Five years into a war in its east, Ukraine has elected an unlikely new president: professional comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy. To date, Zelenskyy has hinted at both dialogue with and new punitive measures against Ukraine’s formidable neighbour to the east, but offered little in the way of specific plans for either course of action. Some Ukrainians fear that Moscow might take advantage of this seeming hesitancy to cement its influence in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (D/LPR) – the breakaway statelets in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. In April, after Zelenskyy’s election, but before his inauguration, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree making it easier for D/LPR residents to obtain Russian citizenship.… Seguir leyendo »
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After five years of war, a humanitarian crisis drags on in the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (L/DPR), the parts of eastern Ukraine nominally governed by Russian-backed separatists. More than 3.5 million people in eastern Ukraine are in need of aid, according to UN figures. The need is particularly dire in the rebel-held territories, which confront a Ukrainian economic blockade as well as isolation imposed by the rebels themselves. The aging segment of the L/DPR’s population is hardest-hit of all, struggling to get by on pensions as low as $30 per month. But humanitarian groups face several obstacles in getting these people the aid they need.… Seguir leyendo »
Russian President Vladimir Putin has a flair for understated drama. When he met with Donald Trump last July, his cool gaze at the floor contrasted with the more animated gestures of the U.S. president. And so when the two meet again on Monday, Putin is unlikely to greet Trump with a bouquet of flowers as he did German Chancellor Angela Merkel in May. But the Helsinki summit will nonetheless be a contest of theatrical power projection—and it’s one that Putin has perhaps already won.
The game Putin plays is not so much about practicing diplomacy or striking deals; it is about optics, both at home and abroad.… Seguir leyendo »
In February 2016, 5,000 Salafi Muslims marched into the centre of Khasavyurt, the second-largest city of the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, to protest the forced closure of their mosque. Dagestan’s Salafi community, orthodox Muslims who practice a revivalist Islam that originated in the Gulf, is one of Russia’s largest. It has long faced discrimination from the Dagestani authorities.
In this instance, few expected those authorities to bend to the marchers’ demands. But, in a rare gesture of compromise, the mosque was reopened the next day.
The apparent victory, however, did not come cheap. One protest leader, a popular and charismatic Salafi imam, was subsequently arrested by security forces, reportedly tortured and sentenced to serve five years in a penal colony, accused of justifying jihadist (what the authorities deride as “Wahhabi”) violence.… Seguir leyendo »
The victories over ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa pose a dilemma for states whose citizens travelled to join the Islamic State’s (ISIS) ranks and who may now seek to return home. These states include Russia, and in particular its republic of Chechnya.
On the one hand, Chechen authorities fear the return of insurgents who fought for ISIS. They worry those militants, most of whom are mortal enemies of Ramzan Kadyrov’s heavy-handed regime, will renew the attacks they mounted some years ago in Chechnya. As has been the case in the past, authorities might not stop at jailing returnees, and might also go after their families, friends or associates, potentially hardening hatred of the regime among a wider circle of people.… Seguir leyendo »