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Offshore Oil and Gas Governance in the Arctic: A Leadership Role for the U.S.

April 15, 2014 Comments off

Offshore Oil and Gas Governance in the Arctic: A Leadership Role for the U.S.
Source: Brookings Institution

The Arctic is changing and increasingly drawing the world’s interest, with the potential for vast reserves of offshore oil and gas constituting arguably the most attractive, yet challenging prospect in the region.

As the U.S. prepares to assume chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015, this policy brief is designed to inform the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. Government of the current state of oil and gas governance in the Arctic, and to address the following questions:

  • How can the U.S. elevate the Arctic region as a priority national interest?
  • How can the U.S. lead in strengthening offshore oil and gas governance in the Arctic?
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Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide

April 14, 2014 Comments off

Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has released a new interactive guide examining the economic opportunities and environmental risks emerging in the Arctic. Climate change, technological advances, and a growing demand for natural resources are driving a new era of development in the Arctic region. Many experts assert that Arctic summers could be free of sea ice in a matter of decades, opening the region up to hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, most notably in energy production and shipping.

CRS — Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress (updated)

April 8, 2014 Comments off

Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region. On May 10, 2013, the Obama Administration released a national strategy document for the Arctic region. On January 30, 2014, the Obama Administration released an implementation plan for this strategy.

Record low extents of Arctic sea ice over the past decade have focused scientific and policy attention on links to global climate change and projected ice-free seasons in the Arctic within decades. These changes have potential consequences for weather in the United States, access to mineral and biological resources in the Arctic, the economies and cultures of peoples in the region, and national security.

AU — The G20: a quick guide

March 26, 2014 Comments off

The G20: a quick guide
Source: Parliamentary Library of Australia

This is a quick guide to basic information about the G20, as well as links to useful summary resources. The G20 background section includes the G20’s history, its members, the hosting system and G20 meeting processes, as well as a brief discussion of selected policy areas. Material on Australia and the G20 includes Australia’s involvement in the G20, Australia’s G20 goals for 2014 and speeches and press releases on the G20. A short list of links provides access to more resources on the G20.

CRS — Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests (updated)

March 12, 2014 Comments off

Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

Russia made uneven progress in democratization during the 1990s, but this limited progress was reversed after Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999-2000, according to many observers. During this period, the State Duma (lower legislative chamber) became dominated by governmentapproved parties, gubernatorial elections were abolished, and the government consolidated ownership or control over major media and industries, including the energy sector. The Putin government showed low regard for the rule of law and human rights in suppressing insurgency in the North Caucasus, according to critics. Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s longtime protégé, was elected president in 2008; President Medvedev immediately designated Putin as prime minister and continued Putin’s policies. In August 2008, the Medvedev-Putin “tandem” directed military operations against Georgia and recognized the independence of Georgia’s separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, actions condemned by most of the international community. In late 2011, Putin announced that he would return to the presidency and Medvedev would become prime minister. This announcement, and flawed Duma elections at the end of the year, spurred popular protests, which the government addressed by launching a few reforms and holding pro-Putin rallies. In March 2012, Putin was (re)elected president by a wide margin. The day after Putin’s inauguration in May 2012, the legislature confirmed Medvedev as prime minister. Since then, Putin has tightened restrictions on freedom of assembly and other human rights.

Backgrounder: Ukraine in Crisis

March 10, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: >Ukraine in Crisis
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Ukraine’s most prolonged and deadly crisis since its post-Soviet independence began as a protest against the government dropping plans to forge closer trade ties with the European Union and has since spurred a global standoff between Russia and Western powers. The crisis stems from more than twenty years of weak governance, a lopsided economy dominated by oligarchs, heavy reliance on Russia, and sharp differences between Ukraine’s linguistically, religiously, and ethnically distinct eastern and western halves. After the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich in Feburary 2014, Russian moves to take control of the Crimean Peninsula signaled Moscow’s intent to retain its sphere of influence and raised serious questions about the ability of the state’s new leaders to provide stability and a path to meaningful reforms.

CRS — Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests

March 7, 2014 Comments off

Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Russia made uneven progress in democratization during the 1990s, but this limited progress was reversed after Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999-2000, according to many observers. During this period, the State Duma (lower legislative chamber) became dominated by governmentapproved parties, gubernatorial elections were abolished, and the government consolidated ownership or control over major media and industries, including the energy sector. The Putin government showed low regard for the rule of law and human rights in suppressing insurgency in the North Caucasus, according to critics. Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s longtime protégé, was elected president in 2008; President Medvedev immediately designated Putin as prime minister and continued Putin’s policies. In August 2008, the Medvedev-Putin “tandem” directed military operations against Georgia and recognized the independence of Georgia’s separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, actions condemned by most of the international community. In late 2011, Putin announced that he would return to the presidency and Medvedev would become prime minister. This announcement, and flawed Duma elections at the end of the year, spurred popular protests, which the government addressed by launching a few reforms and holding pro-Putin rallies. In March 2012, Putin was (re)elected president by a wide margin. The day after Putin’s inauguration in May 2012, the legislature confirmed Medvedev as prime minister. Since then, Putin has tightened restrictions on freedom of assembly and other human rights.\

Global gas markets: The North American factor

February 28, 2014 Comments off

Global gas markets: The North American factor
Source: McKinsey & Companies

Cost curves, which array blocks of supply according to their expense, can clarify the dynamics of supply in commodity industries. They are particularly useful when multiple new sources compete to serve a finite market. Such a situation exists today for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Exporters from North America—now among the world’s low-cost gas producers, given recent advances in recovering shale gas—aim to export LNG in competition mostly with projects in Africa, Australia, and Russia.

Security Tip (ST14-001) — Sochi 2014 Olympic Games

February 14, 2014 Comments off

Security Tip (ST14-001) — Sochi 2014 Olympic Games
Source: U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team

Whether traveling to Sochi, Russia for the XXII Olympic Winter Games, or viewing the games from locations abroad, there are several cyber-related risks to consider. As with many international level media events, hacktivists may attempt to take advantage of the large audience to spread their own message. Additionally, cyber criminals may use the games as a lure in spam, phishing or drive-by-download campaigns to gain personally identifiable information or harvest credentials for financial gain. Lastly, those physically attending the games should be cognizant that their communications will likely be monitored.

CRS — The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: Security and Human Rights Issues

February 10, 2014 Comments off

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: Security and Human Rights Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on July 4, 2007, that Sochi, Russia, had been selected as the host city for the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympics. The Olympic Games, which will be held February 7-23, 2014, are the first to be hosted by Russia as a successor state to the former Soviet Union. Reportedly, some 230 U.S. athletes out of approximately 2,900 from some 88 countries, and about 10,000 U.S. visitors, are expected in Sochi. Olympic events will take place at two main locations: a coastal cluster along the Black Sea and a mountain cluster in the Krasnaya Polyana mountains.

Since the 2007 selection of Sochi as the site of Olympic Games, many observers, including some in Congress, have raised concerns about security and human rights conditions in Sochi and elsewhere in Russia. Sochi is in Russia’s North Caucasus area, which has experienced ongoing terrorist incidents, including several bombings in recent weeks. Through hearings, legislation, oversight, and other action, some Members of Congress have expressed concerns over Russia’s hosting of the Sochi Olympic Games and Paralympics, particularly the risks that terrorism and human rights violations might pose to U.S. athletes and visitors. Other broader congressional concerns have included whether the United States should participate in the Games in the face of increasing tensions in U.S.-Russia relations and the Russian government’s growing restrictions on the civil and human rights of its citizens. Some Members of Congress have called for boycotting the Games. Others have cautioned that U.S. citizens should carefully weigh the security risks of attending, and have urged greater U.S.-Russia counter-terrorism cooperation to ameliorate threats to the Games. In the period during and after the Games, Congress may continue to exercise oversight and otherwise raise concerns about the safety and human rights treatment of U.S. athletes and visitors and the impact of the Games and other developments in Russia on the future of U.S.-Russia relations.

The XXII Olympic Winter Games, 2014 in Sochi — Official Spectator Guide

February 7, 2014 Comments off

The XXII Olympic Winter Games, 2014 in Sochi — Official Spectator Guide (PDF)
Source: Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee
Includes events calendar, maps, spectator tips, transit info, etc.

Alcohol and mortality in Russia: prospective observational study of 151 000 adults

February 5, 2014 Comments off

Alcohol and mortality in Russia: prospective observational study of 151 000 adults
Source: The Lancet

Background
Russian adults have extraordinarily high rates of premature death. Retrospective enquiries to the families of about 50 000 deceased Russians had found excess vodka use among those dying from external causes (accident, suicide, violence) and eight particular disease groupings. We now seek prospective evidence of these associations.

Methods
In three Russian cities (Barnaul, Byisk, and Tomsk), we interviewed 200 000 adults during 1999—2008 (with 12 000 re-interviewed some years later) and followed them until 2010 for cause-specific mortality. In 151 000 with no previous disease and some follow-up at ages 35—74 years, Poisson regression (adjusted for age at risk, amount smoked, education, and city) was used to calculate the relative risks associating vodka consumption with mortality. We have combined these relative risks with age-specific death rates to get 20-year absolute risks.

Findings
Among 57 361 male smokers with no previous disease, the estimated 20-year risks of death at ages 35—54 years were 16% (95% CI 15—17) for those who reported consuming less than a bottle of vodka per week at baseline, 20% (18—22) for those consuming 1—2·9 bottles per week, and 35% (31—39) for those consuming three or more bottles per week; trend p<0·0001. The corresponding risks of death at ages 55—74 years were 50% (48—52) for those who reported consuming less than a bottle of vodka per week at baseline, 54% (51—57) for those consuming 1—2·9 bottles per week, and 64% (59—69) for those consuming three or more bottles per week; trend p<0·0001. In both age ranges most of the excess mortality in heavier drinkers was from external causes or the eight disease groupings strongly associated with alcohol in the retrospective enquiries. Self-reported drinking fluctuated; of the men who reported drinking three or more bottles of vodka per week who were reinterviewed a few years later, about half (185 of 321) then reported drinking less than one bottle per week. Such fluctuations must have substantially attenuated the apparent hazards of heavy drinking in this study, yet self-reported vodka use at baseline still strongly predicted risk. Among male non-smokers and among females, self-reported heavy drinking was uncommon, but seemed to involve similar absolute excess risks.

Interpretation
This large prospective study strongly reinforces other evidence that vodka is a major cause of the high risk of premature death in Russian adults.

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CDC Traveler’s Health: Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics

February 4, 2014 Comments off

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC wants you and your travel team to enjoy the Winter Games and bring home a suitcase full of gold, silver, and bronze memories. Plan ahead for safe and healthy travel!

  • Get vaccinated. Make sure you are up to date on your routine vaccines, including measles. You may also need hepatitis vaccines.
  • Pack Smart. Be sure to pack a travel health kit and plenty of warm and waterproof clothing and shoes.
  • Check your insurance. Travelers need proof of medical insurance that is valid in the Russian Federation to get a visa. Most domestic insurance plans won’t cover you if you need medical care overseas, so check with your provider to see if you have coverage outside the United States.
  • Stay Safe. When at crowded events, plan where to meet your group if you get separated. Always scout out emergency exits when at large indoor events.
  • Healthy Habits. Always wear seatbelts. Wash your hands well and often. Drink alcohol in moderation and use latex condoms if you have sex.

See also: Russian Federation Travel Alert (U.S. Department of State)

CRS — Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests

January 24, 2014 Comments off

Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Russia made uneven progress in democratization during the 1990s, but this limited progress was reversed after Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999-2000, according to many observers. During this period, the State Duma (lower legislative chamber) became dominated by governmentapproved parties, gubernatorial elections were abolished, and the government consolidated ownership or control over major media and industries, including the energy sector. The Putin government showed low regard for the rule of law and human rights in suppressing insurgency in the North Caucasus, according to critics. Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s longtime protégé, was elected president in 2008; President Medvedev immediately designated Putin as prime minister and continued Putin’s policies. In August 2008, the Medvedev-Putin “tandem” directed military operations against Georgia and recognized the independence of Georgia’s separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, actions condemned by most of the international community. In late 2011, Putin announced that he would return to the presidency and Medvedev would become prime minister. This announcement, and flawed Duma elections at the end of the year, spurred popular protests, which the government addressed by launching a few reforms and holding pro-Putin rallies. In March 2012, Putin was (re)elected president by a wide margin. The day after Putin’s inauguration in May 2012, the legislature confirmed Medvedev as prime minister. Since then, Putin has tightened restrictions on freedom of assembly and other human rights.

CRS — Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons

January 16, 2014 Comments off

Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The FY2013 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310, Section 1037) indicates that it is the sense of Congress that “the United States should pursue negotiations with the Russian Federation aimed at the reduction of Russian deployed and nondeployed nonstrategic nuclear forces.” The United States and Russia have not included limits on these weapons in past arms control agreements. Nevertheless, some analysts and Members of Congress have argued that disparities in the numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons may become more important as the United States and Russia reduce their numbers of deployed long-range, strategic nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union both deployed nonstrategic nuclear weapons for use in the field during a conflict. While there are several ways to distinguish between strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons, most analysts consider nonstrategic weapons to be shorter-range delivery systems with lower yield warheads that might be used to attack troops or facilities on the battlefield. They have included nuclear mines; artillery; short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missiles; cruise missiles; and gravity bombs. In contrast with the longer-range “strategic” nuclear weapons, these weapons had a lower profile in policy debates and arms control negotiations, possibly because they did not pose a direct threat to the continental United States. At the end of the 1980s, each nation still had thousands of these weapons deployed with their troops in the field, aboard naval vessels, and on aircraft.

In 1991, the United States and Soviet Union both withdrew from deployment most and eliminated from their arsenals many of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The United States now has approximately 760 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, with around 200 deployed with aircraft in Europe and the remaining stored in the United States. Estimates vary, but experts believe Russia still has between 1,000 and 6,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons in its arsenal. The Bush Administration quietly redeployed and removed some of the nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. Russia, however seems to have increased its reliance on nuclear weapons in its national security concept. Some analysts argue that Russia has backed away from its commitments from 1991 and may develop and deploy new types of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

See also: Next Steps in Nuclear Arms Control with Russia: Issues for Congress (PDF)

Travel Alert — U.S. Department of State — Russian Federation

January 10, 2014 Comments off

Travel Alert — U.S. Department of State — Russian Federation
Source: U.S. Department of State

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens planning to attend the 2014 Olympic Games in Russia that they should remain attentive regarding their personal security at all times. The Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place in Sochi, Russia, from February 7 to March 16, 2014. This travel alert expires March 24, 2014. Full information about the Olympic and Paralympic games for U.S. citizen visitors is available on the Sochi Fact Sheet and the Country Specific Information for the Russian Federation on our website, travel.state.gov. The Department strongly recommends that all U.S. citizens residing or traveling abroad enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to receive pertinent safety and security information.

Informal Employment in Russia: Definitions, Incidence, Determinants and Labour Market Segmentation

December 23, 2013 Comments off

Informal Employment in Russia: Definitions, Incidence, Determinants and Labour Market Segmentation
Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

This paper takes stock of informal employment in Russia analysing its incidence and determinants. Using the regular 2003-11 waves and an informality supplement of the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS) it develops several measures of informal employment and demonstrates that the incidence varies widely across the different definitions. We also show that the determinants of informal employment are roughly stable across the different measures: workers who are males, relatively young, unskilled and employed in construction and trade and related services have a higher likelihood to have an informal job. We also take a look at the issue of labour market segmentation along the informal-formal divide by estimating an informal-formal wage gap at the means and across the entire wage distributions. We find only weak evidence for labour market segmentation in Russia when estimating an informal-formal wage gap for salaried workers at the mean. The results of quantile regressions show a wage penalty in the lower half of the distribution and no gap in the upper half for informal employees. In contrast, informal self-employed and entrepreneurs have conditional mean wages that are higher than the mean wages for the formally employed. Across the entire wage distribution, however, we find a negative wage gap in the lowest quartile and a strongly positive wage gap in the highest quartile, pointing to a segmented informal sector with a lower free entry tier and an upper rationed tier. This Working Paper relates to the 2014 OECD Economic Survey of the Russian Federation (www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/russia).

CRS — The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions

December 17, 2013 Comments off

The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The United States and Russia signed the New START Treaty on April 8, 2010. After more than 20 hearings, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification on December 22, 2010, by a vote of 71-26. Both houses of the Russian parliament—the Duma and Federation Council— approved the treaty in late January 2011, and it entered into force on February 5, 2011, after Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov exchanged the instruments of ratification.

New START provides the parties with 7 years to reduce their forces, and will remain in force for a total of 10 years. It limits each side to no more than 800 deployed and nondeployed land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers and deployed and nondeployed heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear armaments. Within that total, each side can retain no more than 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear armaments. The treaty also limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads; those are the actual number of warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and one warhead for each deployed heavy bomber.

Country Analysis Brief: Russia

November 27, 2013 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Russia
Source: Energy Information Administration

Russia is the second-largest producer of dry natural gas and third-largest liquid fuels producer in the world. Despite its significant reserves of coal, it produces only modest amount of coal. Russia’s economy is highly dependent on its hydrocarbons, and oil and gas revenues account for more than 50% of the federal budget revenues.

Russian Military Expenditure: Data, Analysis and Issues

October 9, 2013 Comments off

Russian Military Expenditure: Data, Analysis and Issues (PDF)
Source: FOI, Swedish Defence Research Agency

Julian Cooper is a leading international independent expert on the Russian defence budget and military expenditure. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the Russia project at FOI, RUFS, has profited from his assistance with navigating through the deceptive waters of Russian military spending in our efforts of finding, assessing and interpreting Russian budget figures. The impor tance of the area is linked to that military expenditure is the most general si ngle indicator of the resources provided to the national military and it is an ind icator frequently used in international comparison. In 2012, Russia was the third count ry in the world in volume of military spending. Therefore it is of great concern that research in this area develops and that the methodology used enhances accuracy of figures despite the remaining problems of secrecy and lack of transparency in the Russian budgetary system.

In this report Julian Cooper presents a summary of principal findings and methodology behind his longstanding research on the Russian defence budget and total military expenditure based on the Russian federal budget. Julian Cooper’s work is an inspiration to all who research this area and over the years he has collected a rich knowledge and unique experience of how to produce results with reasonable accuracy. His results are used by individual researchers as well as by organizations. We asked Julian to write the report in order to make the methodology more accessible to us and to others. We find th at the report is a valuable contribution to the research of Russian military spending and we are most honoured that he kindly accepted our invitation to write and publish it with FOI.

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