Vladimir Putin will look back on 2016 as an annus mirabilis. Isolated and straining under the impact of western sanctions 12 months ago, the president has managed to transform Russia’s international fortunes thanks to an extraordinary run of good luck. Brexit, the migration crisis and the current surge of right-wing populism have enfeebled Europe and weakened its resolve to maintain a tough collective stance towards Russia. Putin’s military intervention in support of Bashar al-Assad has put his ally within sight of victory in the Syrian civil war. Best of all, Donald Trump is about to enter the White House on a promise to repair US-Russia relations on the Kremlin’s terms. On every front, the tide of events appears to be flowing strongly in Putin’s direction.
The new mood was apparent last month when he met Rodrigo Duterte, his counterpart in the Philippines, at the Asia-Pacific summit. Duterte used the occasion to complain about western “bullying” and declared his desire to be part of a “new order” led by Russia and China. When you consider that the remarks come from the leader of a country that has been a mainstay of the US alliance system in Asia since the early years of the Cold War, it is clear that something significant is afoot. Putin is managing to extend Russia’s diplomatic reach beyond its traditional constituency among the world’s radical and anti-American regimes. Read more
How should we read Russia, and Vladimir Putin’s game plan with respect to the US, the west and Ukraine?
My own view is that Putin is in waiting mode, reflected by the fact that Russia has stepped back from further military intervention in Ukraine and seems to be adopting a holding pattern in Syria. In both conflicts Russia would likely have to commit significant military resources to ensure delivery on its strategic objectives, and this side of elections to the Duma (September 2016) and perhaps also the presidency (March 2018) this just presents too many risks. Read more
As a strategically vital trade hub and home to nearly 70m people, Central Asia has for too long lacked representation at the top table of global politics.
To date, no Central Asian country has sat on the UN Security Council. This is despite the increasing prominence of the area, not just as a geopolitical player, but as an emerging power with its own unique identity, relationships and above all experiences. This June will see the decision of the UN General Assembly on five non-permanent members of the UN Security Council for 2017-2018. We hope that Kazakhstan will be given the honour of being one of these new members. Read more
Moscow seems intent on re-engaging with the international community after being relegated to the sidelines following the conflict in Ukraine. The Kremlin is not necessarily becoming more accommodative to the west, but there are changes in several areas that suggest President Vladimir Putin wants to play a more active role internationally.
The fight against global terrorism is the most recent and perhaps most significant example of how Putin has re-emerged as a key player. His role at the recent G20 meeting in Ankara stands in stark contrast to the meeting in Brisbane a year ago when he left early after being shunned by the other leaders. Russia has also tried to play a more active role in the Middle East. Moscow proved productive in the Iran negotiations over the summer and that Russia is now circulating a proposed constitutional reform plan for Syria in the UN points in the same direction. Read more
To hear some Russia watchers say it, Vladimir Putin will fight to the last Russian air bomb to keep Bashar al-Assad of Syria in power. But will he?
I argue not only that Putin could and should let Assad go, but also that Putin’s own record of behind-the-door diplomacy offers a clue as to how the Syrian dictator could step aside without losing face. Read more
The European Union finds itself in the midst of multiple crises. It might be torn apart by the refugee crisis, the rise of nationalistic populism in Central Europe, the repercussions of a possible Brexit, or by the return, in some form, of the debt crisis that has been ravaging Greece for over five years now. However, the risk that these crises pose to the EU is eclipsed by their cumulative effect on the EU’s neighbours, especially Ukraine.
In all likelihood, the EU will eventually muddle its way out of its current troubles. In the process, however, it is bound to become more inward-looking and wary of engaging its eastern partners. The united front that the EU has shown in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is fragile. Sooner or later, it will be replaced by a cruder form of realism that will put the immediate German or French ‘national interest’ first, effectively rewarding Vladimir Putin for his aggression. Read more
The global economy faces a severe chill. Demand is shrinking, prices are falling, currencies are struggling and credit is scarce. The scale of the economic turbulence ahead, for many countries, dwarfs the impact of the crisis of 2008-09. Yet the dangers this poses for the global economy and the prosperity and stability of all countries have not been thought through. We must act now, before the chill turns into a long, fierce winter.
In a truly globalised economy, no country can hope to weather these difficulties alone. Raw economic self-interest demands that we reach out to our partners around the world. Creating new business links, expanding markets, boosting trade and investment are all essential. Now is the time for all nations to look outward with courage rather than retreating inwards. Read more
“Europe is being overrun by millions of people. We are facing a real danger. Those who are besieged cannot take in anyone. Hungary and Europe as a whole are in danger!”
This is how Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, announced a ‘state of war’ in Budapest on September 21. Today, he will deliver a similar message to the UN General Assembly in New York. Read more
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