Russia and the West are mired in mutual mistrust, sinking deeper with each contretemps in the post-Soviet space and every round of sanctions punishing perceived Russian malfeasance. A rapprochement appears unlikely soon, so both sides must open channels to avert confrontations where their interests collide.
Four gunmen attacked Russian orthodox church in centre of Chechen capital Grozny 19 May, killing two police and one churchgoer, and injuring two police and another churchgoer; police shot dead all four suspected attackers. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said attackers were attempting to take hostages; Islamic State (ISIS) claimed it was responsible; Kadyrov said ISIS was not behind the attack because there were no ISIS members in Chechnya. Kadyrov 28 May said he was ordering DNA tests to help repatriate children born in Middle East to parents who left North Caucasus to join ISIS. French police reported that suspect in 12 May knife attack in Paris in which one person was killed and four injured was naturalised citizen born in Chechnya; ISIS claimed he was one of its “soldiers”. Chechen Supreme Court 4 May rejected appeal by Oyub Titiyev, director of Chechnya office of Memorial human rights organisation, against extension of his pre-trial detention.
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.
China and Russia’s separate visions for Central Asia could transform the region’s political and economic landscape as well as relations between the two Eurasian giants. To the smaller, embryonic Central Asian nation states, the new geopolitical realities could offer both economic prosperity as well as worsening instability and conflict.
Russia’s North Caucasus insurgency has gone relatively quiet, as Moscow crushed militants and many left to fight in Syria and Iraq. But longstanding grievances remain and the war may only have widened, as evidenced by the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt and the emergence of new groups swearing allegiance to the Islamic State in Russia itself.
For two decades, the North Caucasus conflict has been among Europe’s deadliest. Recently, victims were less, but risks associated with growing Islamic State (IS) influence in the insurgency are growing. To prevent a new rise in violence, Moscow must promote transparent governance as well as social and economic opportunities in its six North Caucasus republics.
A powerful propaganda machine promotes the “success story” of today’s Chechnya. But its peace is fragile; government repression is used to keep the people at bay while economic inequality, poor social infrastructure, lack of genuine reconciliation and almost full impunity for past abuses reflect the republic’s daily reality.
Stronger democratic institutions are crucial to easing violence in Russia’s North Caucasus, where Europe’s worst armed conflict claimed at least 1,225 victims in 2012 and 495 in the first six months of 2013.
[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.
In the end [Moscow] will want a political solution in Syria, and economic reconstruction. For that they will need European input and money and investment.
After the nuclear deal, in 2015, Putin worried about rapprochement between Iran and the U.S. A lot has changed. Russia is now Iran’s most important and powerful ally.
[For the heads of state attending the Sochi summit], one of the principal [questions] is what form the Kurdish participation in Geneva will take. I do not see the Turks making progress on this point.
[Local barons in Russia's republics often] consolidate their positions in ministries, place their friends and relations in important posts and use various corrupt practices to siphon off resources.
Many wonder what the world should expect now that Russia’s Vladimir Putin has been re-elected for what is supposed to be his final term. Understanding what motivates the Kremlin could help Western policymakers build an approach toward Russia that combines pressure with opportunities for engagement.
The prospect of a UN peacekeeping force in Ukraine's Donbas offers a rare opening to discuss how to resolve the conflict. But Moscow's diplomatic overtures also risk fueling political infighting in Kyiv in the run-up to next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
Originally published in Lowy Institute
Originally published in Eurasianet