Reading List – 12th February 2021

Unfinished Business in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

The pre-eminent western expert on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Thomas De Waal, has written a long read analysing the challenges facing the various parties in the dispute over Nagorno Karabakh. He makes it clear that the peace accord signed in haste in November leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Elections Ahead

András Tóth-Czifra looks at the Russian Duma elections due to be held in September. Alexey Navalny’s ‘smart voting’ scheme is dividing the parties and also sets challenges for the Kremlin. Whilst the leaderships of the various systemic opposition parties have denounced Navalny, many of their supporters see smart voting as a means to benefit in the forthcoming polls. 

Overturning Trump’s Facebook ban would set a dangerous precedent

Steve Feldstein looks at the challenge in front of Facebook’s Oversight Board as they decide whether the former President should be allowed back onto the platform. Feldstein is clear that he thinks the ban should continue as he weighs up the various international standards on free speech and incitement. Whilst he only looks at this from the point of view of Trump’s Facebook ban, the decision mirrors that which (at least in theory) should be in the minds of US senators hearing the impeachment trial. 

End of Myanmar’s Rocky Road to Democracy?

Sana Jaffrey gives a brief but pretty comprehensive run through of the recent history of Myanmar and the likely effects of the military coup there. 

America Is Back. Europe, Are You There?

Daniel Baer, in Foreign Policy Magazine, suggests that Europe has acted precipitously to seek to gain an advantage before President Joe Biden’s feet are properly under the Resolute Desk. And whilst America needs to recognise its own failings, the EU has damaged its standing with what he calls ‘childish actions’. 

Rising EU-Russia tensions are good news for Ukraine

On much the same subject, Oleksiy Goncharenko suggests that the failure of the EU mission’s recent talks with Russia led by Josep Borrell could be good for Ukraine. 

Why the Belarusian Revolution Has Stalled

Finally (sorry for the long list today) Ryhor Astapenia of Chatham House examines three reasons why he believes the Belarusian revolution has apprently come to a halt. He suggests that Lukashenka has kept the rulling classes largely behind him, that the opposition has failed to break out of its ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ base, and that international actors are concerned about what might replace the current president if he is forced out.

Reading List – 4th February 2021

A fortnight that shook Russia … and what next

Nigel Gould-Davies assesses the Navalny case – from his dramatic return to Russia to his arrest and improsonment. Why does this somewhat detached figure who has no vast army of support in the country scare the authorities so?

Global democracy has a very bad year

The Economist publishes their annual survey of the world’s democracies

Why supporting resilient political systems is key to a successful Biden democracy agenda

Patrick Quirk explores how the new US President might make his promotion of democracy into a meaningful foreign policy.

Perspectives | What the Second Karabakh War tells us about the liberal international order

Reviewing the Second Karabakh War, Kevork Oskanian suggests that the breakdown in the liberal international order is apparent in the way that the conflict was resolved and sets massive challenges for those who might want to see the Trump administration as a mere blip.

The Future of Democracy and State Building in Postconflict Armenia

Laure Delcour argues that the EU has lot a lot of ground in its relationship with Armenia and that the country’s pro-democracy reforms since 2018 may now slip backwards

Reading List – 28th January 2021

Putin hails extension of New START Treaty

Russian President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the decision to extend the New START nuclear weapons treaty by a full five years. The decision came after a telephone conversation between the Russian leader and President Joe Biden. 

The remainder of the coversation focussed on a range of issues including the poisoning of Alexey Navalny and both sides are stressing that the nuclear deal doesn’t indicate a wider re-set. However, the ability to harvest low hanging fruit at least shows that President Putin has not yet decided to test his new opposite number.

Mirziyoyev signals crack down on lazy ministers and governors

President Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan has made a string of public comments about the need for his ministers and regional governors to smarten up their act. From decrying the number of meetings they are holding in their offices in the capital, Tashkent, and urging them to get out more, to warning that one or more of them is about to get fired, the President is setting out a public face of being on the side of the public and against lazy bureaucrats.

It has long been suggested that Mirziyoyev’s main concern is to see his country rise in a number of key international indicators covering economic as well as social indices. He recognises that if his country is to attract investment from abroad then it must be seen as a good (or at least improving) place to do business. Hence the major focus in his announcements about corruption.

The president faces re-election later in 2021 and, whilst no one seriously believes that he will not win another term, he is clearly anxious to make the support he receives as genuine as possible. The flurry of press comments appears to be as much for the domestic as for foreign ears.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says platform will halt political suggestions

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said that the tech giant will scale back on the way that its algorithm makes suggestions about political sites. This move had been signalled in relation to American users.

Recognising that users are perhaps tired of their reading being dominated by political fights, Facebook has already been criticised by some campaign groups who fear that their attempts to put single issue messages in front of voters may be affected.

New article for FPC on Navalny and western policy

I’ve written an article for the Foreign Policy Centre on the Navalny protests in Russia and what they might mean for western policy. In short, I think that whilst the protests are extraordinary, and the treatment of Navalny by the Kremlin has been egregious, there is a risk to western policy makers putting sole emphasis on this one case to the exclusion of other issues. You can read the article here.

President Biden has said that he sees mutual self-interest in working with Russia despite the Navalny arrest.

Reading List – 8th December 2020

Moldova has a new president – What next?

A run down of why Maia Sandu won the Moldovan presidential election – and by a huge margin – and what comes next for the country. Early parliamentary elections seem a foregone conclusion.

Russia loses patience with Belarus dictator Lukashanka

The Kremlin is seeking ways to secure an orderly transition in its closest ally, but nobody should be under any illusion that Lukashenka would be happy to go.

Facebook splits up unit at center of contested election decisions

Facebook has disbanded its elections team which was at the centre of efforts to try to rein in the wildest political posts. The platform claims that the work will continue but observers are concerned that this is another example of the inability of the social media giant to understand the importance it plays in elections around the world.

How Biden will impact Russian domestic policy

President-Elect Biden won’t just be causing Russia to reassess its foreign policy. There will be repurcussions on domestic matters too.

Biden’s Democracy Summit

A plug for my essay on what could make the President-Elect’s major initiative stand or fall.

Joe Biden’s Democracy Summit

I’ve written an essay for the Foreign Policy Centre Think Tank about President-Elect Joe Biden’s pledge to hold a Summit for Democracy within the first year of taking office. I argue that this is a great chance to make democracy and elections interesting again but that will only happen if the summit is inclusive and not preachy.

You can read the essay here.