Russia Security Update: December 15-22, 2015

Russian military intervention in Syria has forced the West to negotiate on the Kremlin’s terms, granting Moscow greater freedom of action to challenge and destabilize its adversaries. President Barack Obama reaffirmed the concession of the U.S.’s demand for a Syrian postwar government without Assad and his regime, a policy shift Secretary of State John Kerry previously expressed during his December 15 visit to Moscow. President Obama called for a Syrian political settlement that would build a “bridge” to Moscow and Tehran by respecting their interests. This shift coincided with a landmark unanimous UN Security Council decision to approve a peace framework for Syria that did not address Assad’s future. The U.S. and Russia also cosponsored a UN Security Council resolution increasing sanctions against ISIS’s financial network while France agreed to expand information sharing with Russia about anti-ISIS airstrikes and the disposition of armed groups in Syria. 

The U.S. and Europe attempted to balance their reengagement with Moscow over threats emanating from the Middle East with reaffirmed opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine. The EU extended sanctions against Russia despite growing internal divisions over German plans to increase Russian gas imports. The U.S. also expanded its sanctions against Russia, which criticized Western sanctions related to Ukraine as an obstacle to cooperation in the Middle East. NATO also reaffirmed its support to Ukraine by agreeing to boost defense industry cooperation and revealing possible plans to expand cooperation between NATO special forces and the Ukrainian military. Russia meanwhile continued to confront the transatlantic military alliance through its conflict with Turkey, which both countries accelerated by inviting ethnic minority opposition leaders to hold high-level talks. Russia will likely seek to expand its military, economic, and political levers of influence in order to eventually undermine Western opposition to its destabilization operations in Ukraine and other vulnerable areas of the former Soviet Union.