Two December meetings between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenka failed to deliver Moscow’s hopes of securing Minsk’s acceptance of closer alignment between Russia and Belarus.
Over the past year, relations between Belarus and Russia have been under unprecedented strain as Moscow has tried to encourage Minsk to sign up to a different format of relations designed to keep Belarus firmly in a Russian orbit. Details of the negotiations have remained secret, yet issues on the table appear to include unification of tax and customs systems, a common energy regulator and joint governing bodies.
The Kremlin believes that Belarus needs to deliver more in return for Russia’s continued economic support, worth around $10 billion per year.… Seguir leyendo »
Earlier this year, there was intense speculation in Moscow that the Kremlin was looking at putting flesh on the bones of the Union State as a platform for President Putin to stay in office after 2024 as leader of a Russian-Belarusian confederation. The joint state has only existed on paper since its formal establishment in 1999.
The ‘integration plan’ negotiated by the ministers of the economy of Russia and Belarus falls far short of establishing a single monetary, banking and customs system as foreseen in the original Union State Treaty. The draft agreement focuses on a more modest range of economic integration measures including a single tax code, a single regulator for the energy markets and deepening of common customs policies.… Seguir leyendo »
The president of Ukraine has primary responsibility for managing national security and foreign relations. But ahead of the first round of the presidential election on 31 March, candidates mainly exchanged views on issues that are the responsibility of the government not the president: anti-corruption measures, gas prices and social benefits.
The focus on domestic issues reflects the fact that there is broad consensus in society on Ukraine’s foreign policy orientation. To this extent, President Petro Poroshenko is a victim of his success. After 2014, he was instrumental in building international support for Ukraine.
This led to the IMF’s stabilization package and the rapid implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU.… Seguir leyendo »
As the last four years have demonstrated, the US and NATO are not going to become directly involved in military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow understands this well. It correctly calculated that intimidating Ukraine in the Azov Sea would lead to loud condemnations of Russian behaviour with no serious consequences.
The problem facing Western countries is two-fold: Moscow prioritizes its objectives in Ukraine over relations with the West, and it retains vast capacity to inflict damage on Ukraine by stoking conflict and strangling its economy.
The Kremlin has become used to Western sanctions and other instruments of pressure, concluding that it can live with them despite their inconvenience.… Seguir leyendo »
President Petro Poroshenko finally signed the law establishing the High Anti-Corruption Court on 26 June. This is one of the key conditions for the release of the next tranche of the IMF’s $17.5 billion support programme to Ukraine and should ensure that officials indicted by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) face trial.
Up to now, the unreformed lower courts have found ways to obstruct or delay cases brought by the NABU. Out of 220 indictments, there have been only 21 convictions. No senior official has gone to jail.
Created by reformist forces with strong backing from international partners, the NABU is a powerful example of a new institution unconnected with the past, with high professional standards relative to other law enforcement agencies.… Seguir leyendo »
Despite expectations that the weakened position of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union alliance (CDU/CSU) in parliament could force Chancellor Angela Merkel to adopt a softer line towards Russia, the German government has chosen to show solidarity with the UK.
It has backed the recall of the EU ambassador to Moscow, and announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats. The newly appointed SPD foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has had tough words for Moscow, saying that it must finally face up to its responsibility and answer the questions related to the use of a chemical weapon against double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.… Seguir leyendo »
There can be little doubt that the Russian government is behind the attempted assassination of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. While there were the typical official denials, the Russian state has ways of communicating its innocence to foreign governments. In this case, it has not done so.
The use of a nerve agent fits a pattern established by the murder of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium in 2006. This was not a McMafia-style operation commissioned by ‘rogue elements’. If they were to blame, Moscow would be even more alarmed than London. Since the chaos of the 1990s, Putin has restored the state’s traditional prerogatives in foreign covert operations, as well as the president’s prerogatives within it.… Seguir leyendo »
Ukraine’s new National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) may have netted its first big fish. The arrest of State Fiscal Service Head, Roman Nasirov on 2 March on suspicion of helping to embezzle 2 billion hryvnias ($75 million) suggests that Ukraine’s anti-corruption reforms are breaking new ground.
The Nasirov case is part of a wider battle for control of the anti-corruption agenda pitting an alliance of civil society organizations, reformist forces in parliament and Western governments against a group of entrenched interests in government, parliament and business.
Ukraine’s leaders are the products of a system of institutionalized corruption based on state capture by a narrow group of wealthy individuals.… Seguir leyendo »
In recent weeks, a grand ‘reset’ between the US and Russia has become politically impossible amid increasing speculation that Donald Trump and his campaign team may have come under Moscow’s influence. But such a deal was in any case destined to fail because of the irreconcilable underlying interests of the two countries.
This is a relief for the Ukranian government, which feared that, led by Washington, the West might abandon Ukraine to a Russian zone of influence. It is also a reminder that there are no short-term fixes to the complex set of issues dividing Western countries and Russia.
Against this background, it is time for Western leaders to recognize that the scale of the Russian challenge is directly proportionate to the level of effort they invest to address it.… Seguir leyendo »
Moscow’s timing is remarkable. Ahead of a European Council discussion on Thursday that was widely expected to show further indications of a fraying EU consensus on sanctions, Russia’s bombardment of Aleppo has seen it labelled as a pariah state amid accusations that it has committed war crimes.
In this context, EU member states will be unable to contemplate lifting sectoral sanctions against Russia over Ukraine that are in place until the end of January next year.
Russia’s recent behaviour in Syria has already led some EU governments to consider personal sanctions against members of the Russian government responsible for the bombings.… Seguir leyendo »
The Kremlin today will be struggling to reconcile conflicting messages from the West.
Deepening divisions in the European Union that came to a dramatic head with the Brexit vote have not found their way into NATO. Instead, the Alliance appears to have re-discovered the culture of deterrence.
The communiqué that comes out of last weekend’s NATO Summit in Warsaw devotes considerable space to the challenges Russia poses to European security and lists them in unusually clear language. These include the ‘ongoing illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea … the violation of sovereign borders by force; the deliberate destabilization of eastern Ukraine; large-scale snap exercises contrary to the spirit of the Vienna Document, and provocative military activities near NATO borders’.… Seguir leyendo »