Tensions within Saudi Arabia and on its borders keep worsening. In the meantime, the young Crown Prince, who holds power over most vital domestic and external policies, continues multiplying mistakes. As was expected, 2017 witnessed the two mutually reinforcing tendencies. First, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the current Saudi King, held on to his course of strengthening his positions in power. Second, tensions kept increasing within the royal family in the face of the upcoming change of the order of succession to the throne.
The Russian-Belarusian Zapad (West) military exercises, which were held in the latter half of September, have disappointed many people. Comments made in the Western media before the exercises filled the readers with so much concern and apprehension that they thought it would be a second Baltic Offensive. It’s a pity that we have disappointed them.
By all appearances, anti-Russian sanctions have become a constant of international life. However, a new reality is emerging in Russia’s economic relations with the West. Economic interaction is growing, despite anti-Russian sanctions, and increasingly penetrates strategic fields. This is happening because sanctions affect the interests of many key Western figures who are beginning to feel them as a burden.
Today, our analysts closely monitor three areas of tension: Afghanistan, the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and North Korea. After the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014, Afghanistan is expected to destabilize further, thus impacting the situation in Central Asia and Pakistan. Meanwhile, skirmishes occur each month on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, with Azerbaijan's military budget equaling Armenia’s entire budget. At the same time, North Korea's leadership has proved highly unpredictable and it is unclear how it might choose to respond to U.S.-South Korean military activity on its border.
How do we know this?
Our agency uses a method of system analysis that allows us to assess the international situation in its complexity. Our analysts evaluate the impact of the global political climate and explore the interests and resources of various actors, as well as their goals and tactics. We utilize original sources in 15 languages and empirical observations gathered in our fieldwork. Each day, we follow the latest international events and forecast the further development of the global situation for the next year.
Despite a compromise deal reached with the Ukrainian government in February 2014, the opposition seized power, which launched the disintegration of the fragile Ukrainian state. The Russian-speaking regions in the country’s southeast — in addition to Crimea — rebelled against the opposition coup. Some demanded Ukraine’s federalization, and others their accession to Russia. In an effort to prevent a 'Russian Spring', the new authorities in Kiev relied on militias and the freshly reformed military. The use of force to suppress popular protests in Eastern Ukraine can lead to Russian interference.
What steps will Russia take?
It is in Russia’s interests to ensure stability on its western borders. Consequently, Moscow criticizes the destabilizing actions taken by the new authorities in Kiev. Russia would alternatively prefer a coalition government in Ukraine, as well as the country’s federalization and the introduction of Russian as an official state language. At the same time, Russia has no reason to support the status quo if the situation continues to change in its favor, or if this support requires considerable effort.
Although international pressure has decreased and a dialogue has launched to resolve the crisis, the conflict in Syria will continue. A diplomatic settlement will be hard to achieve as the opposition is in a state of disunity and has no plan of action besides demanding President Bashar Assad’s ouster. Iran and Hezbollah’s assistance to the government — no matter how successful — will not suffice for a victory over the militants in the country’s north and east. The militants’ disunity will make a success even harder to achieve.
What role do external forces play?
External forces will play a significant role in the development of the crisis. The decision to destroy chemical weapons has lowered the chances of an intervention. However, U.S. experts have shown a tendency to whitewash some Al Qaeda groups by contrasting them to 'bad Islamists'. U.S. support for the Islamic front against the government forces and ISIL is further exacerbating the situation.
Despite the withdrawal of foreign armed forces, the Afghan government is likely to retain control over domestic affairs. Kabul has armed forces and security units under its command boasting over 344,000 servicemen. The figure is larger than the Taliban’s estimated 20,000-25,000 armed militants. We expect the situation in Afghanistan to follow the Iraqi pattern. Therefore, the regime will remain in power and terrorist activities will escalate. Meanwhile, drug trafficking will remain a major threat.
The presidential elections in April 2014 were an additional destabilizing factor. Some segments of the population questioned their legitimacy, which could potentially create the threat of increased separatist sentiment among local elites and weaken the fight against drug trafficking. However, it is most unlikely that the Taliban will return to power. The Afghan army’s fighting capabilities will be ensured thanks to continuing foreign assistance from international donors, guaranteed until 2016.