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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Although recently Russians have started to pay more attention to its soft power projection in different parts of the world, Moscow has a long way to go to make itself look more attractive on this front. The Middle East is no exception.
January was marked, above all else, by renewed U.S.-Russian dialogue on a range of international issues, including Syria. For example, conditions were set for inter-Syrian dialogue, although hopes for success there are very small. At the same time, the U.S. side is doing its share to ensure that initiatives for the positive development of U.S.-Russian relations become derailed by making provocative statements, such as the accusations made by U.S. Treasury Department official Adam Szubin about corruption within the Russian government.
The results of the June 7 Turkish parliamentary elections clearly demonstrated that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) founded by Recep Erdogan runs out of support from the population. According to the interim results, the party received less than a half of votes. That will limit the Party’s ability to govern the state without paying attention to the other political forces’ viewpoints.
Over time, the Kurds established cultural centers in Russia’s two biggest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, to preserve their identity and culture. At the same time, their influence over regional sociopolitical processes remained fairly limited, thus keeping them off the radar of local officials. But with the ongoing war in Syria, tensions in Turkey and serious divisions in Iraq, the Kurdish issue acquires a greater international dimension for Russia.