Courtesy Reuters

The Many Faces of Modern Russia

FACT OR FICTION?

Feeling cheated by Moscow's irregular payments and its willingness to rent out his region's storage facilities at below-market prices, the governor of a prominent Russian region resorts to "plutonium diplomacy" to demonstrate his autonomy. He unilaterally bans international shipments of nuclear waste into the region until local economic demands are met. The same governor also issues veiled threats to commandeer strategic nuclear missiles stationed in the region. Fact or fiction?

A power-hungry governor in the Russian Far East demands control of the Kurile Islands, upsetting delicate negotiations and the establishment of closer relations between Moscow and Tokyo. The same local autocrat denounces Moscow's agreements on border demarcation and strategic partnership with Beijing and instructs the local militia to intimidate Chinese traders. Fact or fiction?

The president of Russia's largest republic establishes independent commercial and diplomatic ties with both Iraq and Iran. His administration also threatens to reexamine the republic's status in the Russian Federation and to send "volunteers" to fight on the side of the Kosovars should Moscow formalize a Slavic union with Belarus and Serbia. Fact or fiction?

In fact, each of these scenarios has already transpired. In today's Russia, power and authority are steadily devolving from the center to rest increasingly with regional leaders who are neither politically beholden to nor strategically oriented toward Moscow. Provincial players and interests now intrude into the making of foreign and security policy, once Moscow's sacrosanct domain. Russia consequently finds itself in a peculiar predicament. As a recovering great power, it has strategic interests to uphold in the international arena. But as a weak federal state, its capacities to balance national and local interests and to make credible foreign commitments are increasingly being undercut from below.

Russia's weakened federal rule and the growing assertiveness of its regional leaders present both opportunities and challenges for America's security. On the one hand, the ascendance of self-interested governors -- who are intent on opening their regions to foreign investment, markets, and political cooperation

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