The CSS Blog Network

Russia Used a Two-Year-Old Video and an ‘Alternative’ Swedish Group to Discredit Reports of Syria Gas Attack

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This article was published by the World Policy Institute on 18 May 2017.

A video that Moscow used as key piece of evidence that its ally President Bashar al-Assad had nothing to do with the chemical attack in Idlib which killed more than 80 people, including many children and women one month ago, was in fact released two years ago and first cited a month before the attack actually took place.

The video was pushed out across Russian state-controlled airwaves and on social media shortly after President Donald J. Trump launched the first direct U.S. military strike on Syrian government forces.

It showed what looks like a makeshift emergency room: doctors working frantically around the small bodies of limp, half-naked children, their eyes rolling back and noses foaming. A girl in pink underwear lies on top of an elderly woman who seems to have already died. One bed over, a doctor injects a long needle deep into a small child’s chest.

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How State Restrictions are Reshaping Civic Space Around the World

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This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 19 May 2017.

In April 2017, the Russian Ministry of Justice designated the Kola Ecological Center, a small environmental group in Russia’s Murmansk region, a “foreign agent.” The organization’s offense? It had advised regional authorities on nuclear waste handling and opposed plans to extend the run time of a local nuclear power plant—and, importantly, it had accepted Norwegian funding in the past. It now joins more than 150 Russian NGOs for whom the foreign agent label has led to crippling fines, onerous lawsuits, and, in the most extreme cases, liquidation.

Russia is not an isolated case. Governments around the world are cracking down on civil society activism. Pointing to threats of terrorism or the need to protect national sovereignty, they are erecting new barriers to the operations and funding of NGOs, harassing and demonizing civic activists, and criminalizing dissent through expansive anti-terrorism laws. Between 2014 and 2016, more than 60 countries restricted citizens’ freedom of assembly and civil society’s ability to access funding.

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Turkey and Russia: Aggrieved Nativism Par Excellence

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This article was originally published by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program on 10 May 2017.

Turkey and Russia have recently both turned to an aggrieved nativism that delegitimizes democratic opposition. This nativism is nationalist, anti-elitist, protectionist, revanchist/irredentist, xenophobic and “macho”. Despite three decades of post-Cold War transition both countries have failed to be at peace with themselves; have not been able to adjust to their neighboring regions and come to terms with their respective histories.

Background: The world political order is under great duress. From Russia to India, Turkey to Hungary, Poland to Great Britain and France – and most recently in the United States – populist and authoritarian politics is making a strong comeback. Liberal democracy is no longer “on the march” while the once famously prophesized “end of history” now seems to be a very distant prospect. Pluralist, centrist and moderate politics are on the defensive. What we have at hand is a nativist wave, a reaction against roughly three decades of intense globalization.

A new “aggrieved nativism” that is thoroughly opposed to liberal values such as pluralism, freedom of expression and minority rights is appealing to majorities in many countries. Turkey and Russia are two prominent examples of this international trend. Populism, authoritarianism bordering on dictatorship, virulent nationalism imbued with a distinct contempt for liberal values has gained traction among the electorate in these two countries.

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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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Is President Trump’s Foreign Policy Shaping Up?

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This article was originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on 20 April 2017.

April has been an eventful month geopolitically so far. President Trump carried out a much-trumpeted-about Tomahawk missile strike at the Syrian regime, held responsible by him for a nerve-agent attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province largely held by rebels. Trump has changed his mind on China, which he previously accused as a ‘currency manipulator’. He has also changed his mind on ‘resetting’ relations with Putin and US-Russia relations are at their ‘lowest point’ in years. Trump has issued a harsh warning to North Korea to stop missile and nuclear tests. There are signals that Trump would scale up the US military engagement in Afghanistan. Trump has congratulated, with alacrity, Turkey’s President Erdogan on his referendum victory. Are all these developments related to one another?

Syria

On March 30, 2017, the US stated that it no longer wanted to topple President Basher al-Assad and would instead concentrate on defeating and destroying the Islamic State (IS). Assad, on life-support provided by Russia and Iran, must have heaved a sigh of relief. He might have thought that over time he could free himself from the life-support system and even recover the lost territory in full.

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