Russia is trying to look tough at the U.N. Security Council this week, promising to reject a resolution backed by the European Union, the U.S. and the Arab League that calls for a political transition in Syria to end the violence there.* This is a new phase in Moscow’s efforts to defend its friend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which included blocking an earlier resolution in October that threatened U.N. sanctions against Damascus. Yet while Russia can use its veto power to paralyze the council again, the diplomatic battle over Syria has highlighted its weakness in global affairs. The U.N. serves […]

When former U.S. Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati was sentenced to death for espionage by an Iranian court earlier this month, he was accused, among other things, of helping to make video games. In his televised “confession,” Hekmati stated that, after working for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, “I was recruited by Kuma Games Company, a computer games company which received money from [the] CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion’s mindset in the Middle East.” He added, “The goal of Kuma Games was to convince the people of the world […]

The perennial standoff between Ukraine and Russia over natural gas prices will be accompanied by an added wrinkle this year, with news that Ukraine plans to ink a deal for a joint venture with energy-rich Azerbaijan for supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The partnership, which will finally introduce unconventional energy sources to Ukraine, underscores the flagging fortunes of Russia’s pipeline monopoly and the dwindling leverage it commands. According to Vladislav Kaskiv, the head of Ukraine’s State Agency for Investment and National Projects, the formal announcement between Baku and Kiev for the arrangement will be made later this month at […]

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A Russian naval flotilla, including an aircraft carrier, left the Syrian port of Tartus Monday after a six-day call, described by the Russian government as a routine stop. In an email interview, Mark N. Katz, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University, discussed Russia-Syria relations. WPR: How committed is Russia to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and how deep are its contacts with other political actors in Syria? Mark N. Katz: Moscow had especially close relations with President Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez — who ruled from 1970 until his death in 2000 — during the […]

Analysts of Russian politics have always faced a conundrum when assessing developments like December’s mass protests in Moscow. Russia has a history of authoritarianism and cultural fatalism that has always discouraged reform. From Peter the Great to Leonid Brezhnev, Russian rulers have shown a near-endless capacity for tricking, co-opting or simply suppressing pro-reform movements. For centuries, developments that in any other nondemocratic regime would signal imminent and inevitable change have routinely failed to breach the Kremlin walls. But in the few historical instances where change has occurred, it has traditionally been rapid and unpredictable. The Bolsheviks took power just months […]

On Dec. 25, 43-year-old Yevgeny Shevchuk was elected president of Transnistria by a landslide, winning nearly 80 percent of the vote in a runoff after outmaneuvering two powerful and seasoned opponents. It was a triumph for democracy in a remote corner of Southeastern Europe that few outside the neighborhood would have had any reason to notice. But it is worth taking note, not only because Shevchuk is a young reformer in a part of the world groaning under entrenched oligarchies, but also because his successful campaign offers a larger lesson at a time when popular democratic movements are shaking the […]

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s military-industrial complex sustained the massive Soviet military institution, which regularly gobbled up 15-25 percent of the nation’s GDP. In an odd and unexpected twist to the end of the Cold War, the Russian arms industry has turned to sustaining itself by arming a pair of Asian giants: Arms exports to China and India have proven lucrative for Russia — and have even had a synergistic and competitive quality. The unease each country has felt due to the other increasing its military capability has led to higher revenues for Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned arms […]