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.
A new confrontation between Belarus and Russia over oil revenues and political integration has delivered a serious blow to the two countries’ long-standing alliance. There are talks that even the Belarusian independence is under threat. Faced with a choice between more money and more sovereignty, Minsk will inevitably choose sovereignty. In the long run, this conflict demonstrates the gradual breakdown of Russian-Belarusian “brotherhood.”
In 2015, Russia introduced visa-free travel for South Koreans. Since then, Korean tourism to Vladivostok has skyrocketed, bringing an economic windfall to the city. That, in turn, has become an argument for lifting the visa regime with China. But several issues stand in the way.
The Kremlin is going after Russian rappers, but the government can't control a culture it doesn't understand.
President Poroshenko is making use of the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine for political ends. The new church may become a state-sponsored church, while the pro-Moscow church could present itself as a marginalized persecuted entity.
Sanctions have thrust Vladimir Putin’s inner circle into the public domain. In response, the state has lent sanctioned individuals a helping hand. While previously, they would get individual government contracts, the lucky few are now setting their sights on entire industries via the mechanism of public-private partnerships. The president sees state capitalists as patriotic businesspeople, and they realize that sanctions have made Russia the only place where they can make money.
In post-revolutionary Armenia, the old ruling elite has had to come to terms with new realities. Chief among these is the power of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whose electoral bloc and allies now control parliament. Those who deny or challenge Pashinyan’s dominance risk having their companies audited and their homes searched, and even being arrested; not even former presidents are safe. Hence the decision of many Republican Party figures to acquiesce to or join Pashinyan, whose measured approach has so far allowed him to avoid conflict with either the public or the old ruling elite.
The United Russia elite will now be caught between two voters: Vladimir Putin, on whom domestic policy managers are oriented, and ordinary people, who increasingly express their discontent through protest voting. The more efforts the Kremlin makes to turn United Russia into a corporation, the more often United Russia politicians will look to voters, who have already proved quite capable of teaching the regime a lesson.
At a time when the regime’s approval ratings are declining and discontent is growing, the Kremlin has embraced a new approach to governing Russia, best described as a fusion of Soviet and corporate managerial approaches. Championed by the presidential administration’s Sergei Kiriyenko, it has made the authorities look and act a lot like a corporation—for better and worse. On the one hand, they now invest more time and resources in training politicians and government officials, having them participate in brainstorming sessions and play business simulations; but ordinary Russians are still treated with contempt, dangerously widening the gulf between state and citizen.
The narrative that Russia is under attack has long dominated Kremlin propaganda, with Vladimir Putin positioning himself as the commander of a fortress besieged. But Putin's latest attempt to "remind" Russians that they are being attacked is unlikely to work.
Amid painful economic choices, political elites and government officials in Russia are growing distant from the public. Meanwhile, the mainstream media’s coverage of social issues is becoming increasingly alarmist, a sign that the Kremlin is losing control over Russia’s social agenda. With its response to social issues a mix of contempt and indifference, it seems that the government’s new maxim and the defining principle of Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term is “the state doesn’t owe you anything.”
President Poroshenko’s partial declaration of martial law may be a short-term success for him. But much of the Ukrainian public is skeptical of his intentions.
Legal positions and geopolitical realities are different things. No one besides Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Only a handful of countries apart from Russia back the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nagorno-Karabakh is formally regarded by everyone as part of Azerbaijan. Yet any attempt to substitute the legal position for the geopolitical reality in any of these cases is bound to lead to a collision. Crimea belongs in the same category, only the consequences of the collision are likely to be on a much higher order.
There will be many issues at play when the Russian and U.S. presidents meet at the G20 leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires. Our Russia experts provide insight into the Kremlin’s game plan.
In Russia’s prisons, elite inmates obtain special conditions both through monetary payments and rendering services—guaranteeing order, cutting deals with the administration, and even paying for improvements in the facilities. For its part, the Russian prison system is more concerned with keeping this corruption out of the public eye than actually preventing it.
North Korea’s statements of its intention to abandon nuclear weapons should not be taken too seriously: the country considers them to be the most important guarantee of the regime’s preservation. For now, North Korean nuclear weapons play a primarily defensive role, but it cannot be ruled out that in the future the nuclear program will also be used for offensive purposes. In addition, their existence increases the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons in East Asia.
To understand what makes Putin and his allies act the way they do, you need to look beyond the myths.