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What Russia’s Middle East Strategy Is Really About

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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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What Europe Can Do for the Western Balkans

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This article was originally published by European Council on Foreign Relations on 13 October 2017.

It is high time for the EU to move beyond ‘stabilocracy’ and stand up to ethnic nationalist kleptocrat political leaders.

The Balkans are not as exciting as they once were. The large-scale violence that made the region a central concern of European policy in the 1990s is no longer a feature of Balkan politics.

That’s progress, of course. But the absence of violence does not mean an absence of problems. Persistent economic weakness, growing public frustration with leaders, and renewed ethnic tensions have created a volatile mix beneath the surface calm. As Europe’s attention to these issues wavered, outside actors – most notably Russia, but also Turkey and China, began to assert themselves. If the European Union wants to maintain stability and influence in its own troubled backyard, it will need to re-engage with the Balkans.

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Perceptions of EU foreign policy in the MENA region

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This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 12 August 2017.

In Arab countries, the EU is not seen as providing stability or promoting democracy. Asked what policies the EU should prioritise, survey respondents wanted ‘economic support’ and ‘economic development’.

Findings from the 2014 ArabTrans research in six MENA countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia – shed light on what citizens think of the EU and whether its policies address their concerns. The EU recognised at the time of the Arab Uprisings that its policies had failed the people of the region and in 2011 it declared an intent to focus on promoting deep and sustainable democracy and inclusive economic development.

However, in practice the EU did not adapt its policy to address popular demands for social justice and economic rights but continued to promote a narrow procedural definition of democracy, to support authoritarian rulers and to implement liberal economic policies that have proved not to support economic development. This inability to address the structural causes of economic and political polarisation pose a serious risk to the Union’s long-term goals in the region.

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Macron’s Foreign Policy: Not a Zero Sum Game

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This article was originally published by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in July 2017.

La France est de retour”. This is how French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe commented on the results of the June elections when La République en Marche!, the new party founded by Emmanuel Macron, swept into power. There are two things to note about this concept of “France is back”.

The first is internal. The new president and his majority represent a disruption compared to the previous two presidencies, which were generally perceived as suffering from paralysis. There is therefore a window of opportunity to launch a renewed and reformist season comparable only to the ones experienced by France following moments of deep crisis, as was the case in the aftermath of World War I or the Algerian crisis. It translates into the concept of an “eclipse moment”, a time in French history when the nation is re-established in its prerogatives. Paradoxically, this positive reading of the Macron Presidency reverses the so-called “declinist” theory, which fuelled the rise of populism in France and argued that modernity was endangering the nation and that nationalist policies were needed in order to restore and revive the “real” France.

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Crossing the Red Line: How Russian Interference in Western Democracy is Backfiring

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This article was originally published by the Elcano Royal Institute on 29 May 2017.

Since the Ukraine conflict has started in 2014, tensions between Russia and the West have massively increased. The US and the EU have jointly supported Ukrainian territorial integrity by introducing massive sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and its military aggression against Ukraine in the Donbas; plus, Russia has been expelled from the G8. Russian aggression has also led to NATO’s re-orientation towards territorial defence. Today German officials, who have long pursued the strategy of modernising Russia and integrating it into Western structures, talk about ‘managing an antagonistic relationship’ as the new normal.

Besides the Ukraine conflict, tensions between the West and Russia have also arisen because the latter began to interfere in the domestic political spheres of leading Western democracies. There are three major cases so far: in Germany, the Lisa case in Berlin in January 2016, a Russian disinformation campaign (and before that the hacking of computer systems of the German parliament, in 2015); in the US, the hacking and publishing of documents from the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign in July 2016; and in France, financial and other support for Marine Le Pen as well as hacking during the presidential campaign in May 2017.

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