Geopolitics

Greater Russia? Four Scenarios For Putin’s Expansionist Ambitions

A mind map of the Russian leader’s possible plans to increase his influence, and expand his territory.

Vladimir Putin has always had his eye on the neighborhood.

In Georgia, the border with Russia has effectively been controlled by Moscow’s FSB security services since 2008. Washington this week accused Russian agents of recruiting pro-Kremlin Ukrainian operatives to take over the government in Kyiv and cooperate with a Russian occupying force. Meanwhile, all of Belarus has been on a short leash for two decades.

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U.S.-Russia Geneva Talks, RIP Meat Loaf, Solo Flight Record

👋 你好*

Welcome to Friday, where U.S. and Russian top officials are meeting today in Geneva as tensions mount over Ukraine, rock and Rocky Horror fans mourn Meat Loaf and a 19-year-old flies solo around the world. Meanwhile, from Bogota-based daily El Espectador, we see how an old text reveals new insights to late Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ambiguous history as a “wandering Sandinista.”

[*Nĭ hăo - Mandarin]

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Trying To Gauge Russian Ambitions? Look How Nervous Its Nordic Neighbors Are

The eyes of the world are on the Russian-Ukrainian border as Putin threatens an invasion. However, the more vital stage of the Kremlin’s military ambitions is the Baltic Sea, where the likes of bordering countries like Finland and Sweden are mobilizing troops as Moscow tries to undermine the allegiance of the EU and former Soviet states.

While tensions between the U.S and Russia mount with the Kremlin gathering troops at the border of Ukraine, countries farther north are preparing for the worst.

In Sweden, Dagens Nyheter reports that the country of 10 million people deployed armored vehicles and 100 soldiers to patrol streets on the island of Gotland on Friday in response to Russian landing ships sailing into the Baltic Sea. Even if the Swedish Armed Forces announced soon after that the ships were leaving, serious questions about Russia's military ambitions remain.

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REvil Bust: Is Russian Cybercrime Crackdown Just A Decoy From Ukraine?

This weekend’s unprecedented operation to dismantle the cybercriminal REvil network in Russia was carried out on a request and information from Washington. Occurring just as the two countries face off over the Russian threat to invade Ukraine raises more questions than it answers.

The world’s attention was gripped last week by the rising risk of war at the Russia-Ukraine border, and what some have called the worst breakdown in relations between Moscow and Washington since the end of the Cold War. Yet by the end of the week, another major story was unfolding more quietly across Russia that may shed light on the high-stakes geopolitical maneuvering.

By Friday night, Russian security forces had raided 25 addresses in St. Petersburg, Moscow and several other regions south of the capital in an operation to dismantle the notorious REvil group, accused of some of the worst cyberattacks in recent years to hit targets in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West.

And by Saturday, Russian online media Interfax was reporting that the FSB Russian intelligence services revealed that it had in fact been the U.S. authorities who had informed Russia "about the leaders of the criminal community and their involvement in attacks on the information resources of foreign high-tech companies.”

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Geopolitics
Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov

Kazakhstan: When One Strongman Replaces Another

Violent unrest in Kazakhstan has resulted in a new authoritarian leader finally assuming proper power in the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor.

The real transition of power in Kazakhstan was supposed to have taken place in 2019. Former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power.

However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country.

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Geopolitics
Shahram Sabzevari

Don't Underestimate Russian Influence Over Iran's Military

Russia's role in in Iranian affairs goes to the highest levels of its military and security structures. But will anyone in Iran dare question Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in spite of the grave risks to the country's national security?

-Analysis-

LONDON — Several sources recently reported on the sale of 24 Russian Su-35 fighter jets to Iran. These were initially to be sold to Egypt, but that deal was thwarted by the threat of U.S. sanctions on Egypt. Since 15 of the planes were reportedly ready for delivery, they may be sent to the Iranian regime in early 2022.

Reports of sales of Russian commercial or military planes to Iran are not new, though some now qualify them as a consolation for Tehran to make amends for Russia's suspected approval of the strikes that have targeted Iranian Revolutionary guards bases, allied militias and Iranian war material in Syria.

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Ideas
Anna Akage

"Worse Than Death" - A Message For Putin From A Reluctant Ukrainian Patriot

With Russian troops amassed at the border with Ukraine, the writer, who came of age in Kiev in the post-Soviet era, says her fellow Ukrainians of every generation are united in never again falling under the reign of Moscow.

"We survived the War, we can survive these maneuvers."

"The important thing is that there's no war."

"If there is a war, what if I am too tired to fight?"

These are phrases that I've heard in my daily life for as long as I can remember. There is no family in Ukraine that did not suffer from the 20th century's two world wars, Soviet revolutions and repressions and the Holodomor famine of the 1930s that killed millions. Flare-ups and worse with Russia over the past two decades spark immediate visceral reactions, sometimes overreactions, that come from history that never seems too far behind.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

U.S.-Russia Stalemate, Asymptomatic Omicron, Pig Heart Breakthrough

👋 Bozhoo!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where the U.S breaks a new COVID record, “no progress” in tense talks between Russian and American officials over Ukraine and a medical breakthrough crosses the animal kingdom. Meanwhile, we look at why more and more countries around the world are loosening laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

[*Ojibwe - Canada]

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Geopolitics
Lena Surzhko Harned

Kazakhstan's Turn: Putin Having His Way With Former Soviet Republics

As with Ukraine and Belarus, Kazakhstan is falling under the grip of Moscow as a response to disorder and threats to align with the West.

-Analysis-

Add Kazakhstan to the list of former Soviet republics whose independence is now being threatened by Russia. Russian leader Vladimir Putin is using a similar playbook in Kazakhstan to one that he has used over almost a decade to threaten the sovereignty of Ukraine.

What began as protests over rising fuel prices on Jan. 2, 2021, quickly escalated into violent clashes on the streets of Kazakhstan. On Jan. 5, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a firm ally of Putin’s, requested support from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Putin’s Russian Federation is the leading member. Russia has responded decisively by sending paratroopers, special operations troops and equipment as part of a nearly 3,000-strong force to Kazakhstan.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Kazakhstan Order, India COVID Spike, Multilingual Dogs

👋 Saluton!*

Welcome to Friday, where order has been restored in Kazakhstan, with a very heavy hand and help from Russia, North Korea bows out of the Beijing Olympics because of COVID and a new study shows dogs have multilingual skills. Meanwhile, Negar Jokar writes in Persian-language media Kayhan-London about the ways that Iran hounds refugees who have fled to Turkey.

*Keep your eye out 😉 tomorrow for the first edition of our Weekend newsletter, which will be a variation (not variant!) on what we deliver with Worldcrunch Today every Monday through Friday. We’ll let you discover demain the special name we’ve given our new weekly edition!

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In The News
Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Omicron Spikes, Park Geun-hye Pardoned, Tasty Screens

👋 Bonjour!*

Welcome to Friday, where several European countries see record daily COVID cases, South Korea pardons Park Geun-hye, and Taste-the-TV is a thing. We also look at a familiar story unfolding in Ukraine, where former president Petro Poroshenko has been accused of being in cahoots with Russia.

As mentioned yesterday, the Worldcrunch Today crew is taking a short break, and will be back on Jan. 3, 2022. As always, we’ll continue publishing new stories through the holidays on Worldcrunch! Happy end of the year to all 🥳

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Geopolitics
Anna Akage

Ukraine Charges Its Former Leaders With The Ultimate Crime: Helping Russia

Ukraine's former president Petro Poroshenko has taken refuge in Poland after being accused of treason and cooperation with Russia. It’s a film we’ve seen before in Kyiv.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Chile’s New President, Peng Shuai Denies Assault Claims, Over-The-Top Christmas

👋 Mandi!*

Welcome to Monday, where Gabriel Boric becomes Chile’s youngest president ever, Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai retracts sexual assault claims and a Hungarian grandma goes all out for Christmas decorations. Persian-language magazine Kayhan reflects on how the trial in Sweden of a former Iranian justice official finally gives judicial weight to the decades of accusations of the violent crimes of the Iranian regime during and after the 1979 revolution.

[*Friulian - Italy]

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Ideas
Anna Akage

“Foreign Agent,” Putin’s Favorite Euphemism For Targeting Opponents

Russia is increasingly labeling journalists and human rights organizations as “foreign agents.” It’s the Kremlin’s latest – and most effective – way of cracking down on any kind of opposition.

The first thing to understand about those the Russian state calls “foreign agents” is that almost all of them are actually Russian. On top of that, most of these “agents” are either journalists or activists — or the media and human rights organizations they work for.

Foreign agent (иностранный агент - inostrannyi agent) is very much a loaded term and product of Vladimir Putin’s reign. It is a criminal designation bestowed on those whose activities are considered hostile to the state and have in some way received financing from abroad.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Assange’s Extradition, Nicaragua & China, Sweden v. IKEA

👋 Сәлем!*

Welcome to Friday, where the U.S. wins bid to extradite whistleblower Julian Assange, Nicaragua breaks off ties with Taiwan to align with China and Sweden takes issue with IKEA branding. In the wake of New Zealand’s plans to ban all future cigarette sales, we take a look at toughening smoking laws around the world.

[*Salem - Kazakh]

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food / travel
Benjamin Quenelle

Russia Thirsts For Prestige Mark On World's Wine List

Gone are sweet Soviet wines, forgotten is the "dry law" of Gorbachev, Russian viticulture is now reborn.

MOSCOW — A year after its opening, Russian Wine is always full. Located in the center of Moscow, it has become a trendy restaurant. Its wine list stands out: It offers Russian brands only, more than 200, signalled in different colors across all the southern regions of the country.

Russian Wine (in English on the store front, as well as on the eclectic menu) unsurprisingly includes Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula where viticulture has revived since Moscow annexed it in 2014.

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