Russia: Foreign Policy and U.S. Relations

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rise to leadership more than 20 years ago, tensions have increased steadily between Russia and the United States. Most observers agree Russia’s natural resources and military modernization program, launched in 2008, provide Russia’s leadership the means to conduct a flexible and often aggressive foreign policy, as well as to project force in neighboring countries and further afield (such as in the Middle East).

Russia’s foreign policy priorities traditionally have focused on the post-Soviet region and the West, including relations and tensions with NATO, the United States, and Europe. However, Russia under Putin (like the Soviet Union before it) also pursues a global foreign policy. As relations with its neighbors and Western countries have become more adversarial, Russia—seeking to balance against U.S. and European power and interests—has cultivated deeper relations with China and other countries. Russian authorities have demonstrated a capacity and willingness to use force to accomplish its foreign policy goals. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea region and instigated an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine. In 2015, Russia intervened to support the government of Syrian President Bashar al Asad, including through the use of “private” military companies that Russia has deployed in conflicts elsewhere. Russia has been linked to numerous malicious cyber operations, including interference in U.S. elections. Russia uses disinformation and propaganda to undermine opponents and promote favorable narratives. Its intelligence agencies reportedly conduct wide-ranging and often brazen operations against perceived opponents, including assassinations and the use of chemical weapons.

Russian authorities seek to increase Russia’s market share and access by constructing natural gas pipelines, such as Nord Stream 2 (under construction to Germany), TurkStream (to Turkey and southeastern Europe), and the Power of Siberia (to China). Russia also conducts an aggressive and often militarized approach to the Arctic to exert control over current and potential energy deposits and shipping routes. Russia’s arms exports, behind only the United States in monetary value, also are an important source of hard currency and fulfill key foreign policy objectives.

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