Former Ukrainian security service officer Alexander Khodakovsky is a leading candidate for the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). His appointment would be in sync with the current trend of replacing popular leaders with in-system security officers. The move would close a chapter in the revolutionary history of the DPR, and would indicate that Moscow is prepared to reintegrate Donbas into Ukraine and transfer power in the unrecognized republics to leaders who are more acceptable to Kiev.
Putin’s formula for pension reform might allow him to stem his political losses. Even if his ratings don’t grow, they might at least stop falling. But the cost of saving Colonel Putin will turn out to be exorbitantly high for the budget and the economy.
The less specific presidential orders are, the greater the speculation about what Putin actually wants done. This deliberate vagueness allows the president to see more clearly both the new power balance and the political material he will have to deal with in the next six years.
Recent months have seen extremism cases in Russia multiply, a disturbing development in which some see echoes of the Great Terror. However, while the authorities’ campaign against so-called extremists is not a deliberate policy of the Kremlin, which intended for the laws on extremism to serve as precision instruments, it represents a system breakdown. Russia’s law enforcement agencies are applying the law in their own interest, and the consequences are dire. Now, ordinary citizens, who face the same reprisals as opposition activists, as do their children, will leave their comfort zones.
Unexpectedly, Baku has begun to debate joining the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). However, Azeri rhetoric aside, until Baku comes to see accession to the “Eurasian NATO” as critical to regaining control over Nagorno-Karabakh—its top political priority—it is unlikely to pursue CSTO membership, just as it has declined to participate in other multilateral initiatives in which Yerevan is involved.
Recent changes in the Belarusian government only affect the socioeconomic sector. The doves from the Foreign Ministry and the hawks from the security services remain untouched, because the reshuffle has little to do with the foreign policy agenda: it’s the economic situation that concerns President Lukashenko the most.
Moscow is realizing that even if Trump survives the many scandals that surround him, he won’t be able to deliver major improvements in U.S.-Russian ties.
In the Caspian region, gas issues have been relegated to second place for both Russia and Iran, while the top priority is security. Both countries are trying above all to prevent the presence in the Caspian Sea of states from outside the region, especially any military presence. This chiefly concerns the United States, and no one is attempting to hide that.
Putin’s successful foreign policy agenda is starting to lose its power to command public support in the face of growing domestic frustrations.
Judging by how they are preparing for it, the Belarusian authorities apparently expect that a threat to stability could arise quite soon. It’s not clear how they envisage the source of the danger: economic problems, an information attack from the East or West, or perhaps they are contemplating carrying out painful reforms. But what is clear is that they have serious concerns about how non-state media would behave if something did happen.
The government’s pension reform plan has shocked the majority of Russians, who, in focus group discussions, expressed confusion, fear, and frustration with the government, including President Vladimir Putin himself. Russians expect the proposed measures to pass. But they are also prepared to resist them in various ways, and they want concessions and guarantees of employment and healthcare, especially for society’s most vulnerable members.
Public discontent over a plan to raise Russia’s pension age has revealed a critical flaw in the country’s political system: there is no political infrastructure that can function in crisis conditions. Only President Vladimir Putin can speak on behalf of the state. Without him, the vertical collapses. Russia desperately needs alternative connections between the state and the people. But virtually any political infrastructure project fundamentally undermines the country’s power vertical.
The case against ex-president Robert Kocharyan has become the most explosive episode in Armenian politics since this past spring’s Velvet Revolution. It has unnerved Moscow, as well as Kocharyan’s allies in Yerevan, with the former fearing that Armenia is pivoting to the West and the latter accusing the Nikol Pashinyan government of political persecution. But the case against Kocharyan is neither geopolitical nor the beginning of a campaign of terror—it is all about the March 1 affair, Armenia’s Bloody Sunday.
Vladimir Putin is widely viewed as the winner of the Helsinki summit. But reality may be more complicated. Despite optics in Putin’s favor, the Russian government is unsure how to further relate to Trump: should it view him as a full-fledged partner who can normalize relations between Russia and the United States, or should it use him as a tool for disrupting U.S. foreign policy?
Don’t be misled by Western sanctions’ limited impact on Russia. In reality, they operate with an accumulating effect: the more time passes, the greater the potential technological backlog, financing gap, and negative consequences will be. In the long run, sanctions may jeopardize Russia’s oil and gas production volumes and the development of pipeline infrastructure, gradually squeezing the country out of foreign markets, limiting its export revenues, and undermining the stability of the Russian economy.
In the past few years, Minsk has started citing Russia as its main threat—but only as a theory intended primarily for external consumption. Now it has been dangled before domestic audiences.
Having publicly entered internal U.S. politics, Russia must be prepared for various unpleasant surprises.
The first détente in the hybrid war between Russia and the West was nipped in the bud by Trump’s behavior and the vehemence of his domestic critics. So be it.
Vladimir Putin achieved his goal of embarrassing the United States. But Russians are already bracing for the backlash.
Any agreement that results in rapprochement with the West may provide some economic growth from sanctions relief, but it may also shift balance of power within the Russian political establishment from the powerful hawks to the system’s liberals.