As elections draw near, increased tension at the line of separation with South Ossetia has helped put the future of normalisation with Russia in doubt. But whoever wins at the polls should not abandon dialogue, but rather build on it to frankly discuss these problems.
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.
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.