Tensions are continually increasing in periphery states around Russia as military support continues to build for breakaway states. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been able to maintain military presence in its former territories by supporting many de facto states that broke away from their former Soviet controlled territories (1). Examples include Abkhazian and South Ossetian regions of Georgia, Transdniestria in the republic of Moldova, and in the majority Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. By backing these regions militarily, Russia has been able to maintain influence and power in modern conflicts.
Although small, these regions are shaping up to be huge staples in Russian foreign policy. According to some estimates, the Kremlin is pumping roughly $300 million into Abkhazia and at least $100 million into South Ossetia and Transdniestria (2). One of the main purposes of these regions is to act as a buffer or foothold. Abkhazian and South Ossetia regions help off set the tensions between former Soviet republic of Georgia and Russia. Republics like Donetsk and Luhansk, although also used as buffers, give a strong foothold in Ukraine for Russian military presence (2). These states are increasing in aid and in numbers. Recent military buildup at the ports of Latakia and Tartus in Syria and other support suggests that Russia is preparing to spread this strategy to the Alawite State, giving Russia a grip on the Mediterranean and more leverage over the United States (2). Meanwhile, support grows in similar states farther north.
In Moldova, military support to the Transdniestria region of the republic has been increasing following the 2009 election when a member of the Alliance for European Integration was elected president of neighboring Moldova. (3) The election of Mihai Ghimpu ended a two-decade reign on Russian-friendly political control in the country. Despite Russian help in earning Transdniestra’s independence from Moldova during the Transdniestra War in 1992, Moldova remained friendly for those two decades. Now Transdniestra is vital to countering European influence coming into Russia’s periphery.
Russian military buildup Caspian, Baltic, and breakaway states has come in response to the deployment of the European Missile Defense System and other factors increasing United States and European Union influence in the region. (4) This is especially important in the continuing Ukraine conflict. Russia kept this strategy during the Kiev uprising as it supported Crimea after its annexation and other separatist movements in eastern Ukraine. (1) With militarily supporting the Russian-friendly Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, it is clear that Russia’s strategy for maintaining a sphere of influence has not changed.
With the recent election of Donald Trump, the fate of US support for Ukraine has been called into question. The Kiev is still hopeful that the new president will provide lethal weapons to Ukraine. Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) said that the Republican Party has always been “sufficiently clear and consistent” regarding their stance on Ukrainian support (5). However, this past July, Trump broke long-standing Republican tradition and worked to create a pro-Russian stance that would not promise arms to the Kiev, which they have requested (6). Instead, both Obama and Trump have promoted increasing aid and non-lethal equipment to the war-stricken country. President Elect Trump has kept a vague stance on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and does not consider Russia to be a threat to Europe (6). He has also called for the reduction of NATO and normalized relations with the former superpower. Meanwhile, the frontlines of the Ukrainian conflict are seeing up to 2,900 explosions in a day, military support is increasing to Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Minsk Agreement is still up in the air (7).
Russian power and influence is rising in its periphery. 27 senators have pleaded to President-Elect Trump to support the Kiev in its request for lethal weapons in order to counter this power and influence (8). In June of 2015, President Obama denied weapons to Ukraine in spite of recommendations from his top European and military officials (6). But fear of escalating the conflict is arbitrary when the violence is far from over. It is unclear what will change for Ukraine as a result of Trump’s presidency. What is clear, however, is that a change in the US stance on Russia could spell disaster for Ukraine and possibly other periphery states.
(1) Chausovsky, Eugene. "For Russia, Some Conflicts Are Colder Than Ever." Stratfor, November 17, 2016.
(2) Bhalla, Reva. "The Logic and Risks Behind Russia's Statelet Sponsorship." Stratfor, September 15, 2015.
(3) "In Moldova, Transdniestria Stands Its Ground." Stratfor, 2013.
(4) Russia's Military Buildup in Central Europe (Dispatch). Performed by Abe Selig. Youtube. April 18, 2012.
(5) Interfax-Ukraine. "Turchynov hopes Trump’s administration approves lethal weapon provision to Ukraine." Kyiv Post, November 30, 2016.
(6) Rogin, Josh. "Trump campaign guts GOP’s anti-Russia stance on Ukraine." The Washington Post, July 18, 2016.
(7) Gibbons-Neff, Thomas. " 2,900 explosions in a day. Heavy artillery and tank fire returns to the front lines in Ukraine." The Washington Post, December 20, 2016.
(8) Gehrke, Joel. "Senators ask Trump to send lethal aid to Ukraine." The Washington Examiner , December 18, 2016.
Image: © Ukrphoto | Dreamstime.com - Russian Minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky and Minister of culture of South Ossetia Madina Ostayeva
The world is no stranger to opioid abuse. Worldwide statistics estimate between 26.4 and 36 million people abuse opioids (1). In the United States alone, deaths from overdose of prescription painkillers have more than quadrupled since 1999 (1). While the battle against opioid and heroin use has been raging for decades, a new danger has emerged. Fentanyl, the drug recently found to have been responsible for the musician Prince’s death, is a painkiller 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin (2)(3). Although commonly prescribed to cancer patients, the drug is not being sourced from hospitals. Instead, the drug is being trafficked from Mexico and China to the US or is being illicitly manufactured (2)(3). The small amount of data on the drug makes it difficult to track. Therefore, it is difficult to know just how much fentanyl is being circulated, but the rising overdose deaths related to the drug show that its presence is increasing on the market, with many people who may not even know their purchase to be fentanyl.
Several factors may be contributing to fentanyl’s increasing presence and destruction. For one thing, the drug is much cheaper to make illegally, known as illegally manufactured fentanyl (IMF), and can be used by dealers to stretch supplies of heroin or other drugs (2). Therefore, many overdoses are tolled on unsuspecting addicts who may not know IMF was in their supply and are unaware of its extreme potency compared to other drugs.
In addition to its low-cost manufacture, the drug is also easy to make and laboratories in China have become adept in its production. The DEA also claims that these laboratories produce legitimate materials, which veils their illicit activities and complicates tracking measures (4). From China, the drugs are trafficked into the US, mainly through Mexico. In addition, many drug producers have been able to purchase precursor chemicals and produce the drugs in the US, Canada and Mexico, due to loose regulations (4). A kilogram of fentanyl costs a few thousand dollars. After the production of a couple thousand pills, the profit can soar into millions, proving to be an extremely lucrative business (4). This profitability is pulling in more traffickers and producers, increasing IMF’s presence in the drug market. Pure heroin, in fact, is being swept off the market by fentanyl-laced heroin, a cheaper but more potent product.
Due to an inability to distinguish between illegally manufactured fentanyl and pharmaceutical fentanyl, it is difficult to analyze the nature of the market. However, the CDC contributes most of the rising overdoses to IMF (3). Still, there is no question that increasing dependency on prescription drugs is changing the market for the United States. The demographics of overdoses relating to opioid abuse have increased in age and income class (3). More people are becoming dependent on prescription drugs and turning to the black market after being denied painkillers by their medical provider.
It is difficult to combat a drug that is so widely and easily distributed. While many US Senators have voiced concern, and the US has held counter-narcotic meetings with China and Mexico, it will be a while before real progress is seen, as the drug has already become incredibly dispersed. The efforts to combat the footing already made by traffickers needs to be hard hit and focused. The future seems even bleaker after Republican Congress members denied funding to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) (5). While the funding would have expanded the availability of prescription drug monitoring programs, treatment centers and naloxone, a drug used to combat opioid addiction, this legislation would only be addressing a side effect of loose regulations on precursor chemicals and lack of monitoring for imported goods. Closely monitoring suspicious laboratories in China, as well as developing effective tracking and logging systems for chemicals coming in from overseas, would cut the head off of the snake and drain the availability of the drug in North America.
(1) Volkow, Nora D. "America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse." National Institute on Drug Abuse. May 14, 2014. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse.
(2) Kounang, Nadia. "A Dramatic Surge in Fentanyl Cases Fuels Opioid Epidemic." CNN. August 26, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/25/health/dea-fentanyl-increase-cdc/.
(3) Peterson AB, Gladden RM, Delcher C, et al. Increases in Fentanyl-Related Overdose Deaths — Florida and Ohio, 2013–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:844–849. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6533a3.
(4) LaSusa, Mike. "Mexico, China Are Key Nodes in Fentanyl Trade: DEA." Insight Crime. July 27, 2016. http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/mexico-china-are-key-nodes-in-fentanyl-trade-dea.
(5) De Leon, Jessica. "White House to Buchanan: If You Want Funding for Heroin-fentanyl Epidemic, Look to Fellow Members of Congress." Brandenton Herald. September 9, 2016. http://www.bradenton.com/news/local/heroin-epidemic/article100853477.html.
Image: © Pureradiancephoto | Dreamstime.com - Ogden utah: july 16, 2016: oxycontin bottle on pharmacy shelf
The African Union (AU) recently launched an initiative that seeks to stimulate the economy and promote growth throughout the continent. An African Union passport allows for free flowing migration into and out of all African countries (1). For a few West African countries, however, migration policies have already been relaxed. Citizens of 125 countries can now freely visit Senegal, citizens of 25 countries, mostly West African, may visit Guinea, and 9 nearby states may visit Mauritania, all sans visa. While there are many concerns regarding the relaxation of border security, the most alarming reality may be the AU’s prioritization of economic growth over security, threatened by increased piracy and oil bunkering.
The introduction of visa-free entry into African countries comes in wake of the Brexit decision this past July, in which UK citizens voted to leave the European Union. The decision was partially fueled by desires for better control over their borders. However, the trend in Africa is reversed. For the AU, less travel restrictions means more migration, trade, and tourism, and thus economic growth. For multiple African countries, tourism is a vital part of the economy. In Senegal, for example, recent attention has been turned to fostering the tourism industry. Senegal has one of the least strict visa policies on the continent. 125 countries are visa-exempt as of May 2015 (2). According to the World Travel & Tourism Council , travel and tourism accounted for over 11% of Senegal’s 2014 GDP (3). The industry is expected to grow exponentially over the next decade.
Tourism is not the only benefit sought after with open borders. Migration has been shown to help boost economies by filling labor needs, adjusting wages, and accessing new markets. Migration has always fluctuated in Africa, switching between periods of outward and inward movements. The country of Mauritania is a prime example of this. Outward flowing migrations of the 1970s came in response to severe droughts, but the 1990s saw high immigration into the country as a result of neighboring civil conflicts (4). The lack of visa requirements in Mauritania amplifies these trends. Mauritania’s GDP reflects the benefits from immigration with the GDP: at only $92,900,00 USD in 1960, GDP spiked to $1.464 Billion USD in 1992, according to The World Bank. However, while tourism and migration may contribute to economic growth under open border policies, the biggest worry in the region concerns the growing trend of trafficking and illicit activities that may be assisted by the ease of border crossing.
Piracy in Western and Central African waters has been a rising problem along the coast. Oil is the main sought out good, reaching around 55 million barrels hijacked a year, or one tenth of oil production in the region (5). Nigeria serves as the center of illegal oil trade and relies on smuggling routes that run throughout the coastal countries. Countries like Senegal, Mauritania, and Guinea are all prime routes to bring illegal goods into and out of the region.
There are three ways the oil is illegitimately obtained. Hot tapping is when a branch is created out of an already existing pipeline, while cold tapping involves an explosion that allows the smugglers’ own pipes to be attached; both of these techniques are known as “oil bunkering” (5). The third way oil is stolen is by violent interception of vessels and vehicles transporting oil cargo. Despite its illegality, oil bunkering is kept legitimate and thriving as a result of bribed relationships between smugglers and government officials (6). Trafficking is complimented with increasing ease of travel due to relaxing visa policies. Smugglers are known to be common citizens, militants or government officials who can all use relaxed border security to their advantage.
The case for open borders is often overshadowed by fears of increased crime and migration. The AU’s goal to be completely visa free by 2018 is admirable, and there is significant evidence that suggests the idea will be beneficial for tourism and trade. However, corruption and weak control over border security allows criminals to benefit from the AU’s goals. A move towards a more integrated Africa should be accompanied by investments in technology that counters piracy and oil bunkering, both of which hurt African economies (5). It is evident that maritime forces cannot handle the current level of piracy, and it is affecting the economic growth and physical security of the impacted states.
Nonetheless, these are important strides for the continent to move towards integration, free trade, and inclusion in the international economy. As many of the AU’s structures, policies, and goals are modeled after the European Union, it is important for Africa’s northern neighbor to support these endeavors by providing guidance and aid. Europe, too, has much to gain by increasing access to African economies through open border policies.
(1) Mukredzi, Tonderayi. "The Pan African Passport Will Open up Continental Borders." New York Times, August 8, 2016.
(2) Segun-Amao, Bimbola. "Visiting Senegal Just Became Easier as Visa Is Now on Arrival for All Nationalities." CP Africa. April 30, 2015. http://www.cp-africa.com/2015/04/30/visiting-senegal-just-became-easier-as-visa-is-now-on-arrival-for-all-nationalities/.
(3) Turner, Rochelle. "Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2015 Senegal." World Travel & Tourism Council. 2015.
(4) "Migration Facts Mauritania." Migration Policy Center. April 2013. http://www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/docs/fact_sheets/Factsheet Mauritania.pdf.
(5) "Nigeria and Oil Smuggling." Africa Economic Development Institute. August 9, 2016. http://www.africaecon.org/index.php/africa_business_reports/read/73.
(6) Rinkle, Serge. "Piracy and Maritime Crime in the Gulf of Guinea: Experience-based Analyses of the Situation and Policy Recommendations." Institut Für Sicherheitspolitik. August 2015. https://www.ispk.uni-kiel.de/de/publikationen/arbeitspapiere/serge-rinkel-piracy-and-maritime-crime-in-the-gulf-of-guinea-experience-based-analyses-of-the-situation-and-policy-recommendations.
Image: © Attila Jandi | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-market-scene-nouakchott-mauritania-image15687210#res14972580">Market scene, Nouakchott, Mauritania</a>
Grace Anderson is a student at the University of Southern California where she is majoring in International Relations with concentrations in Security Studies and Foreign Policy Analysis and complimenting it with a Minor in French. Her research and studies focus on the different methods of soft power which she has put to use with her work at the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles. She aspires to work for the US State Department in her future career, helping to promote US security through diplomacy on multiple levels. When she is not studying, she enjoys figure skating, playing guitar, and when she gets to return to her home in Michigan, playing with her four miniature dachshunds.