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Russia

Russian voters will elect 450 deputies to Russia’s State Duma on Sunday, in the seventh election for the lower chamber of Russia’s bicameral Federal Assembly since the legislature’s founding in 1993. Large-scale protests followed the last federal parliamentary elections on Dec. 4, 2011, after widespread reports of electoral fraud and rigged elections. Within days, an estimated 50,000 protesters across from the Kremlin were chanting “Russia without Putin.” This year, 14 political parties are taking part in elections that were moved forward from December to September. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will monitor the elections, which will return to a mixed electoral system last used in Russia’s 2003 federal elections. Half of the 450 seats will be decided by competitions in regional constituencies, technically known as …

On May 4, 2016, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced that Russia planned to form 3 new military divisions to counter NATO’s growing military presence in Eastern Europe. These new military divisions will consist of 10,000 troops deployed on Russia’s southern and western frontiers. In addition, Shoygu pledged to improve military training for Russian troops and upgrade Russia’s military hardware production to combat the “NATO threat.” Moscow’s military buildup has increased fears of an imminent Crimea-style Russian military intervention in the Baltic States. These concerns are likely misplaced, however. Even though Putin’s military modernization efforts after the 2008 Georgian War laid the groundwork for the 2014 annexation of Crimea, there is evidence that Russia’s latest military buildup is primarily for domestic consumption. …

On August 8, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met in Baku. Shortly after their meeting, Putin announced Russia’s intention to forge a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. Putin also expressed interest in expanding Russia-Azerbaijan trade links and strengthening Moscow-Baku military cooperation in the Caspian Sea region. As Russia has increased its arms exports to Azerbaijan in recent years, many analysts believe that the Putin-Aliyev summit is a starting point for a consolidated Moscow-Baku alliance. This assessment overestimates the strength of the Russia-Azerbaijan partnership. There is compelling evidence that the much-touted “alliance” between Russia and Azerbaijan is merely a temporary marriage of convenience aimed at maximizing both countries’ geopolitical influence. Even though Azerbaijan has recently upgraded its economic …

The colour revolutions in Georgia (“Rose” 2003) and Ukraine (“Orange”, 2004) seemed to promise that countries on the North and East of the Black Sea would shake off their “post-Soviet” label and take a firm and unwavering road towards Europe and the US. Perhaps the states of Central Asia would choose a similar route. Russia would have to take a back seat. A resurgent Russia under Putin has destroyed much of this myth, not least because of Russia’s involvement in the de facto states which have arisen from conflicts: South Ossetia and Abkhazia (Georgia), Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenia/Azerbaijan) and Transnistria (Moldova). Russian influence after 200 years of empire runs deep, but local factors also have a bearing; the EU and US have not applied sufficient drive or resources to the region, or to the conflicts, to balance or check Russia.

On August 22, 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel conducted an important one-day visit to Moldova to celebrate 20 years of German-Moldovan cooperation. Some of the key topics of discussion during her visit were a potential resolution of the Transnistrian conflict, triggered by the self-proclaimed independence of this Moldovan region in 1990 and suspended by the 1992 ceasefire, as well as Moldova’s integration into the European Union (EU). Indicative of the importance of this visit was the fact that the German Chancellor took part in the visit personally, rather than sending a lower ranking representative to address her Moldovan counterpart. Most commentators who have analyzed Merkel’s visit have played down its importance, arguing it merely represents a strengthened effort to resolve …

Following the safe re-election of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency on March 4th, the Russian government looks set to complete yet another round of institutional tinkering. Gubernatorial elections, abolished in 2004 following the Beslan Crisis, are set to be re-introduced. Governors will be elected for five year terms, serving a maximum of two terms. A second reading of the Bill will take place in the near future, and the final shape of the legislation is still uncertain. There is disagreement between the political parties in the Duma about how the ‘presidential filter’ (consultations between political parties and the President over who can be a candidate) will work. Meanwhile, the Federation Council has passed legislation aimed at making it easier …

Russia’s out-going president, Dmitry Medvedev, has submitted a bill to the State Duma proposing that parties should be banned from fielding ‘fake’ candidates at the top of regional lists for Duma elections. These candidates, usually well-known or popular figures, are referred to in Russian as parovozy(locomotives), and have no intention of taking up seats in the Duma. They appear on the ballot paper solely to attract voters. Following the election, they cede their seats to lesser-known candidates further down the list. Medvedev’s proposals are part of a wider programme of electoral reform, including the re-introduction of gubernatorial elections, which were abolished in 2005. Directly appointed governors had become a liability to the Kremlin in recent years: as an unintended consequence of its …