In September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping first announced his strategic vision of “One Belt, One Road” (subsequently renamed the “Belt and Road Initiative” or BRI) during a speech at Nazarbayev University in the Kazakh capital. In essence, the BRI is a massive Chinese project, involving more than 130 countries, over $600 billion in existing commitments, and a total price tag estimated in the trillions of dollars, to redevelop the ancient Silk Road trade routes running between China and Europe. In his speech at Nazarbayev University, Xi suggested that China and Central Asia cooperate to build “the Belt,” the continental part of the Chinese vision, as opposed to “the Road,” the maritime segment. The choice to unveil this enormous project in a country with a relatively low international profile suggests the significance that China attaches to Kazakhstan specifically as well as the broader region in which it is situated. Indeed, Central Asia and the South Caucasus will be a key part of the BRI and home to a number of major associated projects.
Social media has proved an essential tool for catalyzing political activism and social change around the world. Yet, the very features that make it so useful to those with greater-good intentions—scalability, mobility, and low costs to entry—also make it prone to manipulation by malign actors who use it to spread disinformation and divisive rhetoric. These bad actors looking to sway public opinion include both fringe groups and well-funded, highly staffed government institutions. With the US presidential election approaching, voters and policymakers are rightly concerned with what should be done to mitigate the flurry of fake news stemming from beyond the border.
For the first time since 1957, Europe finds itself in a situation where three major powers—the United States, China and Russia—have an interest in weakening it. They may squeeze the European Union in very different ways, but they share an essential hostility to its governance model.
The European model, after all, is based on the principle of shared sovereignty among states in crucial areas such as market standards and trade. That liberal idea is antithetical to the American, Chinese and Russian view of sovereignty, which places the prerogative of states above global rules and norms of behaviour. Shared sovereignty is possible only among liberal states; unalloyed sovereignty is the preserve of populists and authoritarians.
On 15 January, shortly after President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address to the Federal Assembly, in which he announced changes to the constitution, it was reported that Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and his government had resigned. The President entrusted the previous cabinet with the task of governing in the interim, but he then announced that he had nominated Mikhail Mishustin, who had hitherto been the head of the Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation, for the post of prime minister. The new prime minister was approved by the State Duma on 16 January.
What happens in the Black Sea does not stay in the Black Sea. The region’s status as a crossroad linking Europe, Asia, and the Middle East is its most important advantage—and its greatest risk. It is the region with the highest density of protracted conflicts. Civil wars causing major migration flows are occurring at its doorstep. Disruptive security challenges in the Black Sea ripple immediately into Europe’s core, Russia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. Security and stability in the Black Sea are crucial for the Balkans, Russia, the Levant, and Central Asia.