Hanna Smith
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Tuomas Forsberg
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German, Tracey

Russia and its southern periphery: foreign and security policy challenges in the Caspian region

This paper will examine Russia’s foreign and security policies towards the Caspian Sea region as Moscow attempts to counterbalance growing Western involvement within what it perceives to be its zone of privileged interest, focusing on the recent expansion of the Caspian Flotilla and the rationale behind this. The Flotilla has been the focus of significant investment in recent years and, by 2020, will have received up to 16 new vessels, an impressive amount for a relatively small area. The Caspian region is part of Russia’s ‘southern underbelly’ (yuzhnoye podbryush’ye), a term that underscores the sense of vulnerability it feels along its southern border, an area that is vital for Russian national security, both in terms of its natural resources and as a source of an array of security challenges. Moscow considers the broader Caspian region to be a sphere of its exclusive influence, or, as former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has put it, Russia’s ‘zone of privileged interest’, and has sought to counterbalance the growing involvement of other actors in the region, which has led to rising tension between Russia and its southern neighbours. This paper will analyse Russian foreign policy towards the region and assess its perceptions of threat and security in the Caspian region in order to facilitate an understanding of how Russia views the growing influence of external actors and the impact on its relations with states in its ‘near abroad’.