Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a ceremony welcoming Ukrainians who were freed by pro-Russian rebels during a prisoner exchange. Photo: Getty Images.

One of the key messages at the heart of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s presidential campaign in 2019 was a very simple one: peace in Donbas, the war-torn region of Ukraine where Russian-supported separatists continue to fight a war against the Kyiv government. Zelenskyy’s message was based on the assumption that if a ceasefire could be respected, and all Ukrainian prisoners-of-war could return home, then peace would have been achieved.

Nine months after Zelenskyy’s inauguration and two months after his first Normandy Four summit (which brings together Germany and France with Ukraine and Russia to discuss Donbas), it appears more likely that this approach will lead Ukraine into a Russian trap.…  Seguir leyendo »

This week, Russian lawmakers decided to postpone legislation aimed at ushering in sweeping constitutional changes announced in January by President Vladimir Putin.

The delay is the result of an influx of proposals from organizations and individual citizens. The suggestions, many of them bizarre — ranging from replacing the president with a “supreme ruler” to formally codifying the need to “counter the falsification of history” — will be considered by a specially created working group that will make its recommendations to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament. “We must be patient,” Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov counseled journalists who inquired about the timeline.…  Seguir leyendo »

'The destructive reconstruction of the 16th-century Bakhchysarai Palace is being conducted by a team with no experience of cultural sites, in a manner that erodes its authenticity and historical value.' Photo: Getty Images.

Violations against cultural property – such as archaeological treasures, artworks, museums or historical sites – can be no less detrimental to the survival of a nation than the physical persecution of its people. These assaults on heritage ensure the hegemony of some nations and distort the imprint of other nations in world history, sometimes to the point of eradication.

As contemporary armed conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Yemen demonstrate, cultural property violations are not only a matter of the colonial past; they continue to be perpetrated, often in new, intricate ways.

Understandably, from a moral perspective, it is more often the suffering of persons, rather than any kind of ‘cultural’ destruction, that receives the most attention from humanitarian aid providers, the media or the courts.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the 2020 presidential race gears up, news reports include reminders of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence over past U.S. elections. But Putin also made news last month with an election-related maneuver in his own country — what one Russia expert called “the most dramatic changes to Russia’s constitution since 1993.”

On Jan. 15, Putin proposed reorganizing the government to give more power to the Russian Duma — the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia. Once these reforms are clarified, Putin says it’s necessary to have a “vote of the citizens on the whole packet” of constitutional changes.

It’s tempting to view Putin’s actions as a mere contemporary authoritarian maneuver, designed to extend power beyond his presidential term, which ends in 2024.…  Seguir leyendo »

People walk near an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in central Moscow. (Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced far-reaching changes to the Russian constitution on Jan. 15, leaving one big question: What happens to Putin when his current term ends in 2024?

Under the Russian constitution, presidents cannot serve more than two terms “in a row.” That poses serious problems for Russian presidents and their supporters as they approach the end of their second terms in office, as is the case for Putin.

In Russia’s winner-take-all system of power, outgoing presidents cannot guarantee that their successors will protect their interests. In democratic systems, of course, presidents lose elections and stand down. But in the context of Russia and other former Soviet states, those demitting office and their entourage have good reason to fear arrest by their successors for financial and other malpractices.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Vladimir Putin of Russia applauds after his speech to the State Council in Moscow in which he proposed changing the Russian Constitution to increase the powers of parliament and the cabinet.Credit...Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

On Jan. 15, it became clear to the people of Russia that they would never again have the opportunity to vote for Vladimir Putin. It also became clear that they would live with him for the foreseeable future.

In his annual State of the Nation address, Mr. Putin promised that he would step aside in 2024 when his current term expires. At the same time he outlined a series of sweeping constitutional reforms that would likely go into force this year: Russia will remain a presidential republic but future presidents will be limited to two terms in office. Parliament will have the right to appoint government ministers, including the prime minister.…  Seguir leyendo »

La reciente dimisión del primer ministro ruso Dimitri Medvedev y su gabinete, así como el anuncio de una reforma constitucional, han sido recibidos con sorpresa por la comunidad internacional. Para los que seguimos con atención lo que acontece en Rusia, un movimiento como éste era esperable, si bien nos preguntábamos de qué manera iba a proceder finalmente Vladímir Putin.

Para entender los objetivos que persigue el Kremlin con esta maniobra y lo que podemos esperar en los próximos meses es necesario ver a Rusia más allá del velo de su propaganda y de nuestros mitos. La apariencia exterior de Estado oculta la realidad de una nación en plena caída libre, con un PIB modesto para sus ambiciones de gran potencia, y gobernada como un clan mafioso por una vertical del poder de la que Putin es el vértice.…  Seguir leyendo »

International leaders have already started marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Soviet troops captured the camp and freed its prisoners on Jan. 27, 1945. The Nazis had founded Auschwitz on the soil of occupied Poland in May 1940, not long after invading the country. It’s estimated that around 1 million Jews (many of them Polish citizens) were murdered there. Soviet prisoners of war as well as Polish priests and intellectuals died in the camp, too.

You would think that remembering the horrors of the Holocaust would offer an opportunity to bring the world together in a sense of shared mourning and hope.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Russian president’s annual address to parliament came early this year, on January 15. Since then, Russia and its watchers have hardly stopped talking. Vladimir Putin, who began his presentation by acknowledging a public thirst for change and the need to better support Russian families, closed by proposing constitutional amendments that could alter how Russia is governed. Less than a week later, Russia’s parliament has received draft text for these amendments. After 20 years at Russia’s helm, is its president laying out a path to stay in power, define his succession, or both? And do the changes promised mean a different path for Russia, at home or abroad?…  Seguir leyendo »

The race to succeed Russian President Vladimir Putin — whose term expires in spring 2024 — began in earnest Jan. 15, when Putin announced a series of proposed constitutional changes and dismissed Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his entire cabinet.

These moves kick off the process of political transition, but the also let Putin reshuffle Russia’s entire governing elite in a controlled fashion. This strategy may also help revive a moribund economy and stem the rising public discontent that stagnant living standards have generated.

However, the changes are also sufficiently cautious that Putin will be able to halt the transition and ensure his political supremacy indefinitely if he deems it necessary.…  Seguir leyendo »

Vladimir Putin has done it again. Facing a hard term limit in 2024 and falling approval ratings as the economy stagnates, Russia’s president has taken an unexpected gamble to increase his options by reshaping the political system.

Astonishing observers, Putin proposed on Wednesday the most dramatic changes to Russia’s constitution since 1993.

Under his plan — which he promised to submit to a nationwide vote — the right to choose the prime minister and his government would pass from the president to the parliament. At present, the president nominates the prime minister. The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, must approve the candidate by a majority vote, but if it rejects the president’s nominees three times in a row, he can dissolve parliament and call new elections.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dictatorships and term limits rarely go together. It has been clear since at least 2003 — when Vladimir Putin shut down the last independent television network, expelled the pro-democracy opposition from parliament, and jailed one of his main rivals — that he intends to stay in power for as long as he stays alive.

In 2008, at the end of his second term, Putin easily got around Article 81 of the Russian constitution, which limits the president to two consecutive terms, by installing Dmitry Medvedev as puppet president — while continuing to wield power from the position of prime minister.

In 2024, when Putin turns 72, such an arrangement will no longer be an option.…  Seguir leyendo »

A live broadcast of Vladimir Putin's annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, seen on the Leader Tower screen in St Petersburg. Photo: Getty Images.

Vladimir Putin’s proposed constitutional reforms will transform Russia’s political regime and allow him to prolong his grip on power when his fourth presidential term expires in 2024.

While Putin mentioned a popular vote on the constitutional changes (which is not required by law), it is important to note that he didn’t use the term ‘referendum’, which would have mandated that the results be acted upon. Regardless, it is clear that he will be seeking electoral legitimacy for these reforms in forthcoming elections. The current federal electoral cycle starts next year and will end in 2024 with the presidential election.

The key question now is how Putin will maintain control over the siloviki, Russia’s political elite, though he has made this task easier for himself by replacing some of the strongest players with mid-level officers and weakening the authority of those who remain.…  Seguir leyendo »

Finally, a good news story from Russia: Vladimir Putin has recognized the error of his ways.

The Russian president used a big speech on Wednesday to broach some major changes in how the country is run. After spending 20 years concentrating all the power of the state in his person, he’s realized that that approach just isn’t working. As he put it, “Our society is clearly calling for change.” So he’s decided to shift power away from the presidency to the parliament and some other institutions. Hooray! Looks like the end of dictatorship is finally dawning.

Not so fast. Putin’s plans — which apparently include major changes to the constitution — are no triumph for democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

This week, Libyan cease-fire talks brokered by Russia and Turkey addressed the country’s latest bout of conflict, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of Libyans. Negotiations took place between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and rival Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF).

Russia and Turkey’s involvement represented a change in international engagement with Libya’s conflict, as they asserted their leadership in the political process and attempted to sideline Western countries and the United Nations. It looked as if it was set to pay off. The prime minister of the GNA, Fayez Serraj, agreed to the deal, but commander of the LAAF, Khalifa Hifter, left Moscow without signing.…  Seguir leyendo »

In a surprise move, the Russian government headed by Dmitry Medvedev resigned Wednesday. Medvedev had served as prime minister since 2012 and had often been mentioned as a potential successor to President Vladimir Putin should he leave office in 2024, as required by the Russian Constitution.

In Russia’s presidential system, the prime minister is nominated by the president and approved by the parliament. The prime minister heads the government and is largely responsible for implementing and coordinating policy. As there is no vice president, the prime minister is also the legal successor of the president. Putin held the position from 2008 to 2012 after stepping down as president in accordance with the two-term limit specified in the Russian Constitution.…  Seguir leyendo »

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenka at a Collective Security Treaty Organization meeting in Kyrgyzstan in November 2019. Photo: Getty Images.

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 »

Climate change debates have not taken root in Russia. Yet, while speaking at an energy forum in Moscow, Vladimir Putin chose to comment on Greta Thunberg, the prominent 16-year-old Swedish eco-activist. Adopting his usual sarcastically condescending persona, Putin expressed regret that the ‘kind’ and ‘very sincere’ girl was being used by adults for their own political interests in such a ‘cruel, emotional way’.

These remarks may appear to have been intended to dismiss Thunberg’s environmental concerns. However, among the Russian public, concern about climate change is not widespread.

Fridays for Future, the movement started by Thunberg, received little uptake in Russia, inspiring less than 100 people to take to the streets in September.…  Seguir leyendo »

Durante el año pasado, las predicciones sobre las pugnas serias que iría a enfrentar el presidente ruso Vladimir Putin, o incluso sobre su muerte política, se tornaron cada vez más frecuentes. Un artículo reciente en The Economist titulado “An awful week for Vladimir Putin”, es sólo un ejemplo de lo antedicho. Sin embargo, es la evaluación de Steven Lee Myers, quien es biógrafo de Putin y corresponsal del New York Times, la que resuena como la más certera, él dijo en repetidas ocasiones: “Putin siempre gana”.

Tal vez la palabra “siempre” no es del todo cierta. Se espera que la economía de Rusia crezca sólo un 1% este año, debido a la rezagada diversificación de las exportaciones, la fuga a gran escala de capitales y los bajos niveles de inversión extranjera directa vinculados a las sanciones occidentales impuestas tras la anexión de Crimea por parte de Rusia en el año 2014.…  Seguir leyendo »

It’s not been a good year for major media.

First, they were caught red-handed as shills for the fake Russian collusion narrative that convulsed the nation for nearly three years.

Then, they were exposed as barkers for the fake Ukraine scandal while the real thing — Joe Biden’s pay-for-play scheme and $1 billion “quid pro quo” while he was President Obama’s vice president — still goes largely unexamined.

Truth be told, this kind of slanted reporting involving Russia and Ukraine has a long pedigree.

In 1932, The New York Times’ Moscow bureau chief, Walter Duranty, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Joseph Stalin’s USSR.…  Seguir leyendo »