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Russia's 2021 elections: Another step on the road to authoritarian rule

15-09-2021

On 17-19 September, Russia will hold elections at local, regional and national level, most importantly to the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly. Four hundred and fifty deputies will be elected for a five-year term. Ever since 2003, the State Duma has been dominated by the pro-Putin United Russia party, which currently holds a three-quarters supermajority. With the ruling party clearly in charge, the parliament serves as little more than a rubber stamp for Kremlin and government ...

On 17-19 September, Russia will hold elections at local, regional and national level, most importantly to the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly. Four hundred and fifty deputies will be elected for a five-year term. Ever since 2003, the State Duma has been dominated by the pro-Putin United Russia party, which currently holds a three-quarters supermajority. With the ruling party clearly in charge, the parliament serves as little more than a rubber stamp for Kremlin and government initiatives. In Russia's system of managed democracy, the main role of the parliamentary opposition is to preserve an appearance of political pluralism, while carefully excluding most regime critics. Following the June 2020 constitutional referendum, which opened the door to President Vladimir Putin potentially staying on until 2036, the authorities moved to eliminate the few remaining pockets of resistance. Opposition activist Alexey Navalny is now in jail, and many other regime opponents are either facing criminal charges or have left the country. Even though United Russia faces no real electoral competition, it may struggle to repeat its 2016 performance. Voters are alienated by the party's reputation for corruption and the generally unpromising context of political and economic stagnation. Opinion polls suggest that its majority will be reduced, possibly below the two-thirds threshold needed to adopt constitutional changes; nevertheless, the party is virtually guaranteed to win. Many observers see the elections, and the wave of repression preceding them, as the latest stage in Russia's transition from flawed democracy to fully fledged authoritarian state.

The direction of EU-Russia political relations

08-09-2021

Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea marked the beginning of a new and difficult phase in bilateral relations. The latter are based on the five principles agreed by EU foreign ministers in 2016, in addition to the joint communication of June 2021. During the September plenary session, the European Parliament is expected to debate EU–Russia political relations and vote a draft recommendation to the Council, the Commission and the High Representative. While acknowledging that the EU approach has contained ...

Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea marked the beginning of a new and difficult phase in bilateral relations. The latter are based on the five principles agreed by EU foreign ministers in 2016, in addition to the joint communication of June 2021. During the September plenary session, the European Parliament is expected to debate EU–Russia political relations and vote a draft recommendation to the Council, the Commission and the High Representative. While acknowledging that the EU approach has contained the risk of Russian aggression, the draft recommendation calls for a review of EU policy, including more support for human rights.

The Organization for Security and Co operation in Europe (OSCE) : A pillar of the European security order

02-09-2021

The OSCE's origins go back to 1975, when the countries in the two opposing blocs in the Cold War signed the Helsinki Final Act, enshrining principles such as territorial integrity and respect for human rights. The act was followed by a series of follow-up meetings to monitor implementation, in a process known as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). Following the adoption of the 1990 Paris Charter envisaging a new post-Cold War European order, in 1995 the CSCE was put on a ...

The OSCE's origins go back to 1975, when the countries in the two opposing blocs in the Cold War signed the Helsinki Final Act, enshrining principles such as territorial integrity and respect for human rights. The act was followed by a series of follow-up meetings to monitor implementation, in a process known as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). Following the adoption of the 1990 Paris Charter envisaging a new post-Cold War European order, in 1995 the CSCE was put on a more permanent, institutional basis and renamed the OSCE. The OSCE, like the CSCE before it, is based on a vision of 'comprehensive security' that encompasses human rights and economic cooperation, as well as traditional 'hard' security. However, hopes that the OSCE could become the central pillar of a new post-Cold War order faded as divisions re-emerged, between an enlarged EU and NATO on the one hand, and Russia on the other. The OSCE lacks the legal powers and the resources needed to live up to its ambition of becoming a platform for pan-European/trans-Atlantic cooperation. With decisions taken by consensus, disagreements between participating states hamper decision-making and prevent the organisation from becoming more effective. The OSCE plays a useful though limited role in several areas. The organisation has been powerless to resolve conflicts in the post-Soviet region, but its observers are the main source of detailed and reliable information on the situation in eastern Ukraine. OSCE agreements, such as the Vienna Document, help to promote military transparency, and election observation missions have advanced democratic reforms in several countries.

A second chance for Armenia after elections?

12-07-2021

The 2018 Velvet Revolution installed Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister of Armenia. By 2020, Pashinyan's reform drive, already running out of momentum, hit two major obstacles: the coronavirus pandemic and, above all, a brief but disastrous war with Azerbaijan. Despite the trauma of defeat, in June 2021 voters gave Pashinyan a second chance, in elections seen as a positive sign for the country's future.

The 2018 Velvet Revolution installed Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister of Armenia. By 2020, Pashinyan's reform drive, already running out of momentum, hit two major obstacles: the coronavirus pandemic and, above all, a brief but disastrous war with Azerbaijan. Despite the trauma of defeat, in June 2021 voters gave Pashinyan a second chance, in elections seen as a positive sign for the country's future.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline: Economic, environmental and geopolitical issues

01-07-2021

The EU's dependence on Russian gas imports shows no signs of lessening. Although the Green Deal envisages a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050, natural gas remains a key part of the energy mix as coal is phased out and renewable energy is not yet ready to fully take up the slack. EU domestic gas production is fast declining, and there is not enough gas at affordable prices from alternative suppliers to replace Russian production. Launched in 2015, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connects Russia and Germany ...

The EU's dependence on Russian gas imports shows no signs of lessening. Although the Green Deal envisages a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050, natural gas remains a key part of the energy mix as coal is phased out and renewable energy is not yet ready to fully take up the slack. EU domestic gas production is fast declining, and there is not enough gas at affordable prices from alternative suppliers to replace Russian production. Launched in 2015, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connects Russia and Germany directly via the Baltic Sea, following a similar route to Nord Stream 1 completed in 2011. Construction has taken several years, with delays due to protracted legal battles and, since 2019, US sanctions. Nevertheless, pipe-laying continues and is on track for completion in the next few months. Few energy projects have ever been as hotly debated as Nord Stream 2. Pipeline owner Gazprom, a Russian state-controlled company, argues that it is needed to meet the EU's growing demand for gas imports. Germany's energy sector also sees the pipeline as a viable commercial project. Some opponents point to the environmental impact of the pipeline's construction, as well as the contradiction between the EU's climate goals and long-term investments in fossil fuel import infrastructure. However, the pipeline's geopolitical implications are its most controversial aspect. Critics, including several EU Member States, describe Nord Stream 2 as a Kremlin project to export malign Russian influence as well as gas to Europe. They note that, combined with the new TurkStream pipeline delivering Russian gas to south-eastern Europe, it will eventually enable Russia to starve Ukraine's ailing economy of much needed transit fee revenue. The pipeline looks set to perpetuate Russia's stranglehold on EU energy markets and compromise European strategic autonomy.

Georgia's bumpy road to democracy: On track for a European future?

27-05-2021

Georgia is often considered a frontrunner among Eastern Partnership countries. Despite Russia's continued de facto occupation of one-fifth of the country's territory, until recently Georgia performed relatively well in terms of political stability, pluralism and economic growth. The country is staunchly pro-Western, with aspirations to join both the EU and NATO. Like Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014. The agreement envisages a free trade area, as well ...

Georgia is often considered a frontrunner among Eastern Partnership countries. Despite Russia's continued de facto occupation of one-fifth of the country's territory, until recently Georgia performed relatively well in terms of political stability, pluralism and economic growth. The country is staunchly pro-Western, with aspirations to join both the EU and NATO. Like Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014. The agreement envisages a free trade area, as well as economic and political reforms that will result in far-reaching integration between Georgia and the EU. Despite this overall positive picture and Georgia's close partnership with the EU, there are many concerns about the country's progress towards democracy and the rule of law. Problems are highlighted by a political crisis, which escalated in November 2020 after opposition politicians claimed that the ruling Georgian Dream party had rigged parliamentary elections, and decided to boycott the parliament. The crisis reflects the longer-standing issue of excessive concentration of power, weakening many of the checks and balances that are necessary for a healthy democracy. Despite reform efforts, institutions that are supposed to be independent of the executive have become subservient to the often opaque interests of the ruling party. EU mediation is helping to resolve the stand-off between government and opposition, but the political landscape is still highly polarised.

Sakharov's legacy on the centenary of his birth

18-05-2021

Andrey Sakharov was a Soviet physicist who played a leading role in his country's nuclear weapons programme. However, in the 1960s he fell out of favour with the regime due to his activism for disarmament and human rights. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, Sakharov's legacy is more relevant than ever. Since 1988, the European Parliament has awarded an annual prize for freedom of thought named after him.

Andrey Sakharov was a Soviet physicist who played a leading role in his country's nuclear weapons programme. However, in the 1960s he fell out of favour with the regime due to his activism for disarmament and human rights. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, Sakharov's legacy is more relevant than ever. Since 1988, the European Parliament has awarded an annual prize for freedom of thought named after him.

Russia–Ukraine stand-off ends – For now

23-04-2021

After a period of relative calm, the seven-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine is heating up again. On the Russian side of the border, recent mass deployments of troops and weapons, now ended, led to fears that Moscow was considering further military aggression against Kyiv. The EU and its Western partners have expressed concern about escalating tensions, and affirmed their strong support for Ukraine.

After a period of relative calm, the seven-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine is heating up again. On the Russian side of the border, recent mass deployments of troops and weapons, now ended, led to fears that Moscow was considering further military aggression against Kyiv. The EU and its Western partners have expressed concern about escalating tensions, and affirmed their strong support for Ukraine.

The New START Treaty between the US and Russia: The last surviving pillar of nuclear arms control

22-03-2021

The US and Russia both have formidable arsenals of potentially destructive nuclear weapons. Although a nuclear-free world remains a distant dream, the two countries have taken steps to limit the risk of nuclear conflict, through a series of arms control agreements limiting the number of strategic weapons that each can have. In force since 2011, the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) is the latest of these agreements. Under New START, Russia and the US are limited to an equal number ...

The US and Russia both have formidable arsenals of potentially destructive nuclear weapons. Although a nuclear-free world remains a distant dream, the two countries have taken steps to limit the risk of nuclear conflict, through a series of arms control agreements limiting the number of strategic weapons that each can have. In force since 2011, the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) is the latest of these agreements. Under New START, Russia and the US are limited to an equal number of deployed strategic warheads and weapons carrying them, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles. To ensure compliance, there are strict counting rules and transparency requirements, giving each side a reliable picture of the other's strategic nuclear forces. The 2019 collapse of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty left New START as the only major surviving US-Russia arms control agreement. In early 2021, with New START due to expire in February and the two sides deadlocked over the conditions for extending it, it looked as if the last remaining restrictions on the world's two main nuclear powers were about to lapse. Following a last-minute reprieve by newly elected US President, Joe Biden, the two parties agreed to extend New START until 2026, thereby giving each other welcome breathing space to negotiate a replacement treaty. There are still many unanswered questions about the kind of weapons that a future treaty could include.

Russia's armed forces: Defence capabilities and policy

10-03-2021

Reforms launched under Vladimir Putin have restored some of the Russian armed forces' former glory. Russia now has a streamlined, mobile and mostly professional military, equipped with modern weapons. The impact of these changes was visible in Syria, Russia's first military intervention outside the post-Soviet region. Despite this increased capability, there are demographic and financial constraints on Russian military power. The armed forces are not attracting enough recruits to go fully professional ...

Reforms launched under Vladimir Putin have restored some of the Russian armed forces' former glory. Russia now has a streamlined, mobile and mostly professional military, equipped with modern weapons. The impact of these changes was visible in Syria, Russia's first military intervention outside the post-Soviet region. Despite this increased capability, there are demographic and financial constraints on Russian military power. The armed forces are not attracting enough recruits to go fully professional, and therefore still need conscripts – who are less well-trained than career soldiers – to make up the numbers. Moscow has spent billions of dollars on new weapons, such as the innovative nuclear missiles unveiled by President Putin in 2018, but not all branches of the armed forces are equally well equipped. Russia's increasingly assertive foreign policy raises the question of how much of a threat its military represents. Officially, the role of the armed forces is to defend Russian territory, but in practice Moscow uses military force to assert control over its post-Soviet sphere of influence, for example in Ukraine. Russia also uses hybrid methods such as cyber-attacks, including against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. NATO's overall numerical superiority means that Russia is likely to avoid all-out war with the alliance. However, the risk that it might use nuclear weapons and other niche strengths to escape retaliation for a limited attack (for example in the Baltic region) cannot be entirely discounted.

Imeachtaí atá ar na bacáin

21-09-2021
EPRS online Book Talk with David Harley: Inside the room - Shaping Europe, 1992-2010
Imeacht eile -
EPRS
21-09-2021
Putting the 'e' in e-health
Ceardlann -
STOA
27-09-2021
Turning the tide on cancer: the national parliaments' view on Europe's Cancer Plan
Imeacht eile -
BECA

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