Torn between Russia’s growing influence and increasing frictions in a historic alliance with the U.S., European states face new challenges to their security architecture. Olga Oliker calls Europe to embrace a dialogue on security and threats in the neighbourhood to build sustainable peace all across the region.
Originally published in EUREN Brief
Originally published in Valdai
Originally published in Valdai Discussion Club
President Putin 15 Jan proposed changes to Constitution during state of nation address, reportedly aimed at shifting power balance between president, cabinet and parliament as well as expanding powers of parliament in move which appears to open options for Putin to step aside from presidency in 2024 while retaining a degree of power. In response, cabinet resigned headed by PM Medvedev, Defence Minister Shoigu and FM Lavrov among few who remained in ensuing reshuffle; non-systemic opposition (unrepresented in Parliament) led protests in following weeks including in capital Moscow, in St. Petersburg and in Yekaterinburg; numbers were small. Some proposed changes included supremacy of Constitution over international laws, ban on foreign citizenship for President and several other officials, appointment by President of all heads of executive and security agencies and barring of “consecutive” two-term limit for President. In North Caucasus, Islamic State (ISIS) 2 Jan claimed responsibility for 31 Dec attack on road patrol which killed three outside Ingushetia’s capital Magas. Head of Chechen Republic since 2007 Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov 16 Jan ceded power due to “temporary disability” putting chairman of Chechen Republic govt Khuchiyev in charge; spokesperson said he is “undergoing treatment requiring medical procedures” same day. Russian court in Stavropol region 24 Jan sentenced Ingush activist to sixteen months in colony-settlement for assaulting police officers during demonstrations in Magas in March 2019; ninth activist to be condemned for similar activities.
Russia and the separatists it backs in Ukraine’s east are no longer quite on the same page, especially since the Kremlin abandoned ideas of annexing the breakaway republics or recognising their independence. The rift gives the new Ukrainian president an opportunity for outreach to the east’s embattled population, including by relaxing the trade embargo.
With living conditions worsening, and crossfire still claiming casualties, people residing in eastern Ukraine’s conflict zone feel increasingly abandoned by the central government. Reintegrating the area requires Russian withdrawal, but in the meantime Kyiv can and should better protect civilians and meet humanitarian needs.
Much of north-eastern Syria has been safe during the civil war. But in the event of U.S. military withdrawal, a mad scramble for control could be unleashed. Washington and Moscow should help their respective allies in Syria reach a decentralisation deal for the area.
The Kremlin is fostering a culture of military-tinged patriotism, partly to rally support for armed interventions abroad. The sentiment springs from pride in Russia’s past as a global power and desire to reclaim that status. Its possible co-optation by far-right nationalists, however, should worry Moscow.
Rivalry persists between Russia and Turkey in their shared neighbourhood of the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. But Moscow-Ankara relations have warmed overall. Building on their wider rapprochement, the two powers can work together to tamp down flare-ups of regional conflicts.
As the Syrian regime masses its forces to recapture the country’s south west from the opposition, another humanitarian disaster looms. The U.S., Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western ceasefire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement.
Escalation is likely going to continue [in Syria] as long as Turkey and Russia cannot agree on a new cease-fire.
[Russia is] targeting the [African] regimes that do have not have very good relations with the west or who are dissatisfied with west like Sudan, Zimbabwe and CAR.
[The rapprochement between Russia and Turkey] demonstrates a striking level of pragmatism in this relationship.
The current situation does not contribute to the post-war reconciliation [between Russia and Georgia] - it only fuels conflict with an increasing feeling of injustice for [people] living near the dividing line.
[The] assumption that [President Putin has] a grand evil plan only feeds the domestic myth of a Russia under siege.
Russia needs both the Syrian regime and Turkey. So it has to give a little bit to both and it has to ... make them equally angry, if that's what it wants.
As President Putin announces changes to Russia’s constitution, Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker explores his plans for the future. Putin’s government may have resigned and his future role may be unknown, she says, but one thing is certain: he is the one calling the shots.
Originally published in Inkstick
Amid expectations that Russia will test Ukraine’s new president with escalatory actions, it appears that its calculus is to wait for Kyiv’s administration to make the first move – while quietly helping the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics entrench themselves economically.
Originally published in Russia File