Volume I, Number 3; 23 October 12

Eurasia Analyst

Volume 1, Number 3                                                                                                                         23 October 12

In this issue:

The Bases of Russian Foreign Policy, Part One: Where? by Susan J. Cavan

Progress—and problems—in Russian Nuclear Industry by Alexey Dynkin


The Bases of Russian Foreign Policy, Part One: Where?

By Susan J. Cavan

At a ruling party conference in September 2011, then Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin once again would be president of Russia (when “confirmed” by elections the following March), and in so doing answered a number of questions about the leadership “tandem” that had brought Medvedev to the presidency in the first place.  This announcement, coupled with parliamentary elections held later in the year animated an opposition movement in Russia that repeatedly brought thousands onto the streets in an outpouring of outrage over both the conduct of elections and the patronizing attitude of the Medvedev/Putin regime, which crafted the choreography between the president and prime minister with nary a nod to democratic input.


The slight shift in the tandem, moving Batman back to the presidency and Robin to the White House, thus provoked a more significant turn in a citizenry that previously had accepted the heavy-handed authoritarianism of Putin’s first terms in office under the slogan of “Order from Chaos” and prompted the realization that what had been traded for order in society was not only a larger slice of freedom and liberty than anticipated, but rather the respect of the leadership for its nominal electorate.  Following the presidential elections in March, the opposition protests have cooled perhaps under the weight of acceptance of the political status quo and a determined insistence by the authorities that opposition will have an escalating cost — from legislation that obstructs protests to searches and arrests of activists to grand trials of blasphemers.  Nonetheless, Putin and his government would be remiss not to recognize that the political farce played out over the last year has had a heavy cost and subsequently, there is little appetite in society for indulging this regime.  With the experience of protest so near and the faith in government so broken, Putin’s room for maneuver in the domestic, social sphere is curtailed, if only by concerns of reanimating the protests.  Conversely, foreign policy presents ample opportunities for action.  The regime needs successes and the international arena may provide the most likely venue in which to claim them.


For those formulating an approach to negotiating with President Putin’s administration over trade issues, missile defense, or joint action, such as sanctions against Syria, it is vital not only to understand that Putin needs foreign policy victories, but how Russia now defines them.  In what often seems a cacophony of voices from and about Russia, it is also critical to determine who helps define Russian foreign policy and where it is hashed out.


There was a telling moment earlier this year that brought a key Russian presidential body to the forefront.  In early 2012, before election confirmed Putin as Russia’s next president, then Prime Minister Putin published a series of articles on policy as part of his presidential campaign.  His statement on foreign policy priorities appeared in Moscow News in late February. (1)  The timing was interesting:  Events in Syria had reached a boiling point and decisions were required that potentially could a) reinforce a precedent of NATO intervention cobbled together over Libya; b) produce United Nations sanction of intervention; or c) staunch the rush to intervene in Syria while a more “principled” approach to resolution was negotiated under the joint auspices of the UN and Arab League.  If Russia’s leadership dawdled while its presidential transition played out its foregone conclusions, the “Libyan precedent” might attain, denying Russia a significant role in the determination of events in Syria.  (2)


During this period, Russia’s Security Council, in its smaller, executive composition of “permanent members,” met frequently.  As set out by the Kremlin, strategic planning is a key element of the Security Council’s purview:  “The need for constant analysis and strategic planning regarding all security issues, as well as the drafting of presidential decisions, necessitates the existence of a special constitutional advisory body accountable to the President. This body is the Security Council.” (3)  In its current incarnation, the Security Council has thirty-one members, of which thirteen are “permanent” members.  The permanent members of the Security Council, as ordered by Putin upon his inauguration in May, include the prime minister; Directors of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Foreign Intelligence Services (SVR); Ministers of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Defense; legislative representatives; and notably, the Kremlin Chief of Staff (Sergei Ivanov). (4)


While the Security Council routinely holds an “operational meeting” on a monthly, and occasionally bimonthly basis, from the period of January 27, 2012 through February 24, 2012, the Security Council held four operational sessions. (5)  Putin’s statement on Foreign Policy was published three days after the fourth of these sessions, and it seems likely to have been influenced by discussions and “strategic planning” among the Security Council’s permanent members.


It bears repeating that the situation in Syria, and specifically attempts to coalesce a full-throated UN approach to the Assad regime, was reaching a crescendo in February 2012: Russia and China had vetoed a draft UN resolution on ending the violence in Syria, while the US, among others, continued pressure to craft a strong, international response to events.  On February 7, a Russian delegation, consisting of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and SVR Director Mikhail Fradkov, two key members of the Security Council, arrived in Syria for a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  The decision to send Russia’s foreign intelligence chief to Syria was an intriguing choice that suggests the delegation had a multi-layered mission.  After the meeting, Lavrov noted:  “There is every reason to believe that the signal we brought here to move more actively in all directions has been heard”. (6)  There is also every reason to believe that the signal relayed to the Syrian president was discussed and agreed during a meeting of the Security Council.


In line with its role during the transitional period leading up to Putin’s inauguration, the Security Council continues to hold operational sessions of permanent members, including recent sessions devoted to Syria.   After one such July meeting (ostensibly to discuss social and economic issues), Putin’s Press Secretary, Dmitri Peskov announced:  “Members of the Russian Security Council emphasized that attempts to link growing tensions in Syria to the stance held by the Russian Federation were irrelevant and unacceptable.” (7)  More than simply a “talking shop,” the Security Council provides a closed forum for Russia’s political and security services elite (military leaders, such as the Chief of the General Staff are not included among  the current “permanent membership”) to resolve crisis management issues and set broad policy initiatives, as well.


The Security Council has played many roles over the twenty years since President Boris Yel’tsin instituted the body.  At times, it has had executive implementation authority for presidential decrees and responsibility for vetting Soviet military officers as the Russian Federation created its own armed forces and Ministry of Defense.  It also has seemed a way station for former members of Kremlin inner circles on their way to quiet retirement.  For President Putin’s third term, it seems to serve as a brain trust, where the closest members of his team gather to discuss both crises and long-range planning.


During the first six months of his third term, President Putin has devoted significant attention to foreign policy, e.g. issuing a decree on foreign policy implementation, outlining policy priorities in an address to ambassadors, international representatives and Foreign Ministry staff, and calling for the preparation of a new foreign policy doctrine to be completed by December 2012.  (8)  Preparation of the doctrine likely will begin and end in the Security Council with the details hammered out by the Foreign Ministry.  To know where policy is formulated is to know by whom and lays the foundation for understanding the essential elements of the policy itself.



End Notes:

1) “Russia and the Changing World,” by Vladimir Putin, 27 Feb 12, Moskovskiye Novosti, (available in English from RIA-Novosti via http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20120227/171547818.html).

2) For a discussion on the Russian abstention during the UN debate over Libya, as well as the state of Russian-Syrian relations, see “Why Russia Won’t Yield on Syria,” Council on Foreign Relations Interview.

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org;
Interviewee: Dimitri Simes, President and CEO, Center for the National Interest

via http://www.cfr.org/russian-fed/why-russia-wont-yield-syria/p28712.

3) “About the Security Council,” the official Kremlin website via http://eng.state.kremlin.ru/security_council/about_sec.

4) For a complete list of appointments, including Staff and non-permanent members, see “Staff appointments in the Security Council,” 26 May 12; Official kremlin Website via http://eng.state.kremlin.ru/security_council/3910.

5) Deyatel’nost, Soviet Bezopastni Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Official site of the Security Council of the Russian Federation) via http://www.scrf.gov.ru/news/19/index2.html, accessed 23 Oct 12.

6) “Syrian leaders hear signal from Moscow – Lavrov,” 7 Feb 12; Russia & CIS Diplomatic Panorama via Lexis-Nexis Academic.

7) “Putin holds emergency meeting of Russian Security Council,” 20 July 12, 09:24PM GMT+4; ITAR-TASS via Lexis-Nexis Academic.

8) In his address to the ambassadors and other representatives, Putin announced that he had signed an executive order to the effect that a flag should be created for the Foreign Ministry, in addition to promising financial reforms. “Meeting with Russian ambassadors and permanent representatives in international organizations,” 9 July 12, Official Site of the President of Russia via www.kremlin.ru.



Copyright © 2012 resides with individual authors.  All rights reserved.  Send requests for permission to EurasiaAnalyst@gmail.com






Progresss — and problems — in Russian Nuclear Industry

by Alexey Dynkin


On September 26, a formal ceremony was held at the Kalinin nuclear power station in Udomlya, Russia to mark the commencement of operation of Unit 4, a 950-megawatt VVER-1000 pressurized water reactor. (1)  Construction of this reactor first began in 1984, but was put on hold during the 1990s due to a lack of funding; it only resumed in 2007. (2)  The commissioning of the new reactor represents an important step in fulfilling Russia’s goal of actively expanding its nuclear energy output over the next two decades, but the long (over 25 years) and often tortuous path to its eventual completion illustrates the difficulties that Russia has faced in adapting a mostly aging, Soviet-era nuclear power generation system to 21st-century demands.


Nuclear energy has long been prominent in Russia. The world’s first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for the grid began operating in Obynsk in 1954.  Both the USSR and present-day Russia actively export nuclear technology abroad: controversially to countries like North Korea during the Soviet period and Iran today, but also to many other countries, including China and India, and recent negotiations with Turkey and Bulgaria suggest further expansion. One indicator of the special status that the nuclear power industry enjoys in Russia is the existence of RosAtom (formerly the Ministry of Atomic Energy in the Russian Federation),  a state corporation and regulatory body for the nuclear complex that is entirely separate from the Ministry of Energy. While RosAtom oversees all aspects of the nuclear industry, from uranium mining and enrichment to technology research and development, a subsidiary, RosEnergoAtom, is responsible for the construction, operation, and maintenance of nuclear power plants. The result of this dichotomy in the overall energy regulation system in Russia is that overall state energy policy, for which the Ministry of Energy is responsible, can dictate only nuclear development in a very general sense, e.g. setting some theoretical goals and targets that are left entirely up to the nuclear energy bodies to decide how to meet. And, while a separate regulatory body channels expertise and focus on a particularly complicated industry, it also means an additional bureaucracy and the inevitable inefficiencies that come with it. It will be interesting to see in the coming decades how well this scheme is able to cope with the energy challenges the country faces.


At present, Russia is the world’s fourth largest producer and consumer of electricity, with over 850 billion kilowatt-hours generated in 2008. (3) Thus, Russia’s electricity demands are somewhat disproportionate to its wealth and population: in the same year, Russia ranked only 11th in GDP and 10th in population (4) worldwide. At present, nearly half of this electricity (48% as of 2009) is generated by the combustion of natural gas in gas turbines, and only 16% from nuclear power plants (5) – a surprisingly small share considering the aforementioned long history and strong attention given to nuclear energy in the country. By contrast, the United States — a country not vaunted as a leader in nuclear energy production – produces about 19% of its electricity by nuclear power. (6)  The very strong dependence on natural gas as a source of electricity generation in Russia (and, more broadly, as an energy source) is recognized to be a long-term liability by policymakers. In a publicly-available paper released in late 2009, outlining Russia’s energy strategy through 2030, the Ministry of Energy recommends a gradual reduction from 53% to 47-48% of the share of natural gas in the country’s total energy balance, while at the same time increasing the share of energy derived from nuclear, hydroelectric, and coal-based sources to fill the balance. (7) Specifically, the document recommends increasing the share of electricity generated by nuclear power plants from the current level of 16% to approximately 20% by 2030.  At first glance, this may seem like a modest increase, barely exceeding the current US figure. However, because overall electricity consumption is expected to increase by as much as twofold, meeting this goal actually requires increasing total nuclear generating capacity by more than 200%, from the current level of 163 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) to as much as 437 by 2030. (8)  Since the 2009 document was released, the electricity demand growth projection has been scaled down pending a slowdown in economic growth, but even with the revised estimate, nuclear power generation must be increased by 43.4 GW, which is still nearly double the 24.1 GW of plant currently in operation. (9)


In general, there are a number of ways that nuclear power generation capacity can be increased. These include: construction of new power plants; expansion of capacity of existing plants by the addition of new reactors; and increasing the output of existing reactors through technological improvements resulting in higher efficiency or higher capacity factor (the ratio of energy generated to maximum theoretical capacity). Currently, RosAtom plans to use all these methods to reach its 2030 target capacity. Specifically, two completely new plants – one in Kaliningrad, and one “floating nuclear power plant” in Viliuchinsk – are currently under construction, with a combined total of slightly over 1 GW of capacity; another seven are scheduled to begin construction within the current decade, with over 15 GW additional capacity; and yet another five are tentatively planned, with uncertain start dates. At the same time, at least 20 new reactors are under construction or planned at existing plants, and additional reactors are planned in future stages at the proposed new plants. Combined, these projects would yield more than 50 GW of new capacity by 2030, which, in theory, would more than meet the target set forth by the energy ministry in its 2009 study.


But Russia faces a further problem in its quest to expand its nuclear capacity.  Many of its existing reactors are nearing the end of their operational lifetime (typically 30 years for most existing units). This means that meeting the 2030 target is not simply a matter of adding a specified number of new reactors to those already in existence, but also replacing those aging units that will not be able to continue operating safely into the next two decades. There are two ways to address this problem: one is retirement; the other is lifetime extension for existing units. At present, only nine of Russia’s aging reactors are scheduled to be discontinued, while 12 are slated for lifetime extensions of 15 to 25 years. (10) While such extensions may be a relatively cost-effective solution into the medium term (that is, roughly in the 2030 timeframe for which current expansion plans are being made), in the longer term these units eventually will need to be retired, and replaced with newer units if capacity is to continue to be expanded. Thus, the current development emphasis is on the addition of newer reactors with a longer operational lifetime, gradually replacing the older models as the expansion of the nuclear power sector proceeds.


In particular, the VVER-1200 AES 2006 reactor – of which the recently launched Kalinin 4 is an example – comprises the bulk (more than half) of the new units either currently under construction, or being planned, both in new and existing power plants. (11) With safety features such as a full containment structure and missile shield, a 1200 MW capacity per unit, and a projected lifespan of 60 years, these units are well-suited for the policy goal of simultaneous capacity expansion and modernization (meaning, primarily, improvements in safety and efficiency). They also have the advantage of being based on VVER (“vodo-vodyanoy energeticheskiy reactor,” or “water-water power reactor”) technology, which was originally developed in the USSR as early as the 1960s, and has been continuously developed and improved since then, meaning that it is a technology in which the Russian nuclear industry has a lot of expertise. On the other hand, the improved technological and safety features make the VVER-1200 both expensive and time-consuming to build. Current capital cost is estimated at $2100/kW, which translates to approximately $2.5 billion per reactor, while projected construction time is 54 months. (12) Of course these are only estimates, and as the nearly 30-year long history of Kalinin-4 shows, they are only applicable if the required funding is available – a condition that is by no means guaranteed given Russia’s fragile economy and shifting policy priorities, and the increasingly volatile international economic and financial climate.


Current Russian projects and plans indicate that the country seems to be fairly serious about the expansion of domestic nuclear power generation through the next several decades, and that it has the expertise, the political will and, at least for the moment, the funding to make significant progress in this direction. Russia also has a distinct advantage over a number of Western countries and Japan in this regard in that it is much less constrained by anti-nuclear power sentiment – both because Russian policy is generally much less dependent on public opinion than that of Western and other developed countries, and also because the Russian public tends to be indeed less concerned – certainly less actively so – about the nuclear issue than the citizens of other countries.  But nuclear power generation is a capital-intensive, technology-intensive industry with very high startup costs and long project timeframes – characteristics for which the Russian economy is historically not well suited.  Thus, the realization of Russian nuclear energy policy will be possible only if the same economic growth that makes the proposed expansion necessary in fact materializes as projected. Otherwise, the government’s ambitious projects may well suffer the same fate as the long-neglected – and only recently revived and completed – Kalinin 4.


End Notes:

(1) “Kalinin 4 accepted for commercial operation,” World Nuclear News, 26 September 2012 via http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Kalinin_4_accepted_for_commercial_operation-2609124.html

(2) “Unit 4 of Kalinin NPP released for commercial operation,” ROSATOM press release, 25 September 2012 via http://www.rosatom.ru/en/presscentre/highlights/0f61c4804cdb904fac40edb60f1aecb4

(3) “Country Comparison: Electricity: Consumption,” CIA, The World Factbook, via https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2042rank.html

(4) “Country ranks 2008” via http://www.photius.com/rankings/index_2008.html

(5) “Nuclear Power in Russia,” updated September 2012, via http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf45.html

(6) Ibid, “Country Comparison”

(7)”Energy Strategy of Russia for the Period up to 2030,” Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation, 2010, Moscow via  http://www.energystrategy.ru/projects/docs/ES-2030_(Eng).pdf.  Note: Here the term “energy balance” refers to all forms of energy generated, whether electrical, mechanical or thermal, depending on the requirement. In the Russian Ministry of Energy’s document, this figure is calculated in terms of tons of coal equivalent, which means the mass of coal that would be required to produce the same amount of energy for each source. This figure is related to, but is not the same as, the percentage of electric energy generated by each fuel source.

(8) Ibid.  Note on units and quantities: watt-hours (Wh) are units of energy, while watts (W) are units of power. Since power is energy per unit time, watt-hours (or kilo-, mega-, giga-, etc) are power times time, which gives energy. In most applications, this quantity is expressed in joules or calories, but in electricity generation and distribution parlance, kilowatt-hours (kWh) are used by convention. The term “capacity” as used here means the number of kilowatt-hours generated in a year. While technically this is also an expression of power (power times time, divided by time!), these units are used to illustrate energy production and usage over a period of time, and should not be confused with megawatts (MW), which are the traditional units for power and are typically used to indicate the instantaneous rate of power generation of a plant or unit.

(9) “Nuclear Power in Russia,” Ibid.2

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Ibid.



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