Conservative Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, left, and Justice candidate for prime minister Beata Szydlo, right, at the party's headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, Oct. 25, 2015 (AP photo by Czarek Sokolowski).

Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party won an absolute majority in both chambers of parliament in elections last Sunday, marking the first time in 26 years of democratic rule that one party will form a government. Law and Justice, also known by its acronym PiS, broke through that glass ceiling with more than 37 percent of votes. It won the plurality of votes in all categories of the electorate, by reaching out to better-educated urban voters and making advances in the western provinces of the country for the first time. After being in opposition for eight years, Law and Justice […]

A ground crew member reports to pilots that their jet is ready for a combat mission, Hemeimim airbase, Syria, Oct. 22, 2015 (Russian Defense Ministry photo).

Russia began its military intervention in Syria a month ago, initially declaring that its aim was to take on the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But instead, it immediately started targeting groups that pose the most threat to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, mainly the Islamist coalition of rebel and jihadi groups known as Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest, which includes the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, as well as more moderate groups backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even the United States. Russia hopes to consolidate the territory controlled by Assad’s forces, which have also launched an offensive on rebel groups […]

Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso and French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace, Paris, France, Dec. 6, 2013 (AP photo by Christophe Ena).

The longtime president of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, is now eligible to run for a third consecutive term, after voters overwhelmingly approved amendments to the constitution in a referendum last Sunday, according to the official results announced Tuesday. The opposition, which has protested 72-year-old Sassou’s attempt to retain power since he announced his intentions in May, urged voters to boycott the referendum and called for civil disobedience. The government issued a ban on public gatherings, but protests ensued. Tens of thousands of demonstrators were met with a violent government crackdown. According to government officials, clashes between police […]

Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, briefs the Security Council, New York, July 29, 2015 (U.N. photo by Loey Felipe).

Do Europeans still make good peacemakers? Europe’s militaries have been in long-term decline since the end of the Cold War. But the continent’s diplomats and politicians retain a prominent role in international crisis management. This is nowhere more obvious than in the Middle East and North Africa. The United Nations currently has seven top-level envoys working on conflicts in the region. Five of them are Europeans. The U.N. has, for example, decided that a German official will replace a Spanish diplomat as its envoy on Libya. Staffan de Mistura, who holds double Italian-Swedish nationality, still has the ugly task of […]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose before a meeting in New Delhi, India, Oct. 5, 2015 (AP photo by Saurabh Das).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to India in early October was the second summit-level meeting she has had with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the span of a month. These talks have themselves been preceded by a flurry of other high-level exchanges. Both sides seem keen to dispel any notion of a lack of momentum in bilateral relations, a view that has arisen ever since Modi failed to meet Merkel in Berlin during his trip to Germany last year. Germany is eager to take advantage of Modi’s renewed push for economic growth through clean energy initiatives and manufacturing. Germany has […]

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron welcomes Chinese President Xi Xinping, London, Oct. 21, 2015 (10 Downing St. photo by Georgina Coupe).

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United Kingdom this week has largely attracted the wrong kind of headlines. Reactions from experts and officials in the United States and across Europe have been scathing, ranging from the bemused to the disturbed. Many contend that Britain’s China policy, at the instigation of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, has been reduced solely to matters of commerce. Not only do strategic matters in Asia, human rights concerns, and threats to democracy in Hong Kong appear to be virtually absent from the U.K.’s considerations, the British government gives the impression of believing that […]

German federal police officers guide a group of migrants after crossing the border between Austria and Germany in Wegscheid, Germany, Oct. 15, 2015 (AP photo by Matthias Schrader).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become Europe’s moral voice during the refugee crisis that has seen over 710,000 people fleeing war, violence and poverty arrive at the European Union’s borders so far this year. In a press conference in late August, Merkel said, “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for.” In a speech last month to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, Merkel re-emphasized her moral view of the worst refugee crisis since World War II—and Germany’s ability to meet its challenges. […]

Smoke rises after shelling by Syrian army backed by Russia airstrikes, Damascus, Syria, Oct. 14, 2015 (Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda via AP).

Russia’s combat operations in Syria, barely three weeks old, are the kind of expeditionary campaign that Moscow has not undertaken since the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. This intervention is the consequence of Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama both following through on the original, respective paths they chose in Syria. While the United States sought to avoid military entanglement and stay out of the conflict—doing the bare minimum to appease regional allies in their efforts to force Bashar al-Assad out of power—Russia remained consistent in its belief that the Syrian state represents the only viable and legitimate […]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon greets Russian President Vladimir Putin following the latter’s address at the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session, New York, Sept. 28, 2015 (U.N. photo by Loey Felipe).

Will Vladimir Putin ever be satisfied? As the Russian president has launched his small wars in Ukraine and Syria over the past two years, countless pundits have tried to guess his long-term goals. Some believe that he is a megalomaniac, intent on an open-ended campaign against the West. Others discount him as a nervous nationalist, focused on stabilizing Russia’s disorderly southern flank. Cynics dismiss him as an opportunist, seizing chances to expand his influence whenever they arise. In New York, many diplomats and analysts affiliated with the United Nations take a fourth view: Putin is a conservative with a profound […]

Thousands of people attend a "Refugee Welcome" demonstration at the Gotaplatsen square, Gothenburg, Sweden, Sept. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Adam Ihse).

Sweden, the biggest country at the heart of rich and peaceful Scandinavia, is in many ways in the eye of the current migration storm tearing through Europe. Although it is admitting fewer refugees than Germany in terms of sheer numbers, Sweden is—and has been for several years—the European Union’s biggest per capita recipient of refugees by quite a wide margin. In 2014, Sweden, a country with just 9 million inhabitants, received more than 80,000 asylum applications. This year, that number is set to grow substantially. From one angle, no other country seems better equipped to handle this challenge. Having weathered […]

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta gestures during a special parliament session, Bucharest, Romania, Sept. 29, 2015, before facing a no-confidence vote (AP photo by Octav Ganea).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the impact of corruption and various countries’ efforts to combat it. Barely noticed by a world preoccupied with crises ranging from migrants and refugees in Europe and fighting in Ukraine, to civil war in Syria and stock-market plunges in China, Romania put its prime minister on trial for corruption on Sept. 21. Victor Ponta, who stubbornly remains in office and denies all charges, stands accused of a range of activities largely committed before his tenure as premier, when he was working as a lawyer. That the sitting head […]

Eurocopter executive Olivier Lambert and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, after signing an agreement, with French President Francois Hollande and Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Paris, June 24, 2015 (AP photo by Remy de la Mauviniere).

France’s increasingly close rapport with Saudi Arabia under President Francois Hollande has incensed some of his critics, who label him a hypocrite for touting a human rights agenda while maintaining cozy ties with the oil-rich Gulf nation notorious for public executions and beatings. Just recently, Riyadh stoked international outrage over news that 20-year-old Ali al-Nimr, arrested four years ago during anti-government protests—along with hundreds of other, mostly Shiite protesters in the city of Qatif—would be sentenced to death. Although France has not been particularly outspoken on Saudi Arabia’s frequent executions—175 in 12 months, according to an Amnesty International report from […]

A Russian SU-24M jet fighter takes off from an airbase Hmeimim, Syria, photo taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official web site Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 (Russian Defense Ministry photo).

In commenting on an article by Josh Marshall about Russia’s military intervention in Syria, I wrote that the best thing the United States has going for it in formulating a response is time. Russia simply does not have the hardware or logistical capacity to project force decisively over the long haul. That doesn’t mean that the intervention won’t have an initial impact. In fact, the introduction of Russian airpower and advisers, combined with Iranian and possibly Russian ground forces, has already shifted the momentum on the battlefield. This should not come as a surprise. After all, the initial American and […]

A pro-independence flag is waved at a rally with Catalan President Artur Mas, Barcelona, Spain, Sept. 27, 2015 (AP photo by Manu Fernandez).

Late last month, the pro-independence alliance Junts Pel Si, or Together For Yes, came in first place in regional elections in Catalonia, winning nearly 40 percent of the vote and 62 seats in the regional parliament. The other pro-independence party, Popular Unity Candidacy, known by its Catalan acronym, CUP, won 10 seats—a strong showing for the Catalan independence movement, but not enough for the pro-independence parties to win an overall majority of the votes, as they came in just shy with 48 percent. However, if Junts Pel Si and CUP form a coalition, they will have a majority of seats […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon during a signing ceremony at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, Beijing, Sept. 2, 2015 (AP photo by Lintao Zhang).

Recent armed clashes in Tajikistan have raised new questions about Central Asia’s stability, just as China is deepening its role in the region and tying it to signature trade and investment plans. Chinese leaders have touted the region as an essential part of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a land- and sea-based infrastructure network to connect eastern China with Western Europe through what it calls the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road. But China is not alone in Central Asia. Overlapping interests with Russia, the long-time kingmaker in a region that was part of the Soviet […]

The presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan at the Eurasian Economic Union summit, Moscow, Russia, Dec. 23, 2014 (AP photo by Maxim Shipenkov).

Earlier this week, during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin touched on a topic that was easily overlooked amid his claims about Ukrainian and Syrian sovereignty. “Contrary to the policy of exclusiveness, Russia proposes harmonizing original economic projects,” Putin intoned, citing “plans to interconnect the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and China’s initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt.” Putin promptly turned to other topics, letting any further details about linking the troubled Kremlin-backed EEU—made up of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia—with one of the two principal components of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session, New York, Sept. 28 2015 (U.N. photo by Mark Garten).

The United Nations was stuffed to the gills with world leaders last week, but the real action was elsewhere. While presidents and prime ministers addressed the U.N. General Assembly, three crises escalated dramatically. In Syria, Russian warplanes launched their first strikes on rebel positions. In Afghanistan, the Taliban temporarily seized the northern city of Kunduz, the first major urban center to fall under their control since 2001. In the Central African Republic (CAR), U.N. peacekeepers fought with militias in the capital, Bangui, in an outbreak of violence that forced 40,000 civilians to flee. Each of these crises has the potential […]

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