European, Ukrainian and Russian officials announce the agreement of a gas deal, Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 30, 2014 (European Union photo).

Yesterday, Russia and Ukraine reached a gas deal after months of tense negotiations against the backdrop of violence in Ukraine’s east that has left more than 3,700 people dead. The agreement took place just days after Ukraine’s snap parliamentary elections, which showed surprisingly robust support for pro-European parties. But challenges remain, both in the east, where pro-Russian separatists will stage their own unsanctioned elections this weekend, and in Kiev, where the government must overcome a legacy of corruption and dysfunction. The elections have been hailed as a triumph in the West, and for good reason. Ukrainians resoundingly rejected the far-right […]

South Korea’s Yonggwang Nuclear Power Plant, Feb. 25, 2013 (photo by Flickr user Korea Yonggwang NPP, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

Dropping oil prices and alternative sources have resulted in dramatic changes for the global energy sector. As new players and relationships emerge, traditional powers, particularly Russia, still wield energy as a geostrategic weapon. This report covers the politics of energy over the past year. As Oil Prices Drop, Some Seek Hidden Hands Behind Market ForcesBy Frida GhitisOct. 23, 2014 Europe EU Seeks Energy Security Solutions to Russian Gas ChallengeBy Richard WeitzJune 3, 2014 Russia’s Energy Ambitions Explain Putin’s Zigzags on UkraineBy Nikolas GvosdevJune 27, 2014 Russia’s Energy Leverage Over Europe, Ukraine Considerably DiminishedBy Keith SmithMarch 4, 2014 Turkey Positions Itself […]

Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the U.N., United Nations, New York, Sept. 19, 2014 (U.N. photo by Amanda Voisard).

Editor’s note: Due to travel, Richard Gowan’s column will appear Wednesday this week. Vladimir Putin and Samantha Power both grumbled about the state of the international system last week. It is hard to know who is the more displeased. The Russian president told foreign dignitaries that American policy toward the United Nations and international law threatened to make the whole system “worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.” But the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., embarking on a tour of the Ebola-ridden countries of West Africa, targeted other states for not fulfilling promises to fight the disease. Too many […]

French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Brussels, Belgium, April 2, 2014 (Photo from the website of the Italian President).

After a several weeks of back-and-forth with the European Union over France’s 2015 national budget, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin announced yesterday that he will cut France’s budget deficit by an additional $4.6 billion to fall in line EU budgetary rules. The European Growth and Stability Pact (GSP) requires that all member state budget deficits fall under 3 percent of GDP. The original budget the French submitted to the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, estimated that France’s deficit would rise to 4.4 percent of GDP. It is understandable that French President Francois Hollande, facing slow economic growth […]

Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherje and Norwegian Prime Minster Erna Solberg, Oslo, Norway, Oct. 14, 2014 (Photo from the website of the Indian President).

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Norway in mid-October, the first by an Indian head of state, was a signal of India’s rising profile in the Arctic. Mukherjee signed 13 agreements with Norway, including one exploring avenues for joint military research between India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and Norway’s Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, known as FFI. Mukherjee also visited neighboring Finland, where he signed an additional 19 agreements, on everything from civilian nuclear cooperation to education and fishing. But the trip, coming a year after India gained observer status in the Arctic Council—an intergovernmental forum that includes eight member […]

President Barack Obama walks over to greet people after arriving in the snow at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, N.H., March 1, 2012 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Editor’s note: Due to travel, Richard Gowan’s column will appear Wednesday this week. Nikolas Gvosdev’s column will appear Monday. How three presidents—Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin—and one institution—the European Union—grapple with and navigate the political challenges they will face this winter will have a profound impact in shaping global politics in the years to come. The decisions that are taken, or deferred, will determine whether current assumptions about the international order are reconfirmed or discarded. Those assumptions include the belief that most countries, including the rising and resurgent powers, still prioritize their relationships with Washington over bonding together […]

This image made from an undated video shows Tarkhan Batirashvili, known as Omar al-Shishani, among a group of Islamic State fighters (AP Photo/militant social media account via AP video).

As militants from the so-called Islamic State (IS) advance across Syria and Iraq, the battlefield exploits of a 28-year-old field commander known as Omar al-Shishani—“Omar the Chechen”—have become a prominent narrative in the conflict. Born Tarkhan Batirashvili, the IS fighter is increasingly credited by observers as a superlative tactician who has overcome the group’s disadvantages in size and equipment to score a string of recent victories in Iraq. Batirashvili is an unlikely war hero for the radical Islamist brigades. Only a few years ago, after serving as a sergeant in the Georgian army during the 2008 war with Russia, Batirashvili […]

Paratrooper carrrying the Serbian flag, Batanjnica, Serbia, Aug. 2, 2008 (photo by Flickr user jetsetwilly licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

Yesterday, Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj visited Serbia, the first minister of Kosovo to do so since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. While 110 United Nations member states, including the United States, recognize Kosovo’s independence, Serbia does not. Neither does Russia, whose president, Vladimir Putin, received a hero’s welcome with a military parade in Belgrade last week. Kosovo’s closest ally is neighboring Albania, whose prime minister was supposed to visit Serbia this week but postponed after a drone carrying an Albanian nationalist banner flew over a soccer match in Belgrade earlier this month, sparking a brawl and a […]

Oil pumps work at sunset in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain, Oct. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

Oil occupies a special place in the world of international trade and in the public lore. No other commodity carries the political, strategic and tactical power of petroleum. Since it became the world’s primary fuel less than two centuries ago, oil has played a major role in shaping world events, triggering trade embargoes and colonial wars, making and breaking political alliances and always offering a justification, real or imagined, for international conflicts. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the recent precipitous drop in global oil prices has generated a flurry of conspiracy theories. Speculation about “the real cause” behind the current […]

Russian-speakers stand around the statue of a Red Army soldier protesting against the Estonian government’s plan to move it, Tallinn, Estonia, April 22, 2007 (AP photo by Timur Nisametdinov).

Nowhere does Russia’s policy of protecting its “compatriots”—Moscow’s loosely defined term for the Russian diaspora and Russian-speakers residing in the former Soviet republics—spell as much concern for the current post-Cold War order as in the Baltic states. All three Baltic states have significant numbers of Russian-speakers that are concentrated in territories close to the Russian border. In Lithuania, Russian-speakers make up 15 percent of the entire population; in Latvia 34 percent; and in Estonia the number might be as high as 30 percent. This has been a major source of worry for the Baltic states, because in the recent past […]

Members of the U.N. investigation team take samples from the ground to test for chemicals in the Damascus countryside of Zamalka, Syria, Aug. 29, 2013 (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen).

A series of recent media reports have refocused attention on chemical weapons and highlighted the threat presented by their possible use by terrorists. Stories about the so-called Islamic State (IS) seizing the remains of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons stockpile in Iraq; the large number of abandoned chemical weapons that U.S soldiers discovered during the post-Saddam occupation of Iraq; and the continued cases of chemicals being used as weapons of war in Syria have all generated concern and alarm. But they also highlight the ways in which the international chemical weapons regime must be updated to reflect the current nature of […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping talk during their meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Sept. 11, 2014 (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klementyev, Presidential Press Service).

Russia and China are good friends these days. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Moscow last week and, by signing a bundle of economic agreements, demonstrated Beijing’s disregard for Western sanctions on Russia over Ukraine. Early in the Ukrainian conflict, American and European officials hoped that Beijing would take steps to penalize Russia over its annexation of Crimea. But it has confined itself to token complaints, while reinforcing its trade relations with its northern neighbor. This is not the first time China has disappointed Western officials by sticking close to Moscow in recent years. Throughout the Syrian civil war, American and […]

Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel, left, takes the oath during a swearing-in ceremony with Belgian King Philippe at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Sept. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Yves Logghe).

On Oct. 11, Belgium’s King Philippe swore in the country’s new government after nearly five months of negotiations. Led by Prime Minister Charles Michel of the fiscally conservative Walloon Reformist Movement (MR), the four-party coalition government also includes three Flemish parties: the Christian Democratic CD&V, the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open VLD) and the nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA). Belgium is known for its complicated politics, thanks in large part to its linguistic divisions. Flanders, in the north of the country, is home to 60 percent of the population and is Dutch-speaking. Wallonia, in the south, is home to […]

Boyko Borisov, former Bulgarian prime minister and leader of center-right GERB party, holds his voting papers in Sofia, Bulgaria, Oct. 5, 2014 (AP Photo/STR).

SOFIA, Bulgaria—Over the past 20 months, Bulgaria has seen four governments, ongoing anti-establishment street protests over living standards and corruption, a banking crisis and sanctions as well as other pressure from the European Union due to its close ties to Russia. Some hoped the country’s second snap election in two years on Oct. 5 might have provided impetus for change to a discredited and directionless political leadership overseeing the EU’s poorest economy, which has lost its emerging-market sheen since the 2009 financial crisis. But instead the poll produced the most fragmented parliament since the fall of communism in 1989. Haggling […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 26, 2014 (AP photo/Kazakh Presidential Press Service, Sergei Bondarenko).

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the leaders of Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and other European countries at tomorrow’s 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Milan. The meeting, the third between Putin and Poroshenko since the latter took office in May, will include talks on Russia’s supply of gas to European countries via pipelines through Ukraine, which was a fraught issue even long before the ouster of Ukraine’s previous president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February. Russia shut off Ukraine’s gas supply in June, citing Ukraine’s failure to pay its debts, and the […]

Chinese workers walk past the No.1 reactor at the Ningde Nuclear Power Plant in Ningde city, Fujian province, China, April 18, 2013 (Imaginechina via AP Images).

As it enters middle age, the nuclear energy industry is facing a question common at this stage of life: Does it still have exciting possibilities for growth, or are its best days behind it? Optimists who see nuclear energy as an appealing low-carbon option for combating climate change praise its stability and reliability over decades of operating experience, as well as the cheapness and reliability of uranium fuel supplies. Organizations like the International Energy Agency foresee substantial increases in nuclear-generated electricity over the next few decades, with the number of nuclear plants worldwide—currently at roughly 400—perhaps doubling or tripling. Yet, […]

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Oct. 1, 2014 (AP photo by Virginia Mayo).

Jens Stoltenberg, former prime minister of Norway, assumed the position of secretary-general of NATO on Oct. 1. He takes over the job at an important juncture for NATO: With the drawdown in Afghanistan and tensions with Russia running high over Ukraine, there are many questions about the alliance’s future. “Being secretary-general of NATO is one of the most difficult jobs in international diplomacy,” Jorge Benitez, director of NATOSource at the Atlantic Council, says in an email interview. “Most national leaders find it hard to manage the many competing interests of their domestic political systems. The secretary-general of NATO has to […]

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