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Blogs

On Russia in World Affairs

25 august
2014
Denis Burakov

Why the West does not Understand Russia

Amid endless talks about the ramifications of sanctions imposed against Russia, Western commentators and policy pundits are missing a critical point. Economic coercion imposed against Moscow, their argument runs, will enfeeble the Russian government and force it to yield to Western demands. Part of the logic is that Russia's extractive economy is Vladimir Putin's Achilles' feet, and economic challenges will likely undermine his legitimacy and popularity in the long run. A corollary of this way of thinking is that sooner or later Russians will realize that something's gone awry in Putin's grandiose strategy. In point of fact, these analyses stem from a deep misunderstanding of Russia. And, as a consequence, the Western world is playing with fire.

27 may
2014
Denis Burakov

Adieu, the People's Republics of Novorossiya!

Yesterday, the people of Ukraine have elected a new president. A billionaire, Petro Poroshenko, has a host of daunting tasks at hand. Amid the Kremlin's belligerent policy towards Kiev, Mr. Poroshenko has to modernize the economy, diversify Ukraine's gas supplies, quell the separatist rebellions, and integrate the country into the European Union. Fortunately, at least one of these tasks can almost be crossed off the list. The president elect has vowed to pay his first visit to the separatist region of Donetsk, where having failed to derange Ukrainian elections in the region, the separatists did not pass the legitimacy test. I will suggest in what follows that the president's visit will only underscore the separatists' defeat: hence the efforts of the latter to prevent the president's appearance in the East. 

15 april
2014
Denis Burakov

Between West and East: Why Russia Should Be Mindful of China

Come May, Vladimir Putin is to pay a visit to China, where a number of consequential agreements will be signed. To be sure, this visit will have a profound impact on Russia's development in the years to come. If Putin decides to reorient its policy towards the East, there is little hope that Russian economy will modernize. Whereas the European Union is currently Russia's top economic partner, China plays a second role in trade mainly importing Siberian mineral resources. Given the current tensions between the West and Russia, President Putin will likely yield to China's demands during negotiations. By cementing the strategic relationship through gas deals and increased imports, China may finally become Russia's most important partner. In this essay, I argue that Putin's confrontation with the West will have serious political and economic repercussions for Russia's development in light of China's rise. 

23 january
2014
Denis Burakov

Comparative Politics 101: Democratization in Ukraine?

In the recent days, the post-Soviet world (and beyond) has been transfixed by Ukraine's contentious politics. Is it a beginning of the revolution, which will oust Yanukovych? Or is it a prelude to a wide-scale repression by the "family"? There is no doubt that what is happening in Kiev is about democracy--the rule of the people, in this direct sense. President Viktor Yanukovych has certainly infuriated many European-minded Ukrainians when he postponed the signing of the association agreement with the European Union and relied on Vladimir Putin's "generous" help to fix economic problems. In the hindsight, it can be argued that little had Yanukovych known about the consequences of his actions. A recent poll conducted by the Democratic Initiative Foundation has indicated that 51% of Ukrainians want democracy; only 20% want to live under authoritarianism. In light of this evidence, Viktor Yanukovych is in a shaky position. The people (a majority, indeed) want something that he and his coterie are not. Is Ukraine on its way to democracy or not?

11 november
2013
Denis Burakov

Stephen Kinzer on Saudi Arabia: U.S. Foreign Policy vs. Wahhabi Clergy

Last week, I had a chance to attend a talk by the eminent New York Times journalist and writer, Stephen Kinzer. Kinzer's talk centered on Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, the countries he wrote about in "Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future." While discussing the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Kinzer mentioned about the deepening schism in relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. In this piece, I share some of Stephen Kinzer's insights into the history of U.S.-Saudi relations and Saudi politics.

04 november
2013
Denis Burakov

A Two-State Dilemma: Israel, Palestine, and Peace Talks

Though kept under wraps, the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have had a disturbing record so far.  Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the Palestinian envoys to the U.S.-brokered peace negotiations with Israel have resigned amidst continuing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Unlike previous series of peace talks, this round has been veiled in secrecy. According to the Middle East expert and author of “The Brokers of Deceit,” Rashid Khalidi, there are three reasons why the ongoing talks are unlikely to yield the expected outcome of cementing a peace deal. The first reason is U.S. domestic politics, i.e., elections for congress, which will have a vast impact on the Obama Administration’s position in negotiations. Second, the weakness of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which does not have much room for maneuver in bargaining with Israel. And third, the uncompromising stance of Right-wing Israelis has made it impossible for the Palestinians to find common ground.  

01 october
2013
Denis Burakov

U.S. Foreign Policy vis-à-vis the World: Is America an External Authority Still?

Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2010, Roger Altman and Richard Haass had forecast an age of "American austerity," arguing that U.S. global power will be contingent on the success of American policymakers in reducing the national debt and sustaining economic growth – an argument, which is deeply rooted in the Hamiltonian tradition. "It is not reckless American activity in the world that jeopardizes American solvency" — Altman and Haass wrote – "but American profligacy at home that threatens American power and security." The world without the U.S. as an external authority will likely be chaotic and unpredictable, the authors surmised. Whether this scenario is true or not, a large number of experts and foreign policy scholars opined on the Obama Administration’s handling of foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, as lacking leverage, resolve, and long-haul strategy. Moreover, President Obama’s complex relationship with the GOP in Congress compounds his task of implementing the Affordable Care Act. Will America, following decades of foreign interventions and proxy-wars, lose its primus inter pares role in world politics? What geopolitical dynamics are likely to follow from the Obama administration’s internal policies?

10 september
2013
Denis Burakov

Debating Solutions for Syria: Pacted Transition, Not Military Action

Two-and-a-half-years into the Syrian conflict, the balance of power in the embattled state continues to evolve between the government of Bashar al-Assad and the opposition groups, composed of secularists, islamists, and Al Qaeda-trained jihadists. Since the beginning of the Damascus spring in March 2011, more than 100,000 Syrians fell victim to brutal violence, and more than 2 million fled the country. Western powers and the Arab world have, by and large, refrained from getting their feet entangled in the existing morass. Yet, in light of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime near Damascus, the U.S. has warned Assad that his behavior will not be tolerated. In turn, Assad called Obama’s bluff, partly because what the U.S. is considering now should have been done a long while ago. Now, military strikes can only make things worse, particularly for the West. The solution to the crisis in Syria, arguably, lies in a pacted transition between the members of the Assad regime and the moderate segments of the opposition. But the debate on who is going to benefit more from such a pact is the driving force behind ongoing bloodshed in Syria.

26 august
2013
Denis Burakov

Note to Russia: Ukraine Would Be Better Off Going It Alone

Last week, heaps of Ukrainian goods got stuck at the Russo-Ukrainian border, following the Kremlin's issuance of a "Marry me or else" ultimatum to Kiev — in case the latter finalizes its association agreement with the European Union. Unequivocal in its intent, Russia has been pressurizing Ukraine into opting for Eurasian integration in lieu of forging closer ties with Europe. And while the two Slavic countries widely benefit from trade and cultural ties between each other, Russia’s political relationship with Ukraine has been deteriorating since the Orange Revolution, which pushed Ukraine westwards. If Russia wants to keep Ukraine within its orbit, the Kremlin should take threats off the table and let the Ukrainian government decide which route of integration to pursue instead of corralling Kiev into Eurasian Customs union.

04 august
2013
Denis Burakov

The Myopia of Boycotting Olympics in Russia

The controversy surrounding Russian Winter Olympics in 2014 has been steadily gaining momentum in light of anti-gay legislation and encroachments on civil liberties in Russia. Western newspaper columnists, policymakers, and gay rights activists alike have been calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games in Sochi, arguing that this move could open the Kremlin's eyes to the truth about equality for all. Yet, instead of softening Moscow's stance on same-sex relations and human rights, the boycott could further isolate Russia from the West and tarnish the reputation of the Olympics. Boycotting has never been an effective tool of promoting human rights, and there is little, if any, hope that it is going to work this time.

17 july
2013
Denis Burakov

Why Egypt Needs a New Vision, Not a New President

 

In early 2011, the world witnessed a hitherto unseen and largely unexpected course of events in the Middle East. Following the eruption of protests ignited by Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunis, the entrenched dictatorships of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen collapsed in domino fashion. Whereas Tunisia and Libya have made considerable progress in institution-building following the fall of their respective dictatorships, political transitions in Yemen and Egypt by and large failed to translate into stable democratic governance. And two-and-a-half years into the Arab Spring, the maelstrom of unrest has once again engulfed the Middle East. Supported by the protesters, Egypt's military coup may put a new leader in charge, but without a new vision and new solutions to pressing problems, neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the army can alter the current state of affairs. 

 
16 july
2013
Denis Burakov

U.S.-Russian Relations Deadlocked: Post-“Reset” Dynamics

One year after the utter failure of the U.S.-Russia “Reset,” the relationship between the two countries is gradually nearing its nadir. Beginning with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message of encouragement to Russia’s opposition movement and democracy scholar Michael McFaul’s nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, the climate in U.S.-Russia relations started to deteriorate leading to USAID’s closure, open confrontation on the Syrian issue, and exchange of the punitive “Magnitsky” and “Yakovlev” bills.