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By Taras Kuzio of the University of Alberta

Friday’s abduction on Estonian soil of Eston Kohver, an officer in Estonia’s Internal Security Service, by “green men” – Russian special forces in uniforms without identification – was the latest instance of a tactic first used during Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in March. The timing of this act of international piracy was no coincidence, coming a day after US President Barack Obama’s visit to the country, when he promised Nato would defend the three Baltic states. Continue reading »

By Ben Aris of bne

The chances of a lasting ceasefire in the conflict in eastern Ukraine are looking better.

But the cessation of military hostilities will only mark the outbreak of a new fight: the gas war between Russia and Ukraine is about to restart and will probably come to a head in January, when Ukraine risks running out of gas. Continue reading »

By Taras Kuzio of the University of Alberta

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the tide on the battlefield has turned against Kiev, with its armed forces and volunteer National Guard on the retreat. Russia’s next move could be to push towards Mariupol to create a land corridor from Russia through the Donbas to occupied Crimea.

Whatever steps Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, takes next it is beyond doubt that two of Europe’s biggest countries are at war. Continue reading »

As European leaders threatened yet tougher sanctions to punish Russia for its aggressive policies in Ukraine on Monday, Vladimir Putin was thousands of miles away in oil rich east Siberia making friendly with a visiting Chinese official.

“On the whole we are very careful about allowing our foreign partners in, but of course for our Chinese friends there are no limits,” Russia’s president said.

China is emerging as the winner in the Ukraine crisis even as Russia’s relations with the US and the European Union go from bad to worse. It has secured a huge gas deal with Gazprom and is making strides towards greater involvement in the Russian oil and gas production. Continue reading »

It has been a shocking day in the progress of the crisis in Ukraine. As evidence mounts of yet more direct and duplicitous Russian military activity on Ukrainian soil, Russian assets have taken a hammering. The rouble fell 1.5 per cent against the dollar even after paring earlier losses and the RTS index of Russian stocks was down 3.3 per cent on the day, also after staging a recovery.

President Vladimir Putin denies Russia is involved in Ukraine at all, even as the Russian people hail him as a conquering hero with popularity ratings to match. But the chances that his adventure will be to their benefit are looking increasingly slim. As Neil Shearing of Capital Economics argued in a note on Thursday, “Russia is likely to be the major loser from any further escalation in the conflict.” Continue reading »

By Timothy Ash of Standard Bank

The crisis in Ukraine continues to go from one worst case scenario to the next with little sign of any near term prospect of compromise or resolution.

High hopes were set on Wednesday’s Minsk summit but little was achieved in effect – beyond a photo op for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, who spun a yarn that he is really, truly interested in peace, and in any event that Russia is in fact not a party to the current conflict. Continue reading »

On Friday, as Russian trucks carrying humanitarian aid entered eastern Ukraine, another, less remarked on convoy was on its way to the Donbas. Dozens of vehicles carrying food, personal hygiene products and medicines entered the region from the west, provided by businesses controlled by Rinat Akhmetov, the Ukrainian billionaire whose industrial assets are concentrated in this part of Ukraine. Continue reading »

By Ben Aris of bne

Presidents Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin of Russia are to meet in Minsk today for the first time since fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine. Expectations for a peace deal are low. But what can each side put on the table to try to end a conflict that is killing thousands and smashing to pieces the most productive part of the country? Continue reading »

France was one of the most reluctant European Union countries to agree to impose sanctions on Russia for grabbing Crimea off Ukraine. So it’s perhaps not altogether surprising to see a French investor hobnobbing with Vladimir Putin on the Black Sea peninsular this week and offering to build a tourist attraction in the region.

France’s Puy du Fou International has agreed to build a historical theme amusement park in Crimea that will celebrate the history of Russia and the Black Sea peninsular, the government of Crimea said on Friday. Continue reading »

Pity any Russians wanting to sit down to their regular Sunday lunch of kangaroo steak, medium-rare. Thanks to the trade restrictions Vladimir Putin announced last week, Australia – along with the EU, US, Norway and Canada – found its food exports to Russia blocked forthwith.

As it happens, uninterrupted access to the Russian market is not something any food producer can take for granted. Russia, Australia’s largest market for kangaroo meat, also suspended trade (on bogus health grounds) between 2009 and 2013. And while Australian kangaroo exporters may bound off happily into other markets, Moscow’s consumers will struggle to source their marsupials from Russia’s remaining trading partners. Continue reading »

By Andrew Foxall of the Henry Jackson Society

The “stage three” sanctions announced by the US and the European Union against Russia last week are designed to bring about change in President Vladimir Putin’s behaviour by targeting Russia where it is most vulnerable – its economy.

Earlier rounds of sanctions – which primarily targeted government officials and businesses owned by those officials – were not taken seriously by their targets. Being sanctioned was seen a “badge of honour” by senior Russians. Continue reading »

First western sanctions stopped billionaire Gennady Timchenko from flying around in his luxury jet, now they’re hurting budget Russian air travelers as well. Aeroflot grounded Dobrolet, its fledgling low coster airline, after companies in the European Union suspended co-operation agreements.

Owing to “unprecedented pressure” the low cost carrier had no option but to suspend flights and ticket sales, Aeroflot said. However, analysts said that Russia’s national airline, having already spent about $20m of the $100m budget allocated for Dobrolet, was unlikely to allow the sanctions to force it to give up on the low coster altogether.

“The company has the option of signing new leasing and technical servicing agreements with Asian counter parties, including Chinese ones, according to experts, wrote Sberbank Investment Research in a note on Monday, adding that “this will probably take months and incur additional costs.” Continue reading »

By Dalibor Rohac of the Cato Institute

One can only hope that Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, which has claimed, among others, the lives of the passengers of flight MH17, will come to an early end. But is it possible that the conflict, for all the suffering and senseless destruction it has brought, could have a silver lining?

The past 20 years, during which many Ukrainians thought of their country as a bridge between the West and the East, without any obvious enemies, were years of complacency and failed economic policies, which ultimately resulted in the capture of the government by special interests. Continue reading »

By Ievgen Vorobiov of PISM

Three months of the Russia-led proxy war in Ukraine have claimed the lives of hundreds of Ukrainian servicemen and civilians. Until now, Western media have lazily ignored the complexity of the security crisis, while public opinion in the West has had more pressing concerns than an unfolding war on the edge of the European Union. EU politicians have had an easy ride in pretending to handle it.

But the downing of flight MH17 by pro-Russian militants is slowly changing perceptions in the West. It is still a war in a “faraway nation” but now with a dramatic number of foreign civilian casualties. If you had told a western European diplomat two weeks ago that EU citizens would be the next victims of Russia’s slowly-unfolding massacre in Ukraine, they would have dismissed you as paranoid and manipulative. Not any more. Continue reading »

Of course, it all goes back to Peter the Great at the turn of the eighteenth century. On the one hand, the Russian Tsar worked in the Dutch shipyards incognito to import modern boatbuilding techniques to his empire. On the other, he systematically seized the estates of unhelpful nobles in a manner which suggested that western European notions of property rights had yet to sink in.

Russia’s traditional simultaneous fascination with and repulsion towards foreign ideas and institutions, the latter generally winning out at times of stress, is reflected in the difficulties the EU and US have encountered in trying to shift Moscow’s behaviour in Ukraine.

 Continue reading »