Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Shooting at Each Other

Yerevan Armenia
View of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia (Unsplash/Artak Petrosyan)

In what have been some of the worst clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in years, sixteen soldiers and one civilian were killed in the last two weeks. Armenia has threatened to bomb an Azerbaijani reservoir. Azerbaijan has threatened to destroy an Armenian nuclear plant. These may be empty threats, but they speak to the level of tension between the two countries.

What exactly happened, why, and what is the likely outcome? Read more “Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Shooting at Each Other”

Why Putin Wants to Change Russia’s Constitution

Vladimir Putin Dmitri Medvedev
Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with his prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, at his country residence outside Moscow, January 25, 2016 (Kremlin)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called for a referendum to approve constitutional changes that would nominally hand more power to parliament.

The changes, if approved, might improve Russia’s rating in the Freedom House index, but democracy is probably not on his mind.

Only hours after his yearly address to the combined Federal Assembly, in which he made his proposals, Putin accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and replaced him with the little-known head of the Federal Tax Service, Mikhail Mishustin.

The moves have left both Russians and Russia experts wondering: what’s happening? And what’s next? Read more “Why Putin Wants to Change Russia’s Constitution”

Trump’s Presence Will Be Felt When Merkel and Putin Meet

Vladimir Putin Angela Merkel
Russian president Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel attend a conference in Moscow, November 16, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

German chancellor Angela Merkel is traveling to Moscow on Saturday, officially to discuss the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Ukraine, as well as the tension between Iran and the United States, with Vladimir Putin.

Hanging over the meeting will their countries’ deteriorating relations with the United States. Read more “Trump’s Presence Will Be Felt When Merkel and Putin Meet”

Lukashenko Isn’t Interested in Belarus-Russia Union

Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev, Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia meet in Minsk, October 24, 2013
Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev, Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia meet in Minsk, October 24, 2013 (Kremlin)

Earlier this month, the presidents of Belarus and Russia met in Sochi to discuss a merger of their two states. Nothing came of the meeting. Another is due on Friday. It is unlikely to produce results either.

At this rate, the annual talks about closer integration are becoming a tradition without meaning.

Alexander Lukashenko may not mind, but Vladimir Putin does. Read more “Lukashenko Isn’t Interested in Belarus-Russia Union”

Breakthrough Unlikely at Normandy Four Meeting

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Emmanuel Macron of France meet outside the Palace of Versailles, May 29, 2017
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Emmanuel Macron of France meet outside the Palace of Versailles, May 29, 2017 (Elysée)

For the first time in three years, the “Normandy Four” are due to meet in Paris on Monday.

This negotiation format, consisting of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, brought about the Minsk I and Minsk II ceasefire agreements in 2014 and 2015. Even though their implementation was incomplete, the Normandy Four was still seen as a somewhat successful example of multilateral cooperation.

Its usefulness may have expired. Experts doubt the upcoming meeting will accomplish much for the simple reason that neither Russia nor Ukraine is ready to capitulate. Read more “Breakthrough Unlikely at Normandy Four Meeting”

Europe Needs to Pay Attention to What’s Happening in Moldova

Maia Sandu, leader of Moldova's Party of Action and Solidarity, attends the European People's Party congress in Malta, March 29, 2017
Maia Sandu, leader of Moldova’s Party of Action and Solidarity, attends the European People’s Party congress in Malta, March 29, 2017 (EPP)

After five months in power, Maia Sandu’s pro-European government in Moldova has collapsed. President Igor Dodon, whose sympathies are with Russia, has appointed Ion Chicu, a Euroskeptic, as interim prime minister.

The situation worries Moldovans — but it should also worry the EU. Read more “Europe Needs to Pay Attention to What’s Happening in Moldova”

Turkey’s Purchase of a Russian Missile System, Explained

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey meet in Saint Petersburg, August 9, 2016
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey meet in Saint Petersburg, August 9, 2016 (Kremlin)

Russia sent Turkey a seventh batch of components for the S-400 missile defense system over the weekend. According to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, all S-400 missiles will be deployed by April 2020.

Erdoğan has also said he is planning to send specialists to Russia for training on how to operate the S-400s.

The deal has met stiff resistance from NATO allies, who are threatening to kick Turkey out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. So why is it going ahead with the purchase? Read more “Turkey’s Purchase of a Russian Missile System, Explained”

Lithuania’s Presidential Election Is Boring — And That’s Fine

Lithuania's outgoing president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, speaks at an event celebrating the country's fifteen years in the EU, May 1
Lithuania’s outgoing president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, speaks at an event celebrating the country’s fifteen years in the EU, May 1 (Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania/Robertas Dačkus)

Former finance minister Ingrida Šimonytė and economist Gitanas Nausėda have advanced to the second round of Lithuania’s presidential election. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis placed third and has announced he will step down in July.

The remaining candidates are both center-right, so the outcome of the runoff on May 26 should not affect Lithuania’s politics in a major way. Even so, the result is largely a happy one. Read more “Lithuania’s Presidential Election Is Boring — And That’s Fine”

Three Challenges for Ukraine’s Sitcom President

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky (Official Website)

In Ukraine, a sitcom is turning into reality as Volodymyr Zelensky becomes the sixth president in the country’s post-Soviet history.

Before running in this year’s election, Zelensky starred in the political comedy Servant of the People, where he portrayed an ordinary teacher who had become president of Ukraine. His character’s attempts to fix the country run into strong opposition from corrupt oligarchs.

As president, Zelensky’s challenge will be much the same: defeating the oligarchs who have so far blocked reform in addition to managing Ukraine’s relations with Russia and building a political support base of his own. Read more “Three Challenges for Ukraine’s Sitcom President”

Estonia’s President Sends Wrong Message Meeting Putin

President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia meets with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the Kremlin in Moscow, April 18
President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia meets with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the Kremlin in Moscow, April 18 (Kremlin)

For the past decade, the Baltic states have maintained a strict policy toward Russia: no official state visits by presidents, prime ministers or other high-ranking officials.

That changed last week, when Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid visited a newly renovated embassy in Moscow and stopped by the Kremlin for a cup of tea with Vladimir Putin.

In itself, the meeting does not carry much weight, as nothing crucial was said or done. But it sent the wrong message. Read more “Estonia’s President Sends Wrong Message Meeting Putin”