Away from Europe!
Analysis. There’s no denying that the European Union--Russia relationship is at its nadir. Moscow has recently threatened to sever all ties with the European bloc, while its foreign minister deemed it proper to underscore his country’s resolve by quoting the famous Latin adage “Si vis pacem, para bellum” (if you want peace, prepare for war). Naturally, all eyes are on the political and economic implications of the deep rift between Moscow and Brussels. Less noticed are the ideational aspects of the Kremlin’s international conduct -- ones that involve Russian political imaginary and reflect deep-seated historical patterns, writes historian Igor Torbakov.
“Living Like a King”: Putin’s Bizarre Historical Imagination
Analysis. The latest Alexei Navalny exposé about President Vladimir Putin’s supposed seaside “palace” is remarkable in more ways than one. To be sure, the two-hour film seen by tens of millions of Russians within several days of its release is above all a story of monumental corruption and monumentally bad taste. Yet it is also a story of the Kremlin leader’s peculiar political mindset and warped historical imagination, writes historian Igor Torbakov.
Will Belarus become Ukraine?
Analysis. The history and politics of post-Soviet Belarus and Ukraine are very different. The current Belarusian transformation could be leading to results similar to those of the 2018 Velvet Revolution in Armenia, rather than to those of the 2013–2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. Yet, Moscow’s pathological imperialism towards Russia's Eastern Slavic “brother nations” may mean that the future of Belarus will be more similar to that of Ukraine than currently appears to be the case, writes UI research fellow Andreas Umland.
Populist leaders exploit the pandemic for political purposes
Analysis. Global disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a window of opportunity for populist leaders to manipulate government structures and broader societal norms. As the health crisis continues to evolve and fluctuate, it has become increasingly clear that some decision makers are keen to either avoid or co-opt health and emergency response policies and agendas in order to concentrate power and dismantle national democracy, writes Christina De Paris, research assistant at the University of Gothenburg.
Erdoğan's war in Syria – a path to disaster
Turkey’s latest moves have put immense pressure on the EU and Russia, but it has nothing to do with neo-Ottomanism. Instead strong anti-Kurdish underpinnings and Turkish nationalism are the main drive of Erdoğan’s foreign policy in Syria and elsewhere. This combined with the fact that Erdoğan is surrounded by an entourage of people who dare not tell him differently could mean Turkey is heading for disaster.
Russian-Iranian Relations in a Sanctions Era
Russia and Iran are both under Western sanctions, and every prolonged sanction period seems to strengthen the relation between them. Recent meetings between the countries have attracted a substantial amount of attention, mainly because of the Kremlin’s defiance of US sanction threats against countries who trade with Iran. UI´s intern Kiana Islamian gives an insight into the Russia-Iran relationship.
The quest for judicial independence
The mass protests in Hong Kong are a nightmare for the leaders in Beijing. They undermine the narrative of a happy nation under Chinese Communist Party rule. To the rest of the world the protests are relevant as a test of whether China will uphold its legal obligations and whether the West will act to defend universal values, writes UI research fellow Tim Rühlig.
Making Sense of Post-Election Ukraine
The 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine have fundamentally transformed the country’s political landscape. For the first time in its contemporary history Ukraine’s executive and legislative branches of power are firmly controlled by a single political force that had not existed in any shape or form at the start of the year. This highly unusual situation is fraught with potential instability as the current sky-high popularity of the newly elected president and his party may well prove to be short-lived, writes UI Fellow Igor Torbakov.
The global rise of family values
How can we understand and describe what appears to be a global trend of increased contestation and political polarization around gender and sexuality? This was one of the main questions in a roundtable discussion at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI). Emil Edenborg, Research Fellow in the UI Global Politics and Security Programme, writes about the discussion on how ”traditional values” has become a political battleground.
Belarus wary of authoritarian Russia
Despite repeated assurances of commitment from President Alexander Lukashenka to the Belarus–Russia partnership, the relationship between the countries is far from unproblematic. The political stakes for Lukashenka are rising as Russia’s political system is becoming increasingly authoritarian, writes UI intern Anna Zotééva.
Vietnam: Globalized Party-State
Vietnam’s Communist Party takes an unorthodox path to a market economy and the country is increasingly integrated into the global economy. But the Party may need to move beyond the party-state for full potential, writes Börje Ljunggren, former Swedish ambassador to Vietnam and China. The current model does not offer sufficient space for truly dynamic domestic development.
Russia and China: diverging partners
Russia and China are two important players on the Eurasian continent that have had different approaches to the concept of Eurasia on several occasions. UI’s intern Anna Zotééva spoke with Igor Denisov, a Russian expert on Russia-China relations, about Russian-Chinese cooperation in the Eurasian region and prospects for the future.
The rebellious spirit of the Ukrainians
Volodymyr Zelensky’s landslide victory in the second round of Ukraine’s presidential race is a demonstration of the staying power of the famously rebellious spirit of this East Slavic nation. Fiercely competitive free and fair elections resulting in an orderly departure of the defeated incumbent president have thrown into sharp relief – yet again – the striking difference between Ukraine’s and Russia’s political cultures, writes UI Fellow Igor Torbakov.
Russia and Turkey: Similar yet opposite
Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey increasingly look like sisters under the skin. Domestically authoritarian and internationally assertive, traditionally suspicious of the West’s designs and cold-shouldered by the United States and the European Union because of their growing illiberalism, Ankara and Moscow appear intent to forge a strategic relationship and challenge Western hegemony. Yet paradoxically, the similarities between the two Eurasian powers’ imperial strategic cultures make their seemingly flourishing entente fragile and fraught with potential conflict, writes UI Senior Fellow Igor Torbakov.
From a failed state to the epicenter of change
Recent developments in Iraq can infuse optimism for the future of the land of the earliest civilization of human history. President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adil Abdulmehdi have a good chance of steering Iraq out of crisis and potentially make it the epicenter of change in the Middle East, writes Cengiz Çandar, Senior Associate Fellow at the UI.
Centralization paved the way for ISIS
The lesson to be drawn from the rise and fall of ISIS is that the old formulae of over-centralised unitary nation-states is a recipe for disaster in a region distinguished by an extremely high level of cultural and religious diversity and geo-strategic significance, writes Kamran Matin, Associate Research Fellow at the UI. In this article, he gives the historical background to and explains developments in Iraq and Syria and the rise of the Islamic State.
Russian church’s imperial vision challenged
Since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine’s political leaders have worked to achieve independent status for the Kyiv Patriarchate in direct challenge to the geopolitical views and ambitions of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church. In that conflict, Moscow is facing the possibility of geopolitical setback, writes UI Senior Fellow Igor Torbakov.
Detentions and growing tensions in Belarus
Around two dozen high-profile journalists were detained in Belarus in one of the biggest intimidation campaigns in years. Emerging details of this sudden and surprising sweep highlight growing tensions in the country, with its authoritarian regime seeking a balance between necessary pro-market reforms and the preservation of President Alexander Lukashenka’s autocratic rule. Meanwhile, there is a growing window of opportunity for the EU to influence pro-democracy processes in the country, with voices from civil society emerging at the bottom, and an attempted geopolitical shift away from Russia at the top, writes Maxim Eristavi, research fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Rethinking the “Russian World” concept
More than a quarter century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is still no consensus in Russia on what kind of polity it is. In the struggle over how to define the Russian state, the Kremlin cherry-picks from nationalist tropes in pursuit of its policy goals, writes UI Senior Fellow Igor Torbakov.
High Stakes at the Kim-Trump Summit
The outcome of the successful summit between the two Korean leaders depends largely on how North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un’s upcoming meeting with the US president Donald Trump goes. As with anything involving Trump, this is difficult to predict, writes UI fellow Ulv Hanssen. Success would mean tremendous success, and failure would mean tremendous failure. There is little chance of anything in between. And in a worst-case scenario it will bring us to the brink of war.
Vladimir Putin – a tsar without loyal subjects?
President Vladimir Putin is commonly described as a modern-day Tsar of Russia. In his public appearances, he often acts as a tsar-benefactor of ordinary Russians who does everything possible to strengthen the nation and to protect it from internal turmoil and external threats. However, do Russian people see him as a tsar? UI research fellow Natalia Mamonova answers this question by analysing popular attitudes to Putin and his tsarist behaviour.
Our Development Model Has to Change
Looking at ecological and economic realities, time has come for demanding a new Enlightenment, one that fits our time and circumstances. The current development model – in particular the economy – was designed in the empty world, with a population between 1 and 2 billion people. Today the world is full, with a population soon to be 8 billion. We have to change our thinking, our religions and our economic doctrines to avoid a collapse of the ecosystem and the global economy. This is the conclusion in a new report, Come On!, written by Ernst von Weizsäcker and Anders Wijkman, co-presidents of the Club of Rome. Below is a slightly edited extract from the book.
Vietnam’s foreign policy in a changing regional order
Tension in the South China Sea reflects recent dynamics in the growing US-China rivalry. China’s aggressiveness, the Trump administration responses and visions of a regional order have been making headlines lately. In face of the Sino-US confrontation, Vietnam pursues a strategy of cooperation and struggle with both countries, writes UI intern Thu Le.
Historical Revisionism in Russia and Turkey
Like his counterpart in Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is looking for a historical role model that can help him justify cloaking his presidency in regal trappings. And like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Erdogan is bypassing the revolutionary and republican eras, and focusing on the late imperial period. Putin’s new favorite role model seems to be Tsar Alexander III (r. 1881-1894). For Erdogan, it is Sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-1909), writes UI Senior Fellow Igor Torbakov.
Putin has found his Royal Role Model
In his quest for historical legitimation, President Vladimir Putin has focused on the late imperial period. It was when the empire was ruled by an assertive monarch who successfully managed to modernize a vast realm, while suppressing domestic dissent and keeping Western rivals at bay. From that period Putin seems to have found his historical role model: Tsar Alexander III, writes UI senior fellow Igor Torbakov.
Denmark embraces US Middle East Policy
There are huge political differences between Sweden’s and Denmark’s Middle East policies. Denmark is faithfully, almost submissively, following Washington, while Sweden has a policy of its own. The attitude of the Danish governments in the last decades' security policy is remarkable, writes Lars Erslev Andersen, Senior Associate Fellow at the MENA programme at the UI. Denmark's affinity to the US is almost not questioned in the Danish foreign policy debate.
The authoritarian shift in Central Europe
In many EU countries democracy and the rule of law is under pressure. Governments accumulate more power and limit the independence of the courts and the freedom of the media. The book Hotet mot rättsstaten i Europa addresses the worrying developments in Hungary and Poland. Luca Karafiath, intern at the UI, writes that it is clear that the reforms after the fall of Communism, failed to consolidate a democratic political culture after four decades of totalitarian rule.
The Middle East Needs a Vision for Peace
European integration can be a model of inspiration for visionary leaders in the wider Middle East, as a means of ending the cycle of conflicts and finding a durable solution. In the first half of the 20th Century Europe went through similar destructive wars that the Middle East is undergoing now. But after World War II distinguished personalities in Europe found an antidote to extreme nationalism: common structures, institutions and integration. Omar Sheikhmous, an independent analyst, shows how the Middle East could learn from the European example. The author, a former researcher at Stockholm University, is one of the Founders of PUK, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Possible Scenarios in a post-IS Middle East
Four scenarios are likely to characterize the future of the MENA region: The Fractured State, Generation Displaced, Contagion Effect and Superpower shift. This means Living on the Edge for the majority of the citizens in the Middle East and North Africa, says professor Beverley Milton-Edwards, from Queen's University and Brookings Doha Center. In her key-note address at a UI seminar, Beverley Milton-Edwards also gave examples of how the Trump Administration is at war with itself over its MENA policy. She takes Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli state as one example. Read her speech here.
Syrians blamed for Lebanon’s problems
As political tension along the sectarian divides between Shia-,and Sunni-muslims is on the rise in Lebanon, Syrian refugees are increasingly blamed for the country’s economic and structural problems. Today, around 1.5 million Syrians has taken refuge in Lebanon. The historical wounds of the Lebanese civil war has given way for a climate ripe of unease and contempt for Syrian refugees, writes Simon Fiedler, intern for the MENA program at the UI.
East Jerusalem – a place of insecurity
No embassies are located in Jerusalem, since Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem has never been accepted by the international community. In East Jerusalem thousands of Palestinian homes have been demolished. But for the individual the most problematic aspect is probably the insecurity of residence, writes Johan Schaar, former head of development cooperation at the Consulate General of Sweden in Jerusalem.
Putin sees his and Russia’s fate intertwined
The Kremlin’s decision last year to create Russia’s National Guard was Russia’s biggest and potentially most consequential reform of law-enforcement agencies over the last decade. A decree last May will also make it possible to put the Armed Forces under the command of the new National Guard, whose in number of troops now is believed to exceed the Russian Army’s land forces. UI senior fellow Igor Torbakov explains how the Kremlin is preparing for a potential “color revolution” in Russia.
Core issues left aside in Fatah-Hamas deal
Despite hope among Palestinians after the latest reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, decades of internal struggles over leadership and territory, international pressure and profound ideological and tactical differences make the prospects for Palestinian unity look unlikely, writes Lucia Ardovini, Research Fellow at UI's MENA programme. But more progress has been made this time than ever before.
Still Room for Agreements with Russia
Today’s Russia is an unsatisfied power, which has problems with most of its neighbors. But the Finnish veteran diplomat René Nyberg, who has served as ambassador in both Moscow and Berlin, notes that there is still room for agreement with Russia – even on missile defense.
The US and China on a Collision Course
A new book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison is focusing on the risk of war between the United States and an ascending China. Börje Ljunggren, senior associate fellow at UI, has read the book. Predictability is crucial, he concludes.
Afghanistan – NATO's credibility at risk
A strategic shift is required in Afghanistan. Having pursued a military strategy for 16 years – unsuccessfully – a strategy centered on the search for a political settlement is required.Kai Eide, Norway's former ambassador to Sweden, NATO & former UN special representative in Kabul
Trump's cruise missiles – motivated by domestic politics
What should have been the action after the recent use of gas in Syria? The proper procedure under the UN Charter – that the US was instrumental in creating – would have been for the Security Council to order investigation and action.Hans Blix, former foreign minister of Sweden, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq
North Korean Threat Tests US-Sino Relations
President Donald Trump plans to host China's President Xi Jinping at a two-day summit in Florida in April. North Korea's nuclear breakout will be high on the agenda between the leaders of the world's two largest economies. Nothing less than a grand bargain is needed now, when East Asia is facing its most acute and trying security challenge in many years, writes Börje Ljunggren, Senior Associate Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs and Sweden's former Ambassador to China.
Utrikesmagasinet is an independently edited online magazine, owned by the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI). The mission of UI is to inform and enrich the public debate by promoting interest in and knowledge of foreign affairs and international relations. Managing editor of Utrikesmagasinet is Leif Hallstan and publisher is Ylva Lindahl, an editor for Landguiden at UI. According to the editorial rules of Utrikesmagasinet writers are responsible for the content of their articles. We mostly publish articles in Swedish only, but on this page you find our recently published articles in English.