The release of America’s new military strategy for Europe and intensified U.S.-Russia dialogue on how to solve the crises in the Middle East were among the most important foreign policy events of January.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov (second right), and Energy Minister Alexander Novak (right) in Simferopol, Crimea, Dec. 2, 2015. Photo: Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

January was marked, above all else, by renewed U.S.-Russian dialogue on a range of international issues, including Syria. For example, conditions were set for inter-Syrian dialogue, although hopes for success there are very small.

At the same time, the U.S. side is doing its share to ensure that initiatives for the positive development of U.S.-Russian relations become derailed by making provocative statements, such as the accusations made by U.S. Treasury Department official Adam Szubin about corruption within the Russian government. In the same vein, there was a change made to the military strategy of the European Command of the U.S. Armed Forces (EUCOM) that identifies Russia as a potential threat.  

10. Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov’s visit to Indonesia 

On Jan. 8, the Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov arrived on a visit to Indonesia. During the talks, he discussed prospective projects in railway construction, the mining industry, civil aviation, metallurgy, shipbuilding, nuclear power, the arms trade and a number of other areas.

During the visit, the Russian minister noted that the Eurasian Economic Union and Indonesia might soon start negotiations on the implementation of a free trade zone. Russia is stepping up its activities in the Asia-Pacific Region, where at this time a new rivalry between the U.S. and China is already unfolding.

9. Emir of Qatar’s visit to Moscow 

Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani paid a visit to Moscow. He and Vladimir Putin discussed a number of important issues, including the price of gas and the situation in the Gaza Strip. However, the main topic of their conversation was Syria, in terms of the peace talks between Bashar al-Assad and the opposition that are just starting there. 

The talks in Moscow were particularly important, because hitherto, there had been clearly noticeable divergences of opinion on many regional issues between Qatar and Russia. Although it is not possible to list any compromises reached, or any common positions established, the official declarations indicate, at the very least, the willingness to take into consideration each other’s positions. 

8. Russia’s reaction to North Korea’s testing of a thermonuclear bomb 

The DPRK announced yet another nuclear test – this time, a hydrogen bomb, which, according to North Korean authorities, moved the country’s potential “to a new level.” This event was often discussed between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry, as well as during telephone conversations between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama.

Obviously, this challenge to international security coming from North Korea could not pass unnoticed. On Jan. 28, the United States announced the tightening of sanctions against North Korea. However, it is clear that the sanctions path usually does not lead to any rapid and expected results.

7. Russian reaction to the World Economic Forum

This year’s Russian delegation at the economic forum in Davos was surprisingly underrepresented. The delegation was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, whose portfolio in the Russian government is mainly related to the development of Siberia and the Far East.

This indirectly indicates the true character of Russia’s economic interests, not only at this economic forum, but also in general. However, a number of important issues, relating to relations between Russia and Europe, were raised there. At the forum, there was much talk about the need to normalize economic relations between Russia and Europe.

6. Naryshkin’s visit to Egypt

Russian Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin’s visit to Egypt on Jan. 26-27 ended not only in statements about the possibility of the imminent return of Russian tourists to the country – immediately after the visit, an international wanted list was issued for the six alleged terrorists responsible for the downing of the Russian A-321 passenger plane.

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Soon afterwards, the Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov announced that he has not ruled out the possibility of discussing with Egypt the supply of Russian helicopters for the Mistral ships. There is nothing new in this statement, but the very fact it was made and the time when it was made, were not accidental. Russia’s participation in the establishment of logistics centers in Egypt was another achievement of this trip. It should be noted that Sergey Naryshkin is often sent on delicate diplomatic missions. 

5. Vladimir Putin’s interview with the weekly German newspaper Bild 

Vladimir Putin gave an interview to the German publication Bild, in which he outlined his vision of the world, and Russia’s place in it. The president said that Moscow does not intend to assume an anti-Western stance, and even less lay claims to being a world superpower – according to Putin, this is a very expensive role to play. Instead, he would like the U.S. and the EU find a modus vivendi with Russia, based on mutual respect of interests, and in that way, finally overcome the division of Europe.

In particular, he said, NATO could unilaterally stop its further expansion towards the east. Putin said that he does not believe in politics based on oral promises and personal relations of leaders. Therefore, relations should be formalized, including through the harmonization of the rules of the game.

4. Turkey planning to exploit the Crimean question 

The Head of the Mejlis, Mustafa Cemil, after his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, said they discussed the creation of a special international cooperation format, which will “work closely on issues related to the de-occupation of Crimea.” In this way, Ankara is trying to respond to Russia’s actions in Syria. Of course, the creation of an international format will not lead to the return of Crimea to Ukraine – Moscow has made crystal clear its position on the peninsula.

However, on the other hand, this move will once again bring the Crimean issue onto media headlines. Moreover, it could destroy the unspoken consensus about Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which now exists between Moscow and the West 

3. The meeting between Lavrov and Kerry in Zurich

John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov met to talk for the first time this year in Zurich. The main question discussed at this meeting, which was not planned in advance, was the Syrian crisis. However, Ukrainian problems and the North Korean nuclear program were also discussed. The question of what forces involved in the Syrian conflict should be recognized as terrorist remained unresolved.

The American list of “opposition” groups is much wider than the Russian one, and not the least because Washington does not have any real influence on the Syrian opposition that could be used during the peace process. The opponents of Bashar al-Assad have much stronger ties with regional players, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Washington, in order to preserve the loyalty of the Gulf countries, finds it necessary to remain tolerant of a series of powerful extremist groups.

2. Series of U.S.-Russian negotiations on Ukraine 

The special representative of the Russian President, Boris Gryzlov, paid a visit to Kiev. His task was to convey to Petro Poroshenko possible Russian reactions to Ukraine’s further delays in implementing the Minsk Agreements. The Kremlin insists on implementing the road map that is clearly spelled out in the Minsk Agreements, and which was agreed upon with European partners. In the first place, this should be an adoption of a law on the special status of the Donbas territory, and then elections, and only then passing control over the international border to Kiev. 

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Discussion on the Ukrainian question continued later, not far from the Russian city of Kaliningrad, where Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. Victoria Nuland also participated in the talks between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry in Zurich – with the Ukrainian issue being discussed there as well. It is too early to talk about any compromises, but even before these talks, the parties agreed that the Minsk Agreements should not be rewritten, but should be implemented in their entirety. 

1. New EUCOM Strategy

During the last few days of the month, it was learned that deterring Russian aggression has become a priority task for the military strategy of the European Command of the U.S. Armed Forces (EUCOM). “Our command has done an outstanding job, focusing equally on revanchist Russia, mass migration, and terrorists,” said U.S. General Philip Breedlove, head of EUCOM.

The U.S. command defined threats to Europe coming from three directions – north, east and south. Moreover, Russia is highlighted as the major threat from the first two directions at once. According to Breedlove, the new strategy aims to ensure that Europe “remains united, free and at peace,” but in reality, the Americans could be provoking tensions on the borders of Europe in order to maintain Europe’s dependence on the U.S.