The West Should Not Hold Its Breath in Expecting Real Change to Emerge from the 2015 Presidential Election in Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin at the 2012 CSTO meeting in Moscow. Image: The Presidential Press and Information Office/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by LSE EUROPP, a blog hosted by the London School of Economics and Political Science on 27 August, 2015.

On 21 August the Central Elections Committee of Belarus announced that five presidential candidates had submitted enough signatures to run in elections scheduled for 11 October this year. In the 2010 presidential elections, the authorities saw the Belarusian opposition as the main threat and crushed protests, putting several presidential candidates in jail. After the recent events in Ukraine the authorities seem to view Russia as a more serious threat although they would not publically admit it.

Belarus only had real elections during a brief period of competitive politics in the early 1990s, prior to the election of current President Alexander Lukashenko in 1994. This is why for many Belarusians, particularly older generations, elections are not an opportunity to change their leadership but something of an old ritual. » More

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Veiled Ambitions: Understanding Iran’s Nuclear Posture

Propaganda poster of Ayatollah Khomeini in Teheran. Image: Adam Jones/Wikimedia

Anchored between the unelected Guardianship Council, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, Iran’s foreign policy reflects a complex mix of political, military and ideological interests. The recently-brokered deal between the P5+1 and Tehran is a case in point. While Iran’s elected President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif successfully negotiated the end of sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, neither wield significant decision-making power within the Islamic Republic’s theocratic structure. At best, the presidency is the office of choice for international communications because it retains the trappings of a republic—an executive body with (apparently) executive authority. Consequently, Rouhani cannot pursue foreign policy goals without the consent of the Ayatollah, the Council and Guards. » More

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Is the EU Losing the Western Balkans? What Local Experts Think

The EU-flag in Serbia. Image: Jonathan Davis/Flickr

This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 5 August, 2015.

No business as usual in the Western Balkans

The Western Balkans remain Europe’s unfinished business, not only for the continuing stalemate in Bosnia or tensions in Macedonia and Northern Kosovo, but also because broader geopolitical developments shaping the EU’s neighbourhood are materialising in this region too – and in ways that could be detrimental to European interests.

Tensions and perception of a stalemate in the Balkans are enhanced by “the five year freeze”, while emerging forms of rule are at odds with the EU’s founding tenets and the integration narrative. Indeed, the same competition of models, that we see in other parts of Europe, which pits more or less pluralist democracies against populists or illiberal democracies in the mould of Viktor Orban or even “Putinism”, is played out in the Western Balkans too, with uncertain outcomes for this fragile region. Ironically, in the very part of the world where the EU is in the lead and where its influence, through its transformative power, should be at its most potent, local experts concur that the EU is no longer the leading actor and that its leverage has decreased. » More

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Russia and the Crisis in Ukraine: Implications for European Security

Bullets between Ukraine and Europe. Image:

To some observers, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine symbolizes the gradual erosion of Europe’s security architecture, as established by the Paris Charter, and the emergence of a new Cold War between Russia and the West. But are these pessimistic assumptions about the current state of East-West relations and Europe’s security actually justified? And if they are, then how can the West improve its ties with an increasingly bellicose Russia? These and other questions were the focus of the Center for Security Studies’ (CSS) latest Evening Talk. The guest speakers were Hanns Maull, who is a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), and Andreas Wenger, who is the Director of the CSS. During their presentations and follow-on Q&A period, the two scholars elaborated on the broader security implications of the Ukraine conflict, the origins of Russia’s support for pro-Moscow rebels in the east of the country, and what adjustments the West (particularly Europe) should make to its Russia policies. » More

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Values and Interests in EU Foreign Policy

European map with Ukraine in focus. Image: ClkerFreeVectorImages/Pixabay

Anyone remotely familiar with EU foreign policy will be no stranger to invocations of European values underpinning, and, indeed, driving, European external action. From policies on climate change and agriculture to trade to defence and security, the rhetoric generated by various EU bodies typically elucidates a “set of common values” that the respective policies promote or embody. A crucial nuance is that ‘values,’ which have been incorporated into the primary law of the European Union through the Lisbon Treaty, are juxtaposed to ‘interests.’  This juxtaposition often means that if and when the EU fails to live up to its much-touted values, it is charged with ‘hypocrisy.’  The inconvenient truth, however, is that like all actors, Europe has interests as well as values, and these are frequently at odds with each other across virtually every policy area. More often than not, interests, far from being ‘inspired’ by values, have proven insular, short-sighted, and at times downright mercenary. At the same time, it is naïve to expect Europe’s policymakers to pay more attention to the plight of Syrian refugees than domestic populations’ preoccupation with keeping their own welfare and prosperity undisturbed by crises engulfing much of the world outside the Continent.  The solution, it would then seem, lies in doing away with the gratuitous narrative emanating from Brussels that continues to raise unjustified expectations by placing values at the rhetorical heart of European foreign policy. » More

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