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  • Author: Nona Mikhelidze
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: On 25 March, one month after Russia registered its first confirmed case of Coronavirus, President Vladimir Putin announced a week of paid national holiday and invited Russians to stay home in a televised address to the nation. Further measures were subsequently introduced to limit the spread of the virus, while authorities prepared emergency plans to safeguard socio-economic conditions in the country. Initiatives included providing a new support package to businesses hit by the pandemic, a monthly bonus to medical personnel and the construction of new hospitals, following the Chinese model. Meanwhile, the constitutional referendum meant to extend Putin’s term limit as president was postponed. Originally scheduled for 22 April, this delay is due to Putin’s concern for public health and the multidimensional impact of the pandemic, a perfect storm involving quarantine measures, declining living standards, inflation and a weakened exchange rate, rising prices and increased job insecurity. Taken together, these challenges could jeopardise the outcome of the referendum. A recent poll conducted by the Levada Center in March highlighted a very slim majority (45 per cent) in favour of Putin’s constitutional amendments.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Health, Soft Power, Coronavirus, Vladimir Putin
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Italy
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Hudson Institute
  • Abstract: It is not the caliphate that the world’s Muslim powerhouses are fighting about. Instead, they are engaged in a deepening religious soft power struggle for geopolitical influence and dominance. This battle for the soul of Islam pits rival Middle Eastern and Asian powers against one another: Turkey, seat of the Islamic world’s last true caliphate; Saudi Arabia, home to the faith’s holy cities; the United Arab Emirates, propagator of a militantly statist interpretation of Islam; Qatar with its less strict version of Wahhabism and penchant for political Islam; Indonesia, promoting a humanitarian, pluralistic notion of Islam that reaches out to other faiths as well as non-Muslim centre-right forces across the globe; Morocco which uses religion as a way to position itself as the face of moderate Islam; and Shia Iran with its derailed revolution. In the ultimate analysis, no clear winner may emerge. Yet, the course of the battle could determine the degree to which Islam will be defined by either one or more competing stripes of ultra-conservativism—statist forms of the faith that preach absolute obedience to political rulers and/or reduce religious establishments to pawns of the state.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Islam, Politics, Ideology
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, United Arab Emirates
  • Author: Robert E. Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: On August 26, Politico reported that U.S. service members were injured after an altercation with Russian forces in northeast Syria. This pattern of Russian challenges to U.S. forces was enabled by the Trump administration’s decision to retreat from parts of northern Syria in 2019, allowing Russia to fill the void. Until this decision was made, the two countries had agreed to make the Euphrates River the deconfliction line to keep U.S. and Russian forces separated. Russia stayed on the west side of the river, and the United on the east side, where this incident took place. Robert Hamilton, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, commented on the story and warned that it will not be a one-off incident: “We need to respond to this immediately and forcefully. Russian forces deliberately escalated against U.S. partners when I was running the ground deconfliction cell for Syria in 2017, but tended to be careful when U.S. forces were present. Unless we make it clear that we’ll defend ourselves, these escalations will continue with dangerous and unpredictable results.” Below, we offer readers an excerpt from a chapter written by Robert Hamilton from a forthcoming edited volume on Russia’s Way of War in Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, War, Military Strategy, Military Affairs, Troop Deployment
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, North America
  • Author: Emil Avdaliani
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: Though analysts tend to portray Russia’s foreign policy as truly global (that is, independent of Europe, the US, and China), the country is plainly tilting toward Asia. The Russian political elite does its best to hide this development, but the country is accumulating more interests and freedom to act in Asia than in Europe or anywhere else.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Geopolitics, Global Security
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Eurasia, Asia
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies
  • Abstract: In this issue of Turkeyscope Dr. Soner Cagaptay analyzes the evolution of Turkey's foreign policy with respect to both Syria and Libya.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations, Geopolitics, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Libya, North Africa, Syria
  • Author: Bobo Lo
  • Publication Date: 08-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: The rise of Asia is the central challenge of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, calling into question long-standing assumptions about Russia’s place in the world. Moscow is now more committed to engagement with the Asia-Pacific than it has ever been. This reflects belated recognition of the region’s critical importance in global affairs. Russia’s ambition to become a major player in the Asia-Pacific faces considerable hurdles. Overcoming them will depend on larger changes in its foreign policy mindset — an uncertain prospect at best.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Geopolitics, Economy, Vladimir Putin
  • Political Geography: Russia, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, Kateryna Zarembo
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: The 31 March presidential elections in Ukraine matter to Ukraine, its region and the EU. While the majority of experts deem it impossible to have a winner in the first round and, thus, expect a second one in April[1], the March contest will be a first important step in the crucial process of determining the direction the country will take. Thus, while we should not hold our breath on election day, we should definitely keep a close eye on the contest and its outcome.[2] First of all, these mark the first elections in Ukraine’s history when a “pro-Russia” foreign policy card cannot be played by the political candidates. If in 2013 the Association Agreement with the European Union and the Customs Union with Russia were two rival projects for Ukrainians[3], in 2019 support for the EU is prevailing among the population – 50% of Ukrainians support the country’s integration into the EU, while only 9% are in favour of the Customs Union[4]. Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic course has also been recently voted in to become a part of Ukraine’s constitution. And yet Ukraine’s pro-Western integration course is far from being undisputed. First, support for the EU is very unevenly spread across the country, ranging from over 80% in the western oblasts to some 30% in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Odesa oblasts.[5]Second, while none of the three candidates currently leading the polls – the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, the former prime minister and ex-energy tycoon Yulia Tymoshenko, and the comedian and political newcomer Volodymyr Zelensky – questions EU integration on paper, some candidates’ electoral programmes or actions look at odds with this goal. On paper, Tymoshenko supports good relations with Brussels – and, eventually, a possible EU membership – but she criticizes the reforms promoted by the EU and IMF and advocates economic isolationism. Zelensky’s fussy approach is also critical of the IMF while giving lukewarm support to EU integration[6]. As of March 2018, it is Zelenskyi who is leading the race, with some 25% of support[7], while Poroshenko and Tymoshenko keep shifting in and out of second place in various polls. Importantly, some 26% - in fact, the “golden share” of these elections – of those who are going to vote, are still undecided about their choice, which may bring some surprises on the day of the poll. Finally, these elections will likely feature an unusually high turnout in Ukrainian terms – as of March 2019, 83% of Ukrainians declared that they are going to participate in the elections (in the 2014 presidential elections turnout reached 60%).[8] This is likely a sign of increased civic mobilization and the perception of civic responsibility among Ukraine’s citizens, which grew more acute after the Euromaidan and the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, International Affairs, European Union, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Ukraine, Italy
  • Author: Vladimir Shubin
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: On October 23 and 24, the Black Sea town of Sochi, often called the southern capital of Russia, hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa summit. Held under the slogan “For peace, security and development”, the summit was combined with an economic forum and co-chaired by two presidents, Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, incumbent chairperson of the African Union. Forty-three heads of African states and the representatives of several African regional integration organizations took part in the summit. The summit led to a political declaration on the main areas of Russian-African cooperation, as well as a significant package of agreements on trade and investment.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Egypt
  • Author: Emil Avdaliani
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (BESA)
  • Abstract: Russian foreign policy since the mid-2000s tends to be perceived in contradictory terms: as either a negative for Russia or the product of a grand strategic vision on the part of the Russian leadership. It is also often falsely perceived as representing a break with the past. Moscow’s foreign policy moves need to be viewed with a balanced perspective and should be placed in their historical context.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, History, Geopolitics, Grand Strategy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Bobo Lo
  • Publication Date: 09-2018
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: Putin’s foreign policy will remain grounded in long-standing assumptions about Russia, the West, and international order. There will be broad continuity in Russian foreign policy over the course of Vladimir Putin’s current presidential term. Any policy changes will be stylistic, not transformative. The Kremlin is committed to asserting Russia as a global power, although it will be tactically flexible in pursuing this ambition. Putin will present different faces to the West: sometimes accommodating, at other times assertive and even confrontational. But there will be no compromise on core principles.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Government, Grand Strategy, Vladimir Putin
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Daria Kazarinova
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: t the end of the second decade of the 21st century, problems of global security have become the main issues on the agenda of all regions of the world. Russia’s relations with the West have already entered the stage of the so-called new Cold War “with the elements of arms race, remilitarization and the split of the European continent, under the severance of political and economic contacts between the leaders of rival countries and the degradation of diplomacy”.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Economy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Eurasia
  • Author: John R. Haines
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Several weeks after winning a plurality in Bulgaria’s late March parliamentary election, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov did something unprecedented: he brought the nationalist United Patriots (Obedineni Patrioti) into his coalition government. The United Patriots is an electoral alliance of three parties, the IMRO[2]-Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO-Bulgarsko Natsionalno Dvizhenie), the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (Natzionalen Front za Spasenie na Bulgaria), and Attack (Attaka). Their inclusion in the coalition government has given rise to concern among Bulgaria’s NATO allies (and many Bulgarian themselves) about what the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s Korneliya Ninova called Mr. Borissov’s “floating majority, his unprincipled alliance”[3] (plavashti mnozinstva, bezprintsipni sŭyuzi). That concern is well placed for several reasons. Only a few years ago, even the nationalist IMRO-BND and NFSB excluded the radical Ataka[4] from their electoral alliance dubbed the “Patriotic Front” (Patriotichen front) because of Ataka’s positions on Russia and NATO. Even then, however, the Patriotic Front’s “nationalist profile” (natsionalisticheskiyat profil) was so far to Bulgaria’s political right to cause Mr. Borissov to exclude the Patriotic Front from his coalition government. He did so with the active encouragement of his center-right European People’s Party allies across the European Union. “Nothing against the PF, but unfortunately the things Valeri Simeonov [a PF leader, more about whom anon] proposes do not correspond to our Euro-Atlantic orientation,” said Mr. Borissov at the time.[5]
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Nationalism
  • Political Geography: Russia, Bulgaria
  • Author: Pietro A. Shakarian
  • Publication Date: 11-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: Russia and Turkey have been improving their relationship since June 2016, the Kurdish question presents a potential challenge to their attempts to strengthen their ties. Reconciling Kurdish aspirations with Turkish fears will be a top priority for Moscow in its effort to broker a post-war peace in Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, War, Syrian War, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Pavel Koshkin
  • Publication Date: 12-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: After the victory of republican Donald Trump at the 2016 presidential election followed by the series of probes into the Kremlin’s alleged meddling in the American domestic affairs, Russia turned into political mainstream in the U.S. However, the revived interest toward this country failed to translate into increasing funding of Russia Studies programs. And here is why.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Elections, Academia, Area Studies
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Pavel Koshkin
  • Publication Date: 12-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: 2017 brought both successes and disappointments to Russia on the international arena. Moscow succeeded in establishing dialogue with its rivals in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia and Turkey. It also participated in the Astana peace talks to come up with a compromise with Ankara and Tehran on Syria. Besides, Russia together with its Syrian allies defeated the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS). Afterwards, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced about the partial withdrawal of the Russian troops from Syria. One of the biggest challenges became the strengthening of the American sanctions against Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Russia dossier probe conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Congress is also a very important event, because it could deepen the crisis in U.S.-Russia relations. Parliamentary and presidential elections in Europe also matter: They took place amidst the buzz about the Russian cyber threat and hackers, and this indicates that there is not trust toward Russia in European countries today.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Sanctions, Elections, Islamic State, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Alexander Pivovarenko
  • Publication Date: 06-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: May 5, Vyacheslav Volodin, the State Duma’s Speaker, paid a significant visit to Serbia for working negotiations with President-Elect Aleksandar Vučić, acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, President of the National Assembly Maja Gojkovic, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej and other officials. The parliamentary delegation’s trip came at a difficult time. Montenegro’s accession to NATO and internal political changes in Macedonia are reconfiguring the military and political landscape of the region. All the events are unfolding amid a massive information campaign mounted by the mass media and Western pundits capitalizing on the issue of Russian influence in the Balkans, with yet another information attack being launched on the day of Volodin’s visit. Moreover, Russia’s relations with Montenegro have reached their lowest point over the past year. In its turn, Serbia is completing the phase of consolidation of Vučić’s regime. The agenda includes the creation of a new government, which may require new parliamentary elections. It is noteworthy that the President-Elect, however, fails to command total popular support. At the same time, Vučić is singled out for allegations and fierce criticism for embracing Euro-Atlantic integration. When it comes to Russia’s assets and liabilities in the Balkans, Volodin’s stay in Serbia, therefore, was of particular importance.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, NATO, Parliamentarism
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Serbia, Montenegro
  • Author: Nikolay Pakhomov
  • Publication Date: 06-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: The US Constitution vests the president, the head of the executive branch, with considerable power to formulate the country’s foreign policy. Regardless of the proactive stance of some Congressmen in dealing with external issues, America’s foreign policy has historically been shaped by presidents, their temperament, experience, ideological leanings, and quite often it has been affected by their domestic policy. The latter can be central to understanding and forecasting the Trump administration’s steps related to Russia. Nowadays only the elites can initiate and introduce changes in the US-Russian interaction. Economic cooperation is also limited.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Donald Trump, Economic Cooperation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Akop Gabrielyan
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: ANALYSISOPINION NATO-Russia Relations: Overcoming Agony 17.07.2017Featured Image Akop A. Gabrielyan – the founder and the leader of the “Consensus” youth NGO, expert in the policy of the post-soviet states. If anything, the central tenet of the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm – Primum non nocere – is the first motto to be applied to today’s dialogue between Russia and NATO, a military and political organization. The dialogue essentially boiling down to interaction between Russia and the United States, the alliance’s leader, has offered fewer grounds for optimism over the years. Noticeably worse relations, whose downward spiraling trend is too serious a phenomenon to be even referred to as “the Cold War”, are degenerating into an agony. This is testified by some experts predicting an unavoidable military conflict and a real deterioration in the situation amid the Ukraine and Syria conflicts that Russia and NATO (the US) treat differently. For instance, Moscow officially suspended a deal with the US to prevent mid-air collisions over Syria in response to America’s attitude towards April’s deadly chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, NATO, Partnerships, Alliance
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Eurasia, United States of America
  • Author: Fernanda Magnotta, Roman Chukov
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: Last Friday, during the G20 summit, the US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for the first time. The meeting was surrounded by expectations and marked by all types of speculation. The bilateral relationship has been controversial since the Obama administration, but the polemics have gained momentum in last year’s election when Trump came to power. Trump’s agenda becomes even more critical as he has been waging a war on the American media since the campaign. Trump popularized the term “fake news” by accusing the CNN network of making up facts, and made the “post-truth” concept the word of the year of 2016, according to Oxford University. In addition, he decided to communicate directly with the American society through Twitter not to depend on the curatorship of the country’s major media outlets.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Media, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Nikolay Pakhomov
  • Publication Date: 08-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Rethinking Russia
  • Abstract: When US President Trump on August 2 signed a bill that reinforces and expands to some extent sanctions on Moscow, the anti-Russian campaign emerged somewhat divorced from real policy-making. The bill has clarified the Congress position on the matter, with the ongoing investigation into Trump’s and his acolytes’ alleged ties with Russia shifting public attention to the legal aspect. While lambasting Trump, some intellectuals seek to establish nominal correlations between the US president and Russia and to draw historical parallels between the two countries. This clearly creative approach on the part of experts and pundits produces remarkable results.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, History, Donald Trump, Boris Yeltsin
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, North America, United States of America