For half a millennium, Russian foreign policy has been characterized by soaring ambitions that have exceeded the country’s capabilities. Beginning with the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century, Russia managed to expand at an average rate of 50 square miles per day for hundreds of years, eventually covering one-sixth of the earth’s landmass. By 1900, it was the world’s fourth- or fifth-largest industrial power and the largest agricultural producer in Europe.
Between 1996 and 2011, I served as a consultant to the Kremlin, advising Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and Dmitry Medvedev. And yet even I can hardly claim to understand the real mechanisms of power in today’s Russia.
In recent years, many discussions of the Russian economy have opened with an old joke. In the mid-1990s, John Major, the British prime minister, askedRussian President Boris Yeltsin to characterize Russia’s economy in one word. “Good,” Yeltsin said. Major, seeking more detail, asked him to elaborate in two words. Yeltsin replied: “Not good.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian military rotted away. In one of the most dramatic campaigns of peacetime demilitarization in world history, from 1988 to 1994, Moscow’s armed forces shrank from five million to one million personnel.
In February, Moscow and Washington issued a joint statement announcing the terms of a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria—a truce agreed to by major world powers, regional players, and most of the participants in the Syrian civil war. Given the fierce mutual recriminations that have become typical of U.S.-Russian relations in recent years, the tone of the statement suggested a surprising degree of common cause.
In December 2015, the Russian antigraft activist Alexey Navalny released adocumentary in which he exposed the corrupt business dealings of the children of Yuri Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general—the top law enforcement official in the country. In the film, Navalny accuses Chaika’s son Artem of “continuously exploit[ing] the protection that his father, the prosecutor general of the Russian Federation, gives him to extort from and steal other people’s companies.”
When U.S. President Barack Obama joined other global leaders at the G-20 summit in Turkey in November 2015, the United States was in the final stages of a multiyear effort to secure the approval of a set of important reforms to the International Monetary Fund.
At a debate among the Republican presidential candidates in March, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas boiled down his campaign message to its essentials: “Here’s my philosophy. The less government, the more freedom. The fewer bureaucrats, the more prosperity. And there are bureaucrats in Washington right now who are killing jobs and I’ll tell you, I know who they are. I will find them and I will fire them.”
Authors: Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth
After two and a half decades, is the United States’ run as the world’s sole superpower coming to an end? Many say yes, seeing a rising China ready to catch up to or even surpass the United States in the near future. By many measures, after all, China’s economy is on track to become the world’s biggest, and even if its growth slows, it will still outpace that of the United States for many years.
Now, almost a decade after the Great Recession hit, the story of its origins and course has become familiar. It began in December 2007, soon after the U.S. housing bubble burst, triggering the widespread collapse of the U.S. financial system. Credit dried up, as banks lost confidence in the value of their assets and stopped lending to one another.
Today, there is essentially one accepted narrative of the economic crisis that began in late 2007. Overly optimistic homebuyers and reckless lenders in the United States created a housing price bubble. Regulators were asleep at the switch.
The mood of much of the world is grim these days. Turmoil in the Middle East, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees; random terrorist attacks across the globe; geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe and Asia; the end of the commodity supercycle; slowing growth in China; and economic stagnation in many countries—all have combined to feed a deep pessimism about the present and, worse, the future.
Transparency has long been a rare commodity in international affairs. But today, the forces of technology are ushering in a new age of openness that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. Governments, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can now harness a flood of open-source information, drawn from commercial surveillance satellites, drones, smartphones, and computers, to reveal hidden activities in contested areas—from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea.
As the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris came to a close in December 2015, foreign ministers from around the world raised their arms in triumph. Indeed, there was more to celebrate in Paris than at any prior climate summit.
When Iran makes headlines, it is usually as a result of its conflicts with other countries. Far less attention is paid to Iran’s conflicts with itself, which are still raging nearly 40 years after the revolution that brought forth the Islamic Republic.
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