James Nixey

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A Ukrainian woman looks the photos of fallen soldiers at a memorial in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 4, 2024. (Photo by Ignacio Marin/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Nobody wanted a long war in Ukraine. Russia didn’t plan for it, and the West wasn’t prepared for it.

Ukraine and its Western partners had dared to hope that the successes of autumn 2022 might cause Russia’s army to implode. There was similar vain hope that the late Yevgeny Prigozhin’s coup of June 2023 would succeed – or at least weaken the Kremlin’s grip on its war. These hopes proved naïve.

Russia, meanwhile, expected a short victorious war of weeks if not days, one that would barely be felt by its population, except to glory in the defeat of Zelenskyy and his ‘Nazi regime’.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia is playing for time, hoping that support for Ukraine will weaken.

Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, was fooled recently by two well-known Russian ‘comics’ into saying she was ‘tired’ of the war in Ukraine and that everyone would soon be looking for a ‘way out’. Many of her counterparts in the West would have tacitly agreed.

Ms Meloni deserves no sympathy. She thought she was talking to the head of the African Union Commission, so this should have been a chance to exercise statecraft and reason. She could have argued that Russia’s war in Ukraine is nothing if not colonialist itself – a desperate attempt to maintain its empire.

Russia’s plan B

But Ms Meloni’s statement was worse than a lack of moral leadership.…  Seguir leyendo »

Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin attend their meeting on January 23, 2020 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Since the 1960s, America has endeavoured to ensure that its armed forces can fight two major conflicts in geographically distinct regions simultaneously. While the US is not doing much of the actual fighting, the wars between Russia and Ukraine, and between Hamas and Israel suggest that its ‘two-theatre provision’ has been prophetic.

The wars are scarcely analogous in origin or form. But Ukraine and Israel are both fighting in the knowledge that an end to US support would have severe consequences for their ability to fight. In Ukraine’s case, it would surely lead to defeat within months, if not weeks.

The Biden administration has attempted to ‘future-proof’ its support for Ukraine by ring-fencing it within a combined $105 billion aid package, $61.4 billion of which is earmarked for Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at Russian positions in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine in August 2023. (Photo by Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Looked at one way, since February 2022 the West has performed to an unprecedented degree over Ukraine, delivering previously unimaginable support to Ukraine’s military, imposing stronger than ever sanctions on Russia, and presenting a largely united front.

Remarkably this alliance is still in place after 18 months, despite serious depletion of Western military stocks and rising energy bills for European voters.

Strong US leadership has been crucial, supplying some 70 per cent of Western military support to Ukraine. In contrast to his predecessor, President Joe Biden has trusted his intelligence services over Russian narratives. His visit to Kyiv in February 2023 was an act of personal and political bravery.…  Seguir leyendo »

A view of the site where a private jet, allegedly carrying Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin and other passengers crashed in Russia's northwestern Tver region. (Photo by Wagner Telegram Account/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Retribution against Yevgeniy Prigozhin, leader of Wagner’s failed coup attempt in June, was inevitable.

Prigozhin knew President Vladimir Putin’s methods well enough to take precautions. It is known that multiple individuals have changed their name to Yevgeniy Prigozhin as part of the mercenary leader’s efforts to obfuscate his travels.

Therefore it may never be established for certain that he died in the private jet. Even President Putin, in his first comment on the incident, delivered a stilted obituary but stopped short of saying Prigozhin was definitely among the dead. And the crash is so politically significant that there is no chance of a transparent or credible investigation.…  Seguir leyendo »

US president Joe Biden delivers the 2023 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, his first address to a new Republican-controlled House. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Trade and economics are key areas to watch

Daniel W. Drezner

Russia’s absence from the Munich Security Conference will allow US and European policymakers to brag about their flourishing partnership. The past year has seen repeated predictions of a fracturing transatlantic relationship – only to see repeated agreement on how to sanction Russia and which arms to ship to Ukraine.

Putin invaded because he thought the West was divided. Events have proven him wrong. When one takes a step back, however, and examines the Biden administration’s embrace of geoeconomics, Putin’s assumption becomes easier to comprehend.

The strongest throughline between the Trump and Biden administrations has been their shared mindset on weaponized interdependence.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dismantling a Soviet Union monument in Kyiv, Ukraine, erected in 1982 as a symbol of Ukraine and Russia being supposedly reunified during the Soviet government era. Photo by Salvatore Cavalli/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Although the reverberations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine clearly stretch around the globe, the strongest shocks are – and will continue to be – felt by those countries Moscow used to directly rule.

These countries struggle to shrug off a Soviet legacy as, to varying degrees – linguistically, technologically, culturally, and politically – they bear psychological and physical scars of Russia’s colonial past and its present mentality.

It does not help that these countries lack an appropriate collective descriptor. Over the years there has been ‘Newly Independent States’ – hardly appropriate after 31 years – the now-defunct ‘Commonwealth of Independent States’, the ‘post-Soviet space’ and ‘Former Soviet Union’ which both reference the past, and simply ‘Eurasia’ which is hardly appropriate for either Ukraine or Turkmenistan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Voting in controversial referendums in Donetsk, Ukraine on September 25, 2022, asking if the citizens want the region to become part of Russia. Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

James Nixey

Like the course of the war itself, Russia’s ability to garner and maintain international support has fluctuated considerably over the past 7-8 months.

Initially, as with all of Russia’s shocking acts in the last two decades, such as other invasions, assassinations, domestic human rights abuses, there was global revulsion and this was reflected in the first United Nations (UN) resolution vote in which 141 countries came out against Russia with 35 abstentions and only five against.

But within weeks another UN vote on the slightly different issue of Russia’s continued membership of the UN Human Rights Council, the ratio was down to 93-58-24.…  Seguir leyendo »

10 Downing Street in London, United Kingdom as seen on 05 September 2022 as Liz Truss was announced as the UK's next prime minister. Photo: Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

It says something of the UK that the incoming prime minister has ordered a rewrite of British foreign policy barely 18 months after the last one was published.

Liz Truss, who has become the fourth prime minister in Downing Street in six turbulent years, is not prone to risk aversion or offering bland reassurances. She made clear during the campaign for the Conservative leadership that she wants the 2021 Integrated Review redrawn with a far greater focus on combating the ‘growing malign influence’ of Russia and China. She has also pledged to increase defence spending from its current 2.1 per cent of GDP, to 2.7 per cent, and then to 3 per cent by 2030, which will include more support for the intelligence services and cyber security, a further £10 billion overall at a time when public finances are in dire straits.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Peaceful Stand for Ukraine rally in Boston, US, held days after Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Photo by Vincent Ricci/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Russia is softening up Ukraine with increased aerial bombardments while hinting at a diplomatic way out. This has led to equally predictable talk in the West of concessions that Ukraine must make – the need for it to ‘play ball’. Such calls can be well-meaning but sadly fail to understand both Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine’s heroic self-defence so far has surprised many but it should not have – partly because even during the smaller-scale invasion in 2014 its army put up far more resistance than Russia expected, but also because it is a different army and a different Ukraine now.

After eight years of Russian provocation and partial occupation, Ukraine’s fighting force is now better trained, equipped, and motivated.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian president Vladimir Putin meets US president George W. Bush in the Oval Office at the White House on November 13, 2001. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

On 12 September 2001, Russian president Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to call George W. Bush to express his condolences – and to offer him support.

Just the previous year, Putin had said Russia joining NATO was a possibility and it suited Russia to draw parallels between the terrorist attacks on the US and its own ‘anti-terrorist’ campaign in Chechnya at the time.

Even though much of the Russian commentary about 9/11 professed empathy rather than sympathy, in their eyes the US was both a victim – as Russia likes to see itself – and ‘had it coming’ while Russia was blameless.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is silhouetted as he gives a speech during a German-Russian forum on prospects of creating an EU-Russia free trade zone. Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has been outsmarting most of his counterparts around the world for more than 17 years. He can do it without breaking a sweat, although rumours have long circulated that he wants out. Presumably, he does his job so well in his boss’s eyes – not making Russian foreign policy but pushing it out – he is not allowed to leave.

The most recent humiliation was inflicted on EU foreign policy high representative Josep Borrell when he travelled to Russia to enquire whether Moscow was interested in closer relations with the EU while Russia was in the middle of its most repressive protest-quelling this century, only to find – to no-one’s surprise but his – that it was not.…  Seguir leyendo »

Women take part in an event in support of detained and injured participants in mass protests against the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Photo by Natalia Fedosenko\TASS via Getty Images.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s 26-year rule — one of the world’s longest — is itself testament to his regime’s unwillingness to change. Most of Belarus’s immediate neighbours — particularly Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland — are far more prosperous. Now, with the farce of last week’s vote and the subsequent renewed violence that Minsk is willing to use on its citizens, Belarus finds itself at the very bottom of the post-Soviet legitimacy league table. But others share a portion of blame for this saga. The West — and the EU in particular — have failed the people of Belarus.

Russia — as ever in its relationships with the Soviet Union’s other successor states — has much to answer for.…  Seguir leyendo »

Donald Trump speaks at the UN on 24 September. Photo: Getty Images.

In the wake of a whistleblower’s report that alleged Donald Trump linked military aid to Ukraine to the latter’s willingness to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential elections, and his son, Hunter, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has initiated a formal impeachment inquiry. Chatham House experts explore the impact of this latest turn of events.

Questions abound for Congress and for foreign allies

Lindsay Newman

For more than a year, Democrats worked to investigate President Donald Trump’s potential involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Now, in the span of a week, they appear to have decided that the subject of a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi and alleged subsequent efforts by the Trump administration to prevent the release of a related whistleblower report constitute clear, impeachable offences.…  Seguir leyendo »

Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin during a meeting at the Fort de Bregancon, a summer residence of the president of France. Photo by Alexei Druzhinin\TASS via Getty Images.

There is no world leader with a more contradictory attitude toward Russia than Emmanuel Macron.

The French president was ostensibly the ‘least apologist’ candidate of those running in the first round of the 2017 elections. Compared to the Russian-funded Marine Le Pen on one end of the spectrum, and the radical leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the other, Macron seemed a model of moderation.

To the Kremlin, he must have been perceived as the least desirable candidate for its interests, which is why they hacked the servers of his party, En Marche, just prior to the vote in a last-ditch attempt to derail the campaign.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soldiers drill for the Victory Day parade in front of a portrait of Vladimir Putin. Photo: Getty Images.

The Kremlin famously demands ‘respect’ from the world’s leading powers and international organizations.[1] But it shows little respect itself for the rules-based international order. Indeed, it rejects the very notion that such an order exists.

Where most Western governments see an imperfect liberal capitalist system – even one in retreat – Moscow’s ruling elites see the slow passing of a hegemonic, US-led world order in which the ‘rules’ are slanted in the West’s favour and Russia’s ‘natural rights’ have been ignored.

In this context, the Russian leadership does not consider its interests to lie in following others’ rules. This presents a number of practical challenges for those in the West who nonetheless need to deter or respond to Russian aggression.…  Seguir leyendo »

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shake hands during their joint press conference on 16 July. Photo: Getty Images.

Contrary to the worst fears, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the two controllers of 92% of the world’s nuclear weapons, did not fall out badly and Trump did not concede a Soviet-era sphere of influence to Russia. But their unprecedented meeting in Helsinki has still given a win to the Kremlin and sent shockwaves through the United States, with effects on American foreign and domestic policy that will play out over the coming weeks and months.

Just by getting the summit held, the Kremlin scored a post-World Cup goal – the event, at least for a while, puts Russia on a par with the United States in terms of political weight, a key Russian objective.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sberbank offices in London. Photo: Getty Images.

If confirmed, the attack on double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter would be the second known Russian state-sponsored murder in the UK, following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Other suspicious cases are now being reopened.

What principles should guide an effective response?
  1. Effective measures are more than symbolic. They impose costs that punish unacceptable actions and deter future ones. The UK’s response to Litvinenko’s death – expelling four diplomats, imposing visa restrictions for officials, and suspending security service liaison – was clearly not sufficient enough to deter the latest attack. Symbols matter, but only if they credibly convey intentions about the consequences of further action.
…  Seguir leyendo »
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses the Chatham House London Conference, October 2017

Pity Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office briefing team this week. Following on swiftly from his hitherto unsuccessful diplomatic efforts in Iran to release British dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from prison, the UK foreign secretary will have an equally difficult – in truth, fruitless – ‘away game’ with another stubbornly anti-western power this week in the form of Russia.

There is a strain of thought, particularly virulent among diplomats, that one should “always be talking”. This is outwardly reasonable – “jaw-jaw rather than war-war”. But what if the other side is doing both at the same time? What if war is being waged against you (using a variety of methods, none of which include the overt use of military force) at the very same time as words – smooth diplomatic words – are being exchanged?…  Seguir leyendo »

An underground crossing decorated with graffiti of the Soviet Army in the Second World War in Tula, Russia. Photo via Getty Images.

There are many disagreements between Russia and the West at present – Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Kosovo, human rights, energy deals – to name a few. But it is European security, and specifically the security orientation of post-Soviet countries, that constitutes the crux of the fallout. James Nixey and Richard Sakwa present two perspectives on this key geopolitical debate.

It is impractical and immoral to abandon the post-Soviet states to Moscow

It is often stated in outwardly reasonable commentary that the West must ‘listen to Russia more’ or ‘respect Russia’s legitimate interests’. While not necessarily untrue per se, such statements always need unpacking as they frequently conceal a different exhortation.…  Seguir leyendo »