Kazakhstan: Russia’s staunchest ally wavers
Could the linchpin in Russia’s plan to reassert its control over former Soviet states be in danger of slipping away? Moscow fears it might. Kazakhstan has been making overtures to the U.S. and China, and chipping away at key cultural ties. For now, Astana cannot afford to break away from Russia’s orbit, especially in security matters, but an overreaction by the Kremlin could tip the balance.
The future of Ukraine’s energy transit status
With a key contract expiring next year, Ukraine’s role in transmitting Russian gas to Europe is uncertain. The planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline threatens to circumvent Ukraine, which has offered lowered gas transit rates to Gazprom if it scraps the new project and allows other exporters to pass through the country. Russia is uninterested in such a deal, but rising forecasts of European gas demand may mean that the Kremlin must continue to rely on Ukraine or find other options.
Orthodox split bolsters Russia’s political regime
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople shocked the world last month by deciding Ukraine should have its own Autocephalous Orthodox Church, ending its subordination to Moscow. If the complex canonical procedure succeeds, it will have large political implications. The Russian Orthodox Church would lose its transnational character, making it even more dependent on the state. In consequence, Russia’s international isolation will grow and its “fortress mentality” deepen.
The sense and nonsense of economic sanctions
Economic sanctions are occasionally useful in trade conflicts, but they work poorly when employed as a political tool. The United States and the EU would have accomplished more had they responded to Russia’s 2014 aggression against Ukraine with immediate increases in defense spending and kept their military options open.
Is the U.S. going back to the Western Balkans?
The United States is increasing its engagement with the Western Balkans on issues including security, energy and good governance. The administration is trying to reduce instability in the region, improve economic development and counter outside influence from countries like Russia and China. If these efforts are successful, U.S. capital investment will increase and the Balkans will move closer toward NATO membership.
Opinion: Russia returns to Africa
Russia is making a big push for closer ties with African countries. It aims to gain access to energy resources and in return offers military support and arms sales. Its goals are not only economic, however. It wants to show its people and the world that it is still a global power, as well as challenge the U.S., Europe and China as they make their own inroads on the continent.