Sergey Lavrov's diplomatic visit to Italy, Ukraine's looming debt default and Moscow’s controversial decision to ignore some rulings of international courts - all this made headlines.
Last week, right before Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's diplomatic visit to Italy, Rome announced that it would temporarily block the renewal of EU sanctions against Russia. In the meantime, the issue with Ukraine's refusal to repay its debt to Russia has not been resolved, and it became clear that a compromise was not likely to be found before the end of the year. Finally, another important development was the change in Russian legislation that now establishes the priority of national law over international court rulings.
Italy takes a stand against the renewal of sanctions
On Dec. 9, the EU made an unexpected move and did not automatically renew sanctions against Russia. The initiative was blocked by Italy. Rome stated that the issue was extremely important, so it needed to be discussed at the top level first, for example, on Dec. 14 at the Foreign Affairs Council or on Dec. 17-18 at the European Council.
Clearly, this is just a delay. The sanctions are likely to be prolonged. Still, the Italian protest introduces a number of pertinent elements into the sanctions war between Russia and the West.
First, after Rome's public act of defiance, the EU can no longer conceal that its members have very different opinions on sanctions in particular, and Russia-Europe relations in general. Europe understands that the conflict with Russia needs to be resolved, for it is detrimental to both Brussels and Moscow. It is important to point out that Italy's actions create a major precedent.
Second, admitting that the situation is ambivalent and needs to be discussed can lead to an interesting conundrum in February 2016, when Kiev fails to meet the deadlines for passing a number of regulations required under the Minsk Protocol.
It is possible that the West will again blame Russia for the disruption of the peace process, for it is common knowledge that failure to fulfill the conditions of the Minsk Protocol is the official reason for keeping sanctions against Russia.
However, if the disagreement over Russia widens the gap between the EU members, one of them might pose a logical question, "If Ukraine is jeopardizing the agreement, why should Russia be punished for it?" And neither Brussels, nor even Washington will be able to come up with an answer.
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With more than 20 million Muslims and an observer status at the OIC, Russia clearly needs such channels. Now that it seems to be on the offensive in the Middle East, it certainly will try to make the most of them despite serious domestic constraints. The North Caucasus is becoming an integral part of Russian Middle Eastern policy, since many of Moscow’s initiatives in the region are driven largely by the imperatives of its own turbulent area. Be it Syria, the Kurds or Chechnya, Russia learns the craft of turning its domestic challenges into opportunities in the Middle East.
Certainly, the two are not on the same page in Syria and some other Middle Eastern matters; they have historically adversarial relations in the South Caucasus; and they have a conflicting modern record of Turkish support for Islamist and nationalist movements in the North Caucasus. But be it bilateral trade relations or pipeline geopolitics, instead of keeping in line with its NATO allies Turkey is more savvy in following its own national interests than many Western diplomats and analysts would like to think.
In addition to Russian military airstrikes, Syrian President Assad’s visit to Moscow and the continuing Normandy talks over Ukraine dominated the Russian foreign policy agenda in October. October marked the first month of the Russian airstrikes in Syria against terrorist targets and also saw positive developments in the diplomatic process around Ukraine and Syria. Given these two ongoing international issues, some other important foreign policy events have been overshadowed.
Heading into the weekend, the leaders and diplomats of the twenty countries with the biggest economies were busy preparing for the G20 Summit, which is taking place in Antalya, Turkey. There are many issues on this year’s agenda – from problems in the world economy and finance to refugee issues, the fight against terrorism and resolving the Syrian crisis. However, in light of the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks , the issue of fighting terrorism and, in particular, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has dominated the agenda of the G20 Summit.