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”

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

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”

Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya

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 over their proxies in Libya. Read more “Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya”

Lukashenko Isn’t Interested in Belarus-Russia Union

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

Kipoi Greece compressor station
Compressor station of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline in Kipoi, Greece, October 2019 (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

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

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

Belgrade Serbia
Skyline of Belgrade, Serbia, August 22, 2011 (Serzhile)

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”