The CSS Blog Network

How Assad Won the Syrian Civil War Before it Began

Image courtesy of watchsmart/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 5 September 2018.

In recent months, many observers of the still-smoldering civil war in Syria have concluded that Bashar al-Assad’s triumph, once unthinkable, now appears inevitable. How did the Syrian regime accomplish such a come-from-behind victory?

Most analysts emphasize how Assad benefited from extensive international support from Russia and Iran, as well as non-state militias like Hezbollah. They also credit Assad’s deft deployment of a divide-and-rule strategy, in which he sought modus vivendis with some opponents—ISIS and Kurdish rebel groups carving out autonomous spaces far from Damascus—while unleashing the full weight of his military strength on moderate Western-backed rebel factions. Yet the most important factor in Assad’s victory was neither his international support nor his wartime strategies; rather, Assad triumphed because Syria’s armed domestic opposition was hopelessly fragmented from the beginning to the closing stages of the conflict.

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How State Restrictions are Reshaping Civic Space Around the World

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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

Courtesy of gωen/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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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You Wanted Civil Society? Well, Now You´ve Got It

Blinded by the lights

Courtesy Id-iom/Flickr

This article was originally published by the openDemocracy on 30 September 2016.

Amid Russia’s conservative turn, a new brand of conservative civil society is mobilising against freedom of expression. Русский


 
Anton Belikov walks through the Direct Look exhibition, and attacks work by Sergei Loiko and Alexander Vasukovich. Video: Elena Balakireva.

On Wednesday evening, Anton Belikov, an artist and lecturer at Moscow’s Surikov Academy of Arts, walked through an exhibition of photographs documenting the war in eastern Ukraine, and threw paint over them. Having ruined and torn up the pictures as “war propaganda”, Belikov then turned to one of the photographers and the curator to say: “You wanted civil society? Well, now you’ve got it.”

These photographs by photographer Alexander Vasukovich and journalist Sergei Loiko were exhibited in Moscow’s Sakharov Center as part of the Direct Look photography prize. As a result of this attack, the Sakharov Center decided not to close the exhibition, but instead to hang posters detailing what took place on 28 September in place of the damaged works.

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How Attacks on Energy Infrastructure Affect Colombia’s Citizens

Electricity cables in Colombia

Electricity cables in Baranquilla, Colombia. Photo: Lucho Molina/flickr

In the last few months, attacks on Colombia’s energy infrastructure by the FARC and ELN have increased. While such attacks affect the lives of many ordinary Colombians, they are most often discussed within the bigger issue of terrorism.

However, there are a few Colombian bloggers who offer different perspectives.

Alejandro Gaviria describes [es] the gloomy panorama of attacks up to late August 2012: » More

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