Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2018

Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in International Relations


Political Science & International Relations


Dr. Randy Willoughby


The geopolitical maneuverability held by the Russian Federation has been considered to be intrinsically connected to the prices of hydrocarbons, as roughly half of the government’s budget derives from hydrocarbon revenues. The year 2008, with oil prices flitting above $150 per barrel, was a particular boon for the Kremlin and its international significance- incidentally, 2008 also oversaw the Russo-Georgian war and the start of that now-frozen conflict. In the quite different current climate, as hydrocarbon prices stay remarkably collapsed for the third year, the Kremlin’s revenue problems are compounded by international sanctions and a level of international mistrust still rippling from its aggressive actions in annexing Ukraine in 2014. It is to be expected, then, that Russian foreign posturing would be collapsed and submissive.

Yet, Moscow’s foreign policy has been remarkably robust and arguably aggressive through the last few years. Under this crisis period, Vladimir Putin has consolidated an imperial control in the domestic arena while abroad instigating and maintaining a series of frozen conflicts in Georgia, Moldova, Eastern Ukraine, and Armenia/Azerbaijan, establishing Russia as a major power of mediation in the Syrian civil war conflict, developed important projects with international partners such as Nord Stream 2, and is modernizing the Russian nuclear weapon holdings. An emphasis on hard power is evident from Russian annual military spending, which doubled between 2007 and 2016 to reach $70 billion and make up 5.3% of Russian GDP. Thus, it is important to ask how the Kremlin, being so apparently constrained by international sanctions and low hydrocarbon prices, is able to conduct a foreign policy so robust and aggressive that significant scholars like Dr. Dmitri Trenin would suggest that “the Kremlin has been de facto operating in a war mode.”

This study will identify and discuss two significant factors that allow the Kremlin to behave so actively and forcefully abroad while somehow avoiding the ill effects of international sanctions and low prices of hydrocarbons.