The west is in danger of losing Ukraine unless there is a significant change in the scale and nature of its engagement with the country over the coming weeks and months. That is the somber reality European and US policy makers need to grasp as Ukraine is hit by a wave of protests, terrorist attacks and continued violations of the ceasefire by separatists in the east. Against a background of deepening hardship and rising political frustration, there is a very real risk that the reformist drive of the last few months will give way to a new populism that takes Ukraine backwards and opens the door to renewed Russian influence. Complacent western leaders must act before it’s too late. Read more
“Obama’s three day visit will mark a historic moment in Kenya’s 52 year history as it is the first time a sitting US President will be visiting the country… this is the perfect time to stock your cellars with Premium American wines and celebrate the madness…” – from the monthly online newsletter of The Wine Shop in Nairobi, Kenya.
If you’re at all interested in how the president’s trip to the homeland of his father will impact commerce between the two countries, or even, for that matter, Obama’s Africa legacy, this will be a fascinating few days indeed.
Once the “madness” and excitement accompanying the events subsides, the Obama visit will set the stage for the next phase of the belated US commercial engagement on the continent. Read more
After months of negotiations and missed deadlines, Bernardino León, the UN envoy to Libya, finally secured the support of a broad range of political actors for his plans for a national unity government, a ceasefire and a new political framework in Libya. And yet, due to factors beyond his control, his timing was slightly off. He missed his declared deadline of the start of Ramadan by more than three weeks. More crucially, by choosing to put the ink to the deal on July 11 – the same weekend that negotiations with Iran were culminating in Vienna and European governments were trying reach a last minute agreement on a Greek bailout – he ensured that the Libya pact got even less traction in the international media than it did on the ground. This lack of international attention may turn out to be a key failing if it presages reluctance in the international community to step up to the plate and support the national unity government in a concrete way.
And yet, despite these flaws, the Libyan deal represent a significant achievement. As in the Iranian case, the deal is littered with flaws and fudges, but they are certainly more than counterbalanced by its good points. As with Iran, a mediated settlement was the only way to prevent further military escalation. Read more
A month ago, in the largest military parade held on Red Square since the days of Stalin, one foreign guest drew as much attention as the fearsome hardware on display. While leading the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of victory in what Russians call “the Great Patriotic War”, Vladimir Putin had by his side the congenial Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
President Putin hoped Xi’s presence would symbolise a new, multipolar world order, with Moscow and Beijing playing leading roles. Ultimately, Russian strategic thinking continues to assume, as it has since the days of the Tsars, that military and geopolitical power precede and largely determine a nation’s wealth and prestige. Read more
Turkey’s recent initiatives within Nato are remarkable but, even so, may not be enough to secure the trust of its western partners. In the current geopolitical context, the new Turkish government’s ability to address deep-routed concerns over its foreign policy will be limited unless it takes comprehensive action. A loss of trust brings costs for Turkey, limiting its capacities in the transatlantic community.
At the Nato meeting of foreign ministers in Antalya last month, Turkey took the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the transatlantic alliance by offering to be a lead nation for Nato’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force by 2021 – an initiative designed to deter Russian aggression after its annexation of Crimea. Turkey has recently donated $800,000 to Nato trust funds for defence capacity building in Iraq, Moldova and Jordan. In normal times, such initiatives would be seem as commonplace for a country known for its staunch commitment to Nato. This time, they weren’t. Turkey’s actions positively surprised its western partners, who have grown sceptical about its place in the alliance. Read more
For much of the past two decades, Brazil and Mexico seemed at times to be on a collision course. Diplomats from Latin America’s two largest nations were often preoccupied, if not obsessed, with a competition for an elusive role as regional leaders and players in the post-Cold War shifting global scene. The 2013 battle for the post of director general at the World Trade Organization, won by Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo over Mexican Herminio Blanco, a former trade minister, left plenty of hurt feelings. Ironically, the dispute for influence also led to convergence. The 2011 creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC), proposed by Mexico to affirm its Latin American identity and counter a perceived Brazilian effort to separate it from the region, was warmly embraced in Brasília as a way project leadership by promoting formats that excluded the US. Read more
By Krisztián Szabados and Péter Krekó of the Political Capital Institute
Last week’s guest post by Balázs Orbán on Hungary’s foreign policy and the visit of Vladmir Putin adds little to the official government line – which is surprising, given that the visit demonstrated Budapest’s support for the Russian president when his country is under European Union sanctions for backing secessionist militants in a bloody insurrection in Ukraine. Read more
A problem in a single electricity transmission line running between India and Bangladesh caused a nationwide blackout in Bangladesh on November 1. The outage lasted nearly 10 hours, making it the country’s worst incidence of power failure since a cyclone knocked out the national grid in 2007.
Insufficient energy production remains a major roadblock to Bangladeshi growth. Apart from such poorly maintained infrastructure, power generation is stifled by ancient land acquisition laws that impede mining and a severe shortage in the production of natural gas; coal and gas account for 70 per cent of energy generated in the country. Read more
Leaders from Kiev and Brussels were busy this weekend warming up their energy ties as Vladimir Putin bailed out early from the G20 summit in sunny Australia where he faced one could shoulder after another from international leaders over his actions in Ukraine.
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko spent Saturday and Sunday receiving a warm welcome from Visegard state leaders meeting in Slovakia (he is pictured above with his Czech, Polish, Slovakian and Hungarian couterparts). He also received guarantees from Bratislava that his country – still at odds with Moscow over fair natural gas prices – would be guaranteed what officials said could amount to 21bn cubic metres of annual reverse flow inflows, enough to meet a majority of the country’s import needs. Read more
The last time an Albanian prime minister visited Belgrade, the Iron Curtain was just descending across Europe, rock and roll had yet to be invented and Pelé was just six years old.
In this context, the decision of current Albanian premier Edi Rama to delay his planned trip to Serbia by a mere two and a half weeks may not seem hugely significant. But Rama’s postponement comes after a spat triggered by an episode bizarre even by Balkan standards and in the wake of subsequent attacks on Albanian property in Serbia. Read more
Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, arrived in India on Wednesday for a visit expected to showcase significant investment deals and make progress toward resolving a decades-old border dispute.
But beyond the official bonhomie, the shallow foundations of an uneasy bilateral relationship are readily evident. Nowhere are they more obvious than with tourism. China’s outbound tourism boom appears to have largely bypassed India, which took only 2.5 per cent of its tourist arrivals from its northern neighbour in 2013.
This put Chinese arrivals behind those both from Malaysia – at 3.5 per cent of the total – and Russia – at 3.7 per cent. Read more
It’s a common trick to make yourself look bigger than you are to win a fight. Rather rarer is for one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies frantically and consistently to try to hide its size. China, the 500kg panda in the global economic room, is trying an increasingly unconvincing tactic of squeezing itself into a corner and hoping no-one notices it is there.
Russian lawmakers are debating measures to restrict the distribution of foreign films shown at domestic cinemas in a move that reflects growing anti-western sentiment. The threat of a new Cold War is giving Hollywood the shivers.
Robert Schlegel, a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, has tabled a parliamentary bill that would place a 50 per cent cap on the share of foreign-made films distributed at Russian cinemas. Deputies are expected to debate the proposals in the next couple of weeks. Read more
By Kinga Dudzińska and Anna Maria Dyner of PISM
To the west, relations between Poland and Russia are often perceived as negative, mainly due to their history. However, one evident success of their bilateral cooperation in small border traffic (SBT) between northern Poland and Kaliningrad Oblast, with almost a year and a half of evidence showing it’s working well. Read more
Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s president elect, might well be excused for thinking she’s under fire from a new Triple Alliance.
In the next few days she can expect a binding court ruling that threatens to extend Peru’s maritime border into Chilean territorial waters. Meanwhile, landlocked Bolivia hasn’t given up its dream of a corridor through the Atacama Desert to the Pacific (though it must now do without the late Hugo Chávez’s boisterous support). And Argentina is suddenly making noise about wanting its own door to the world’s biggest ocean. Read more
A bar, a cinema, a bowling alley: all the essentials for an embassy?
Maybe so, but the Indian government has asked the US embassy in New Delhi to close down its onsite entertainments on the grounds that, as elements in a “commercial facility”, they are deemed to be illegal. It’s the latest move in a catty to and fro that has followed last month’s arrest and strip search of Devyani Khobragade (pictured), an Indian consular official, in New York. Read more
By Rodrigo Tavares of the São Paulo State Government
Although France was the first European country to recognize the independence of Brazil, in 1825, only three French presidents have since visited the country – de Gaulle, Chirac and Sarkozy. François Hollande’s visit to Brazil on December 12 and 13 aims to fill some of the empty space and to capitalise on a relationship that has brought good results recently on trade and investment, military contracts and education. But the most innovative outcome from his visit will be something to which few people are likely to pay attention. Read more
Russia and Vietnam signed a raft of economic agreements on Tuesday that will strengthen their strategic partnership and counter rising Chinese influence in southeast Asia.
The deals, signed during a visit by Vladimir Putin to Vietnam, will see Russia step up involvement in Vietnamese energy markets and help boost security in the country that has been a close Kremlin ally since Soviet times. “Vietnam has been a long-term, trustworthy partner for Russia and the political dialogue between the two countries is at a high level,” Putin told reporters after talks with Truong Tan Sang, his Vietnamese counterpart. Read more