An impartial reading of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigation into Troika Dialog can offer only one conclusion, and it is not remotely innovative: financial institutions where compliance procedures were far less stringent ten years ago than European regulators insist on today could be used for money laundering. That is no more original than concluding that knives can be used to stab people. Yet it hasn’t occurred to anyone to blame crime on the creators of its weapons.
As Europe is taking more responsibility for its own security, the debate on European strategic autonomy has moved to the fore and not without controversy. However, at its heart is a simple reasoning: when needed, Europeans must be able to protect and defend European interests and values and have the capacity to act. We want to be able to cooperate with third countries on our own terms.
One of the paradoxes of Putin’s Russia is that the harsher the stance of the current regime, the higher the level of Stalin’s popularity within Putin’s electoral base and the more likely these Russians are to make excuses for the Soviet dictator.
For Ukraine’s patriotic voters, the war with Russia is the defining issue in the upcoming presidential election. The country is choosing a leader at a time when being the commander in chief is not simply a title and honorary regalia, but the president’s primary responsibility. This factor may win incumbent President Petro Poroshenko a second term.
On February 24, Moldovans vote in parliamentary elections, which are seen by many as critical to the country’s future. The ruling Democratic party and its de facto leader have been accused of abuse of power and facilitating corruption. The EU has suspended its financial assistance program. The party faces a challenge from the Socialist Party led by President Igor Dodon, who is more sympathetic to Russia, and a new pro-European bloc named NOW.
The state is one of nothing other than arbitrariness. After the lawlessness of the mid-1990s in Russia, many hoped that competition between various groups of the elite would force them to create a system of laws and rules to protect them (and everyone else) from arbitrariness. But it didn’t turn out that way: one of the groups—the one furthest from both honest business and from society—won the battle and made arbitrariness the guarantee of its position.
Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin used to avoid the spotlight. Much of his work—the Russian internet troll factory, the Wagner private military company, and political research in Africa—required secrecy. But all that changed when Russian and Western media exaggerated his role in Russian politics and essentially forced him into President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
Despite their troubles, Europe and the US are not withering away. It would behoove Moscow to avoid escalations.
The Russia-Ukraine relationship has moved from cozy mutual exploitation to lethal hostility. Neither side is prepared to admit its deep dependence on the other.
The greatest risk, which will grow together with funds and reserves, is that of the open or creeping politicization of investment. In other words, the state will choose to invest in “friendly” but unstable currencies, as well as to extend loans to even “friendlier” states and companies. Experience of past crises should make the responsible government agencies stay well away from such initiatives—as far as it’s politically possible.
In the Macedonian settlement, Russia chose a tactic that did not even theoretically allow for the possibility of success. The results of its involvement are, consequently, woeful. Greece has expelled two Russian diplomats. The Macedonian government sees Russia as an enemy, while the Macedonian opposition has no intention of orienting itself on Moscow, and continues to support Macedonia’s entry into NATO. The country will join the alliance far more quickly than people there could ever have dreamt not so long ago, and all of this has turned into yet another source of irritation in the already fraught relations between Russia and the West.
Russia’s concerns that U.S. missile defense and hypersonic missiles threaten its nuclear arsenal are overstated, but the deterioration of arms control treaties has profound negative implications.
The Russian president was a man of the common people—until the common people started making demands.
The powerful, monolithic, and robust state that Putin has been building since he came to power in 2000 is now devouring itself from within, demonstratively and ruthlessly locking up governors, ministers, and senators as though there were no Putin system or Putin appointees. The president, having focused too much of his attention on geopolitics, has opened the floodgates for the de-Putinization of the power vertical, creating a situation in which virtually no one except the head of state remains protected by the system’s legitimacy.
The president’s approval rating is once again in decline, and this time he doesn’t have another wildly popular trick hidden up his sleeve.
Rosneft’s deep ties to Venezuela and Russia’s efforts to insert itself into the crisis there together raise questions about whether the country’s leadership is acting to preserve national or corporate and private interests.
The Kremlin’s recent demand that Belarus integrate further with the Russian state in return for financial support has sparked concerns that Russia may annex its neighbor. Such a move, some analysts suggest, would allow President Vladimir Putin to remain in office after 2024. But this scenario is rife with unpredictable risks for Russia and is based upon several incorrect myths about modern Belarus.
After throwing his hat into the Ukrainian presidential race, popular comedian Volodymyr Zelensky will likely attempt to woo the country’s Russian-speaking southeast. That will make the race more difficult for incumbent Petro Poroshenko and front-runner Yulia Tymoshenko. It will also challenge Russia, using ideas amenable to the Kremlin to undermine its favored candidate.
Moscow has repeatedly taken a hard line on Kosovo, forcing Serbia to take similarly uncompromising positions and thereby jeopardize its EU membership.
The Kremlin needs to understand clearly that it is up against not just Japan but also the Russian public—and based on public opinion surveys, two-thirds of Russians do not want to hand over the Kuril Islands. The Kremlin will not be able to coerce the people into accepting its point of view.