Why Putin Wants to Change the Russian 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 the Russian 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”

Russian-Ukrainian Gas Deal is a Trilateral Victory

Vladimir Putin Emmanuel Macron Angela Merkel Volodymyr Zelensky
Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Volodymyr Zelensky, the leaders of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine, attend a summit in Paris, December 9, 2019 (Bundesregierung)

Russia and Ukraine have agreed to secure the flow of natural gas to 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”

Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya

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

Days after sending military aid to prop up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, Turkey’s strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has done a deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to halt the fighting in Libya.

Russian mercenaries fight on the side of warlord Khalifa Haftar, who controls the bulk of the country, including its oil industry.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates also support Haftar, who has reportedly received Chinese-made drones and Russian-made air defenses from the UAE.

The Arab states see Haftar as a bulwark against Islamist influences, including the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of the Tripoli government. Egypt’s generals overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in their country with the backing of most Arab monarchs in 2013.

It is unclear what, if any, effect the Erdoğan-Putin deal will have. Artillery and missile strikes were reported on the outskirts of Tripoli in the early hours of Thursday. The promised ceasefire could be a test of Turkey’s and Russia’s influence on their proxies in Libya. Read more “Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya”

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”

The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, Explained

Welded pipes of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline are lowered in northern Greece, November 2016
Welded pipes of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline are lowered in northern Greece, November 2016 (TAP)

After four years of construction, the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) has started pumping gas into Europe.

TANAP is part of Europe’s Southern Gas Corridor, connecting the South Caucasus Pipeline (completed) with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (still under construction). It aims to transport natural gas from Azerbaijan all the way through to Italy, where it flows into the European market.

Once the system is fully operational, it should be able to pipe 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas into Europe per year. Read more “The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, Explained”

China-Russia Gas Pipeline Should Concentrate Minds in Brussels

The Power of Siberia natural gas pipeline in Russia's Far East
The Power of Siberia natural gas pipeline in Russia’s Far East (Gazprom)

Russia has started piping gas to China through a new pipeline, called Power of Siberia. After five years of construction, it will be able to send up to 38 billion cubic meters of gas to China per year.

The pipeline marks a reorientation of Russian energy policy away from the European market, which should give European policymakers some concern. Read more “China-Russia Gas Pipeline Should Concentrate Minds in Brussels”

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”

Serbia Should Break with Russia

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin attends negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, February 11, 2015 (Press Service of the President of Ukraine)

Russia and Serbia share a rich history of religious tradition and support. Russia has stood by what it considers its little brother for centuries and it continues to do so today. Just last week, Serbia received ten armored patrol vehicles from Russia. Thirty T-72B3 tanks are underway.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić has thanked Vladimir Putin for beefing up the Serbian military, but he should be wary of the implications. If Serbia wants to join the EU, it must avoid playing with fire. Read more “Serbia Should Break with Russia”

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”