important relationship, and how it might be affected by growing tensions.

How has the situation in Ukraine affected U.S.-Russian collaboration on nuclear security?

The situation in Ukraine undermines political support for U.S.-Russian collaboration on nuclear security, which is bad because Russia is an essential partner in preventing nuclear terrorism owing to its unique stores of material, technical capabilities, and political relationships.

What's at stake in the region if U.S.-Russian collaboration were to deteriorate further?

If U.S.-Russian collaboration deteriorates further, our confidence that Russian nuclear materials are secure against theft or diversion will erode over time, and we could find ourselves without the relationships and information we need to best respond to future criminal or terrorist incidents related to nuclear weapons or materials.

Russian Media Landscape

photo: Robert Orttung

Robert Orttung

On May 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new “bloggers law” that requires popular online voices to register with the government. This new law—in addition to another series of laws restricting television, books, film, and public performances—demonstrates the increasingly repressive Russian media landscape. Professor Robert Orttung, assistant director of the Elliott School’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES), is currently studying the effects of Russia’s state controlled media on discussions taking place on the Russian Internet. His research is supported by two Elliott School undergraduate students, Christina Cottiero and Katherine Kucharski.

Describe the Russian media landscape.

Currently the Russian government exerts extensive control over the media. The main television broadcasters are either state-owned or controlled by oligarchs who are friendly to the Kremlin. Radio is also tightly controlled, and Kremlin-friendly owners are taking over more newspapers. Since the anti-Putin protests of late 2011 and early 2012, the Kremlin has sought greater control over the Internet by blocking some opposition sites in Russia. This growing crackdown is a new phenomenon in Russia since previously the online space had been relatively free. 

In a recent blog post, you and your co-author write, "Putin has effectively 'weaponized' Russia’s media." How so?

Putin's increasingly assertive efforts to control the media in Russia reflect his insecurity about his grasp on power in Russia after more than 14 years as the country's paramount leader. The Russian media distort the democratic, anti-corruption revolution in Ukraine as carried out by "fascists" and "terrorists" in order to dissuade Russian citizens from demanding similar democratic and anti-corruption reforms in Russia. 

How have Putin's propaganda efforts extended to eastern Ukraine?

Since most people living in eastern Ukraine speak Russian, they frequently watch shows broadcast on Russian television. I think that the Kremlin assumed that its negative portrayal of the Kyiv government would provide a groundswell of support among citizens in eastern Ukraine for Russian annexation. But, while these Ukrainians remain deeply suspicious of the Kyiv government, the vast majority are increasingly unhappy with the incursion of Russian fighters into their area and are becoming alienated from both sides. The result is the breakdown of order that we see today. It is very hard to predict what the ultimate outcome will be.