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  • Author: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: In most parts of the world, the lines on maps separating countries are true borders. That is, they are controlled by the governments on one or both sides. But in some places, they remain the quasi-open frontiers they were in the past or have reemerged as such because of recent political changes; those borders are highly porous zones, where people and goods can move more or less freely in one or both directions without much regard to the powers that be. Such situations invite outside involvement that can ramp up quickly and disturb preexisting international arrangements. One poignant example is the adjoining border area shared by Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In recent years, that frontier has attracted attention because of the danger that Islamist militants from Afghanistan could cross it to move north into Tajikistan and beyond. But another danger is emerging: China is establishing increasing control over Tajikistan and, thus, is putting itself in a position to project power southward from Tajikistan into Afghanistan. If Beijing does so, that could fundamentally change the security situation and geopolitical balance in Central and South Asia as a whole.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Territorial Disputes, Borders
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, China, South Asia, Central Asia, Asia, Tajikistan
  • Author: John C. K. Daly
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Amidst growing political dissatisfaction, the Russian government is grappling with the apparent vulnerabilities of the country’s internet. On February 1, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairperson of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, acknowledged during an extensive interview with Russian media what foreign analysts have long suspected: disconnecting Russia from the internet is possible (TASS, February 1). And as if to provide a rationale for such potential action, the previous week, the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) National Coordination Center for Computer Incidents (NKTsKI) reported a threat of possible cyberattacks by the United States and its allies against Russia’s critical infrastructure (Interfax, January 22).
  • Topic: Government, Internet, Repression
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Karabakh War (September 29–November 9) has had a transformative effect on the country. It not only changed the attitudes of its population, whose members now feel themselves to be heroes rather than victims (see EDM, January 21), but also bolstered the diplomatic weight and possibilities of the Azerbaijani government in its dealings with other regional states. In prosecuting a triumphant war against Yerevan, Baku demonstrated its own ability to act. But just as importantly, Azerbaijan has shown to peoples and governments in the Caucasus and Central Asia that it is a force to be reckoned with, in part thanks to its growing links with Turkey. Moreover, that alliance makes possible an appealing path to the outside world for all who join it. That reality is causing countries east of the Caspian to look westward to and through Azerbaijan in their economic planning and political calculations. At the same time, however, these developments are generating concerns in Moscow and Tehran, which oppose east-west trade routes that bypass their countries’ territories and instead favor north-south corridors linking Russia and Iran together. As a result, Azerbaijan’s recent successes in expanding links with Central Asia set the stage for new conflicts between Azerbaijan and its Turkic partners, on the one hand, and Russia and Iran, which have far more significant naval assets in the Caspian, on the other (see EDM, November 27, 2018 and February 20, 2020; Casp-geo.ru, December 24, 2019; Chinalogist.ru, November 21, 2019).
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Conflict, Trade
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Central Asia, Middle East, Azerbaijan
  • Author: Rahim Rahimov
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Iran emerged as a potential loser from the Russia-brokered trilateral truce accords that ended last autumn’s 44-day Second Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan (see EDM January 25). Therefore, Tehran is seeking ways to reposition itself into the new situation in line with its interests. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s five-country regional tour of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey, between January 25 and 28, clearly carried that mission (Tasnim News Agency, January 30). In particular, a top agenda item during this series of foreign visits was the proposal to reactivate a Soviet-era railway connecting Iran and Armenia via Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave, which is wedged between them and Turkey (Twitter.com/JZarif, January 26).
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Infrastructure, Transportation
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Armenia, Azerbaijan
  • Author: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Given the Vladimir Putin regime’s past reliance on oil exports, it is perhaps no surprise that Moscow has been casting about for some other raw material it can sell abroad now that hydrocarbon prices have fallen and Russian government revenues along with them. But its apparent selection of water as “the new oil” that it can sell to water-short China is again outraging Russians. Indeed, the policy may soon lead to the repetition of protests against such projects that roiled the country east of the Urals in 2019 and 2020. And this could complicate Russia’s relations not just with China but with Mongolia and Central Asian countries as well. By focusing exclusively on the possibility of foreign profits rather than the concerns of its own population, the Putin regime—wittingly or not—is recapitulating some of the steps the Communist leaders fatefully took in the years preceding the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
  • Topic: Natural Resources, Water, Domestic Policy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Alla Hurska
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: On February 19, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC) imposed sanctions on Ukrainian tycoon and politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his wife, Oksana Marchenko (Pravda.com.ua, February 19). Medvedchuk is a leader and people’s deputy of the pro-Russian party Opposition Platform–For Life, the largest opposition faction in the Ukrainian parliament. Moreover, he is a close acquaintance of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The NSDC sanctions list also includes five Russian nationals and Ukrainian national Nataliya Lavreniuk. The latter is Marchenko’s friend and the common-law spouse of Taras Kozak (already under sanctions), a people’s deputy from the same political party and Medvedchuk’s business partner. Apart from targeting those eight individuals, sanctions were imposed on nineteen associated businesses, including firms that own aircraft and operate direct flights from Kyiv to Moscow as well as a number of joint stock companies registered in Russia, Moldova and Portugal (Pravda.com.ua, February 20). These measures came two weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered the shutdown of several television channels—ZIK, NewsOne and 112—connected to Kozak. The move was described by Zelenskyy as a necessary step to fight Russian propaganda. But according to the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) and the NSDC, these actions were motivated by more complex issues. Specifically, the three aforementioned TV channels were being financed by limited liability company trading house Don Coal (Rostov, Russia), which receives revenue from smuggling coal out of the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” (LPR/DPR) (Pravda.com.ua, February 4).
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Oil, Sanctions, Coal
  • Political Geography: Russia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe
  • Author: Pavel Felgenhauer
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: The Second Karabakh War, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, began on September 27, 2020, and ended on November 9, 2020, with a Russian-brokered and guaranteed agreement. The conflict claimed the lives of thousands of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. But after 44 days of fierce fighting, it concluded with Yerevan soundly defeated: Armenia lost territory occupied during the First Karabakh War in 1992–1994 as well as over 30 percent of prewar Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast—a region of Soviet Azerbaijan majority populated by ethnic Armenians. Today, the rump self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR or “Artsakh”)—still controlled by Armenians and not recognized by anyone—is fully surrounded by Azerbaijani troops and territory. The rump Karabakh “republic’s” perimeter is guarded by some 2,000 Russian “peacekeepers” who also control the so-called Lachin corridor, the only highway left open from Armenia proper to Karabakh through the city of Lachin. The future of the rump NKR and its Armenian population is unclear. Baku refuses to discuss any special administrative status for the territory, insisting Armenians born in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast or their descendants must disarm and apply for Azerbaijani citizenships to stay as a minority inside Azerbaijan. In turn, the NKR leadership has declared Russian an official language alongside Armenian to avoid use of Azerbaijani Turkish (Izvestia, February 17). Officials in Stepanakert (Khankendi in Azerbaijani) apparently hope this may tempt Moscow to keep its peacekeepers in Karabakh permanently and maybe eventually agree to annex the NKR outright.
  • Topic: Weapons , Conflict, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Eastern Europe, Nagorno-Karabakh
  • Author: Jack Broome
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: On December 7, 2020, following speculation in the news, the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte finally announced that the government would not offer a holiday ceasefire—as is tradition for this time of year—to the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Duterte’s announcement came during his weekly address to the nation on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Duterte went one step further by declaring that peace talks are “dead” and there would no longer be any ceasefires for the remainder of his presidency (abs-cbn.com, December 8, 2020).
  • Topic: Communism, Terrorism, Insurgency, Non State Actors, Indigenous
  • Political Geography: Philippines, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Pavel K. Baev
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: As the global economy—animated by the arrival of multiple COVID-19 vaccines—hopes for the first signs of recovery, expectations also rise in Russia for an accompanying surge in demand for oil and natural gas and renewed prominence of energy geopolitics in foreign policy-making. President Vladimir Putin is a firm believer in hydrocarbons as the world’s main energy source and a sceptic of “green agendas,” even if Chinese President Xi Jinping has subscribed to the pledge to curtail emissions (TASS, September 30). Russia’s Energy Strategy 2035, approved in June 2020, sets ambitious goals for expanding oil and gas extraction and defines the shifts in the world markets toward carbon-neutral energy production as a major challenge (Vedomosti, May 19; see EDM, June 2). Mainstream Russian experts dismiss the European Union’s post-crisis recovery plans that include new incentives for developing zero-carbon-emission energy sources; defiantly, they project that Russian energy exports to the European market will continue to expand (Kommersant, December 3).
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Energy Policy, Oil, Natural Resources, Gas, Economy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: John C. K. Daly
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: As the United States hastens its drawdown of troops in Iraq before the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joseph Biden, Russia is seeking to fill the developing geopolitical vacuum there. On November 25, following discussions in Moscow with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, Russia’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, remarked that Russian energy firms have invested billions of dollars in the Iraqi oil industry. “When it comes to energy, the largest Russian companies are working in Iraq together with their partners. These are Lukoil, Rosneft, Gazprom-Neft and Bashneft. All four have invested more than $13 billion in the Iraqi economy,” Lavrov told journalists (Interfax, November 25). He added that Moscow was also prepared to increase arms deliveries to Baghdad, stating, “We are ready to meet any Iraqi needs for Russian-made military products. Our country has traditionally played and continues to play a very important and significant role in ensuring Iraq’s defense capability and equipping its army and security forces, including in the context of continuing terrorist threats” (Mid.ru, November 25).
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Energy Policy, Bilateral Relations, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iraq, Eurasia, Middle East
  • Author: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Turkey’s success in the South Caucasus is echoing across the former Soviet space as well as inside the Russian Federation itself; and not surprisingly, Moscow is worried. Azerbaijan is now openly an ally of Turkey and has Turkish military forces on its territory, something Russia had previously said it would never allow. Three of the four Turkic-majority countries in Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan—have taken note of the change in the balance of forces in the region in Turkey’s favor and are increasingly looking toward Ankara for guidance. And some Turkic nations inside the Russian Federation, Volga Tatars in particular, have organized pro-Azerbaijani and pro-Turkic demonstrations, which, despite their small size, troubled the central authorities in Moscow (Vestnik Kavkaza, November 29). Except for Azerbaijan, of course, these all represent overwhelmingly long-term challenges. Central Asian countries are not about to make any dramatic geopolitical shifts unless and until additional robust transportation links through the Caucasus make that compelling; whereas the Turkic peoples within the Russian Federation, however strongly they may identify with such pan-Turkic impulses, have few possible outlets for acting on them.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, International Cooperation, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Caucasus
  • Author: Olevs Nikers
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: In mid-November, Latvian officials inaugurated a 5G test site at the Ādaži military base, near Riga. The facility is the first of its kind not only in Latvia but throughout Europe. The 5G testing area will provide an opportunity for Latvian and allied armed forces to develop and assess various new sensors, defense systems and platforms utilizing the emerging high-speed, low-latency cellular network technology, including autonomous vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), as well as various innovations in healthcare and remote communications (Tvnet.lv, November 13). To date, 5G (“fifth-generation”) networks operate, in some capacity, in more than 25 countries around the world. And with its ceremonial “launch” of 5G in July 2019, Latvia became one of the first European states to begin implementing this next-generation communication network for commercial and public use (Mfa.gov.lv, July 24, 2019).
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Military Affairs, Economy, 5G
  • Political Geography: Eastern Europe, Latvia
  • Author: Grigory Ioffe
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Popular narrative tropes are not always accurate predictors of how a story will ultimately develop. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the former presidential hopeful and a person believed by many to have won the presidential elections of August 9, is widely seen as a positive character in the unfolding Belarusian drama. Courageous and likable, she does her best to rally international support for the protest movement in her home country.
  • Topic: Authoritarianism, Elections, Protests, Public Relations
  • Political Geography: Eastern Europe, Belarus
  • Author: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: The Azerbaijani military’s use of Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), purchased from Turkey, played such a prominent role in Baku’s victory over Armenian forces during the Second Karabakh War (September 27–November 9, 2020) that defense analysts around the world are now focusing on how their countries may utilize similar unmanned systems and how they could respond if such drones are used against them (Regnum, accessed December 16; Ecfr.eu., November 24; see EDM, November 9). Notably, Azerbaijan employed its Bayraktars to identify and attack Armenian forces as well as to provide a real-time picture of the battlefield that was useful for both strategic planning and propaganda (see EDM, October 15). Now, Vadim Nozdrya, who heads the Ukrainian arms trade state committee Ukrspetseksport, has announced that Kyiv is prepared to purchase from Turkey 48 of these battle-tested UAVs (Milliyet), December 4). That news is undoubtedly prompting analysts in Moscow to consider how Ukraine could eventually use such drones to threaten Russian control of occupied Crimea or Donbas and what Moscow needs to do in response.
  • Topic: Military Affairs, Weapons , Drones, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Eastern Europe, Azerbaijan, Crimea, Mediterranean
  • Author: Can Kasapoglu
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: In the wake of Azerbaijan’s successful offensive against the dug-in Armenian forces in Karabakh and surrounding Azerbaijani districts, the defense ministers of Turkey and Russia, General (ret.) Hulusi Akar and General Sergei Shoigu, respectively, met on November 11 and penned a memorandum of understanding to broker the ceasefire process in the war-torn region. According to the deal, Ankara and Moscow have, in principle, agreed to establish a joint peace-monitoring headquarters. The Russian foreign policy community has been extremely uneasy to see the Turkish Armed Forces suddenly operating in the South Caucasus, once considered Moscow’s undisputed hinterland (Milliyet, December 3).
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Peacekeeping, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh
  • Author: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Turkmenistan, far and away the most closed country in the former Soviet space, seldom receives much attention except as the butt of dismissive jokes or, more recently, when its leaders tried to deny that COVID-19 is present in their country even as they took measures intended to hinder its spread (see EDM, July 21). But multiple reports over the last few days suggest Turkmenistan is fast descending into an economic crisis that makes its continued socio-political stability ever less likely. Moreover, this Central Asian country now has an opposition based abroad that is increasingly capable of providing leadership to local Turkmenistanis infuriated by the domestic situation they find themselves in as a result of the authorities’ oppressive policies.
  • Topic: Government, Crisis Management, Domestic Policy
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Turkmenistan