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Geopolitics

A Ukrainian In Belgrade: The Straight Line From Milosevic To Putin, And Back Again

As hostilities flare again between Serbia and Kosovo, the writer draws connections between the dissolutions of both the USSR and Yugoslavia, and the leaders who exploit upheaval and feed the worst kind of nationalism.

-Analysis-

At high school in Kyiv in the late 1990s, we studied the recent history of Yugoslavia: the details of its disintegration, the civil wars, the NATO bombing of Belgrade. When we compared Yugoslavia and the USSR, it seemed evident to us that if Boris Yeltsin or Mikhail Gorbachev had been anything like Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, bloody wars would have been unavoidable for Ukraine, Belarus, and other republics that instead had seceded from the Soviet Union without a single shot being fired.

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Fast forward to 2020, when I visited Belgrade for the first time, invited for a friend's wedding. Looking around, I was struck by the decrepit state of its roads, the lack of any official marked cabs, by the drudgery, but most of all by the tension and underlying aggression in society. It was reflected in all the posters and inscriptions plastered on nearly every street. Against Albania, against Kosovo, against Muslims, claims for historical justice, Serbian retribution, and so on. A rather beautiful, albeit by Soviet standards, Belgrade seemed like a sleeping scorpion.

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Flashback In The USSR? How Former Soviet Republics Are Reacting To War in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has been upfront about his desire to rebuild Russia’s influence in the region. Former Soviet states are watching developments in Ukraine closely, with many trying to ensure futures free of interference by Moscow.

For 69 years, the Kremlin was able to keep what were de facto separate nations within the Soviet orbit by the use of weapons, hunger and fear. Even after the collapse of the USSR, every Russian leader considered the former republics to be at least a zone of his influence.

Yet Vladimir Putin has revealed his true understanding of neighborliness, repeatedly stating that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a huge tragedy for Russia. And on this, one might agree, he is right.

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Under the Communist Party, each of the national republics also had their own government, albeit ultimately controlled by the Kremlin. Each of the republics, whether in Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, or Ukraine, had their own capital, culture, language and traditions. For each of the national republics, secession from the Soviet Union brought liberation and independence — an opportunity to build their own state. For every former member state, that is, except Russia.

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Is Soft Power Dead?

With an activist Supreme Court creating a gap between democratic rhetoric and reality in the U.S., and Russia and China eager to flex military muscle, the full-force return to hard power looks bound for dominance.

-Analysis-

PARIS — Russia's war in Ukraine rages on, tensions are erupting in the South China Sea and now abortion rights are being stripped away in the U.S.: Looking around the world, we have to ask: what is left of the notion of soft power?

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How can we talk about the power to convince when the power to coerce is increasingly the norm? And when there is such a gap between rhetoric and reality in the U.S. and in Russia and China, hard power almost seems to have become part of soft power?

“We will lead the world not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Joe Biden said the day after his election. But what kind of example was he talking about? That of the Supreme Court’s judges, whose decision promises a terrible future to women and to all those who still wanted to believe in an enlightened and liberal America?

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Russia's Military Failures Are Really About Its Soldiers

No doubt, strategic errors and corruption at the highest ranks in the Kremlin are partly to blame for the Russian military's stunning difficulties in Ukraine. But the roots run deeper, where the ordinary recruits come from, how they are exploited, how they react.

To the great relief of Ukraine and the great surprise of the rest of the world, the Russian army — considered until February 24, the second strongest in the world — is now eminently beatable on the battlefield against Ukrainian forces operating with vastly inferior firepower.

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After renouncing the original ambitions to take Kyiv and unseat the Ukrainian government, the focus turned to the southeastern region of Donbas, where a would-be great battle on a scale comparable to World War II Soviet victories has turned into a quagmire peppered with laughable updates by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on TikTok.

The Russians have not managed to occupy a single significant Ukrainian city, except Kherson, which they partially destroyed and now find difficult to hold. Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians are left to suffer the bombing of cities and villages from Lviv to Odessa, with looting, torture and assorted war crimes.

The reasons for both the poor performance and atrocities are many, and include deep-seated corruption and lack of professionalism up through the highest ranks, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who had never served in the army, and arrived in his position only because of his loyalty to the No. 1 man in the Kremlin.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Russkiy Mir Or Bust? How Putin's "Russian World" Will Backfire In An Epic Way

Under Putin, the phrase "Russkiy Mir," translated as "Russian world" but also "Russian peace," has driven Kremlin's foreign policy. It's built on the idea of a civilization that stretched well beyond Russia's borders, but it is Putin himself dooming Moscow to fade in importance, and the ancient capital of Kyiv to rise from the ashes.

-Essay-

The phrase “Русский Мир” (Russkiy Mir — “Russian world”) has appeared frequently in statements by Vladimir Putin and his top henchmen to justify the invasion of Ukraine. It’s the idea that Russia is not just a nation-state, but a civilizational-state with an important role to play in world history.

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In Putin’s vision, the Kremlin has a duty to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers all over the world, including in the former Soviet republics.

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In The News
Irene Caselli, Anne-Sophie Gominet, Anna Akage and Emma Albright

A Donbas Quagmire? Running Out Of Water, Supplies, Men

As Russian forces continue their offensive in Donbas without securing any significant territorial gains, the situation on the ground is growingly dire for civilians left behind.

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Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg reports on significant water, food and other supply shortages in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic. Tap water has been scarce since the beginning of Russian occupation on February 24, and it is now available only every three days. Residents collect rainwater or otherwise buy it when they can afford to.

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Geopolitics
Philip Volkmann-Schluck

How Putin "Lost" Kazakhstan, And Squashed His Own Soviet Revival

For Vladimir Putin, invading Ukraine was the first massive step in reviving the power of Soviet times. His war has done the opposite. Kazakhstan is the first former Soviet republic to distance itself from Russia and turn to the West. But the Central Asian country may not be able to free itself of Russian influence as quickly as it would like.

-Analysis-

Less than three months ago, the president of Kazakhstan asked the Kremlin to send troops into his country. In January, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the vast Central Asian country was rocked by uprisings, with tens of thousands of citizens protesting high prices for the liquid gas that they use as fuel for cooking, heating and cars.

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Militant groups attacked police stations and the capital’s airport. Head of state Kassym-Jomart Tokayev feared a coup. He called for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an intergovernmental military alliance between former Soviet states, long dominated by Russia.

Vladimir Putin responded within a few hours – and for a while, the eyes of the world were on Kazakhstan as Moscow sent in “peacekeeping forces.” According to official figures, at least 250 people died during the two weeks of unrest, while thousands were arrested.

Much of what happened remains shrouded in secrecy: the brutal actions of the state, but also the identity of those protestors who were armed. “Traitors,” according to the government.

The involvement of CSTO troops has no historical precedent in the post-Soviet era. In January, experts feared that Putin would refuse to withdraw his troops from the country, which has rich reserves of oil, natural gas and other natural resources. It would have been a turning point if the Kremlin had used the alliance to establish a military presence in Central Asia. Although it wouldn’t have been surprising given Putin’s strategy: at a recent patriotic rally that packed out Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, songs were played that referred to Kazakhstan as part of Russia.

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Ideas
Oleksandr Demchenko

How The West Got Russia So Wrong — And Keeps Getting It Wrong

Ukrainian President Zelensky's belief that Russia's invasion has nullified both European and global security should not be taken lightly. Everything must be rebuilt — and must happen much faster than Western leaders seem prepared to do. A view from Kyiv-based news media Livy Bereg.

-Analysis-

KYIV — The world finds itself at war more often than not. The relatively peaceful respite that followed the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, and the fall of the Soviet Union were exceptions, not the norm.

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World War I led to revolutions. The emergence of new dictatorial regimes gradually brought us to World War II. After 1945, the victors divided Europe into pieces, and then divided themselves into blocs, leading to the emergence of zones of influence around the world.

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Geopolitics
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Does NATO Deter Or Provoke Russia? Look To Finland And Sweden For The Answer

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has rekindled the Nordic debate over the possibility of joining NATO, prompting Russian threats. It's a microcosm for the conflict itself.

Like elsewhere, Sweden and Finland have taken historic decisions in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine last month — each breaking their respective policy of not providing arms to countries at war, by sending military aid to Kyiv.

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Indeed, for Sweden, the last time it happened was during the Winter War of 1939, when it gave assistance to Finland to counter an invasion by the Soviet Union.

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Geopolitics
Yves Bourdillon and Benjamin Quenelle

Does France's Macron Have The Clout To Make Putin Budge On Ukraine?

The French president wants to convince Vladimir Putin to halt military deployment around Ukraine. But some in Moscow believe the Russian president is only interested in negotiating with the U.S. about the wider global balance of power.

-Analysis-

PARIS"If you invite a Russian bear to dance, it is not you who decides the end of the dance, it is the bear.”

This old Russian saying, recalled by a French diplomat, underlines the delicate nature of the mediation French President Emmanuel Macron is attempting this week on the Ukrainian crisis.

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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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Russia
Alexander Demchenko

Putin's Blunt Message For Germany: Forget Ukraine

The Russian president's article on the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union can be read on multiple levels. But one thing is sure, his mind is fixed on the future.

KYIV — The title itself is catchy enough: "To be open despite the past." True, it had nothing to do with the War or post-War years. The article, printed in the German newspaper Die Zeit is rather a call to Germans to forget about the Ukrainian issue and to engage as soon as possible in real, profitable policies, such as the launch of Nord Stream.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to convince the Germans to be open-minded, regardless of the past. But the past he urges Germans to forget has nothing to do with Nazism. Here the Russian president understands that Germans are still bound by the politics of memory, and are unlikely to allow themselves to change history any time soon.

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