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.
Originally published in Valdai Discussion Club
Authorities responded with force to series of weekly unpermitted protests in Moscow that started mid-July after govt banned most independent candidates from running in 8 Sept Moscow city council election; hundreds arrested. Some 50,000 took part in sanctioned protest in Moscow 10 Aug, and some also participated in unsanctioned side-protests. Police reportedly arrested 256 protesters, with police brutality reports fewer than in prior weeks. To avoid arrests, protest leaders 17 Aug organised series of single-person pickets, which require no permit, and called on supporters not to demonstrate. Thousands attended unsanctioned protests in Moscow 31 Aug, police refrained from intervening. President Putin 21 Aug said protests were part of “pre-election tensions”. France and Germany 3 Aug condemned police crackdown on opposition rallies, citing “excessive use of force”. Chechen ex-commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, living in exile in Germany, was shot dead 23 Aug in Berlin; German authorities same day arrested Russian national in Berlin. German media 30 Aug reported links between suspect and Russian military intelligence. Putin’s spokesperson 28 Aug rejected any links between killing and Russian state. Federal Security Service raided offices of human rights group Justice Initiative in Moscow 14 Aug and Ingushetia 16 Aug; Human Rights NGO Amnesty International said that, according to police directive, authorities had conducted raids on grounds that group that had played role in organising protests in Moscow 27 July and 3 Aug. Also in North Caucasus region, National Anti-Terrorism Committee in Ingushetia 7 Aug said that Russian security forces had killed man suspected of plotting terror attack when he opened fire to resist arrest. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) 29 Aug said it had foiled series of planned terrorist attacks targeting law enforcement facilities in Kabardino-Balkaria, arresting one suspect in region.
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.
[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.
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.
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
Originally published in Time