The CSS Blog Network

What Russia’s Middle East Strategy Is Really About

Image courtesy of Sami Ben Gharbia/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by Geopolitical Futures on 11 October 2017.

Moscow’s policy isn’t about becoming a leader in the region but accumulating influence to use closer to home.

A new balance of power is solidifying in Syria. Iran, Turkey and Russia have all played a role in the conflict there – jockeying for position and even agreeing in September to set up zones of control. But Russia in particular has deftly managed the game up to this point, and it is emerging from the Syrian civil war with a strong hand. Ultimately, Russia’s goal is to parlay its position in the Middle East into advantages in areas that matter more to Moscow. To some degree, it has achieved this, but it’s still unclear whether its strategy will be successful enough to score Russia an advantage in the area it cares about the most: Ukraine.
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Turkey’s Incursion into Syria: Making Things Better or Worse?

Image courtesy of Kaufdex/Pixabay

This article was published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 2 October 2017.

It is not easy to follow what has been happening in Syria. After six years of war and between 300,000 and 400,000 people killed — with half the population displaced and a dizzying array of factions, foreign armies and extremist groups fighting — it is hard to know who shares what interest with whom or how the killing stops.

Over the last few weeks, the fight for Raqqa, the Islamic State’s Syrian capital, and the battle for Deir Ezzor, the gateway to Iraq and the location of oil fields, have heated up, but the intensity of fighting in some other parts of the country has diminished. This is because Syrian government forces and their allies — Hezbollah, Shia militias from Iraq, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Russian bombers — have taken and held territory. The Russians have also taken the lead in establishing “de-escalation zones” in parts of seven provinces and in eastern Ghouta near Damascus. » More

Studying Conflict and Practicing Peacebuilding

Image Courtesy of Fated Snowfox/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 20 July 2017.

What can one say about the academic study of violent conflict and its implications for the practice of peacebuilding? There is no reason to assume a necessary relationship between these two spheres of activity; the study of armed conflict may or may not have any practical significance for peacebuilding. Of course many scholars in this field are motivated in part by the hope and expectation that their findings will make a contribution, however slight, to the building and maintenance of peace. The editors of Journal of Peace Research articulated this same expectation when, in the inaugural issue of the journal some 50 years ago, they expressed the view that ‘[p]eace research should … concern itself with [the] reduction of violence and [the] promotion of integration.…and should, preferably, have relevance for peace policy’ (Editorial 1964, 2,4). There are two aspects to this question: one is the relationship between the study of war and the study of peace, which other scholars have addressed (Gledhill and Bright 2017); the other is the relationship between the study of war and the practice of peacebuilding. This essay is concerned with the latter aspect and, more specifically, with how the academic study of armed conflict may be able to further enrich the practice of peacebuilding.

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Buddhism and Mediation Resources

The author and Buddhist leaders from different schools gather at the White House in 2016 for a Vesak Day celebration.

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry that’s provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here.

As part of the CSS Mediation Perspectives Blog Mini-Series on the use of religious resources in peace mediation (part one on criteria and part two on Christianity), I look at how, throughout the Buddhist world, peace practitioners have drawn on the religion’s ideas, stories, and practices in order to shape, legitimize, and motivate their efforts to resolve disputes and build peace more broadly. The 2500 year old tradition, born in India and now practiced throughout the world, is ripe with material to support such efforts. Indeed, any attempt to distill such a huge and diverse corpus into key points for the purpose of a blog is a challenge. After all, the Buddhist tradition lacks a core canon that’s considered authoritative for all Buddhists. Rather, thousands of Buddhist scriptures circulate in an ongoing conversation. A vast number of commentaries on these texts are also considered influential, including those written by the 5th century CE Buddhagosa. Moreover, chronicles such as the 6th century CE Sri Lankan Mahavamsa, stories surrounding key historical figures like the 3rd century BCE Emperor Asoka, the jataka tales that recount the Buddha’s myriad previous lives before his incarnation as the historical Buddha, and local stories and teachings that have been incorporated into the Buddhist imagination all constitute wells from which one can draw Buddhist teachings that might apply to mediation. Finally, different teachings, practices, and ideas resonate within different schools of Buddhism – from the Zen of Japan to the Vajrayana of Tibet to the Theravada Forest Tradition of Thailand.

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Russian Society and the Conflict in Ukraine: Masses, Elites and Identity

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 26 April 2017.

This is an excerpt from Migration and the Ukraine Crisis: A Two-Country Perspective – an E-IR Edited Collection.

This chapter looks at how Russian society reacted to the conflict in and with Ukraine. The active phase of the conflict began in March 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and continued with Moscow’s support for the separatist movements in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. The main object of interest here is popular views of the conflict and its context, and in particular the way these views are conditioned by nationalism and the national identity discourse. At the same time, as I show in the first section, it is hardly possible to consider ‘public opinion’ as ontologically separate from the public debate waged mainly by the elites, as well as from the state’s policies and the way they are legitimated. The issue is not just that public opinion is influenced by the state propaganda, but that both are part of the same broader discursive domain where meaning is constructed and reproduced.

Accordingly, this chapter starts with an analysis of Russian public opinion on the conflict and its relationship to the official propaganda. I then go on to discuss how the attitudes to Ukraine and the wider assessment of Russian foreign policy in recent years are related to the complex ways in which the Russian nation is defined and how the concept of the ‘Russian world’ plays into the picture. The final section focuses on the broader context of what Russians see as Western expansionism and how they justify Russia’s conduct in terms of the need to defend the country’s sovereignty and moral integrity against Western subversion. It is not my ambition in this chapter to present any original analysis of primary sources; rather, I see my task as summing up the findings of the existing studies (including my own) and highlighting the key issues that have come up in the scholarly debate so far.

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