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.
To an outside observer, Russia’s passive sabotage of the Kosovo conflict resolution looks like all-out support of Serbia. Assurances that Russia will never abandon Serbia, will protect it from Western pressure, and do everything possible to preserve its territorial integrity come across as gestures of unswerving friendship toward the Serbs. In reality, the Serbian leadership doesn’t know how to rid itself of this support, which leaves Belgrade no room for maneuver at the Kosovo negotiations.
The impact of cyberweapons on strategic stability is a growing problem that extends well beyond the security of the control and communication systems of nuclear forces.
Russians have a dream for their children and their grandchildren of a different environment that is favorable for entrepreneurship and private initiatives. This is where the true interests of Russians and their perceptions about the future diverge radically from the interests and perceptions of the state in which they live.
Mutual accusations by Russia and the EU in the Balkans are virtually indistinguishable from their dialogue on any other subject. Even the Western Balkans, where there are ostensibly no grounds for geopolitical rivalry and where the sides complement each other well, are turning into a source of apprehension, miscommunication, and irritation simply due to the overall atmosphere of distrust and the differences in basic approaches to international relations.
Putin’s press conference made it clear that for the president, the question of whether ordinary people want to participate in modernization is secondary to the fact that the government wants to carry it out, and that there are enough people around who are “full of optimism and ready to work.” The subject of optimism and the future epitomizes the problem of the gap between the modernization agenda and public sentiment.
The Kremlin must win over Russia’s youth, but it does not speak their language, as its dialogue with rappers has demonstrated. Initiated amid a controversial crackdown on rap, the Kremlin’s outreach to rappers has seen it attempt to co-opt an entire youth subculture—to no avail. In the absence of a coherent policy on cultural figures, Russia’s federal agencies, including law enforcement bodies, will continue to prefer the stick to the carrot, impeding any efforts to make peace, let alone ally, with rappers and, by extension, their fans.
The main takeaways from Putin’s end-of-the-year press conference are that he has less and less room to maneuver on foreign policy, and that his optimism about a “breakthrough” in the domestic arena is clearly divorced from reality. Circumstances are forcing Putin to turn from geopolitical problems to domestic ones, and that is proving difficult.