Don’t Fall for Putin’s Propaganda About Ukraine

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Voronezh, August 5, 2014 (Kremlin)

With Russia possibly on the verge of escalating the Donbas War, it’s worth repudiating Vladimir Putin’s justifications for invading Ukraine.

This summer, Putin explained at length why he believes Russia and Ukraine are inseparable. His is a selective version of history that is illuminating insofar as it reveals Russian attitudes toward Belarusians, Ukrainians and other Slavic peoples in Eastern Europe; it’s not an excuse for denying Ukrainians their right to self-determination. Read more “Don’t Fall for Putin’s Propaganda About Ukraine”

EU Must Send Strong Message to Belarus — And Russia

The interception of a Ryanair plane by Belarus is a breach of international right.

The crew was told by Belarusian officials there was a bomb threat, and they needed to divert to Minsk. It was a ploy to kidnap opposition blogger Roman Protasevich, who was traveling on the flight from Greece to Lithuania.

The Western response has so far been one of shared indignation. This must be followed by concrete action against dictator Alexander Lukashenko — not in the least to send a strong message to his protector in Moscow. Read more “EU Must Send Strong Message to Belarus — And Russia”

Lukashenko Shouldn’t Expect Russia’s Help

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Voronezh, August 5, 2014 (Kremlin)

Alexander Lukashenko could have gone down in history as the father of the Belarusian state. Now “Europe’s last dictator” is on his last leg. A rigged election has unleashed unprecedented protests.

Desperate, Lukashenko has turned to his ally, Vladimir Putin, for help. Belarusian state media report that Russia has promised to provide military assistance if Lukashenko asks for it. This has sparked speculation that Russia might intervene in Belarus much as it did in Ukraine when its Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted in 2014.

That doesn’t seem likely. In fact, Russia may be better off with Lukashenko gone. Read more “Lukashenko Shouldn’t Expect Russia’s Help”

Belarus’ Lukashenko Under Pressure from All Sides

Mike Pompeo Alexander Lukashenko
American secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets with President Alexander Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials in Minsk, February 1 (State Department/Ron Przysucha)

Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years. He is expected to win what will likely be a rigged election on Sunday, but he may not get a landslide this time. The cracks in his regime are widening. Read more “Belarus’ Lukashenko Under Pressure from All Sides”

Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Shooting at Each Other

Yerevan Armenia
Yerevan, Armenia at night (Unsplash/Levon Vardanyan)

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”

In Minsk, Pompeo Is All Talk

Mike Pompeo Alexander Lukashenko
American secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets with President Alexander Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials in Minsk, February 1 (State Department/Ron Przysucha)

Tensions between Belarus and Russia prompted American secretary of state Mike Pompeo to pay Alexander Lukashenko a visit this weekend. He told the Belarusian leader that the United States could fulfill all of his country’s oil needs if he wants to become “independent” from Russia.

This shouldn’t be taken seriously. Besides the hypocrisy — how “independent” would Belarus be if it traded its dependence on Russia for a dependence on the United States? — it would be logistically and financially almost impossible for America to meet the complete oil needs of Russia’s closest ally.

Pompeo’s remarks do suggest America is willing to help Belarus from being absorbed by Russia. But how much can it really do? Read more “In Minsk, Pompeo Is All Talk”

Why Putin Wants to Change Russia’s Constitution

Barack Obama Vladimir Putin
American president Barack Obama speaks with Australian foreign minister Bob Carr as Russian president Vladimir Putin opens a plenary session of the G20 in Saint Petersburg, September 6, 2013 (White House/Pete Souza)

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”

Russian-Ukrainian Gas Deal Is a Trilateral Victory

Kiev Ukraine
Skyline of Kiev, Ukraine, January 15, 2015 (Sergey Galyonkin)

Russia and Ukraine have agreed to secure the flow of natural gas into Europe for the next five years. A deal between the two countries satisfies the economic needs of all three parties involved. Russia guarantees the export of its gas, Ukraine continues to benefit financially from transiting the gas, and the EU receives a steady supply of gas for the immediate future.

Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, will pipe 65 billion cubic metres of gas into Europe in 2020. The amount will fall to 40 billion over the next four years. The agreement mentions the possibility of extending the contract by another ten years upon maturity.

Ukraine will receive up to $7 billion in transit fees, which would be around 5 percent of its national budget.

An agreement has not (yet) been reached on direct gas supplies to Ukraine. For the time being, it only stands to benefit financially.

Naftogaz, the Ukrainian gas company, will also receive $2.9 billion from Gazprom in overdue transit payments following an arbitration court ruling in Sweden. In return, Ukraine has agreed to drop $12.2 billion in additional legal claims. Read more “Russian-Ukrainian Gas Deal Is a Trilateral Victory”