The Putinverstehers’ Misconceived Charge of Russophobia: How Western Apology for the Kremlin’s Current Behavior Contradicts Russian National Interests

Wall paint with Putin the peace maker, courtesy duncan c/flickr

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 21 January 2016.

A frequent rebuttal by apologists of Putin’s policies, in debates on Western approaches to Eastern Europe, is the allegation of Russophobia. Interpreters of contemporary Russian affairs, who present themselves as Putinversteher (German for “those who understand Putin”), accuse critics of Moscow’s recent foreign and domestic policies of a lack of empathy for, or even of xenophobia towards, the Russian nation, as well as its traditions, worries, and views. Such allegations are usually accompanied by a reference to Vladimir Putin’s impressive performance in Russian public opinion polls. These interpretations are often embedded in historical-philosophical deliberations about the role of Russia in Europe and the world – for example, about the history of, and lessons from, Russian-Western collaboration in the past. » More

Dealing with Assertive China: Time for Engagement 2.0

map of China and its neighbors

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 12 January 2016.

By all accounts, China’s rise as a great power has reached a new phase. In 2010, by nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy, following stunning leaps over France, the United Kingdom, and Germany in the previous five years. Symbolically, this marked China’s arrival as the second largest global power. Concurrently, Chinese foreign policy has abandoned its earlier “lie-low, bide our time” strategy and turned assertive.

China’s rising challenge calls for a revamped American policy. To devise an effective response, we will need to be clear-eyed about the persistent drivers as well as the changing dynamics of Chinese foreign policy. We will also need to be clear on both the limitations and the adaptability of the past policy that has successfully facilitated China’s integration into the international system. Decades of China’s internationalization diminishes the prospect of war and tightens the place of China in the existing world order. But the two sides now seem stuck in a hapless state of strategic mistrust. America’s heightened concern over China is crystallized in the danger of what Professor Graham Allison calls the Thucydides Trap, the risk of war during a power transition typified by the Peloponnesian War between the rising Athens and the reigning Sparta. Chinese strategy analysts are acutely aware of the number two-power conundrum, as their country becomes the target of security fixation from the United States and its allies.

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No Shortcuts to UNSC Reform

United Nations HQ – The Security Council Chamber

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 6 January 2016.

When the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opened on 15 September 2015, reforming the UN Security Council (UNSC) was again on the agenda. By the time that the annual general debate concluded on 3 October, no agreement had been reached on an issue that has remained unresolved for several decades.

The composition of the UNSC has only been changed once. This occurred in 1964, after a large expansion of UN membership and two years of intense debate that resulted in four additional non-permanent seats, increasing the Council to 15 members.

Discussions about UNSC reform assumed a different approach during the most recent round of negotiations that started early in 2015. The former UNGA president, Sam Kutesa from Uganda, worked closely with the chair of the intergovernmental negotiations – the Jamaican representative, Courtney Rattray – to advance the discussions. Each UN member state was asked to present its position, and these were then used to draft a single, integrated negotiation text.

The document produced was 118 pages long, consisting of 22 official pages plus 96 pages of specific ‘inputs’ provided by several members. This so-called Framework Document highlighted the same issue that has plagued discussions in the last two decades: member states are not willing to compromise.

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What (else) to Expect in Africa in 2016?

“Africa” written in the evening sky in Malawi

This article was originally published by ISS Africa on 12 January 2016.

Africa starts the New Year with many burning issues that escalated in 2015 and need urgent action. The crisis in Burundi, where grave human rights violations are continuing, and the war in South Sudan are the two most pressing among these.

This year will also see a number of important elections taking place in Africa. Uganda’s presidential polls are being held next month, and those scheduled for the Democratic Republic of Congo later this year will also be top of mind for most Africa watchers.

It will also be a very challenging year for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who will now have to make good on his 2015 election promises.

This includes effectively dealing with terror group Boko Haram and bringing back the kidnapped Chibok girls. Africa’s most populous nation will also look to him to continue the fight against corruption and boost economic development, despite the slump in the oil price.

But what are we missing, beyond the big newsmakers?

In 2016, we should watch for surprises from unexpected quarters. One of these might be from Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe, who turns 92 next month, is not immortal – even if his supporters vow to push him onto the stage in a wheelchair to celebrate his victory at the next party elections in 2019.

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Interview – Ivan Krastev

Merged Europe and Russia flag


This interview was originally published by E-International Relations on 16 December, 2015.

Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Bulgaria and Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (IWM), Austria. A founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, he is also a member of the global advisory board of Open Society Foundations, and of the advisory council of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and the European Cultural Foundation (ECF). Mr. Krastev is also associate editor of Europe’s World and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy and Transit – Europäische Revue. He has written extensively on democracy, Eastern Europe, the politics of his native Bulgaria and relations between Russia and the West.

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