Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, backdropped by Euro banknotes, gestures during the recording of a talk show on Italian state television, Rome, Jan. 11, 2018 (AP photo by Andrew Medichini).

Italians go to the polls this Sunday in a climate of uncertainty, amid fears, not unfounded, that their country’s political stability is at stake. Three main political forces are contending for power: On the right, a shaky alliance of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and two far-right parties, the League and the Brothers of Italy; the maverick and populist Five Star Movement; and the governing, center-left Democratic Party. They are polling roughly in that order, followed by Free and Equal, a left-wing coalition of disgruntled Democratic Party veterans who broke away in 2017. But 30 percent of the […]

Poles take part in a silent march in memory of a teenager who apparently choked to death while trying to swallow a drug packet as narcotics officers tried to stop him, Legionowo, Poland, March 22, 2015 (AP photo by Alik Keplicz).

Poland’s harsh policy on drugs, in place for nearly two decades, has not been effective. Now civil society groups are pushing for a new approach. Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series about national drug policies in various countries around the world. Poland’s strict drug laws, in place for nearly two decades, are considered among the harshest in Europe. But criminalizing even minor drug possession has proven ineffective, and the president who signed the measures into law has admitted they are a policy failure. In an email interview, Kasia Malinowska, director of the Global Drug Policy Program […]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomes Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul-malik al-Mekhlafi for talks in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 22, 2018 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

In late January, Yemen’s foreign minister, Abdul-malik al-Mekhlafi, traveled to Moscow where he met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. As they discussed the implementation of an elusive peace settlement in Yemen, Lavrov emphasized Russia’s willingness to mediate between rival Yemeni factions. Lavrov’s somewhat surprising announcement was followed up days later by a statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offering to broker talks in the burgeoning conflict between separatists in southern Yemen and the forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, whose president is in exile in Saudi Arabia. Until recently, Russia has maintained a diplomatic presence in Yemen’s […]

Muslims pray outside the Moscow Cathedral Mosque during celebrations of Eid al-Adha, Moscow, Russia, Sept. 1, 2017 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

Editor's Note: This article is part of an ongoing series about religious minorities in various countries around the world. In its 2017 annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom called out Russia for creating an increasingly repressive environment for religious minorities. While the report did not put Russia on the U.S. watchdog’s list of most egregious violators, it did recommend for the first time that Russia be designated a “country of particular concern.” In an email interview, Eugene Clay, head of the religious studies faculty at Arizona State University and a scholar on religion in Russia, discusses […]

United Nations peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix is welcomed by U.N peacekeepers upon his arrival in eastern Congo, Dec. 19, 2017 (AP photo by Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro).

Editor’s note: This is a special Wednesday edition of Diplomatic Fallout. Judah Grunstein will return with Balance of Power next week. There is a long history of bold ideas for peacekeeping missions that never quite took off. In 1936, British officials considered deploying 10,000 peacekeepers to the Rhineland as a buffer force between France and an increasingly aggressive Nazi Germany. In 1969, the Irish foreign minister called for a United Nations force to counter mounting sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland. London said no. In January 2009, in one of its very last foreign policy initiatives, the outgoing George W. Bush […]

Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill arrive for a meeting with Ireland’s prime minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Dublin, Feb. 19, 2018 (Niall Carson for Press Association via AP Images).

BELFAST, Northern Ireland—As the 20th anniversary of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement approaches this April, Northern Ireland once again finds itself in a political crisis. It has been without a government for over a year now, since the governing coalition in Belfast collapsed. Following the failure of talks last week between the two main parties, the Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, and the nationalist Sinn Fein, the anniversary of the agreement that ended three decades of violence between Unionists and nationalists will be less of a cause for celebration. Of course, peace has held, more or less, since that […]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki review the honor guards prior to a meeting, Berlin, Feb. 16, 2018 (AP photo by Markus Schreiber).

On Feb. 16, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met in Berlin for what appeared to be a tense discussion aimed at mending their countries’ frayed bilateral ties. Merkel acknowledged that the two leaders “have different points of view” on a number of issues, including the resettlement of refugees in Europe. In an email interview, Piotr Buras, the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations Warsaw office, discusses the points of friction between Berlin and Warsaw and where their interests still overlap. WPR: Where do relations between Germany and Poland currently stand, and what are […]

Russia's energy minister Alexander Novak and Saudi Arabia's energy minister Khalid Al-Falih attend a news conference after an OPEC meeting, Vienna, Austria, Nov. 30, 2017 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).

Saudi Arabia and Russia are gushing over their budding relationship. In a series of recent interviews, the Saudi energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, and his Russian counterpart, Alexander Novak, expressed soaring optimism over the future of their countries’ ties, and not just in managing oil markets. “Think of it as a relationship that is in decades and even in generations,” al-Falih told his CNBC interviewers in Davos, Switzerland on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum last month. Forged after the 2014 collapse in world energy prices, the unlikely partnership between the two Cold War-era adversaries is based first and foremost […]

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini attend the inauguration of the Hybrid CoE, Helsinki, Finland, Oct. 2, 2017 (Lehtikuva photo by Jussi Nukari via AP).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s editor-in-chief, Judah Grunstein, managing editor, Frederick Deknatel, and associate editor, Omar H. Rahman, discuss a tale of two corruption scandals in Israel and South Africa. For the Report, Mackenzie Weinger talks with Andrew Green about why Finland is in the vanguard of efforts to counter Russia’s use of hybrid threats to undermine Western democracies. If you like what you hear on Trend Lines and what you’ve read on WPR, you can sign up for our free newsletter to get some of our uncompromising analysis delivered twice a week straight to your inbox. The […]

Romanians hold a large European Union flag during a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Dec. 3, 2017 (AP photo by Vadim Ghirda).

In late January, Romania’s parliament approved Viorica Dancila as the nation’s first female prime minister—and the third prime minister in just the past year. The same ruling coalition has overseen a period of political turbulence driven by the largest wave of popular protests in Romania in a quarter of a century. In an email interview, Silvia Fierascu, a research fellow at the Center for Network Science at the Central European University in Budapest, discusses the ongoing political tensions, the balance of power and the role of international actors. WPR: What do the recent political battles that ultimately resulted in Dancila’s […]

Britain's then-Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping at The Plough pub, Casden, England, Oct. 22, 2015 (AP Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth).

When he was British prime minister, David Cameron promised that his country would become China’s “best partner” in the West. His recent decision to accept a leadership role in a new joint Sino-British investment fund—part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road development initiative, no less—shows that, even after his retirement from frontline politics, Cameron is still dedicated to making good on that commitment. Last month, as part of his new job, he had a personal meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, where he expressed hope for a new “golden era” of U.K.-China relations, echoing what he said when […]

A protester wearing a mask of President Petro Poroshenko and a sign with the word "Impeachment" attends a rally outside the Ukrainian parliament, Kiev, Oct. 17, 2017 (AP photo by Efrem Lukatsky).

Today in Ukraine, both inside the government and out, it isn’t uncommon to hear that President Petro Poroshenko is no less corrupt than Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-connected leader who was ousted in the 2014 Maidan revolution. The main difference between Poroshenko and Yanukovych, according to many Ukrainians, is that the Poroshenko administration is simply far more duplicitous at presenting a polished image to Western donors. That was the view from more than 100 interviews with Ukrainian public officials, activists, lawyers and businesspeople that I conducted as a visiting Fulbright scholar at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy throughout 2016 and […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto answer questions during a news conference, Savonlinna, Finland, July 27, 2017 (Sputnik photo by Mikhail Klimentyev via AP).

HELSINKI, Finland—Tucked away in an unassuming office building near Helsinki’s waterfront, a group of around 10 academics and government officials—most of them Finns—spend long days and nights tracking disinformation and influence operations emanating from neighboring Russia. They make up a newly formed research and strategy unit tasked with lifting the veil on a range of security threats that blend conventional and unconventional tactics. The European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, known as the Hybrid CoE, was founded last year in Helsinki by a dozen member states of the European Union and NATO. It defines hybrid threats as the […]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel flanked by the SPD’s Martin Schulz, right, and the CSU’s Horst Seehofer, after Merkel’s bloc and the SPD reached a deal to form a new coalition government, Berlin, Feb. 7, 2018 (AP photo by Ferdinand Ostrop).

BERLIN—Germany is getting another grand coalition. At least, that’s what the country’s political leaders hope is about to happen. After a bruising round of negotiations that went days over deadline, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, or CDU, struck a deal last week with the center-left Social Democrats, the SPD, to extend the coalition that has governed Germany for the past four years. SPD members could still scuttle the deal, though. The 443,000 members have final say over whether the party will enter the agreement, with the results of their vote by mail set to be released in early March. The […]

Brazilian President Michel Temer talks with Argentine President Mauricio Macri at the Mercosur and Associated States Summit of Heads of State, Brasilia, Brazil, Dec. 21, 2017 (AP photo by Eraldo Peres).

Last week, negotiators from the European Union and Latin America’s Mercosur trading bloc, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, concluded another round of unsuccessful talks in Brussels aimed at securing a free trade agreement. Negotiations between the two sides have been ongoing periodically for over two decades, and the most recent round again failed to provide a breakthrough, although talks will reconvene in Paraguay on Feb. 19. In an email interview, Sebastian Dullien, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a professor of international economics at the applied sciences university HTW Berlin, discusses the […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and his wife, Emine, arrive for a private audience with Pope Francis, Vatican, Feb. 5, 2018 (AP photo by Gregorio Borgia).

The contentious relationship between Turkey and the West hit a little-noticed but significant milestone this week, when the Dutch government announced it was formally downgrading diplomatic ties and officially withdrawing its ambassador from Ankara. Turkey and the Netherlands remain NATO allies, and diplomatic relations continue at the level of charges d’affaires. While not garnering the attention of the escalating confrontation between Turkey and NATO in Syria, the Dutch move is an important marker of Turkey’s continuing drift away from the West under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The decision was also unexpected because Turkey and the Netherlands had been in talks […]

Cyprus’ president, Nicos Anastasiades, gestures to supporters after voting in the recent election, Limassol, Cyprus, Feb. 4, 2018 (AP photo by Petros Karadjias).

In the end, the result was little surprise. On Feb. 4, Nicos Anastasiades won a second term as president of the Republic of Cyprus. Although the margin of victory was perhaps a bit closer than many predicted—he won by 56 percent in a runoff against Stavros Malas, an independent backed by the Greek Cypriot communist party, known as AKEL—polls had shown Anastasiades with a comfortable lead for many months. Now that the elections are over, attention inevitably turns to the long-running efforts to reunify the ethnically split Mediterranean island. Since violence first flared up between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities […]

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