The nonchalance with which the Russian ambassador and his sparring partners in Minsk are raising the stakes in their rhetoric is a symptom of deeper forces at work in Belarusian-Russian relations. Both sides are starting to sense that they have reached some kind of historic threshold. But the old format of friendship is so worn out that there is little to lose.
Unlike Nazarbayev, Putin was not as strongly affected by the death of the Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov and the ensuing division of power which ended badly for late president’s family. Will Putin even leave behind much that will need protection? It seems that his primary concern will not be family or the family business, but problems of another dimension: what will become of Crimea, Russia’s presence in Syria, and the country’s ability to assert its sovereignty and withstand the confrontation with the U.S. and NATO.
Over the next few years, the Kremlin will be able to observe what happens in practice when the informal authority of the nation’s leader and the post of president—the main instrument for creating that authority—are separated.
Nuclear deterrence can serve as a pillar of international security only in conjunction with negotiations and agreements on the limitation, reduction, and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Without them, deterrence fuels an endless arms race, while any serious crisis between the great powers will bring them to the brink of nuclear war.
Prior to his resignation as president of Kazakhstan this week, Nursultan Nazarbayev had predictably become head of the country’s security council. After that, the post of president had largely become an encumbrance. His status as head of the security council provides him with a separate lever for controlling the country’s repressive machinery, while his status as leader for life of the Nur Otan ruling political party gives him control over lawmakers.
Traditionally, Moscow has insisted on arms control agreements being enshrined in legally binding documents, while Washington has been more open to political deals. Nevertheless, a new, more flexible approach could find support with the Russian leadership.
Strategic stability has fundamentally changed in the twenty-first century. To maintain or even strengthen it requires many long-standing ideas and policies to be rethought and overhauled.
Rejecting party affiliations at regional elections is a threat to the power vertical. The disgruntled public ask global questions: Why is the retirement age being raised? Why are prices and utility bills increasing, while salaries are not? Is it worth spending so much on Syria, Venezuela, and the arms race? Independent candidates running for governor or regional legislator can answer them easily by saying, “That’s a federal issue for which I’m not responsible, but I’ll try to solve local problems.” As a result, all grievances are automatically redirected to the Kremlin.
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.