Four years ago, Armenia’s failure to sign the EU Association Agreement was an early indication of the impending Ukraine crisis. Now, an Association Agreement-lite has been signed with Brussels. While this doesn’t represent a normalization of relations between Russia and the EU in the post-Soviet space, it’s important symbolically. Rather than an “either/or” approach to integration, the EU and Russia are gradually moving in the “both/and” direction.
Alexander Lukashenko, who used to take offense at not being invited to the Eastern Partnership summits, declined an invitation to last month’s summit. This clearly demonstrates that the initiative has lost its value even in the eyes of its members, but it doesn’t mean that closer cooperation is impossible for Belarus and the EU. Both parties are simply coming to the realization that quick breakthroughs won’t happen.
With Chancellor Merkel visibly weakened as a result of the recent Bundestag elections, President Macron has been free to take the lead in managing Europe’s difficult relations with Russia. His announced participation in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in May 2018 can signal the resumption of full-scale dialogue between the estranged former partners, which might bring better understanding of the existing political differences between Europe and Russia, while allowing for expanded commercial and cultural contacts between them.
Russian regional leaders are rediscovering their power and their ability to fight with Moscow over budgets and autonomy. Discontent over Moscow siphoning off regional funds has reached a breaking point, while Tatarstan is in a new contest with the center over regional language rights.
The eyes of the world are on the Middle East. Today, more than ever, this deeply-troubled region is the focus of power games between major global players vying for international influence. Absent from this scene for the past quarter century, Russia is now back with gusto. Yet its motivations, decision-making processes and strategic objectives remain hard to pin down.
Last week’s events change little on the ground in the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic.” They do, however, demonstrate the degree to which Moscow cannot control the strategically important region. Despite the Kremlin’s best efforts, conflict between local authorities grew so out of hand that Moscow was forced to send armed reinforcements.
The 2018 election in Russia is turning into a real political event. Putin is an undeclared candidate and Navalny is an unregistered one, who will have a real influence. The Kremlin is now run by regents around a diminished president, and discussion is already focusing on what the post-Putin era will look like.
In Russia, there is no particularly tense strife between supporters and opponents of the hundred-year-old revolution. But there is competition among the ruling political establishment and the oppositional intelligentsia on the topic of political repression. The regime is fighting back against the opposition’s monopoly on the right to represent the victims and name the state as the executioners’ successor.
Dutch disease is a very common condition among resource-rich nations but its effects on the body of the economy, as well as the potential cure, are always country-specific. What would it take for Russia, both politically and economically, to wean itself off the hydrocarbon windfall?
The conflict in Transnistria is far from both resolution and explosion. Convergence of international players’ interests in maintaining peace and high levels of connectivity between the Moldova and Transnistria has resulted in stability. But a conflict management strategy that relies upon a sub-optimal equilibrium is hardly enough—more needs to be done to prepare for a settlement in the long term.
Transitional institutions cannot be effective unless economic agents are confident that the state will fulfill its commitments and that the rules of the game do not depend on the discretion of a ruler. Empirical evidence shows that democracy protects investors from expropriation better than dictatorships do, thereby resulting in faster economic growth.
Russia’s interference in American and European elections constitutes a serious offense. But by treating Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies as an existential threat, Western leaders are playing directly into the Kremlin’s hands, and validating its false narrative about Russia’s place in the world.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is growing closer to Uzbekistan-born Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who could help the president solidify his power as he continues to struggle against the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB) and its chief, Rustam Inoyatov. However, any belief that oligarchs will help modernize Uzbekistan is naïve. They will simply assume the power once wielded by the SNB.
Russian new regional governors are being given a version of Western-style management training perfected by Sberbank boss German Gref. They are like managerial special ops forces deployed behind enemy lines by Moscow.
Russia and the West have a choice in the South Caucasus. They can either treat the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as being isolated from other conflicts—such as those in the Donbas and Transdniestria—or they can use it as an additional argument in their overall confrontation.
Ksenia Sobchak’s run for the Russian presidency is not meant to siphon votes away from Alexei Navalny. The Kremlin’s aim is to create a pseudo-opposition, which will channel the discontents of the liberal urban electorate.
Russians are surprisingly interested in the developments in Catalonia. Oddly enough, the running theme here is related to democracy. “Incompetent” democracy results in instability, so Russians take pity on the Spaniards and Catalonians: they no longer have the kind of stability that Russians do. The price of stability, however, is not up for discussion. Among other things, this approach contributes to sustaining the negative trend in relations between Russia and the EU.
The non-system elite makes a mistake by still treating Putin and the formal state as one and the same. We are witnessing a new era in which the powerful and ambitious non-system elite will face a solid, technocratic, and emotionless power vertical stuffed with “little people.” Putin’s associates will have to learn to adjust, or they’ll find themselves in deep trouble.
Recent speculation that Russia wants to topple the “traditional” clan system in the North Caucasus misses the point: the clan system is in no way traditional, and it is collapsing on its own. The real question is whether the federal center will find other allies in the region when it falls.
Despite a large-scale visit by the Croatian leadership to Russia, we shouldn’t expect breakthroughs in bilateral collaboration, or to see Croatia turn into a close Russian ally. Sanctions, falling oil prices, and long-term stagnation in both countries can’t be overcome by presidential meetings, and real economic ties between the two countries are still modest.