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Constitutional and political change in Russia

07-02-2020

In January 2020, Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping constitutional amendments. These have been widely seen as preparing the way for him to retain political influence after the end of his fourth and probably final presidency in 2024. Putin's announcement was followed by the resignation of the government. Dmitry Medvedev, who has been Prime Minister since 2012, has made way for Mikhail Mishustin. While these changes open up new possibilities for Putin's post-2024 future, his actual intentions are still ...

In January 2020, Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping constitutional amendments. These have been widely seen as preparing the way for him to retain political influence after the end of his fourth and probably final presidency in 2024. Putin's announcement was followed by the resignation of the government. Dmitry Medvedev, who has been Prime Minister since 2012, has made way for Mikhail Mishustin. While these changes open up new possibilities for Putin's post-2024 future, his actual intentions are still unclear.

Russia in Africa: A new arena for geopolitical competition

08-11-2019

During the Cold War, post-colonial Africa was an important front in the geopolitical contest for international influence. However, in the 1990s, post-Soviet turmoil ended many of Russia's global ambitions, including in Africa. By contrast, recent years have seen a renewed Russian interest in the continent, as part of President Vladimir Putin's drive to reassert his country as a major global player. As in other parts of the world, Russia has various means of promoting its influence. Moscow has long ...

During the Cold War, post-colonial Africa was an important front in the geopolitical contest for international influence. However, in the 1990s, post-Soviet turmoil ended many of Russia's global ambitions, including in Africa. By contrast, recent years have seen a renewed Russian interest in the continent, as part of President Vladimir Putin's drive to reassert his country as a major global player. As in other parts of the world, Russia has various means of promoting its influence. Moscow has long been the continent's leading supplier of weapons, and it has military cooperation deals with nearly two dozen African countries. Among other things, these provide for the presence of military trainers and advisors, and a small but growing number of Russian 'boots on the ground', many of them coming from shadowy private military companies closely linked to Putin's entourage. Russia's military presence in countries such as the Central African Republic often goes hand-in-hand with commercial interests. Overall, Russian trade and investment in the continent is quite small, except in the strategic energy and mining sectors: oil, gas, diamonds, gold, aluminium and nickel are among the African minerals extracted by Russian companies. Russia's African toolkit also includes covert political influence operations – again, involving shady Kremlin-linked organisations, soft power (building on Soviet-era links and a growing media presence), and increasingly close diplomatic ties. On the other hand, Russian development and humanitarian aid to the continent is minimal. While Russia's influence in Africa is growing, it remains a comparatively marginal player in most of the continent, except in a few key countries and economic sectors. Its overall objective appears to be geopolitical competition with other more established players, rather than disinterested help for African partners. Its role is therefore viewed with concern by the EU institutions and Member States.

Russia under Putin 4.0: Stagnation and discontent

23-10-2019

The March 2018 presidential elections were a resounding victory for Vladimir Putin. Since then, however, an unpopular decision to raise the retirement age by five years has cost him some of his support and triggered a wave of protests. In summer 2019, Moscow saw the biggest anti-government rallies for several years over the authorities' decision to exclude independent, 'non-system' opposition candidates from local elections. Even though the decision was upheld, Putin allies struggled to hold onto ...

The March 2018 presidential elections were a resounding victory for Vladimir Putin. Since then, however, an unpopular decision to raise the retirement age by five years has cost him some of his support and triggered a wave of protests. In summer 2019, Moscow saw the biggest anti-government rallies for several years over the authorities' decision to exclude independent, 'non-system' opposition candidates from local elections. Even though the decision was upheld, Putin allies struggled to hold onto their city council majority; they have also done less well than usual in other recent elections. Protests and electoral setbacks are linked to growing discontent – not only due to the pension reform but also to grinding poverty and inequality. Contrasting with the wealth of oligarchs, millions of Russians struggle to make ends meet as incomes register their fifth consecutive year of decline. Despite emerging from recession in 2016, the economy continues to stagnate. At the start of his presidency, Putin announced ambitious targets and massive investments to re-ignite growth, but these seem unlikely to bring more than modest improvements. Growing discontent is not expected to threaten Putin and his United Russia party's grip on power, given that Russians see no real alternatives. In the longer term, United Russia will probably hold onto its parliamentary majority in the next national elections in 2021, while Putin will see out his fourth, and probably final, presidency until its expiry in 2024. Even after that, there is a strong possibility that Putin, or at least a close ally, will remain in charge. In the past, confrontation with the West has helped to distract attention from the country's domestic problems and shore up support for Putin. However, given the need to boost the economy, the Kremlin may be considering options for improved relations in order to get Ukraine-related sanctions lifted, although it is still too early to say whether this will actually happen.

Serbia: sitting on two chairs

16-10-2019

Until recently, Serbia was considered a frontrunner among the western Balkan candidate countries. However, Serbian frustration at slow progress towards EU membership has opened a space for closer links with the Russian Federation and, more recently, China, shedding doubt on Belgrade's commitment to a European perspective.

Until recently, Serbia was considered a frontrunner among the western Balkan candidate countries. However, Serbian frustration at slow progress towards EU membership has opened a space for closer links with the Russian Federation and, more recently, China, shedding doubt on Belgrade's commitment to a European perspective.

Common rules for gas pipelines entering the EU internal market

27-05-2019

In November 2017, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal to fully apply key provisions of the 2009 Gas Directive to gas pipelines between the European Union (EU) and third countries. Member States would need to cooperate with third countries to ensure full compliance with EU rules. The revised directive was seen by many observers as a part of the broader EU response to the Gazprom-led Nord Stream 2 project, which the European Commission publicly opposes. The Parliament adopted its ...

In November 2017, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal to fully apply key provisions of the 2009 Gas Directive to gas pipelines between the European Union (EU) and third countries. Member States would need to cooperate with third countries to ensure full compliance with EU rules. The revised directive was seen by many observers as a part of the broader EU response to the Gazprom-led Nord Stream 2 project, which the European Commission publicly opposes. The Parliament adopted its position on the gas directive in plenary on April 2018, whereas the Council adopted its general approach on 8 February 2019. This was swiftly followed by a single trilogue meeting on 12 February 2019 at which the EU institutions reached a provisional agreement. The agreed text was later formally adopted by Parliament and Council, and entered into force on 23 May 2019. Fourth edition. The ‘EU Legislation in Progress’ briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

Connectivity in Central Asia: Reconnecting the Silk Road

02-04-2019

Despite being strategically located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Central Asia has long been poorly connected: remote, landlocked, cut off from the main population centres of Europe and Asia by empty steppes and rugged mountains. As well as physical barriers, regulatory obstacles and political repression often inhibit the free flow of people, goods, services and ideas. However, in 2013 China announced its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of whose aims is to revive the historic Silk Road ...

Despite being strategically located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Central Asia has long been poorly connected: remote, landlocked, cut off from the main population centres of Europe and Asia by empty steppes and rugged mountains. As well as physical barriers, regulatory obstacles and political repression often inhibit the free flow of people, goods, services and ideas. However, in 2013 China announced its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of whose aims is to revive the historic Silk Road trade route connecting Europe to the Far East via Central Asia. Uzbekistan's more open foreign policy since 2016 also favours improved connectivity. The Belt and Road Initiative has provided impetus for a major transport infrastructure upgrade. Central Asian countries are also dismantling barriers to trade and travel. Many problems still remain – the poor state of physical infrastructure, limited digital connectivity, and regulatory obstacles. Progress has been uneven. In Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, improved connectivity is driving increased trade and investment, while Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are lagging behind. Given the importance of connectivity for Central Asia, it is key to the EU's relations with the region. The EU is making a difference, for example, by supporting educational exchanges and helping to dismantle trade barriers, but its role has not attracted the same attention as China's BRI. The EU's 2018 Connecting Europe and Asia strategy aims to redress the balance by setting out the values that underpin its own vision of sustainable, rules-based connectivity. For the strategy, connectivity is about more than infrastructure, and includes tackling non-physical (e.g. regulatory) barriers to movement. The EU has also expressed concerns about some aspects of the BRI, seen as prioritising China's interests over those of partner countries. However, given Beijing's growing influence, the EU needs to co-exist not only with China but also Russia, which is also a major connectivity player in the region through its Eurasian Economic Union.

The INF Treaty and European defence [What Think Tanks are thinking]

22-02-2019

The United States has announced its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, sparking fears of a fresh nuclear arms race between Russia, the United States and China. The collapse of the 1987 agreement, which bans land-based missiles with a range of between 500 kilometres and 5 500 kilometres, has further exacerbated existing concerns about European security caused by the uncertain commitment of US President Donald Trump to the NATO military alliance. President Trump’s approach ...

The United States has announced its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, sparking fears of a fresh nuclear arms race between Russia, the United States and China. The collapse of the 1987 agreement, which bans land-based missiles with a range of between 500 kilometres and 5 500 kilometres, has further exacerbated existing concerns about European security caused by the uncertain commitment of US President Donald Trump to the NATO military alliance. President Trump’s approach to security, coupled with Russia’s assertive behaviour, have prompted the European Union to put forward initiatives to increase its military capabilities. President Trump started a six-month process of withdring from the Treaty in February 2019, blaming the decision on Russian violations. Hopes are not high that an agreement can be negotiated during this period. Furthermore, during the 2019 Munich Security Conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on China to join the INF Treaty, but China has argued that this would place unfair limits on its military, and refused. This note offers links to commentaries and studies on the collapse of the INF Treaty, and on European defence. Earlier papers on defence can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think Tanks are Thinking’, published in July 2018.

Ukraine's presidential election 2019

19-02-2019

Ukrainians will be heading to the polls twice in 2019, five years after Ukrainians toppled the pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovich, demanding a functioning democracy and an end to kleptocracy. On 31 March, Ukrainians will cast their ballot in the first round of the first presidential election since the Euromaidan revolution. In October, they will elect a new parliament. Amid Russia's ongoing hybrid war against Ukraine, the elections are a test case for the country's democracy, its unprecedented ...

Ukrainians will be heading to the polls twice in 2019, five years after Ukrainians toppled the pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovich, demanding a functioning democracy and an end to kleptocracy. On 31 March, Ukrainians will cast their ballot in the first round of the first presidential election since the Euromaidan revolution. In October, they will elect a new parliament. Amid Russia's ongoing hybrid war against Ukraine, the elections are a test case for the country's democracy, its unprecedented reform process and its European path.

Ukraine: Religion and (geo-)politics: Orthodox split weakens Russia's influence

18-02-2019

Five years after the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – widely seen as the spiritual leader (primus inter pares) of the Eastern Orthodox world – granted the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) 'autocephaly' on 5 January 2019, formalising a split from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The move follows an intensified Ukrainian campaign to obtain religious independence and thereby reduce the influence of the ROC, which plays a key role in the Kremlin's identity ...

Five years after the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – widely seen as the spiritual leader (primus inter pares) of the Eastern Orthodox world – granted the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) 'autocephaly' on 5 January 2019, formalising a split from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The move follows an intensified Ukrainian campaign to obtain religious independence and thereby reduce the influence of the ROC, which plays a key role in the Kremlin's identity politics in the region. This development could have wide-reaching implications. Such a blow to the ROC undermines the Kremlin's 'soft' spiritual influence. The Kremlin views the development as a question of national security and is unlikely to accept the defeat without resistance. The issue is expected to play a prominent role in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine. In a wider context — reflecting Moscow's nexus between geopolitics and religion — the decision of the ROC to sever ties with Constantinople in response to the decision to grant the OCU autocephaly could mark the beginning of a wider rift in the Orthodox world. Moscow appears to be exerting pressure on other Orthodox patriarchates to sever ties with Constantinople.

The end of the INF Treaty? A pillar of European security architecture at risk

04-02-2019

The US administration announced on 1 February 2019 that it was suspending its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, with effect from 2 February 2019, and that it was giving Russia six months' notice of complete withdrawal. Russia reacted by announcing that it was also suspending its obligations under the Treaty. Both parties said they would begin developing new nuclear-capable missiles banned by the treaty. The 1987 INF Treaty is a landmark nuclear-arms-control treaty ...

The US administration announced on 1 February 2019 that it was suspending its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, with effect from 2 February 2019, and that it was giving Russia six months' notice of complete withdrawal. Russia reacted by announcing that it was also suspending its obligations under the Treaty. Both parties said they would begin developing new nuclear-capable missiles banned by the treaty. The 1987 INF Treaty is a landmark nuclear-arms-control treaty between the United States (US) and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that eliminated and prohibited ground-launched intermediate ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5 500 km. The US announcement follows years of allegations that the Russian Federation has acted in breach of the agreement. Russia, for its part, has also accused the US of violating the treaty. Both deny the allegations. Moreover, both parties consider that the agreement puts their countries at a strategic disadvantage vis-à-vis other nuclear powers, especially China. The parties' announcements undermine a cornerstone of the European security order. The signing of the INF Treaty in 1987 led to the removal and destruction of nearly 3 000 US and Soviet short-, medium- and intermediate-range nuclear-capable missiles stationed in or aimed at Europe. The EU has called on the US to consider the consequences of its possible withdrawal from the INF for its own security, the security of its allies and that of the whole world. The EU has also called on both the US and Russia to remain engaged in constructive dialogue to preserve the INF Treaty, and on Russia to address the serious concerns regarding its compliance with the treaty. NATO considers Russia to be in violation of the INF Treaty, and the alliance has called on Russia to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance with the agreement. Any redeployment of intermediate-range missiles will put Europe once more in the line of fire of strategic nuclear weapons. If the INF Treaty is abrogated, Europeans will be faced with stark choices all carrying inherent security risks, including engaging in a deployment race with Russia, or refusing re-deployment of US missiles on European soil, potentially leaving European countries exposed to Russian intimidation. Efforts over the next six months will focus on preserving the INF Treaty against all odds.

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