China’s threat to Russia’s Far East: Real or perceived?
The vulnerability of Russia’s Far Eastern and Siberian regions to Chinese expansion has become a truism. Yet most Russians seem to favor closer ties with China, and bilateral relations may be at their best in history, without a trace of military or political tension. There are also few signs of Chinese economic penetration, at least on a level that exceeds Japan’s or South Korea’s. Migration pressure from China into the underpopulated Russian north may be the hollowest of these popular myths.
Macedonia: A new front in Russia-West tensions
Macedonia is moving forward with changing its name and securing membership in the EU and NATO, even though a referendum to approve these steps failed to meet minimum turnout requirement. But the damage has already been done. Russia, which does not want to see another Balkan country absorbed into Western institutions, has gained clout and could potentially scupper the process. That would leave Macedonia in limbo, creating further instability in this already volatile region.
Essay: As Russian history repeats itself, Putin becomes Yeltsin
Russia’s pension reform continues to reverberate in domestic politics. For the first time ever, President Vladimir Putin has assumed full personal responsibility for an unpopular decision that directly infringes on the lives of most Russians. The effects are already visible in his slumping popularity and in the startling results of gubernatorial elections in several regions. Mr. Putin could be looking for an electoral out as he follows the downhill path of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.
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.