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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.

Myanmar: The return of the junta

16-02-2021

On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar armed forces seized power and imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi, de facto leader of the country since 2016. The coup threatens to derail Myanmar’s progress towards democracy, which began in 2008 after five decades of brutal military rule. Huge protests have broken out in Myanmar, calling for the restoration of the elected civilian government. The EU is considering additional sanctions against the country.

On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar armed forces seized power and imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi, de facto leader of the country since 2016. The coup threatens to derail Myanmar’s progress towards democracy, which began in 2008 after five decades of brutal military rule. Huge protests have broken out in Myanmar, calling for the restoration of the elected civilian government. The EU is considering additional sanctions against the country.

Russia–Turkey relations: A fine line between competition and cooperation

11-02-2021

In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane on its way to Syria. The incident led to a diplomatic freeze, highlighting the tensions between the two countries, which compete for influence in their Middle Eastern and Eurasian neighbourhoods. Syria is one of several theatres where Turkey and Russia back opposing sides – sometimes covertly, deploying foreign mercenaries, sometimes openly, deploying troops and weapons; Libya is another. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which ...

In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane on its way to Syria. The incident led to a diplomatic freeze, highlighting the tensions between the two countries, which compete for influence in their Middle Eastern and Eurasian neighbourhoods. Syria is one of several theatres where Turkey and Russia back opposing sides – sometimes covertly, deploying foreign mercenaries, sometimes openly, deploying troops and weapons; Libya is another. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which broke out in September 2020, threatened to become not just a proxy war between Turkey and Russia, the two countries' respective backers, but perhaps even a direct military clash between them. Although there are many frictions between them, Moscow and Ankara also have many good reasons to cooperate. Not only are there important economic ties between them, but the two countries are natural allies, increasingly assertive regional powers whose geopolitical ambitions have created strains with the West. Their overall relationship is therefore one of cooperation, in which individual areas of contention can be accommodated. While Turkey benefits from cooperating with Russia, overall its economic and security interests are best served by staying aligned with the West. Therefore, Ankara is unlikely to want to leave NATO or its customs union with the EU.

Navalny vs Kremlin: Latest developments

04-02-2021

Alexey Navalny is one of Vladimir Putin's most outspoken critics. After surviving an assassination attempt and recovering in Germany, he returned to Russia in January 2021 to face arrest and imprisonment. Mass protests over his detention and revelations of high-level corruption show that an increasingly repressive Kremlin has not succeeded in crushing opposition to Putin's rule.

Alexey Navalny is one of Vladimir Putin's most outspoken critics. After surviving an assassination attempt and recovering in Germany, he returned to Russia in January 2021 to face arrest and imprisonment. Mass protests over his detention and revelations of high-level corruption show that an increasingly repressive Kremlin has not succeeded in crushing opposition to Putin's rule.

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EPRS online policy roundtable: What is the future of (European) sovereignty?
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