The establishment of independent Ukrainian and Belarusian statehood facilitates the development of Russia’s own national project, which is oriented towards the future, rather than towards the restoration of the past. Its key foreign policy feature is real sovereignty and the freedom of geopolitical maneuvering.
As it aspires to join the elite world club of equal sovereigns, Russia cannot but notice an important fact that no such club actually exists. The simple reason is that the club’s membership is conditioned on mutual transparency and permeability of sovereignties and correlation of sovereign actions with the values understood as the red lines in what one says and does.
Austria’s new government is unlikely to prove as pro-Russia as many fear. It will neither take decisive action to lift sanctions, nor fundamentally realign the country. But it can serve as a bridge between Russia and the EU—provided Moscow can recognize the opportunity.
Arseny Roginsky, founder of Memorial, was the embodiment of freedom. While Soviet authorities considered him to be anti-Soviet, he could best be described as, simply, not Soviet at all. Roginsky was a patriot of his country; his main goal being the protection of Russian history from the state’s attempts to obliterate its crimes.
As President Putin approaches his fourth term, his personal power is diminishing. In the recent corruption case against Minister Ulyukayev, the licensing of European University, and lawsuits against Sistema Financial Corporation, Putin has been either unwilling or unable to interfere. With the president off to the sidelines, there are signs that Russia’s “night rulers” are expanding their power.
The president’s speech at the Bishops’ Council will only exacerbate disagreements over the future of the Russian Orthodox Church between—and among—religious and secular Russians. The secular community feels he is drifting toward the church, while many in the religious community believe he is trying to establish government control over church activities.
It claws and gnashes well above its weight. It can't kill a lion or an alligator, but it won't run away from them either. The honey badger is Russia in 2017.
Political elites enjoy the best possible social status by virtue of their position, and by definition cannot want change. Long-term planning therefore shouldn’t be viewed in absolute terms, even if it’s reform-minded. Democratization is much more likely to be accidental, occurring when the regime takes steps intended to increase its authority that weaken it instead.
Russia realizes that with the war waning and reconstruction looming, others will begin to step forward in Syria, including China, Europe, and Japan. Moscow will seek to partner with them to secure a piece of the lucrative reconstruction effort.
Today German and French positions reflect much more the skepticism ingrained in the EU’s “five guiding principles for relations with Russia” than previous ideas of a strategic partnership with Moscow. This will render it impossible for Russia to simply return to traditional bilateralism. If, at some point in the future, a Russian leadership wants to normalize relations with the EU and rebuild European security, it will have to take into account, among many other things, the almost complete collapse of trust in its relations with Germany and France.
Setting aside the shortcomings of the Belt and Road concept, the “OBOR hype’ around the world points to a real and fundamental trend — the ascent of China as a truly global economic and military power.
The ban on Russia taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics is a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. For Putin, this is perfect fuel for the besieged fortress concept, which is one of the mainstays of his personal legitimacy and popularity.
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.