A Ukrainian soldier in the trench, on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Mariupol, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Jan. 21, 2022 (AP photo by Andriy Dubchak).

Beyond its immediate implications for European security, the current crisis at the Ukraine-Russia border highlights the enduring importance of state sovereignty as an ordering principle in world politics, notwithstanding frequent claims that globalization has rendered it obsolete. It also exposes the tendency of governments to invoke, dismiss or reinterpret this bedrock principle to suit their situational needs. In fact, global stability now depends on whether the United States and European Union are able to reaffirm and defend the centrality of state sovereignty against a Russian attempt to dismiss it. On one level, the Ukraine situation would seem to have turned […]

Environmental activists protest against the European Union’s “greenwashing” of nuclear energy under the Euro sculpture in Frankfurt, Germany, Jan. 11, 2022 (AP photo by Michael Probst).

A brewing dispute within the European Union over which energy sources will be classified as “sustainable” in terms of member states’ investment toward the European Green Deal is putting Germany’s domestic energy politics in the spotlight. The issue is already creating tensions within the newly formed Ampelkoalition, or “traffic light coalition,” between the Social Democrats, the Greens and Free Democrats, and those internal fights are influencing Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s positioning vis-à-vis Russia in the current crisis over Ukraine.  Berlin’s approach to transitioning to renewable energy sources has often set the tone across the continent. Now its Energiewende, or energy revolution, has […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at his watch at the end of his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 23, 2021 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

The United States and NATO have delivered written responses to  Russian demands for security guarantees, rejecting Moscow’s insistence on a withdrawal of NATO forces from Eastern Europe and an assurance that Ukraine will never be granted membership in the alliance. That firmly puts the ball back in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s court, while doing nothing to reduce the prospects of a Russian military invasion. Now European governments must consider the practical realities of what a war in Ukraine would mean, particularly in neighboring EU member states. Following a meeting of the NATO security council on Tuesday, Slovakian Defense Minister Jaroslav […]

U.S. President John F. Kennedy and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana talk as they sit in a limousine at Washington National Airport on March 8, 1961 (AP photo).

Anyone with even a sketchy understanding of the Cold War knows that it was a time not only of intense direct competition between the reigning superpowers, but also of grand schemes by both the U.S. and USSR for integrating their allies and clients into adversarial blocs, as well as for poaching the partners of the rival power—especially in the developing world—into their own camp. Throughout much of this era, the West regarded professions of neutrality among poorer countries with skepticism or even outright hostility. Beginning with the Eisenhower administration, the view took hold in Washington that non-alignment was just a […]

Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera delivers his speech during his inaugural ceremony in Bangui, March 30, 2021 (AP photo by Adrienne Surprenant).

Once considered a marginal country in regional affairs, the Central African Republic has become a frequent topic of discussion in African security circles. The CAR is frequently cited as the jumping-off point on the continent for the Russian private military contractor the Wagner Group and the touchstone for the group’s involvement in other African countries. But with the group’s activities having now expanded to Mali, Sudan and Libya, the fixation on its flashy entrances into the region’s conflict zones has diverted international attention from a far more alarming development in Bangui: CAR’s increasingly precarious future. For a brief moment in […]

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting, Jan. 21, 2022, Geneva, Switzerland (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

If Russian President Vladimir Putin has no intention of invading Ukraine, he sure has a funny way of showing it. Roughly 100,000 Russian troops remain massed on the two countries’ border, with units continuing to be deployed. And a joint Russian-Belarus military exercise scheduled for February is set to position even more still to Ukraine’s north, adding a potential vector of attack. Russian officials continue to deny that an invasion is imminent, but there is a palpable sense of foreboding across Europe and in Washington that the continent stands on the brink of what would be its first major interstate […]

People demonstrate after the Polish parliament approved a bill that is widely viewed as an attack on media freedom, Warsaw, Poland, Dec. 19, 2021 (AP photo by Czarek Sokolowski).

In September 2021, the Polish government declared a state of emergency along its border with Belarus, which is also the European Union’s eastern frontier, in response to a large influx of migrants from countries including Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The route and timing of the migrants’ journey into Europe was not random: They were assisted by the Belarusian authorities, led by the country’s authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994. Warsaw went on to accuse Minsk of engaging in “hybrid warfare” backed by Russia. Both the humanitarian crisis on Poland’s border, where migrants were left stranded in […]

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in front of the Soviet U.N. delegation headquarters, New York City, Sept. 22, 1960 (AP photo).

In 1956, then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev executed a sharp but largely forgotten reorientation in his country’s foreign policy. During the long decades under Josef Stalin, with the exception of its support for communist China, Moscow had focused almost all of its energy abroad in buttressing client states in Eastern Europe. But with one major speech, Khrushchev announced that the era of investing only in Russia’s “near abroad” was finished.  Taking his cues from the 1955 Asian-African Bandung Conference in Indonesia that launched the Non-Aligned Movement, and anticipating the huge wave of newly sovereign countries that would commence with Ghana’s independence […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 14, 2019 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

Amid the looming threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western nations continue to use a wide-ranging toolkit of policy options, including diplomacy and security assistance, to avert the risk of a full-blown war in Eastern Europe. The U.K. is supplying short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Canada is deploying a unit of special operations forces. And a delegation of U.S. senators met Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, followed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken today.  But while Western countries have reacted vocally to the buildup of 100,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, China has mostly kept silent. Speaking in […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet with President Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021 (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

There’s much that remains unknown about the violent turmoil that has engulfed Kazakhstan in recent days. But one clear fact has emerged from the mayhem: Vladimir Putin’s political doctrine has a new, now openly displayed centerpiece. On Monday, as the Russian president declared Kazakhstan’s crisis essentially resolved following a military intervention by Kremlin-led troops, he also announced the new policy. It amounts to a vow by Russia to protect autocratic rulers in former Soviet Republics when they face popular unrest. According to Putin, the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization—a security alliance formed by a subset of post-Soviet states in 1992—had […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan’s former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, arrive to attend the Victory Day military parade, Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2019 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

More even than most crises, the events unfolding in Kazakhstan in recent days can be read in myriad ways. On one level, it clearly appears to have resulted in yet another opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to claw back control over domains lost by the Kremlin following the demise of the Soviet Union. Moscow has been able to accomplish this by falsely pretending the unrest that it helped put down in its Central Asian neighbor was yet another example of what it calls a “color revolution,” meaning an insidious destabilization plot supported by the West. On another level, the […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, with leaders of African countries at the Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Oct. 24, 2019 (pool photo by Sergei Chirikov via AP Images).

Over the past several years, international policymakers, primarily in the West, as well as journalists and commentators have frequently called attention to Russia’s renewed interest in expanding its footprint in Africa. These discussions of “Russia’s return” to Africa are usually couched in a fearmongering, manichean framework of competition, ostensibly within what are regarded as Western spheres of influence in Africa. They also frequently feature calls for Western policymakers to “counter” Russia’s activities in Africa, bolstered with references to the malevolent ways Russia exerts influence among governments and publics on the continent, including—but by no means limited to—disinformation campaigns, arms sales, […]

A portrait of former Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev is seen at the city hall building after clashes in the central square in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Jan. 10, 2022 (AP photo by Vasily Krestyaninov).

The unprecedented violence that rocked Almaty—Kazakhstan’s largest city—and several smaller regional urban centers last week were shocking to longtime observers of the country. Though the initial protests began as spontaneous demonstrations against a planned hike in fuel prices, they were quickly overtaken by violence against state offices and security forces that was apparently instigated by provocateurs.  Though much about the developments in the country remains uncertain due to an information blackout and the opacity of the inner workings of the regime, the events of the past week suggest that an elite power struggle has grafted itself onto the protests, pitting the […]

President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021 (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

There is something clarifying about the fact that the opening of high-level U.S.-Russian talks this week to discuss the crisis Moscow has provoked over Ukraine comes just days after the one-year anniversary of the storming of the U.S. Capitol. The two events are not directly related, but they both make up parts of a difficult challenge facing U.S. policymakers: how to preserve Washington’s global leadership role at a time when its model of governance, both domestically and internationally, is increasingly called into question. That dual-pronged challenge has come into sharper focus in the past five years, as the U.S. foreign […]

A Russian soldier looks through a binocular during drills in the Rostov region in southern Russia, Dec. 14, 2021 (AP photo).

When the Soviet Union collapsed three decades ago, the European security architecture suddenly became uncertain, its future put in play. After all, much of the postwar balance of power in Europe—and the world—had rested on the icy pillars of the Cold War, pillars that in 1991 abruptly melted. It didn’t take long, however, before the euphoria of freedom in the former Soviet bloc was translated into a series of diplomatic agreements enshrining a vision of cooperation, democracy and respect for independent states.  Those same agreements now lie in ruins, trampled by Russia’s anti-democratic turn and President Vladimir Putin’s determination to […]

Russian servicemen take part in military drills at Molkino training ground in the Krasnodar region, Russia, Dec. 14, 2021 (AP photo).

The “Christmas surprise” invasion of Ukraine that some in Europe were expecting from Moscow did not eventually materialize, but Russian troops amassed near the two countries’ border have still not dispersed. This week, European capitals are trying to figure out what Russia’s intentions are.  Senior officials from Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia are today discussing the continued military buildup. Tomorrow, NATO foreign ministers will meet by video ahead of a summit between U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva next week. Given the continued standoff, the biggest question for Brussels remains whether to use a carrot or stick approach to convince […]