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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2060

Military tensions in the Baltic Sea;
How Russia leverages proxies in its foreign policy

Edited by Ilan Berman and Ivanna Kuz
May 10, 2016

April 12: 

Is NATO prepared to prevent Russian aggression against the Baltic States? A new war-game says "no."
According to Breaking Defense, a recent simulation carried out by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington, DC think tank, found that - at its current posture and force deployment levels - an Alliance response to Russian military moves in the Baltics is likely to be "dangerously slow." "That raises the unsettling possibility that in a Crimean-style land grab," Breaking Defense notes - one in which "Russia could simply seize what it wants before the US and its allies react." The CNAS study proposes a series of reforms and upgrades - ranging from more frequent NATO exercises to reinforced logistics - as antidotes to the current status quo. 

April 14:

In a throwback to Cold War-era provocations, two Russian fighter jets have conducted a close-proximity fly-by of an American warship in the Baltic Sea. 
London's Daily Mail reports U.S. military officials as saying that the test flight of two Su-24 planes over the USS Donald Cook constitutes the most "aggressive" incident of military friction between Russia and the United States in recent years. Russia, for its part, claims that the maneuvers were justified because U.S. vessel was in "operational proximity of the Russian navy's Baltic fleet base." 

Non-state actors aligned with and supportive of the Russian government's geopolitical objectives have become an important force multiplier for the Kremlin, 
a new study from British think tank Chatham House has detailed. As part of its method of skirting Western pressure and direct responsibility, "the Kremlin has developed a wide range of proxy groups in support of its foreign policy objectives," the study, entitled Agents of the Western World, notes. "This network of pro-Kremlin groups promotes the Russian World (Russkiy Mir), a flexible tool that justifies increasing Russian actions in the post-Soviet space and beyond. Russian groups are particularly active in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova - countries that have declared their intention to integrate with the West." 

April 15:

Legal action against Russia's president can be hazardous to your professional health. That seems to be the case with Tatyana Leskina, a judge in Russia's Saratov region who resigned abruptly after agreeing to hear a lawsuit against Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
According to Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe, the lawsuit, filed by a private citizen, accused Putin of "impoverishing the Russian people" and labeling him an "enemy of the nation." Leskina, the presiding judge in the case, scheduling a number of hearings for the end of April, only to retract them and submit her resignation shortly thereafter. 

President Putin's recent announcement of a new National Guard represents a profound reconfiguration of governmental power, according to observers. "The sheer scale of the restructuring has affected practically every branch of the siloviki [force structures]," 
writes political scientist and columnist Nikolai Petrov in The Moscow Times. "The Interior Ministry will lose most of its muscle: 170,000 interior troops, 50,000 special forces and riot police, private security forces as well as control over private security forces and arms trafficking will all go to the National Guard. In exchange, the Interior Ministry will receive 30,000 Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) personnel - without generals - and approximately the same number of staff from the Federal Migration Service (FMS). Both services have essentially been disbanded and their directors marginalized." 

The move, according to Petrov, also imbues the Kremlin with far greater political independence, cementing changes in the "balance of power among the Russian elite" that have taken place over the past two years. By restructuring existing agencies and folding them under a new security service, Putin now finally has "a potent tool at his disposal that answers to no one but himself."

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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